Thursday, May 30, 2013


[With 199 People You May or May Not Know] was the title of a performance staged by the theatre department at Northwestern University. We saw it Saturday on its last weekend. Although the performance didn’t produce a panacea for ending poverty, it provided much to ponder.

It is a misnomer to call “How to End Poverty…” a play. Rather, it was a series of skits, dance performances, monologs, power points, audience participation, and facilitated discussions. The theatrical merit of it can be debated. Personally, I found it too chaotic to be very effective, but be that as it may, we had plenty to debate when we got home. If other people went home and debated the issues, I guess it achieved its purpose.

Can poverty ever be ended? I highly doubt it. Although it should be possible, our country lacks the spirit of cooperation and compromise necessary to achieve it. The play posed the question how do we most effectively end poverty? Is it by addressing daily needs, changing the system, helping one individual rise out of poverty, improving our education system, or creating opportunities through micro-loans and other such efforts? In my opinion, the myriad causes of poverty are complex  and need to be addressed by an all- of- the- above approach. That wasn’t one of the choices, however. That’s one reason that I never liked multiple choice tests which often beg simplistic answers.

At the end of the performance, the audience was divided into groups and instructed to choose one of the above methods to end poverty. The winning vote would decide which organization would receive a $1000 donation, partial proceeds from that night’s ticket sales. Whoever won would be a worthy cash-strapped organization. The method I chose lost. Since I am often in the vast minority, this wasn’t a shock to me. On our night, The Ark, which does much to address the needs of the Jewish poor in the Chicago area, received the $1000.

I hope that people who saw “How to End Poverty…” were energized to do their part to end poverty or at least alleviate its worst effects. As we speak, billionaires receiving farm subsidies are lobbying to cut appropriations for the Food Stamp (now called SNAP) Program. Republicans in Congress are bent and determined to repeal Obamacare which will provide healthcare to many who have been uninsured many of them poor. Closer to home, in Chicago there’s an appalling lack of low cost housing. Even so, there’s a movement in the City Council to close one of the last SRO’s on the North Side. Those are places to go for a systems approach. I’m sure that we can all think of several more. If you prefer the daily needs approach, there’s also plenty to do. Contact your nearest soup kitchen or food pantry and volunteer to give a few hours per month. Since poverty most likely won’t end in the next 90 minutes, you are in luck. You still have plenty of time.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Favorite Yearly Respite from Bad News

The Greeks participated in a band with the Turks and Armenians. The Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis helped each other out. The Czechs and Slovaks could be seen cooperating…You probably want whatever I was on while seeing all that, but honestly, I was cold sober. All that and more could be seen at the 23rd annual Skokie Festival of Cultures.

The Village of Skokie, Skokie Public Library, and Skokie Park District initiated the Skokie Festival of Cultures in 1991 to celebrate the village’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Situated just outside Chicago and accessible by public transportation, it has become home to many immigrant groups over the last 30 years. In the first Festival of Cultures, nine nationality groups participated. That has increased steadily. This year 36 nationality groups participated. Since over 70 languages are spoken in Skokie, there’s room for people from many more countries.

Flags of the participating countries 
In opening ceremonies, participants from all 36 groups walk across the main stage wearing their national costumes. They each said “hello” and then thanked the first responders in both English and their native languages while the soundtrack of “Imagine” by John Lennon played in the background. For a ‘60’s activist like myself, it doesn’t get better than that. Although we have light years to go before we truly overcome all the intra-ethnic hatred that rages throughout our own country and the world, the Festival of Cultures transmits the hope, even if only momentarily, that it may be possible.

After we saw people introduce themselves from everywhere from Armenia to the United States, we visited the national booths talking to people, viewing their handicrafts, and sampling some cuisines. Some people encouraged us to visit their countries of origin or at least see their museums in Chicago. Where else can one meet people from Armenia, Bangladesh, Croatia, Germany, Greece, South America, Sweden, Thailand, and Turkey within an hour?
Tibetan dancers

We heard music and saw dance performed by a group from Tibet and then went inside to see yes, a combined Greek-Turkish-Egyptian-Armenian band. It was beautiful. After a few hours, there were still more songs and dances to hear and see and more people to meet at the booths, but alas, it was time to go home. Next year     we’ll do it again.

Such an international event calls for an international recipe. One year, at the Filipino booth, they gave out this recipe for Chicken Adobo. It sounds easy and delicious.                                       

Chicken Adobo

1 pound of chicken cut in pieces
1 clove minced garlic
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup vinegar
2 cups of water
5 bay leaves
4 Tablespoons of cooking oil
whole peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in a pot. Let it simmer and boil until almost all the water is gone. Let the meat fry in its own fat or added oil. Good served with rice and fresh tomatoes.   










Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stalled On the Information Superhighway - Again

Five adults sit down on a bench at the bus stop. I bet you’re waiting for the punch line. The punch line is that there isn’t any. Why? Because no one spoke. Each person was too focused on his own Smart phone or I-phone or other device to pay attention to anyone else. Even two people who were together holding hands didn’t say a word to one another so intent were they on answering their text messages.

I have seen occurrences like the one described above with such increasing frequency that it makes me feel like what Temple Grandin calls “an anthropologist on Mars.” She, as you know, is the famous animal husbandry expert who is also autistic. She has written numerous books on autism that have successfully translated the autistic experience to those of us who aren’t autistic. She says that she feels like “an anthropologist on Mars” in the worlds of emotion and human relationships. As time goes on, however, she may come to feel more at ease in our ever increasing technological world than I am.

For this reason, I was really pleased to see the sketch comedy “Reality Check” that is being performed by the MPAACT Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theatre in Chicago from April 19th to June 2nd. It is written by Kevin Douglas and performed to a turn by MPAACT’s ensemble. This sketch comedy revue provides a look into the world of I-phones, Facebook, and all the other social networking sites that people feel bereft without access. In my opinion, MPAACT’s view of the situation was spot on. I recommend that you see this show and enjoy it for yourselves. It certainly has a lot to say about communications in current times.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Greetings from the Land of Greed - Or The Rich Get Richer

We haven’t heard from the 99% in a while Occupying Wall Street, LaSalle Street, or any other street and I’m wondering why. On Tuesday, May 7th, the Chicago Tribune reported that the average multiple of CEOs’ salaries at the top 100 U.S.A. firms is 204 times their average worker’s combined salary and benefit package. Even though this sounds outrageous, it may not even be accurate. For example, at JC Penney’s, the CEO Ronald Johnson is listed as making 1,795 X his average worker who makes $29,688 combined wages and benefits. Nevertheless, there are so many people working in retail part-time who don’t receive any benefits. Maybe the Tribune was just taking their full-time employees into account. (In case you’re curious, Ronald Johnson makes $53.5 million in one year.)

You may be thinking that this is the way it has always been. We can’t fight City Hall. Nevertheless, this isn’t the way it always was. As recently as four years ago in 2009, the average top companies’ CEOs had a multiple that was 20% less than it is now. In other words, they made a paltry 160X times their average worker’s combined salary and benefits. In 1980, when a study was done, it showed a ratio of top CEOs making an average of 40X their average worker.

According to numerous articles I read, this trend is occurring in England, Western Europe, and Canada although to a lesser extent. I don’t know what the answer is to stop this trend from continuing, but I hope that someone out there has a suggestion. I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, many people struggle to maintain a basic standard of living. We still have homeless and people who are food and/or housing insecure. So per usual, I am sharing a low cost, healthy recipe. I made it last night and it was delicious. It serves two and preparation time is about 20 minutes. If you use it as a side dish, it can serve four.


                                                Baked Stuffed Eggplant

1 eggplant
½ green pepper diced
½ onion diced
1 Tsp minced garlic
3 Tsp olive oil
¼ cup uncooked white rice
¼ cup quinoa
1 cup water
4 Tsp tomato sauce
allspice, cumin, cinnamon, and parsley to taste

Combine the rice and quinoa in a pot with the water and cook.
Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit (200° Centigrade).
Cut the eggplant in half. Then scoop out the meat from it. Put in a pot and steam to get soft for about 10 minutes.
In a small skillet, sauté the green pepper, onion, and garlic in the olive oil.
When the eggplant is soft, drain the pot. Add the vegetables, tomato sauce, and seasoning.
Put the rice/quinoa mixture in the eggplant shell. Put the eggplant mixture on top of that. Bake for about 30 minutes.
It’s good with Greek salad.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Uh-Oh! The Full Impact of Obamacare Is Just Around the Corner

My friend Sally just got back from Walgreen’s. She has no insurance so she had to pay $120 dollars out of pocket for her prescription. I can get that medication with my insurance coverage for less than a third of that, but she has no choice. Since she isn’t poor enough to qualify for most pharmaceutical companies' patient assistance programs, she falls between the cracks. Since she has a pre-existing condition, she is unable to purchase insurance as an individual and she does not have insurance through her employer. The medication is a necessity for her continued stable health. She’s counting the days until she can get insurance in 2014 under Obamacare i.e.The Affordable Health Care Act.     

Probably because so many are looking forward to Obamacare, the same parties who tried to scare the public before its passage are at it again dangling the specter of lost freedom before our eyes. That’s right. In January 2014, the main clauses of the Affordable Health Care Act will go into effect. Insurance Companies will not be allowed to deny people healthcare coverage because they have pre-existing conditions and thus need medical care. State exchanges will be available for people who don’t have coverage through their work to choose insurance. In those states allowing it, Medicaid will be extended to single adults whose income is less than 133% of the poverty rate. Everyone will be required to either have health insurance or pay a fine, but subsidies to pay for it will be available to those who can’t afford the insurance premiums.

They're trying to scare us with the vision of a sea of paperwork. Yes, there will be paperwork and while it's not the most fun thing to do, is it that threatening? This is what's happening:Those who want the subsidies can start applying on October 1st, 2013. Because the subsidies are only given to those with low incomes, people who want them will have to complete applications. The applications are five pages long and ask for financial information. If they qualify, they will have to complete another form about their health and choose a provider. Those who believe that health care should remain a privilege of those lucky enough to either have insurance through work or be able to afford it on their own are touting this development as an attack on our freedom. They tell us it’s another layer of bureaucracy lurking that will strangle our freedom loving souls.

Let’s get real. Who ever applied for a means-tested benefit without completing forms and providing financial information? For someone who may not have had access to health care for years filling out a form to finally receive it seems like a small price to pay. I doubt if those benefiting are really going to be upset by it. All the alarming stories being disseminated seem like yet another attempt by those opposed to the Affordable Health Care Act to discredit it. To those who are waiting impatiently for these clauses to take effect, here’s to your continued good health. I hope you stay healthy until at least 2014. At long last, it is just around the corner.