Kids, Cameras and Words

The Florida Museum of Photographic Art, or FMoPA (or spelled phonetically: Fa-mope-ah), began a new community outreach project for youth in March. Thanks to a grant by The Eckerd Family Foundation, last month a few FMoPA volunteers (including yours truly) developed curriculum and began teaching digital photography and literacy to K-12 students at a Boys and Girls Club in Hillsborough County.

We hope to take this pilot program county-wide next year.

At the end of April we'll have a museum showing of the student's photos and essays. I'll keep you posted on the details.

Photos by Maikel Izquierdo


Wasted Time

Time will go by no matter what we do with our lives, so we might as well do what we like, right? Easier said than done. Yesterday was a Sunday and my first wedding anniversary but I was stuck working for most of the day. Granted I was working from home so it wasn't so terrible, and the task at hand, though tedious, was easy enough that I enjoyed hours and hours of the House marathon - which was pretty ironic since my work was nothing more than counting the amount of positive urinalysis (pee tests) of prescription drug abusers.

Ever since I was a young latchkey kid/couch potato, I've been aware of the power of the media. I knew it made me want things we couldn't afford (or really didn't even want), and encouraged me to look a certain way that was supposedly more physically attractive. The media is so powerful because it's so huge - a few corporations own the hundreds of TV channels we watch, and nearly all of the radio stations (including satellite) and record companies that produce the music we listen to. The same goes for books, magazines, food, and news. One can't feed their body or their mind without being tempted by something not only unhealthy but toxic - it's becoming increasingly difficult to even have access to healthy options.

Take House as an example. It exists to entertain its viewers, not to educate on the travails of recovering from RX drug addiction. That the storyline presents many of the issues an addict faces is a byproduct; the show is not a useful PR tool for those who work in the field of addiction any more than it would be a way to prep med students to be doctors. But it reaches millions more viewers than, say a documentary on addiction. But it's just a tv show, you say. Well, the news functions in a similar way.

This morning as I finished up counting pee tests, I was listening to Counterspin on my local community radio station. It's one of my favorite shows because it asks (and answers) the question: Why is this lame issue taking up time on the news (Tiger Woods' affair) instead of another issue (like those wars the U.S. has going on around the world). One of the issues addressed in today's show was the height of Dennis Kucinich, as if his less-than-the-ideal-male-American stature of 5'7, epitomizes his power as a shrimp of a political figure. When it comes to standing for human rights, Kucinich certainly stands taller than most of the jerks in D.C., but you'd be hard pressed to find anything in the mainstream media that doesn't present him as a hippie loon.

Didn't we learn the danger of stereotypes in junior high? Yet the media relies on them and other short cuts to bring the public "information." Happily, I am not spending my time working for corporate media. I'd rather type away from my home computer, passing along these bits of truth to those lucky enough to be among the handful of my dear readers.


FL PIRG: For the People

"When corporate wrongdoing threatens our health or our safety, or violates fundamental principles of fairness and justice, FloridaPIRG stands up for the public."
That's part of the mission statement for FL PIRG, a great organization to get involved with if you're interested in doing work on the community & state level. And now's the time to get a jump start: On Tuesday, March 23 in St. Pete, FL PIRG affiliates are hosting an activist workshop from 4 to 7pm at the Repower America office at 146 2nd Street N. In an email to the FL PIRG listserv, legislative advocate Brad Ashwell wrote that the training "will cover the best techniques for organizing your neighbors to take action, and the best ways to persuade local media to cover an issue."


Audrey Auld

Audrey Auld is a do-gooder in a Tasmanian devil disguise. I met her briefly at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival last summer where she performed a set at the historic Crystal Theatre, hushing the crowd with songs like Love You Like the Earth.

Her songs, called contrite by some music publishing geniuses in Nashville, have brought more tears to my eyes than any artist I've ever seen/heard. Now that's real country music.

Audrey played last night on the porch of Gram's Place, and will do a slew of shows (including a couple house concerts) around Florida. Today she'll do an in-store performance at Vinyl Fever in Tampa at 3 p.m. She'll also appear on 88.5 WMNF this Thursday from 9-10 a.m. on Pete Gallagher's Florida Folk Show.

Here's a video she made performing Bread and Roses.

photo by Mez Mezera



Atul Gawande is my favorite overachiever. He's a surgeon and writer for The New Yorker, but those aren't the reasons I admire him. I like him because of this statement: "Betterment is a perpetual labor." No matter how good one might be, he asks us to ask ourselves, "How can you be better?"

His 2007 book "Better" chronicled part of his journey towards becoming a doctor, and it gave a lot of advice for those pursuing a career in medicine, but I think this book should be required reading for all humans. Here's a passage from the afterword, which to me sums up the concept behind the book.

In medicine, just as in anything else people do, individuals respond to new ideas in one of three ways. A few become early adopters, as the business types call them. Most become late adopters. And some remain persistent skeptics who never stop resisting...I am not saying you should embrace very new trend that comes along. But be willing to recognize the inadequacies in what you do and to seek out solutions.
Of course, if you think you've got a good overview of the book just from reading this post, reading the entire book will make you that much better.


Prescription Drug Abuse

A friend and fellow WMNF volunteer, Dr. Kathy Moore, is a Research Assistant Professor at USF. Her focus for the last few years has been mental health and substance abuse, and she's been leading a couple different studies on Hillsborough and Pinellas County Drug Courts. I've been working with her as a research assistant for the last eight months. On Monday Kathy and I will lead a panel discussion on Pinellas Countys' program for female offenders.

Panelists will include Pinellas County Drug Court Judge Dee Anna Farnell, WestCare therapist Heidi Jacobson, and a drug court client.

I feel fortunate having never been addicted to anything in my life (well, there were cigarettes in college); I never thought I'd be able to understand a person with such a problem. However, through various methods of data collection, numerous client interviews - and watching them succeed or fail (or both), I have a much better grasp on the struggle of the individual as well as an understanding of how the system and society comes into play.

While Kathy and her team of researchers (me included) are still evaluating the results of years of study to measure the effectiveness of drug courts, to me it's obvious that drug court is a pro-active alternative towards solving a deep-rooted problem, as opposed to locking someone up for decades and hoping a lesson was learned.

In the same vein (was that tasteless?), I'm also producing a story for Monday's evening newscast on the rampant increase in prescription drug abuse and overdoses in Florida. According to the Chief Forensic Toxicologist at Hillsborough County’s Medical Examiners office, about one person a day dies of an overdose in this county alone.


23rd Annual Children’s Mental Health Research & Policy Conference

I've always wondered how research leaves universities and is enacted in the real world. This week I got a little insight into that process when I interviewed Dr. Mario Hernandez for the WMNF Evening News.

Dr. Hernandez is chair of the Department of Child and Family Studies at USF and one of the organizers of next week's 23rd Annual Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy Conference in downtown Tampa. Among the things he spoke to me about was the importance of community resources for children, as opposed to sending the "bad" ones off to residential facilities to live out their youths outside of their communities and away from their families. Here's one guy who thinks all kids should be seen and heard.


Bigger is Not Better

I didn't grow up around live music. I was 10 when my dad took me to see the Beach Boys (Kokomo tour) at the Meadowlands in the late 80's. Less than ten years later I'd go to Philly's oversized venues with my metal-head loving then-best friend to see Aerosmith (a couple of times), Smashing Pumpkins, and the Horde Tour.

Even though stadium shows were the only kind of performances this naive, suburban youth had previously been exposed to, they never felt quite right and always left me musically-unsatisfied. Of course, my tastes have changed since then, although not entirely.

This weekend I saw Glen Phillips, formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket - a band I've loved since junior high. The venue was The Hideaway Cafe in St. Pete, a listening room (and recording studio) that seats less people than the smallest theater in a cineplex. (My recent WMNF interview with Phillips can be found here.)

Last week I wrote a story on house concerts for the St. Petersburg Times - no place like home for music. Small venues like the Hideaway are the next tier up: no drunken bar scene or people talking over the music, just an intimate setting with people who come out simply to listen. There are few such commercial places in Tampa Bay where poet/musicians can literally be heard.

Vienna Teng followed Phillips with an amazing set.