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Think about it: FALA students present challenging play about Hannah Arendt

Flagstaff Arts and Leadership students will be performing a play written by one of their own teachers at the Hannah Arendt Circle of Scholars at the University of California-Davis Humanities Institute in April.

FALA theater teacher Mike Levin wrote his play “On Thinking” while he was studying at Bard College in New York state in 2012. The play is an amalgamation of the German philosopher Hannah Arendt’s last writings, “The Life of the Mind.”

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy student Lovenia Libby, who plays the role of Hannah Arendt in the upcoming production of “On Thinking,” carefully walks across stools held by fellow performers Wednesday morning during a rehearsal at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy. For more rehearsal photos, see Page A7.

The book is a collection of her essays and lectures on thinking and how thinking is like having a conversation with yourself about life, death, love, hate, memories and humanity. Levin’s play was a 2013 finalist for the Best Storytelling Viola Award.

Arendt escaped the Holocaust during World War II and emigrated to the U.S. where she became a naturalized citizen. Her philosophic works deal with the nature of power, politics, authority and totalitarianism, including "Origins of Totalitarianism" and "The Banality of Evil." She was working on "The Life of the Mind" when she died in 1975.

Levin said the play draws from many aspects of Arendt’s life and works and is a kind of combination of modern dance, play, music, biography and technology.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy student Hanna Van Belle playing the role of Olivia in the upcoming production of “On Thinking”, sits still as fellow performers fall to the floor Tuesday morning during a rehersal at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy.

“It’s a play about a little bit about everything and nothing,” Levin said. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”

“It’s been a very different process from any other play that I’ve been in,” said FALA student Emma Collier.

It’s not a typical play with actors who speak their parts, said Heather Giovale, another student. It has so many different pieces that had to come together: music, dance and speaking roles.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy student Lovenia Libby playing the role of Hannah Arendt in the upcoming production of “On Thinking”, is carefully lifted by fellow performers Wednesday morning during a rehearsal at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy.

FALA students have performed the play in the past. About a year and a half ago, a professor from San Diego State University contacted Levin and asked if FALA students would be interested in producing and acting out the play again, this time in front of the Arendt Circle of Scholars, a group of people who are very familiar with Arendt’s work.

Levin said the timing was perfect. Two movies on Arendt’s life have come out in the last few years and recent geopolitical events have brought authoritarian politics to the forefront of public debate.

However, the play needed a bit of updating. So, Levin let his advanced theater students loose on the production.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy students performing in the upcoming production “On Thinking”, gather around Emma Collier who plays the role of Jennifer during a rehearsal Wednesday morning at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy.

After a lot of research and studying, the students created a choreography to go with the play, picked the music and tweaked the dialogue and characters a bit. They also updated the play to include today’s technology and the impact it is having on humanity.

“He actually gave us a lot of freedom to make edits,” said Lovenia Libby, another student.

The updates make the play more relateable to today’s audiences, said FALA student Remy Phillips.

The work the students did on editing, choreographing and researching the play also shows that they’re more than just “mindless drones that we’re made out to be,” said Giovale. “We have the ability to engage in a conversation about something like this.”

Study: A vegan America could feed additional 390 million people

More than 41 million Americans find themselves at risk of going hungry at some point during the year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

But it doesn't have to be this way. New research suggests the country could feed all 327 million Americans — plus roughly 390 million more — by focusing on plants.

If U.S. farmers took all the land currently devoted to raising cattle, pigs and chickens and used it to grow plants instead, they could sustain more than twice as many people as they do now, according to a report published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Set aside your cravings for cheeseburgers, bacon and chicken wings for a moment and consider the argument made by Ron Milo, a systems biology and sustainability researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and his co-authors.

The researchers examined Americans' eating habits and agricultural production in the years 2000 to 2010. For their calculations, they used a U.S. population of 300 million (in reality, it grew from 282 million to 309 million during that period, according to the Census Bureau).

With the help of computers, they figured out how to remove beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs from the American diet and replace them with plant-based foods that were "nutritionally comparable." That means the replacement foods had to provide the same amount of calories, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals without increasing fat or cholesterol — and they had to do it using the smallest amount of land possible.

Imagine an area of land that can produce 100 grams of edible protein from plants. If you take that same amount of land and use it to produce eggs instead, you would end up with only 60 grams of edible protein — an "opportunity food loss" of 40 percent, the study authors found.

And that was the best-case scenario.

If that land were used to raise chickens, it would produce 50 grams of protein in the form of poultry. If it were devoted to dairy cows, it would provide 25 grams of protein in the form of milk products. If that land became a home for pigs, they would provide 10 grams of protein in the form of pork. And if you put cattle there, you'd get just 4 grams of protein in the form of beef.

Milo and his colleagues then scaled up their results to see how many more Americans could be fed by making each of those changes.

Eliminating eggs and replacing them with plants that offer the same nutrients would make it possible to feed 1 million additional people.

At the other end of the spectrum, swapping plants for beef would result in enough food to "meet the full dietary needs" of 163 million extra people.

In the middle were dairy (getting rid of it would result in food for 25 million more people), pigs (cutting them out would feed 19 million more people) and poultry chickens (without them, farmers could feed 12 million more people).

If beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs all were replaced by a nutritionally equivalent combination of potatoes, peanuts, soybeans and other plants, the total amount of food available to be eaten would increase by 120 percent, the researchers calculated.

To put that in perspective, the amount of food that's currently wasted due to things such as spoilage and inefficient production methods is between 30 percent and 40 percent of what U.S. farmers produce.

"The effect of recovering the opportunity food loss," the authors wrote, "is larger than completely eliminating all conventional food losses in the United States."

That's not to say there wouldn't be a few downsides. Although a completely plant-based diet would provide more nutrients overall, consumption of vitamin B12 and a few other micronutrients would decline, the study authors noted.

The economic effects of eliminating all livestock-based agriculture are also unknown, they added. But two of the plusses include better health (which should reduce medical costs) and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, they wrote.

Even if you're not ready to go vegan, Milo and his colleagues have certainly served up some food for thought.

Ducey: 'No' to major teacher raises, 'yes' to more tax cuts

PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday that teachers aren't going to get the 20 percent pay hike they are demanding -- not now and not in the foreseeable future.

And he intends to continue proposing further cuts in state taxes even as teachers say without substantially more money they may have no choice but to strike.

Speaking to reporters a day after a rally brought more than 2,000 teachers and supporters to the Capitol and hundreds to Flagstaff City Hall, the governor rejected the demand they laid out. Ducey said he's doing the best he can.

"We're definitely trending in the right direction,'' he said. "I've got a sense of urgency on this.''

Ducey said that the state has increased funding for salaries by about 9 percent since he took office in 2015.

But less than half of that is for actual raises, with the balance being for the additional teachers that had to be hired because of student growth.

Ducey's claims about the new money in K-12 education also include funds that came from voter approval in 2016 of Proposition 123.

That, however, was not really new dollars but instead funds to reimburse schools for what they did not get in prior years when lawmakers ignored a voter mandate to adjust state aid to schools annually to account for inflation. And most of those dollars actually came from a trust account that already belonged to schools in the first place.

What that leaves is the 1 percent increase that lawmakers gave teachers for the current school year -- more than the 0.4 percent that Ducey had actually sought -- and the governor's promise of an additional 1 percent hike for the coming school year.

And what it also does is leave Arizona teacher pay close to the bottom of the barrel nationally.

Ducey disputed figures from the Morrison Institute that put salaries for elementary school teachers dead last when considering the cost of living, with high school teachers at No. 49. Instead, he says Arizona is just 43rd in the nation.

"I'm not bragging on 43rd,'' the governor said. "I'm just saying we're not last.''

But the governor is not backing away from his pledge not only to never increase taxes but also refusing to reverse any of the hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax cuts that have kicked in since he took office. Each $100 million that was lost would translate to a 3 percent pay hike for teachers.

Perhaps more galling to teachers is Ducey's insistence that lawmakers approve yet another tax cut this year, albeit a much smaller one that eventually would reduce state revenues by another $15 million a year.

Ducey said he does not see tax cuts as antithetical to higher teacher pay. He said the state's economy has grown since he took office, adding 160,000 new jobs.

Per-student state aid is up 5 percent in the same period. But it still remains more than 4 percent below where it was a decade ago.

The governor's comments, coming on the heels of the Phoenix rally, discouraged Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis.

"He's going to continue to ignore and neglect us,'' he said.

And Karvelis isn't buying Ducey's argument that the state can improve its economy by continuing to shave off sources of revenue.

"Every single one of those tax cuts has come with the promise it's going to inject capital and dollars into our economy,'' he said. "That hasn't happened. That's a lie.''

Nor does he believe that 20 percent is unrealistic, pointing out it would not even bring the average salary for Arizona teachers up to the national median.

"It's ridiculous he won't even consider it,'' Karvelis said.

Part of what is working against the teachers is the sheer size of their demand.

A 20 percent pay hike has a price tag approaching $680 million, which would require more than a 10 percent increase in the approximately $5.4 billion in state dollars now going into public schools.

Republican legislative leaders have said that while they think teachers deserve more, they just don't have that kind of cash -- and will not have since, like Ducey, they're unwilling to consider tax hikes or reversing some of those corporate tax cuts.

But Karvelis said he believes many elements of the business community would support a tax hike if they could be guaranteed it would increase teacher pay.

That's likely true. In fact there is a coalition of current and former business officials who have said the current 0.6-cent sales tax for education -- the one lawmakers just extended until 2041 -- should be raised a full penny. That would raise more than $1 billion a year, far more than enough to get teacher pay here up to the national median.

Karvelis conceded such a move would likely require gathering the signatures to put the issue to the ballot. And he said that remains an option, even for this year, though it would require supporters to gather more than 150,000 signatures on petitions by July 5.

And he said that, for Ducey, going that route would be worse for him than if teachers went on strike.

"We're going to get out a ton of teachers to vote on that,'' Karvelis said. "A lot of those teachers ... are going to be checking 'yes' to that ballot initiative and then they'll be checking 'no' for him.''