Dallas Buyers Club Makes the HIV Epidemic Personal

Original posted in my Film Annex Science in Film blog, I’m sharing my thoughts about the Oscar nominated Best Picture, Dallas Buyers Club.

Dallas Buyers Club takes the painful issue of the HIV AIDS epidemic in the United States and makes it personal. This great movie tells the extraordinary true story of Texan Ron Woodroof. He’s a straight southern cowboy who knew nothing at all about the HIV virus when he was first told that he had it. He had the shock of a lifetime. This is gut wrenching and educational.

We discover along with Ron what it means to be labeled HIV positive in a country that was far from understanding the AIDS disease, the U.S. in the 1980′s and 1990′s. I was a research scientist at that time, and briefly worked in a lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in New York, on experiments to uncover how the DNA of the virus controlled viral growth and reproduction.

HIV was a mystery to us, treatments weren’t working, and infection was lethal. Years later, I wrote a fictional novel about HIV infection, called Vector A Modern Love Story about a young woman who catches HIV from an older man.

The Changing Face of an Epidemic

When HIV was first identified as the cause of AIDS, people who were infected could only expect to live another year at best. Because of better treatment, now people with HIV who are treated, live nearly a normal lifetime.

Things have changed, mercifully. The anti-viral treatment for HIV is safer now and easier to take than in the past. Now it is as simple as one pill a day. It used to be many pills along with injections for combination therapy that worked against the virus, but was also dangerously toxic to the body. Today medication can drastically cut down the amount of HIV virus in a person’s blood, without major side effects to the rest of the body.

The photo is of the talented actor who plays Ron Woodroof, Matthew McConaughey, at the premiere of the film.

The Epidemic Rages On Without the Fanfare

Without nearly the attention it used to command, the HIV epidemic rages on. More than 35 million people are now infected with HIV worldwide. Many do not know they have the infection, any more than Ron Woodroof did. The only way to find out is to get tested, a quick and inexpensive test any healthcare provider can give.

Just yesterday a homeless young man holding a sign: HIV Positive – Desperate – sat in Union Square subway station where I commute to work in New York City.

In the United States, over 1 million people have an HIV infection, according to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , CDC. Of these, CDC estimates that 180,000 people have HIV but don’t know they are infected. Getting tested for HIV is important for health and to prevent the spread of the disease to loved ones. Each year about 50,000 more people are infected with HIV and about 15,000 people with HIV die. HIV infects both men and women, gay and straight. Now, about 3/4 of people living with HIV in the United States are men, and 1/4 are women.

I highly recommend Dallas Buyers Club as a dramatic movie that shines a light on how an epidemic affects an individual man. Matthew McConaughey brings the story to life with force and authenticity. His business partner in the story is equally fascinating, played by Jared Leto. Would this movie have your vote for Best Picture at the Oscars 2014?

Change 1 Thing for New Years

What would it be, if you could change one thing in the New Year?

This is a question I ask myself at the end or beginning of a year, before New Years, at birthdays too.

My friends’ responses to the question this year ranged from the personal to the political, and even global:

  • look in the mirror and say kind things about myself
  • change my hair color
  • sensitivity
  • have publishing luck
  • fewer attacks on women’s rights
  • get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • wish the world would stop fracking their brains out
  • act on climate, that’s the big one

In the last year, I worked on the issue of fracking by writing a documentary of my trip to the heart of gasland in PA on a Citizen’s Tour. The story that came out of the trip is now published as Stream and Shale Coloring Storybook for children and families.

For my part, this year I would like to remember more of my dreams and act on them.

Dreaming can be deeply personal and individual or it can be idealistic and aimed at the whole world, but I mean dreaming in the literal sense of what goes on when I’m sleeping. By starting small, keeping a dream notebook by my bed, I’m hoping to bring my two worlds closer together. The waking world and the dreaming world seem so far apart. These are complicated to put together into one experience of who I am, what I’m hoping for, and what I’m capable of actually doing.

Dreams have always fascinated me from as long as I can remember. Even in childhood I often woke up remembering vivid dreams. But strangely I came no closer to understanding my own dreams when I read about dream interpretation, the likes of dream dictionaries, Freud, and Jung.


The Doctor’s Dreams, my newest book is two novellas about two kinds of dreams, the ones that we have while sleeping, and the ones we hold onto while awake. Coming out early in 2014, this new book is my first try at writing novellas. The first story, The Doctor’s Dreams, follows an exploration of a secret dream book that was left behind by a doctor who went mising on New Year’s Eve in New York City. And the second, After The Layoff, shows the changes a scientist goes through after being laid off from her job, a time when reconstructing a new life seems like a dream, or nightmare. I’m working on ideas for the book cover as the manuscript goes through final edits, and came across this design of bats which I like, as a glimpse of the strangeness of the dream life.

What do dreams mean to you?

Best wishes for a Happy New Year, and may your good dreams come true.

Stream & Shale Fracking Coloring Book

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before?

What if I knew I would never see it again?’”

― Rachel Carson, Ecologist

 Canada Goose JJB


J.J.Brown, published in 2013

Book Excerpt

Chapter 1. Journey’s Beginning

Stars still shine brightly and the sky is dark blue at six in the morning. The winter air is below freezing. One by one and then two by two, people gather on a Brooklyn street corner in New York City. They wait for the bus going to a Citizens’ tour of Pennsylvania. Each person carries gallons of pure bottled water with them. The water is a gift for people living in eastern Pennsylvania.

The sky brightens to light blue. The trip leader repeats Everyone’s names for each new arrival. It sounds like a chorus. The group welcomes a Finnish film crew. They are tall with cropped blonde hair and mostly silent. A New York filmmaker with a head of curly hair and wearing glasses joins too. He is not so silent. People are still sleepy. They don’t know one another yet at the beginning of the day. By nightfall, when all the travelers head back to their own homes, they will.

The sun rises. Everyone boards the big bus. It rolls out of Brooklyn, across the dark gray water of the East River. The bus passes through the island of Manhattan. The city streets are lined with shining skyscrapers. They are built of stone and steel. The rock doves New Yorkers call pigeons think the streets are stone cliffs for their nests. The birds circle above in flocks predicting rain or maybe snow.

The bus emerges from the city. The group travels south through the thick haze of Elizabeth, New Jersey. The strange sulfurous scent of industrial air creeps in through closed windows. Farther on, the tall yellow marshes of the Meadowlands sway slowly over still gray waters.


Stream & Shale Coloring Storybook is my first book for children and families, with 17 line drawings to color. The true story is the one-day journey from Brooklyn to Dimock and Montrose, PA where fracking (shale gas drilling by hydraulic fracturing) has shaped the environment and community. I hope you’ll share Stream & Shale with the children in your family and community.

The new book is out in print at:

Stream & Shale at Barnes & Noble

Stream & Shale at Amazon


Rap Remix of Great Classics with Baba Brinkman

The Canterbury Tales Remixed - Baba Brinkman

The Canterbury Tales Remixed – Baba Brinkman

Rap artist Baba Brinkman performs great classics remixed, in his theater show Canterbury Tales Remixed. This weekend the show is in New York City, and it tours internationally. Whether experiencing the show as a purist or as a tourist, the performance rocks with vitality.

The monologues begin with tales of the hero Gilgamesh from ancient Sumeria, one of the earliest tales known to mankind. From there Brinkman moves into selected Canterbury Tales and ends with a new interpretation of Beowulf.

DJ Jamie Simmonds, aka @MrSimmondsMusic composes and plays his own sound creations as the live DJ throughout Baba Brinkman’s performance. As part of the show, video projections give a mix of ancient artifacts and pop culture art that enhance the simple stage. With only Baba, Simmonds and one stool, the live audience is transported around the world and through the ages. Words, as Baba says, make us immortal.

At times bawdy, at times humorous, the show is always educational. I didn’t need the storyteller to urge me to read, read read – which he did at the end of the show – because the whole experience was a teaser to explore deeper literary treasures.

Brinkman is unique, but credits among his influencers Chaucer, Seamus Heaney and rap storytellers like NAS and Missy Elliot.

The Canterbury Tales is one of three related performances in Evolutionary Tales, a rap theater cycle at the Players Theater in the Village through June 23rd. If you are in the New York City area this coming weekend and can make the shows, you are in for an unforgettable good time.

Emergency Peoples’ Relief Taking Place in OK

J.J.Brown Author:

Sharing many ways to help people in OK hit by the tornado:

Originally posted on Earth First! Newswire:

In case you didn’t know, a tornado touched down in Oklahoma, killing at least 51 people (20 children among them). We can’t control the weather, we can try to stop climate change before it gets worse, and we can definitely help build solidarity networks to respond to emergency situations. FEMA is too busy picking which trees to cut down in the San Francisco Bay area. Solidarity is all we have.

Cross Posted from Infoshop.org

Support Oklahoma

We are collecting information about how people can support independent relief efforts supporting the people in Oklahoma affected by the May 20, 2013 tornado.

*Rainbow Rapid Response Disaster Relief for Oklahoma
*Food Not Bombs – Norman, OK
*Occupy Disaster Relief
*Mutual Aid Official Contacts
*Occupy Norman

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