Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Couldn't help myself


Sorry....couldn't help myself....I have to post this picture of a mother otter and her baby...from Radikal Photos. (Thanks, Cute Overload!)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Sack

Mula came upon a frowning man walking along the road to town. “What’s wrong?” he asked. The man held up a tattered bag and moaned, “All that I own in this wide world barely fills this miserable, wretched sack.”
“Too bad,” said Mula, and with that, he snatched the bag from the man’s hands and ran down the road with it.
Having lost everything, the man burst into tears and, more miserable than before, continued walking. Meanwhile, Mula quickly ran around the bend and placed the man’s sack in the middle of the road where he would have to come upon it.
When the man saw his bag sitting in the road before him, he laughed with joy, and shouted, “My sack! I thought I’d lost you!”
Watching through the bushes, Mula chuckled. “Well, that’s one way to make someone happy!”
A Sufi Story from the Middle East
Woodcut from Cudmore's photostream at Flickr

Mistaken order of hard lemonade cases state to remove 7 year old boy

Boing Boing turned me on to a great site today called Don't Tase Me, Bro!-- a blog on the state of civil liberties and personal freedom.

Today's post is the story of a University of Michigan professor who took his 7 year old son to a baseball game and bought him a lemonade-- a Mike's hard lemonade, as it turns out. Dad had never heard of it and didn't know there was alcohol in it. A security guard saw it and turned him in to Child Protective Services, who promtly took possession of his son. Check it out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

No soup kitchen? They'll never know what hit them

Four of us from Arise-- Lamont, Liz, Don James and I-- went down to the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen during supper tonight to talk to folks about the possible scaling back or maybe even closing of the soup kitchen. Liz had flyered at the noontime meal so folks knew we were coming, and that we were encouraging anyone who wanted to speak out about why the soup kitchen (and the food pantry) are so important to them to do so.

Some time this week-- maybe even tomorrow-- the Massachusetts Legislature will vote on an amendment to provide funding for the parent organization, Open Pantry Community Services. The amendment will be bundled in with dozens of others, and what will actually happen feels more like a crap shoot. I wrote about the amendment numbers and who to call here, and if you live in Massachusetts, haven't done so already, please call.

Open Pantry is broke and the city of Springfield isn't making any appreciable effort to help them. I know many agencies that help the poor are hurting. But no one can replace the role the OP plays among the community of the poor.

I saw a lot of people I know at the soup kitchen and at least one of them had good news-- he'd gotten an apartment through the city's Housing First program. Three years ago he'd been living at our six-month tent city. I saw my old friend Patrick, though, and he didn't look so good-- lost weight. I almost didn't recognize him.

The tables at the soup kitchen are not segregated, of course, but folks do tend to sort themselves out. Most of the elder Puerto Ricans sit near the kitchen and are very quiet. Single guys and women tend to sit at the tables down the middle. I saw one man I'd never seen before-- quite elderly, quite thin, in a wheelchair. I saw another guy who I'd paid to help me paint my apartment and we made arrangements for him to pick up the CDs he'd left at my house. A half dozen children sat with their parents.

The young people, those 25 or younger, sit at the tables on the sides. I don't think most people realize how very young and how very the old people who eat at soup kitchens can be. I was admiring some of the art work on the walls that is the product of Tuesday and Thursday art classes where another one of our members, Linda, is one of the teachers.

"I've been thinking of going," a blonde girl surely no more than 20 said.
"Yeah, do it," I said.

Some people who eat at soup kitchens have absolutely no food at home-- if they have a home. They might be camping or stopping for supper on their way to the shelter. Or they have a home but it's just empty. Some people who eat at the soup kitchen actually do have a little food in the cupboard. Sure, they could eat that can of creamed corn they're so sick of looking at, or the fruit cocktail. But they'd rather go down to Loaves and Fishes where they are less alone, where they can be among friends.

Maybe I just haven't been hanging out with homeless people often enough recently to see the strengths and endurance I can usually see in the community, but I must say tonight's people looked fragile and shell-shocked. Still friendly (or not), still smiling (or not) , the outlines of their bodies seemed less distinct, almost smudged. Maybe that's just me. But I'm afraid.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Winter shelters close, homeless encampments grow

"The Amherst, MA Survival Center is starting to get more calls as emergency shelters are closing. People need tents," the email began. "Do you have one hanging around that a homeless person can use until they get on their feet? Please... we only have 2 left and the phone is ringing off the hook!!!"

Thus begins the annual ritual of closing winter-only shelters, not only in Massachusetts but around the country. For the most part, homeless people won't be moving from the shelters to housing, although Springfield, MA's homeless coordinator says 7 of the 12 people in the overflow shelter do have housing waiting for them. Elsewhere in the state, Northampton's Cot Shelter will close on April 30. There are already 50 to 90 people sleeping out on the Cape, according to Cape Cod Today, in 40 or so small encampments.

In Plano, TX, many of the homeless people that had to be turned away by the Samaritan in this winter have been sleeping in their cars in the parking lot of the local library-- at least up until now. The City Council passed an ordinance on April 14 forbidding any parking in the lot between 11 am. and 5 pm. See if you buy this one: "Joyce Baumbach, the director of libraries, said the ordinance isn't just targeting homeless people. "Some of the neighbors do use the lot for extra parking or if they have company overnight," Baumbach said. "They will also not be allowed to park overnight anymore." NBC5 Dallas/Fort Worth.

Pinellas Hope shelter in St. Petersburg, FL has raised enough money to stay open through the summer, although on a greatly reduced basis-- 75 guests a night rather than the 250 it's housed over the last five months. Turlock, California's winter shelter closed at the end of March, but not quietly:: 150 homeless people and allies protested on the steps of City Hall. Earlier in March, "Vice Mayor Kurt Vander Weide, Councilmen Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher voted against extending the B Street shelter in downtown by 30 days, citing reasons of political ideology and the weather." (!!) Modesto Bee. When Springfield, Illinois closed its SOS shelter, also at the end of March, one option the homeless there used to have is now denied to them: camping on the library grounds. The city made it clear it's not going to be allowed this year.

Sleeping out isn't always very safe. Two homeless men burned to death in Olympia, WA when a canopy strung between two trees caught fire and fell on the men during the night.

Half of Madison, WI's homeless population of 3,400 is unsheltered and walking the streets, but they're not feeling very welcome these days. Two unsolved murders in two months.has put the community on edge and a lot of suspicion is focused on homeless people. Chicago Tribune.

As cities and towns and the people who live in them struggle economically, seems like there's not much left for the people who have theleast.

Poetry contest - I got honorable mention

Every now and then something happens which brings different pieces of my life together. A couple of months ago I went to the Springfield Library to hear poet Martin Espada read-- always a treat-- and while I was there I found out that the library was having a poetry contest for Western Mass. poets. Without much thought or expectation, I picked a poem and sent it in. Lo and behold, I got honorable mention; yesterday the poets read their chosen works to a small band of other poets and friends at the library..

I was honored to get some kind and encouraging words from Magdelena Gomez, a poet whose work I admire very much. I was relieved also that people seemed to think the poem was better than I thought it was.

It's been years since I seriously thought of trying to get my poems published-- but I still write, and I still get pleasure from modeling words like clay to a desired effect. Most of my poems are much smaller than the one I submitted, more precise and not overtly political. But every now and then I write a poem like the one that follows:

The poets gather.
The revolutionary poets gather.
The revolutionary poets gather
on college campuses
where they have come to be heard
where someone else handles all the logistics, thank god
where they will be PAID
because poetry is WORK
aand poets have a right to make a living
form their amazing ability
to pin joy and pain
to the page with the right words.

They have come
riding on aged white reputations
on Spanish surnames and decade-new African names
to talk to fresh young minds.
O dear children, we will let you in
on why poetry is revolutionary
how poetry fights racism and sexism and imperialism.
We will tell you why these small words
have so much meaning beyond themselves
how the teacup leaves are a metaphor for the whole world
and maybe someday you too, you too, you too and if you can't
you can still be a part, you can still be inspired by us.

Meanwhile, across the river and the railroad tracks, three sounds:
almost too low to hear, awakening anger,
laying down the baseline, a soft mutter:
It ain't supposed to be like this,
it's supposed to be better.
It ain't supposed to be like this,
it's supposed to be better.
Then a sound so high, like a scream of horror:
My children, my children,
how did this happen?
My children, my children,
how did this happen?
Then the middle notes, which only need to be louder
to find each other:
I wish I had a job, a home,
I wish the cops would leave me alone.
I wonder if they rape my son
behind the bars when he's alone.
I never thought I'd say this, but
I hate this fucking rice so much.
If she drops out of school, what then?
I went to the shelter but couldn't get in.
We wait in the line. I look in your eyes.
I think we are planning a big surprise.

Choreography will be done
by experts in sidestepping disaster.
Theme provided by necessity,
rhythm courtesy of our hearts.
Soon to be playing everywhere.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Needle Exchange

Posting the story about David Hoose's law firm and how he defended Arise when we were raided got me thinking about needle exchange.

Before 2006, when pharmacy sale of syringes was legalized in Massachusetts-- one of only four states to still prohibit such sales-- IV drug users' only legal route to needles was through one of the state's four sanctioned NEX programs. Arise and others, such as Springfield's Department of Health and Human Services, tried and failed to get a similar program in Springfield-- a long and frustrating story. .

Although the four Massachusetts needle exchange programs still exist, much of the political controversy-- and organizing!-- has died away. I checked several websites, including the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts, and the Drug Policy Alliance, and the parts of their websites concerned with NEX haven't been updated since the pharmacy sales law was passed.

One advantage that NEX programs continue to have over pharmacy sales is that people who use the exchanges are more likely to seek treatment for addiction. You're in an environment where drug use doesn't have to be hidden, where you are not judged by your addiction, where information on access to treatment is all around you with staff ready to help you if you want to quit.

Actually getting access to treatment, of course, is another story. At one point real organizing was done around "Treatment on Demand" and people more people were aware of the issue. Now that issue and its organizing seems to have become a casualty of Massachusett's budget crisis.

Most people think of recovery from drug addiction in terms that jump from zero to one hundred with nothing in between. They don't understand what harm reduction is even though they may use it in their own lives. (Can't stop smoking yet but you can cut down; you drink too much but won't get behind the wheel of a car.) But harm prevention for drug users gets little respect. I guess it's not absolute enough in the world of personal responsibility.

Some harm reductionists believe that all the harm that is done by drugs stems from their prohibition. I'm not in that category, although I know that criminalizing drug use is far, far less effective in turning addicts into non-addicts than is a public health approach.

If someone had asked me why I choose to give IV drug users clean needles, I would not have said it was because I supported their drug use. I would have said then as I say now, Stay alive, stay alive as long as you can to increase the chances that one day you will stop using.

Springfield loses major law firm

After twenty years at their 1145 Main St., Springfield address, the law firm of of Sasson, Turnbull and Hoose is moving its main practice to Amherst. They say they plan to maintain a satellite office at their old address, but it won't be the same.

Although the firm is "full service," they are probably best known for their work in civil rights and criminal law, taking many cases with unpopular criminal defendants. Somebody has to do it, right? (Some of you would say no.)

David Hoose represented me after Arise was raided and Tory Field and I were charged with possession of hypodermic needles. He will always have my gratitude.

The firm's move is yet another loss for Springfield.
Nonprofit agrees to DA's terms
Saturday, October 02, 2004
By MARLA A. GOLDBERG
Staff writer
SPRINGFIELD - An application for a criminal complaint against Arise for Social Justice was withdrawn yesterday, as the nonprofit group agreed not to run an unlicensed needle-exchange program in the future.
A search at the group's 94 Rifle Street office last month yielded 380 unused hypodermic syringes, 62 syringe preparation kits and a medical container of
used needles. Police said they would seek warrants against Arise's president, Michaelann C. Bewsee, 56, and an organizer, Tory L. Field, 28.

However, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said that he and the police together withdrew the application for a complaint.
"The purpose of the police action was to stop the activity, and that will be accomplished," Bennett said, crediting police with professional handling of
the Arise matter.

"They understand that reasonable people could disagree regarding the merits of needle exchange programs," Bennett said.

Bewsee and Field were summonsed to Springfield District Court yesterday for a show-cause hearing, which turned out to be brief. Lawyer David Hoose, who
represented Bewsee, said the district attorney's office decided against requesting the complaint "so long as our clients agree not to operate any
illegal needle-exchange in the future."

The case was continued for three months, Bennett said, to make sure the parties live up to the agreement. If they do, the case will be terminated.
Bennett characterized Arise's actions as well-intentioned but unlawful. City Councilor Bud L. Williams has said he is pushing forward with efforts
to start a legal needle-exchange program in Springfield. State law gives local elected officials the power to adopt a state Department of Public
Health-run needle-exchange program. Programs operate in Northampton, Cambridge, Boston and Provincetown.

Bennett said he doesn't favor such programs.

"The needle is given to a person who is going to use it to commit a crime, that is, possessing illegal drugs. Also, it creates the false impression
that there is a safe way to use dangerous drugs," Bennett said.

Proponents of needle-exchange programs maintain the spread of blood-borne diseases can be slowed if addicts who might otherwise share needles can be
supplied with clean ones.

About eight people, including Arise board member Polly Richardson, gathered at the Hall of Justice yesterday in support of Bewsee and Field. The
problem, Richardson said, is Springfield's failure to run a licensed needle-exchange program.

"This is negligence on the city council's part," Richardson said. "This is a public health issue we're talking about - that should be the focus of all of
this."

Bewsee said that while she was personally relieved by yesterday's outcome, the problem of people needing clean needles remains. People from Springfield
requiring needle exchange can drive to Northampton and enroll in the Tapestry program, or drive to Connecticut, where needles are sold at
pharmacies, she said.

"I feel like we're at court today for something that shouldn't be illegal to begin with," Field said.

Atheist soldier takes on the military

No, he doesn't go around trying to convince other soldiers that God doesn't exist and no, he doesn't throw his disbelief in other soldiers' faces. Spc. Jeremy Hall just wants not to be harassed for his atheist beliefs.

Hall has filed a lawsuit which includes Secretary of Defense Robert gates as one of the defendants. He says that the Christian religion is pushed on soldiers and that he has been passed over for promotion because superior officers believe that he would be unable to bond with those under him unless he believes in God.

You can read more about it at the Topeka Capital Journal. Hall is based at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Brazil's homeless and landless unite

Homeless is a word we know all too well here in the U.S. But landless? Do people have a right to land? Seems to fly in the face of our deep-seated belief in the right to private property.

Brazil's Landless Workers Movement, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, is the largest social movement in Latin America. The MST interprets the Brazilian Constitution as allowing for the occupation and expropriation of unproductive land. Sometimes the Brazilian court agrees with MST and sometimes it doesn't. MST members occupy the land and begin subsistence farming.

Recently the MST has been working with the Movement of the Roofless -- Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto-- which has been organizing takeovers of abandoned buildings in cities like San Paulo. One building in the city, Prestes Maia, has been occupied since 2002. Conditions are poor but, say residents, better than living in a cardboard box on the street. BBC News.

While the U.S. tends to pathologize its homeless, other countries focus on the economic and political conditions that create homelessness and see distribution of wealth, especially in the form of land, as part of the solution.

We in the U.S. are far less likely to blame the rich, because we all want to be rich. But that's a little like Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone, where all the children are above average.

What would it be like to live in a country where everyone has enough (and that includes enough for leisure) and where those who accumulate more than they need at the expense of others are seen as immoral? So many of our politicians insist this is a "Christian" country, but their definition ignores the many New Testament admonishments against excessive wealth.


Matthew 19:23-24 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." I'm no Christian scholar, but to me this statement is not just about wealth, but about the inevitable moral corruption that comes about when we learn to ignore the disparities between wealth and poverty.

Meanwhile some movements intend to apply the correction to admonishments against excessive wealth right here on earth.

Photos from the BBC:
Prestes Maia; a library in the building.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wasted no more: Florida restaurants can give away food


We've all thought of this: why do restaurants have to throw out all their prepared food at the end of the day? Why can't they just give it away to shelters and meal programs? Then we answer our own question: because they don't want to get sued. (Guess food taken from dumpsters is lawsuit-proof because it was thrown away.)

These same thoughts went through the mind of 12 year old Jack Davis after eating out at a Tallahassee restaurant last year. His dad is a lawyer and they drafted a bill exempting restaurants and other eateries from any liability associated with their food. There's more at the Miami Herald.

Colleges also throw out a tremendous amount of good food from dining halls. Sounds like a good project for a campus student group. Tip from the 13th Juror.

By the way, the London Mail reports that families in the UK throw away about a third of the food they buy. I'm sure it's not different in the U.S. "Buy one, get two" sales take some of the blame-- the food goes bad before it can be eaten.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Springfield's Open Pantry needs help now

To be blunt: Open Pantry Community Services is in trouble and may not be able to avoid deep cuts in essential services. It's not hopeless but it's pretty bad, and what's bad for the Open Pantry is bad for the poor and homeless people in this city.

Last year the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen prepared over a hundred thousand meals for people in need of food and friendship, lunch and supper, seven days a week. When staff and guests were discussing which of the two meals should be cut if it came to that, the answer was the lunch meal-- because a lot of children eat supper there with their parents.

Last year the Open Pantry provided groceries for more than 27,000 people, half of them children. Now the pantry may have to cut back days they're open from four to two.

Last year 1,200 homeless people went to caseworkers at the Open Door with help ranging from getting I.D. and applying for veteran's benefits to looking for an apartment.

Last year the Commonwealth of Massachusetts cut more than 400,000 from OPCS's budget after its Warming Place shelter for single homeless was forced to close. Three area legislators have introduced amendments restoring that funding, but success is far from automatic.

If you're in the district of
Rep. Puppolo - amendment # 304 Tel. (413) 596-4333/(617) 722-2011
Rep. Swan - amendment # 936 Tel. (413) 739-8547/(617) 722-2680
Rep. Coakley-Rivera - amendment # 1034 Tel. (413) 739-1503/(617) 722-2011
Call them and thank them for sponsoring these amendments.

If you live anywhere in Massachusetts, call your legislator! Ask them to sign on to these amendments and to vote for them if/when they get to the floor. Calls to members of the the House Ways and Means Committee will help, also. The main number for the State Representatives is: (617-722-2000) or you can follow this link: http://www.mass.gov/legis/memmenuh.htm for a complete list of State Representatives with their contact information.

I try to picture Springfield without the Open Pantry and it's a pretty grim picture. Don't let it happen.

PS-- Forgot to say, money is totally welcome! You can send a contribution to Open Pantry Community Services, P.O. Box 5127, Springfield, MA 01101-5127.

Earth from the Landsat Satellite - Himalayas

Soaring, snow-capped peaks and ridges of the eastern Himalayas Mountains create an irregular white-on-red patchwork between major rivers in southwestern China. The Himalayas are made up of three parallel mountain ranges that together extend more than 2900 kilometers. Our Earth as Art - NASA

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rice rationing in Springfield?

This morning I was going to write about the sudden surge in rice prices as speculators take advantage of food insecurity (sort of like war profiteering, as far as I'm concerned) but I ran out of time. I'd also saved an article about the potential for rice rationing in the U.S. which I hadn't had time to read thoroughly.

On my way home from work I stopped at the Food Zone on Belmont Ave. for milk and dog food and sure enough! The twenty pound bags of rice were labeled "Limit 2 bags."

A Costco in California is limiting customers' purchases of rice to one bag each. Flour and cooking oil are also being rationed in some parts of the U.S.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that food shortages in the U.S. are imminent (although I could be wrong!) but we have certainly all felt the pinch of increasing prices. We're unlikely to be eating mud next month, as they are in Haiti right now. But what I am saying is that while we look for the larger solutions, we'd better be damn careful on a personal level. Look for food bargains. Don't waste what we buy. Appreciate what we have. And put a little bit aside just in case.

As a young hippy homesteading in Maine, I learned to identify many edible wild plants; I ate many of them-- with relish!-- and still remember most of their names and what they look like. Even though I don't expect to have to eat them for survival any time soon, that knowledge reassures me in some deep way.

Perennials! Got a big back yard or live near a vacant lot? Get half a dozen raspberry canes. In just a few years you'll have so many raspberries you'll have plenty to give away. Asparagus takes a little longer but is indescribably delicious. Remember grandmother's rhubarb patch? Strawberries spread on their own, too.

Of course a lot of people don't have yards-- 50% of Springfield's households are rental-- but just about everyone has the room and the light to grow a patio tomato. In the summer of 2008, we won't need that plant to survive. Yet maybe if we all could start remembering/discovering the taste of a tomato warmed by the sun, we would find ourselves gently guided toward greater control of our own destiny.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Plant a tree with Stumble Upon

Do you have the Stumble Upon toolbar?
If you don't, you should have. With Stumble Upon, you indicate your interests and when you hit the Stumble button, you're sent a page from a website or blog that matches your interest. Who has time to randomly search the Web for interesting sites anymore?
Anyway, if you do have the toolbar, or get it anytime before May 2, the first page you see will be from Stumble Upon. If you click a 'thumbs up" for the page, Stumble Upon will plant a tree with the National Forest Foundation.
How easy is that?

Meeting Saturday on Holyoke trash transfer station

Holyoke City Councilor Diosdado Lopez and other community activists are calling for a public meeting this Saturday to figure out what to do about the proposed solid waste transfer station. last Tuesday, the City Council voted to require a special permit to build such a station. But that leaves many unanswered questions for activists.

People aren't against the station per se-- Councilor Lopez says Holyoke is willing to take responsibility for its share of solid waste, and maybe more than that. (Springfield's recycling center serves 78 communities.) At this particular location, however, trucks bringing trash would run through a low-income neighborhood where asthma rates are already high. Treated trash would leave the plant by rail, which passes by the city's water supply. And, says Lopez, it wouldn't be cost-effective for the plant to send treated trash out a boxcar at a time-- trash might sit on the tracks for days until it moves.

If you're affected by this plant, find out more. The following is the meeting notice I received:

DON'T LET HOLYOKE GET TRASHED BY UNITED WASTE MANAGEMENT OF HOLYOKE! COME TO A PUBLIC MEETING TO HEAR HOW THE PROPOSED PLANT COULD AFFECT OUR HEALTH AS WELL AS HOLYOKE'S DRINKING WATER SUPPLY, (ASHLEY RESERVOIR IS ON THE TRAIN ROUTE BRINGING OUT TONS OF WASTE AND DEBRIS).

AN ACCIDENT COULD CONTAMINATE OUR CLEAN WATER SOURCE!! GET INVOLVED! TAKE CARE OF THE HOLYOKE WATER SUPPLY AND OUR QUALITY OF LIFE (water, air, health + property values)

RAIN OR SHINE EVENT SATURDAY, APRIL 26, 2008, 1:00PM, CORNER OF MAIN & BERKSHIRE STREET, HOLYOKE. FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL COUNCILOR LOPEZ 413-532-4496
DIOSDADOLOPEZ@HOTMAIL.COM

NO DEJE QUE HOLYOKE SE CONVIERTA EN UN BASURERO DE LA COMPAƱIA “UNITED WASTE MANAGEMENT OF HOLYOKE”

VENGA A ESTA REUNION PARA ESCUCHAR COMO ESTA PROPUESTA PUEDE ARRUINAR NUESTRA SALUD Y NUESTRA AGUA QUE USAMOS DIAREMENTE EN HOLYOKE.

(NUESTRA AGUA POTABLE DE LA RESERVA “ASHLEY” ESTA EN LA RUTA DEL “TRAIN” QUE ESTARA TRANSPORTANDO TONELADAS DE BASURA Y ESCOMBROS POR LAS VIAS)

¡CUALQUIER MINIMO ACIDENTE PUEDE CONTAMINAR NUESTRA AGUA POTABLE! ¡PARTICIPE!

CUIDE NUESTRA FUENTE DE AGUA POTABLE Y CALIDAD DE VIDA EN HOLYOKE. (Agua, Aire, Salud y Valores de las propiedades) Este evento se llevara a cabo con lluvia o sin lluvia

SABADO 26 DE ABRIL DEL 2008, 1:00PM, En la Esquina de las Calles Main y Berkshire en Holyoke

PARA MAS INFORMACION LLAME AL ASAMBLEISTA LOPEZ 532-4496

DIOSDADOLOPEZ@HOTMAIL.COM

Tokyo homeless encampment

"being homeless in Tokyo is different than being homeless in other countries of the world... " from Cliostaad, a site that talks about Toyko's homeless population and some of the shelters they built for themselves Site owners also show a polycarbonate house they designed for short-term visitors to Japan, where housing is extremely scarce.

Monday, April 21, 2008

GM crops yield less, not more, food

For the last three years the University of Kansas has been studying genetically modified soybean crops. Professor Barney Gorden in the agronomy department started the study because some farmers in the region who were using genetically modified soybeans said their crop yields were down. So Gorden grew a Monsanto GM version in one field and regular soybeans in another. The GM modified field produced 70 bushels to the 77 bushels produced by the non-modified field-- a 10% difference!

It turned out that the GM crops needed more manganese, and something about the GM Monsanto seeds-- modified to resist Monsanto's own Roundup weedkiller-- prevented the mineral's uptake. The crops recovered when extra manganese was added, but still, the yield only equaled, not exceeded, the yield of the non-modified. Farmers, of course, would have to pay the extra cost of the manganese.

Meanwhile, some countries that have resisted buying GM because of public mistrust are changing their policies. Japan and North Korea have already started importing GM crops, justifying their actions because of rising prices and the global food crisis. Today's New York Times reports that even Europe may be pushed closer to acceptance of GM foods based on their pocketbooks.

The Times article also makes the first reference I've seen to the study I wrote about last week by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (although the article didn't refer to the group by name). This five year examination and re-envisioning of agricultural production to meet the world's needs had nothing positive to say about the role of genetically modified crops, questioning both their safety and their efficacy.

75% of all the corn grown in the U.S. last year was genetically modified.

Who is David Jessie?

Who is David Jessie and why is the Memorial Bridge his home?

Mr. Jessie was injured by an Amtrak train on Sunday and taken to the hospital with "non-life threatening" injuries to his arm. Springfield, MA police listed his address as the Memorial Bridge.

Did he not like the praying at Springfield Rescue Mission? Or was he unable to comply with the No Drinking rule?
Is he banned at Worthington St. Shelter? Or not able to handle the noise, lack of privacy and so he chose to sleep out?

What I do know is that six months from now, the weather will be chilly and rainy and the promised new shelter with expanded capacity at Worthington St. still will not be built! The ground remains unbroken. People will still be sleeping out in dangerous situations.

If anyone knows Mr. Jessie, or if Mr. Jessie gets to read this himself, I would like to know more.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Land of 10,000 homeless

Check out Voices of the Streets, a website of artistic activism, providing a space for the disadvantaged to share their stories, presents the stories of Minnesota's homeless...music, video, art and suggestions about what each of us can do to end homelessness.
The site says, "Mainstream media seldom asks for the opinion of those adversely affected by homelessness, poverty, discrimination, racism, or other serious and persistent societal problems." This is so true. The providers want to solve problems for us, not with us.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Auto site talks about biofuels

Wow-- here's a blog called Kicking Tires that, among other things, is blogging about biofuels, and how one tank of gas equals 528 pounds of corn-- enough to feed a person for a year, and suggesting that the U.S. change its policy on biofuels. You can research cars, write a review of your own car, find out about recalls, buy and sell-- in other words, a regular car site but writing about hunger and the environment.. Hope for the world?

Bay State Gas: using less will cost you more

In one of the more ridiculous rationalizations I've seen recently, Bay State Gas Co. says that consumers have used 7% less gas ever since Hurricane Katrina-- so it wants an increase in rates. Well, we use less gas because it costs more. So let me get this straight: it costs more so we use less so it costs more?

Profit, of course, is always the bottom line. Bay State Gas is a wholly owned subsidiary of Indiana-based NISource, and it's true their profits were down a teeny bit from last year: "NiSource's consolidated operating earnings (non-GAAP) for 2007 were $997.9 million, compared to $1,002.0 million in 2006. Schedules 1 and 2 of this news release contain a reconciliation of net operating earnings and operating earnings to GAAP." NiSource

Apparently Bay State Gas filed for the rent increase last October. Mandatory public hearings must have been held, and it slipped by me. They are not usually widely publicized; I wonder why? This year Bay State wants a 5% increase on the distribution portion of our bill, about 30% of the total.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley wants state regulators to refuse the increase, which would add to the $24.2 million in increases since 2005.

Protest is not futile. I found this flyer from 2005 when Arise for Social Justice was organizing with other groups across the state. Protests in whatever form have made a difference in the past. Call Coakley at (617) 727-2200 or use the Consumer Hotline number at (617) 727-8400. Send an email to NISource (no number listed) at questions@nisource.com. Call Bay State Gas Co-- they provide no number for consumers other than the automated line, so I'd try calling the numbers provided for businesses:
er
Type
E-mail
Phone

Vic DeAngelo

Commercial & Industrial vdeangelo@nisource.com 413-781-9200
ext. 2738
Paul Giguere
Key Accounts pgiguere@nisource.com 413-781-9200
ext. 2142

You can then ask for spokesperson Sheila A. Doiron or as high up the corporate scale as you can get!

Last but not least, don't give up. Talk to your neighbors and get them to call. With the Attorney General on consumers' side, it's not too late to stop or reduce these rate hikes.

Conscious Consuming - does not eating meat make a difference?

I found a simple and informative blog called Conscious Consuming that links to an column by Derrick Z. Jackson about eating meat. I want to be writing more about this myself, but this is about as good as it gets.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How to make perfect rice

Start with a heavy pan. I have two WWII vintage cast aluminum pans; cast iron is also good.

The proportion is always one cup of rice to two cups of water (except arborio, which is a whole other story).

Purists say not to rinse, but I find that most commercial white rice is better if rinsed until the water is nearly clear. Drain well, or it will throw off your water proportions.

Put rice, cold water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in your pan and turn the heat up to high. When the water comes to a boil, stir once if you absolutely must and then cover the pan reduce the heat as low as you can with gas or two settings above Warm on an electric stove.

Depending on the rice, (white, brown, short long) cook for 20 to 30 minutes and try not to take the cover off more than you need. DO NOT STIR THE RICE WHILE COOKING!

You will know the rice is done when an inserted butter knife comes out dry.

A great topping rice : Gomasio. 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon salt (sea salt is best). Toast the sesame seeds on medium heat in a cast iron pan until brown. Put in a flat bowl. Toast the salt until a bit translucent. Add to sesame seeds and grind both together until most but not all of the sesame seeds are split open. Unbelievably delicious!

100-plus jobs will be lost at local nursing home

One hundred residents, one hundred-plus workers will all have to go somewhere else when all Marathon Health Care Center on Pine St. closes at the end of June.

Residents will be placed elsewhere and workers will be on their own; although the workers' union is asking for the home to be placed in receivership until a buyer can be found. But the nursing home's parent corporation declared bankruptcy last month and says they're going ahead with the closing.

The NY Times' headline story this morning is the growth in part-time jobs at the expense of full time work. Wow, where have they been? The lowest wage workers have seen this developing for twenty years. Part-time work means no benefits and is a big savings for employers. Corporations like Mal-Mart and McDonalds have gotten rich on part-time workers.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yet another plan the U.S. won't sign- this one to reduce hunger

Fifty years of industrialized farming has not prevented 850 million people from going to bed hungry each night.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development has been working for the last five years to find a better approach to world food production, One would think that a plan developed by 400 scientists, 60 nations, private industry and consumer and activists groups would catch the attention of the U.S. Government, and so it did. The U.S., Canada and Australia rejected the report, among other reasons, because it cautions against expecting genetically modified crops to be a part of the solution, questioning production and safety issues. All three countries are big promoters of GM food, whereas the crops are are banned in Europe.

Other recommendations include:

  • Land management practices to limit the effect of global warming
  • Limiting the presence of pesticide resideues, heavy metals, hormones, additives antibiotics in the food system
  • Sustainable use of resources like water, soil, biodiversity and fossil fuels
  • More food production on the local level
  • Low impact practices such as organic agriculture
  • Shifting biofuels to non-food crops

A very good summary of recommendations can be found at GreenFacts.

I was tipped to this story by the London paper the Daily Mail. Interestingly, I could not find a single reference to the study in any U.S. publication except for Grist. an online environmental magazine.

Although this particular report has gone unheard in this country, aother news about the world hunger crisis is finally making its way into the media and people's consciousness. However, with more bad news everyday, the only thing that may prevent the same kind of public numbness Iraq is receiving is the pale shadow of our own deprivation-- food is still plentiful, just more expensive.

The U.N.'s World Food Program is warning that North Korea's chronic food shortages have been excacerbated by flooding and a disaster may be in the works. The Philippines has put a moratorium on the conversion of farmland to any use but food in an attempt to increase rice production. Wheat prices have gone up 60% in Afghanistan in the last year. And six years of drought in Australia, possibly the result of global warming, have reduced the country's rice crop by 98%.

Sometimes needing each other pays off

A man struggling with cancer, an eagle with two broken wings....you can read their story and how they helped each other at the Sarvey Wildlife Center.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

551 whales too many

After five months at sea, Japanese whalers returned to port with just half the whales killed that they'd hoped for-- but, as as the "pirates" from Greenpeace say, that's still 551 whales too many.

Greenpeace spent fifteen weeks disrupting the hunt of Japanese whaling ships and preventing the deaths of 484 whales. Right now, Greenpeace is focusing on getting the CEO of Canon to come out against whaling.
We think Canon cameras, the Japanese company famous for its work to promote wildlife and help endangered species – should be the first ones to endorse that concept. Please write to their CEO, Fujio Mitarai, and ask that he join the efforts to make this whaling season the last.

Bloomberg won't meet with Picture the Homeless

Six months into an October commitment by NYC Mayor Bloomberg to meet with homeless-led Picture the Homeless, the mayor's still stonewalling, sending his deputy mayor to meet in his stead.

Meanwhile, the organization of homeless people is moving ahead with plans to mark the fourth year of Bloomberg's failed Five Year Plan to End Homelessness on June 24th with a town hall hearing for homeless people. Stay tuned.

Stop school bus idling in Massachusetts; breathe better!

I remember walking my granddaughter to Rebecca Johnson School in Springfield and smelling the clouds of diesel exhaust a block before we got there. Picking her up after school, the whole circular entrance would be filled with school busses idling as they waited for kids to come out of school and get on board. The air was pretty unbreathable for me as a (short) adult, and I can just imagine what it was like for kids a foot lower to the ground.

Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, introduced a bill to bring school bus idling to an end. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives.

We have a huge asthma epidemic in this country, with significant health costs. Children's lungs are still developing and they are more affected by poor air quality than adults. But an anti-idling law for vehicles at schools would not only improve the air we and our children have to breathe, it would save each school district money at a time when every penny counts.

I talked to First Student, the company which transports most of Springfield's students to school, and asked them what their idling policy is. They said, No more than five minutes. The Environmental Protection Agency has a great fact sheet on the myths of school bus idling, and why busses don't need to idle at all; check it out.

Then, support Sen. Downing's bill by calling your legislators. If you don't know who your legislator is, or how to reach him/her, go to this site at the Mass Elections Division and type in your address. Take action!

We drive, they starve

Yesterday I wished there was a way for us to translate a gallon of gas into the exact amount of rice taken from a poor family's table.Well, the U.N. has come pretty close.
The UN says it takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol. That is enough to feed a child for a year. Last week, the UN predicted "massacres" unless the biofuel policy is halted. Telegraph, UK.
The U.N.'s World Food Programme issued a report on solutions yesterday whose recommendations were supported by 60 countries and the World Bank-- but the U.S., Australia and Canada have not yet endorsed the report, because it calls for radical changes in farming policy and warns that biofuel production threatens to increase malnutrition worldwide. Guardian, UK.

PLEASE read these articles. We in the U.S. have simply got to understand the forces in play.

Photo: A demonstrator eats grass in front of a U.N. peacekeeping soldier during a protest against the high cost of living in Port-au-Prince. Telegraph, UK

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I got the right to sing the blues

Rules for Blues:
1. Most Blues begin, "Woke up this morning..."
2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."
3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes... sort of: "Got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, and she weigh 500 pound."
4. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch--ain't no way out.
5. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft and company motor pools ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.
6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues. They ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.
7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the blues in any place that don't get rain.
8. You can't have no Blues in a office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.
9. Good places for the Blues: a. Highway b. Jailhouse c. An empty bed d. Bottom of a whiskey glass
10. Bad places for the Blues: a. Nordstrom's b. Gallery openings c. Ivy league institutions d. Golf courses
11. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be a old ethnic person, and you slept in it.
12. You have the right to sing the Blues if: a. You older than dirt b. You blind c. You shot a man in Memphis
d. You can't be satisfied
13. You don't have the right to sing the Blues if: a. You have all your teeth b. You were once blind but now can see c. The man in Memphis lived d. You have a pension fund
14. Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the blues. Sonny Liston could. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the blues.
15. If you ask for water and your darlin' give you gasoline, it's the Blues
16. Other acceptable Blues beverages are: a. Cheap wine b. Whiskey or bourbon c. Muddy water d. Nasty black coffee
17. The following are NOT Blues beverages: a. Perrier b. Chardonnay c. Snapple d. Slim Fast
18. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broke-down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.
19. Some Blues names for women: a. Sadie b. Big Mama c. Bessie d. Fat River Dumpling
20. Some Blues names for men: a. Joe b. Willie c. Little Willie d. Big Willie
21. Women with names like Michelle, Amber, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.
22. Make your own Blues name Starter Kit: a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.) b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Melon, Kiwi, etc.) c. last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.) For example: Blind Lime Jefferson, Jackleg Lemon Johnson or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not "Kiwi.")
23. I don't care how tragic your life: if you own even one computer, you cannot sing the blues.

From Outlier Music

Tiptoeing toward disaster

The City of Springfield is repaving St. James Ave. near the Rt. 291 entrances. I was headed that way yesterday when I saw the signs: Bump and Grooved Surface. I reduced my speed a little but what astounded me was the way the sports utility vehicles around me were practically tiptoeing over the bump! What the hell good is having a "rugged, adventurous, pathfinding, exploring, blah, blah, blah" vehicle when you treat it like a baby carriage carrying a newborn? And as usual, nearly every SUV held one person only-- the driver.

Ethanols and other biofuels are coming under increased criticism for turning farmland into fuel land; biofuels are tagged as one of the more immediate causes of the current world food crisis. But all fuel usage has its cost. I wish there was a way gas pumps could give a precise calculation of these costs, something like: "Using this gallon of gas will remove blank number of grains of rice from a poor family's food bowl, contribute to blank number of new asthma cases, etc."

One thing of which I am pretty convinced is that for every mile you drive in an SUV, you lower your emotional and moral IQ by an unknown but commensurate degree, sorta like, the more TV you watch, the stupider you get. I saw an SUV advertised on TV the other day which has two separate DVD players, so your kids don't have to fight over what to watch. OMG, does anybody remember looking out the window, playing Twenty Questions, License Plate Bingo, or I'm thinking of a color?

I have a TV and I have a car and I use both nearly every day. My knees are too bad to ride a bike and I'd certainly miss discussing the most recent episode of Battlestar Galactica with my sister, but I can't escape the growing unease of operating on borrowed time.

Cartoon: Chris Madden, The Beast That Ate the Earth

Monday, April 14, 2008

Crazy juxtaposition of the day

CNN this morning:
separated by two commericials:
Food riots in Haiti
oyster eating contest in New Orleans
35 dozen in 8 minutes

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The snow job: why personal responsibility won't end poverty


Yesterday Bob Herbert at the New York Times wrote about the apparent futility of every effort we've taken so far to end the war in Iraq and change our nation for the better. Herbert described the results of our lack of collective power in concise and heartbreaking terms:

The U.S., once the greatest can-do country on the planet, now can’t seem to do anything right. The great middle class has maxed out its credit cards and drained dangerous amounts of equity from family homes. No one can seem to figure out how to generate the growth in good-paying jobs that is the only legitimate way of putting strapped families back on their feet.

The nation’s infrastructure is aging and in many places decrepit. Rebuilding it would be an important source of job creation, but nothing on the scale that is needed is in sight. ......The U.S. seems almost paralyzed, mesmerized by Iraq and unable to generate the energy or the will to handle the myriad problems festering at home. The war will eventually cost a staggering $3 trillion or more, according to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. When he was asked on “Democracy Now!” about who is profiting from the war, he said the two big gainers were the oil companies and the defense contractors.....This is the pathetic state of affairs in the U.S. as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
This morning Jo-Ann Moriarty at the Springfield Republican writes about the effect of poverty which, many say, is shared disproportionately by Western Massachusetts. Last year Springfield was ranked the sixth poorest city in the nation. In the nearby city of Holyoke, Mayor Michael Sullivan talks about homeless families being sent from the Eastern part of the state to shelters in Holyoke; if those families move into apartments there, then the overall poverty rate of the city increases.

No one who lives around here likes dealing with the effects of poverty, and why should we? Run-down houses, broken streets and litter-filled empty lots are just the physical signs. We have a high student drop-out rate, high unemployment, crime. The vast majority of that crime is committed by poor people against poor people, but that is still small comfort for the non-poor. The bonds between poor and yet having faith in the future and some dignity in the meantime are nearly broken. Too many of the rest of us revel in apathy.

The question we all want to know the answer to is, why are things the way they are? Part of it has to be the decline in our industrial base over the last forty years, hardly unique to Western Mass. Our industrial manufacturers-- the ones that weren't driven out of business-- moved their operations to places that could increase their bottom line. What's replaced them, for the most part, is service jobs: you wait on me at Burger King, I wait on you at CVS, we wait and are waited on by PCAs, child care workers, teachers' aides and security guards. A $9 an hour, 35 hours a week job yields an annual salary that barely topping $16,000.

Most of the dialogue and much of the anger in our community focuses on personal responsibility. In press conferences about the gang problem, pronouncements about the homeless and the drop-out rate, and in exchanges on Springfield's Masslive forum, the poor are admonished for failing to take control of their destiny. Citizens decry the "entitlement mentality" of food stamp users, welfare recipients and those on SSI.

To challenge this perspective is to be accused of enabling, of making excuses for the poor, but that is not the intent of anti-poverty activists. We shake our heads in discouragement when someone throws away yet another chance, and we encourage and cheer poor people and each other on when someone succeeds in moving ahead. But we don't believe that if everyone took personal responsibility, got a job, or stayed in school, poverty would disappear. Of course people think of individual responsibility first, because its apparent lack is the easiest to see. Why does that woman have children she can't afford to feed? Why don't they pick the papers up out of their yard? The result of poverty is mistaken for its cause.

So picture this: One day you wake up and discover that every kid in the city is refusing to drop out of school, every addict has stopped using, and every unemployed person is demanding a job. What do you think will happen? I picture chaos as our institutions collapse trying to meet the needs of people who have taken personal responsibility of their lives.

As long as the majority of us think that all poor people could stop being poor if they just wanted it hard enough, then we will fail to make the connection between poverty and the war, poverty and corporations, poverty and globalization.. And that will be just fine with our current policymakers and the economic elite, because they like things the way they are.They're the only ones benefiting in a really big way

Yes, take individual responsibility and by all means expect it from others, but don't stop there. Look up the food chain and demand real solutions. We all deserve a chance.

graphic from Stir Your World and CensusScope.

Old habits die hard

I hate shopping and avoid it as much as possible, but yesterday was one of those days when I had to be out and about.

I went through Burger King's drive-though to get a cup of coffee and that cup of coffee, in styrfoam and with a plastic lid, was handed to me in a paper bag! I folded the bag and handed it back. (When I've handed bags back in the past in grocery and convenience stores, I've often seen the clerk try to throw the bag away! That means I have to take the time to say, 'Don't throw that away! Save it for the next customer!" On my end: I should buy a decent reusable coffee cup and bring it with me when I go out.

Then I stopped at Stop and Shop for milk, cantalope and flowers and decided it was a good time to buy a couple of their cheap and sturdy recycle bags. As I fumbled for my wallet, I saw that the bagboy was packing everything-- recycled bags included!-- into a plastic bag. On my end: if I'd brought one of my bags from home, which, so far, I only remember to do 50% of the time, the bagboy's choice would have been unnecessary.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Another side of seniors


Seniors in the Western Mass area are leaders in the anti-war movement. Don't know who this woman is, but she's beautiful.

20 beds and 60 days-- Seattle's homeless policy goes too far and not far enough

Last year, after much criticism of the vicious destruction of personal property at one of Seattle's homeless encampments, the city agreed to develop new rules for the sweeps of encampments. Yet even as of last month, the destruction continued. Seattle MetBlogs.

Now the new rules have finally been issued. Sweeps will continue, but for any three or more encampments:
  • Campers on public property will get 72 hours notice that a sweep will take place.
  • Personal belongings will be stored for up to 60 days
  • Outreach workers will be sent to the camps before the sweep to help plug residents into services.
  • The city will add 20 more shelter beds.
Problem is, there are 6,000 to 8,000 people homeless in Seattle.

Graphic from the August, 2007 Civil City Sleep-Out at the Anti-Poverty blog.

Friday, April 11, 2008

More homeless elders on the street than ever before

Homeless men and women aged 62 or older are the fastest-growing population among the homeless, a new study finds. On any given night, between 3,000 and 4,000 elders are on the streets of L.A. or in shelters.

Shelter Partnership, Inc. has used these findings to underline its new strategic plan to develop permanent affordable housing. You can read more about it here.

A closer look at the ocean's plastic layer of garbage

A few months ago I wrote about a sea of plastic waste floating just below the water in a huge area of the North Pacific. Well, the blogger New York Nerd got an email from some folks who actually decided to go see it.
What people don’t get is that it’s not really a patch and it’s not really an island, both of which you might be able to contain and control. No, what we found is much worse. It’s like a gigantic toxic stew and it’s a big big problem that we need to pay attention to now.
There's links to at his site to YouTube videos of what they saw. Check it out.

Graphic from Buffalo Readings; this page is a good source of other information about this catastrophe.

Add headscarf and mix

Same woman, same smile, with and without headscarf. How does the headscarf change people's perceptions? Go to the Monkey Cage and find out.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Do you know your trash?

Springfield, Massachusetts, the fourth largest city in New England, has a good system for handling its residents' trash. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. But the city handles the trash for 60,000 households. Before I describe some of how it works, see if you know the answers to these few, only partly facetious questions.

1. What is a waste to energy facility?

a) a trash-burning plant b) a cold fusion plant c) a recycling center

2. Which set of items can be recycled?
a) Ribbons, egg cartons, plastic flower pots
b) Egg cartons, plastic hangers, newspaper
c) Styrofoam cups, pill bottles, paper towels
d) All of the above
e) None of the above

3. How should you dispose of car oil, pesticides and wax polish?
a) Store them in your cellar
b) Pore them down the drain a bit at a time
c) Bring them to Bondi's Island on special Hazardous Waste days

4. Organic material makes up what percentage of our household's trash?
a) 10 b) 20 c) 30
5. How many of Springfield's households have purchased compost bins?
a) 800 b) 1800 c) 8000

6. How much finished compost comes from Bondi's island to the city's park. For residents' use?
a) 6 tons b) 60 tons c) 600 tons

7. How much compost can one bin make in a year?
a) 200 lbs b) 500 pounds c) ¼ ton

8. Our recyclables are processed in
a) Springfield b) Fall River c) somewhere in the Midwest.

The things we throw away fall roughly into three categories: recyclables, non-recyclables and organic. The majority of our non-recyclables go into the city-provided trash barrel, which are picked up once a week; blue bins for paper, glass and plastic are picked up every other week. Organic materials such as leaves and grass clippings must be put into rugged paper bags (not provided for free) and are picked up on "recycle week." For this service we pay a controversial fee of $90 a year, although the city will start considering a "pay-as-you-throw" system later this year. Detailed information is at the City's Department of Public Works website.

Most non-recyclable trash (and there's a surprising amount of it) will wind up being burned in a "waste to energy" facility on Bondi's Island, the city's waste facility. The organic material will be composted and distributed for free or sold. Hazardous materials can be brought to Bondi's Island on certain days. Recyclables head over to the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility, which processes recyclable material for 78 Western Mass communities.

If the City of Springfield starts charging us for what we throw away, some of our perspectives-- and habits-- may change. We might start leaning away from the overpackaged product to something more streamlined or even refillable. We might remember to say, quickly, "I don't need a bag, that's OK." We might write on both sides of the paper. We might re-use instead of throwing it away.

The Department of Public Works sells black, discrete recycle bins for $25. Although the city does a good job recycling organic material, if we compost at home we can include food scraps that otherwise would wind up with the non-recyclables. And making soil is magic.

Springfield is in toug.ch times, but I don't think the homeowners in this city would be half so angry about the new $90 trash fee if we had been brought into the process of deciding how we were going to meet our needs and pay for it. I also know that we who live here have certainly not done enough thinking about our water, our soil and our waste. But times are changing.

Answers: 1.a), 2 e), 3. c), 4 c), 5 b), 6 c). 7 c), 8 a)
Photo from Virginia Speigel, Barbage Day Project

Open Pantry's crisis local; global food crisis grows

This morning I turn on the TV and see Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich warning about a depression. I go to the NY Times and read the world is in a food crisis. I open the local paper to see that Open Pantry Community Services may have to cut back on its services in April unless the public can pitch in to help.

Last year more than 27,000 people-- in a city of less than 150,000!-- came to the Open Pantry Food Pantry for help. People ate a meal at the Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen more than 100,000 times. More than 1,000 homeless people received assistance from Open Pantry's Open Door case managers. And three shelters put a roof over the heads of teen mothers, women in recovery and homeless families.

Having an impact on the global economy is not impossible, but billions of people are affected and billions will have to be part of the solution. But if you donate money or food to the Open Pantry, you can pretty easily picture that money converted to a meal for a hungry family.

Please-- if you are not hungry right now, others are. You can send a contribution to Open Pantry Community Services, 287 State St., P.O. Box 5127, Springfield, MA 01101.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What a surprise! Income gap widens

  • Hey, middle class! Your income has been virtually stagnant for the last eight years-- just 1.3% growth.
  • Hey, the bottom fifth! Since the late 1990's, your income has gone down 2.5%.
  • Hey, you top 5%! Your incomes are now 12 times the average income of the bottom fifth.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Economic Policy Institute released a report today that puts numbers to what we already know: the rich are getting richer and everybody else is struggling. You can read more about it at Reuters.

Treehouse resident finds new home

A Seattle, WA man who has been living for two years in a treehouse he built was due to be evicted in ten days by the City of Seattle-- but friendly neighbors found an RV for him and his pets. Now he just needs a place to park it.

Check out the story and amazing photos at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Homelessness increases under Bloomberg's plan to end homelessness in NYC

Four years into Mayor Bloomberg's five year plan to end homelessness in New York City, more people than ever spent time in a shelter last year, according to the ninth annual "State of the Homeless" report issued by the Coalition for the Homeless last month..

102,187 people spent time in a New York City shelter last year, a 5.8% increase over 2006.

"For the second year in a row, more families sought shelter (up by 10.7%) while fewer families were moved into permanent housing (down 6.9%), " the report said. The Bloomberg administration's refusal to issue Section 8 vouchers and access to public housing for homeless families is contributing to the increase in homelessness.

In addition, stringent standards for shelter eligibility implemented last year denied shelter to dozens of families, two-thirds of whom were actually eligible for shelter even under those standards.

Single homelessness has seen a decline for the second year in a row, but the Coalition marks the decrease as a result of single people being placed in illegal boarding house, some of which are later shut down by the city, putting people back in the shelter again.

Picture the Homeless, a NYC organization founded by and run by for homeless people, is asking its allies to hold open the date June 24, 2008, the official fourth anniversary of the five year plan.

"Picture the Homeless is not going to sit back as the anniversary approaches and do nothing to commemorate its failure," according to the Rental Subsidies Committee. Stay tuned.