Monday, November 26, 2007

It's not worth it

I've been listening to the spin the Republicans are putting on the "success" of the surge in Iraq. Violence is down and life is returning to normal. What will the Democrats do now, the neocons say, if they are proven "wrong" about Iraq?

We have no proof yet that the surge has actually been able to turn the corner in Iraq and bring about whatever it is Bush is defining as success these days, but the big question for me is, So what?

The Iraq war has now lasted longer than World War Two. Think back to the rhetoric of why we invaded and what we supposedly would accomplish in Iraq and compare it to the measures of success the Bush Administration is willing to settle for now.

It's not worth it.

Two new reports about veterans that you should know about: according to USA Today, some 20,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have brain injuries that have gone unreported in the military's official tally of the wounded.

Penny Coleman's blog Flashback says that 50% of reservists and 25% of enlisted personnel are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

It's not worth it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Outsider Art

I've been a fan of Outsider Art and magnificent obsessions since I first heard of the Watts Towers as a kid. So I was happy to stumble upon news of these eight temples built underground near Turin, Italy. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No more tasers

Check out this Canadian site, No More Tasers, that keeps track of taser deaths around the world. I know tasers are supposed to reduce police injury and civilian deaths, but doesn't it seem to you that the police taser people they would be very unlikely to actually shoot?

Why not this homeless solution for Springfield?

There's lots of homeless news I will try to catch up on, but this really caught my eye-- don't know how long this link will stay live, so here's the whole story:

A nonprofit group feeding the homeless has new plans for getting people off the streets — tour buses.

The group called H-5, or Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope, is unveiling the first two of a fleet of mobile homeless shelters for Oahu.

Nineteen used buses have been donated to H-5 director Utu Langi by Roberts Hawaii for the project.

Langi is removing the bus seats and having the interior of each 40-foot vehicle retrofitted with eight beds in small partitioned units.

H-5 has been distributing about 6,000 meals a month around Oahu to increasing numbers of homeless.

The group plans to introduced the buses Wednesday, kickoff for the annual Walk the Talk 130-mile trek around the island to raise awareness of homelessness.

One of the buses is to travel with the walkers to introduce the mobile shelter to the homeless. Langi says he hopes to have five buses ready as shelters by mid-2008.

The buses will drive up to areas where homeless congregate and offer the shelter through other organizations that will provide bathroom facilities, since the buses are not equipped with restrooms.

"The idea is also not to burden one community or one organization too long," Langi said, adding that the buses will offer better conditions than larger shelters and will reach people who won't or can't make it to the government-sponsored shelters.

"I'm hoping to help a lot of people with this goofy idea," Langi said.

SO: the hell with building a new shelter-- the one that Friends of the Homeless plans still won't be open 24 hours -- and put the money into permanent housing and a day centre, which people really need-- a place to get out of the weather, look for work and connect with services.

I'm trying to remember what year it was that Mayor Ryan called us together and said that the new shelter would break ground in the Spring. Still waiting.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Where will the Food Pantry go?

First Church at Court Square is closing at the end of December and the congregation is disbanding, for all the same reasons so many older churches have closed. I really can't picture Court Square without First Church, established 1819, although I'm sure the building will be preserved.

Since 1977, First Church has also provided a home for the Open Pantry's Emergency Food Pantry, and hosts the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen on weekends.

The Food Pantry is an essential food resource for low-income people in Springfield, providing them with a balanced meal for a few days. Last year the pantry served nearly 28,000, half of them children. A third of the households that come to the pantry have at least one working member. 10% of pantry recipients are elders.

This is going to be a rough winter for poor people. It'll cost $200 to $400 more to keep warm this season. Food prices are rising. And there's less of everything to go around.

So the Emergency Food Pantry needs a new space, affordable or donated. Any offers?

On a related note, I see that the old St. Francis Chapel on Bridge St. is going to be the overflow shelter for the Worthington St. Shelter operated by the Friends of the Homeless. Wasn't it only this past April that the Open Pantry asked for use of the same site as a home for the Warming Place shelter, about to be evicted by the city from the old York St. jail, and was denied? Why is it that the city (and Friends of the Homeless) can catch the ear of Bishop McDonnell and the Open Pantry can't?

Mars puts on a show

The planet Mars is "only" 55 million miles away from the earth right now, and won't be this close again until 2016. This Monday, Mars will be only one degree from the full moon. Make sure you take a look, either Monday night looking to the east, or early Tuesday morning looking to the west. For more info, check out NASA's site.

Is this how the government supports our troops?

I find this story almost impossible to believe, but apparently The U.S. Government is asking wounded soldiers to return their signing bonuses, because they are unable to serve out their commitments! So you can lose an arm or a leg and be in debt to the government! You can read more at the Carpetbagger Report.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Where are the crows?

Stepped outside my office today to have a smoke; I swear I heard one crow say to another, "Come on! Come on!"

Once when I was camping at Nickerson's with my kids, it was very early in the morning, I was still asleep in my tent, and I heard a voice shout, "Ma! Ma!"
"What? What?" I said, disgruntled. But when nobody answered, and I poked my head out of the tent, I saw only a crow, sitting on the picnic table.

Maybe it's because my path to and from work has changed, but so far this fall I haven't seen the endless waves of crows headed to their roost at twilight. After the crows' conversation this afternoon, I was remembering the invasion of Springfield College ten years ago by approximately 12,000 crows! At the time, it caused a great commotion, and the college was setting off noise cannons, placing artifical owls, etc., to drive them away.

Just for the hell of it, I called up Springfield College and asked the young man who answered the phone if there were still flocks of crows (to be correct, a murder of crows) hanging out at the college. There was a long pause (What kind of wierdo is this? I could hear him thinking) and then he said, "Actually, I don't think I've ever seen a crow on campus."

"OK, thanks a lot," I said, knowing it absolutely could not be true that every single crow had abandoned academia. But I guess they're not a problem anymore.

His response reminded me of my favorite story about Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was being driven through the Indian countryside by two of his disciples. The disciples, sitting in the front seat, were having an hours-long and quite heated discussion about the nature of awareness. Finally one of the disciples turned around to Krishnamurti.

"What do you think awareness is, Master?"
"I think awareness is knowing when you've run over a goat," Krishamurti answered.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What it said and what I saw

What it said: Violence in Iraq last week dipped to its lowest point for any week since January of 2006; but that news came as 22 people were killed in attacks today nationwide.

What I saw: but that came as news to the 22 people killed in attacks today nationwide

Coyotes and fishers and moose (Oh my)

Stan Freeman at the Springfield Republican wrote an interesting story this week about how our Eastern coyotes are actually a genetic blend of Western coyote and Eastern wolf!

Wildlife has been returning to Massachusetts in a big way. I remember a few years ago, as I was driving up Bay St., I saw a magnificent, fully antlered deer standing just behind the wrought iron fence at Oak Grove Cemetery. I called the groundskeeper when I got to work and he was well aware of the buck and was making his own calls to various state agencies for guidance.

Fishers are back, too. The largest member of the weasel family, their reputation as cat killers is probably well-deserved. I lived in Maine for about five years in the early 70's, where fishers had an almost mythical character. I saw one once, streaking across a back road at twilight. My hair stood on end. They were reintroduced in Massachusetts in the 1950's by the logging industry because they are one of the porcupine's only predators.

Thanks to the reforestation of Massachusetts, even moose are returning.. We now have a population of about 1,000 established in just 25 years, according to Stephen DeStephano, research professor at UMass, Amherst.

I've often thought about how amazing it is that Massachusetts is more forested now than a hundred years ago. Our forests started their road to recovery during the Gold Rush of 1849 and took another step forward during the Civil War, when many returning soldiers abandoned farming entirely. Then, in the 1930's, Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) put 10,000 men and boys to work in our forests. You can read more about Massachusett's history of forest conservation at MA's Department of Conservation and Recreation. Why don't we do something like this again?

One sad note in this picture is that the increase in forest cover equals the decline in local agricultural production. But that's another story.

Graphic from David Foster; 'Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the Forests of Massachusetts" Harvard Forest, Harvard University, 2006/

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Send Bush a copy of the Constitution

You can send President Bush a copy of the U.S. Constitution (just to remind him), courtesy of the Center for Constitutional Rights, just by clicking here:

Expand the Mass Bottle Bill

Here's what's not covered by our current Massachusetts Bottle Bill:
- Carbonated and non-carbonated water, including flavored and non-flavored filtered water, mineral water and purified waters;
- Carbonated and noncarbonated fruit juices and drinks;
- Carbonated and noncarbonated vegetable juices and drinks;
- Ready-to-drink coffee and tea beverages;
- Sports drinks
Encourage Massachusetts legislators to support a new bottle bill, H3356 by going to MassPirg's website.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ward representation and the School Committee

Ward representation's impact on the City Council has gotten the most attention so far, but big changes are in store for the School Committee, also.

Victor Davila emailed me the other day to ask what would happen in the 2009 elections to the School Committee, which, up until this the last election, has had staggered, four year terms. Would only those seats up for re-election become ward seats? Or would all the seats that were going to become ward seats happen at the same timje? I told him that was a good question, and I'd have to find out.

The more I thought about it, though, it did seem to me that all seats would have to transition to ward seats at the same time. I checked in with the city's attorney, Ed Pakula, and sure enough, that's what he and Mayor Ryan were envisioning.

Photo from the Springfield School Dept. website
That means that Thomas Ashe, Antoinette Pepe and Chris Collins will only be serving two year terms. I wonder if they realized that that would be the case if they were elected AND ward representation passed?

In 2009, we will be electing the entire School Committee, two-at large and four ward seats, meaning an end to staggered terms. If it seems important to restore them, it will have to be some with separate legislation.

Just to remind folks what they voted for, School Committee seats will represent wards One and Three, Four and Five, Six and Seven and Two and Eight, PLUS two at-large.

In the eye of the beholder

Check out this great cartoon site, Birds and Moon. You can have your favorite cartoon printed on a tee-shirt and more...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sign this petition in support of homeless campers

Real Change newspaper in Seattle, WA is asking for a show of support for homeless campers. At least 2,000 people a night are "sleeping rough" in King County. They need help in getting housing and services. Instead, the police break up encampments and destroy people's personal belongings.
Extensive protocols for responsible campsite outreach and clearance exist. They include on-going human services outreach to homeless campers, assistance in accessing emergency services, and provision of long-term housing. The City of Seattle has done none of these things.

Have fun and do good at the same time

25,000 people, most of them children, die of hunger or hunger-related causes every day. YOU can make a difference by playing a vocabulary game at FreeRice. For every word you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated through the U.N. to the places and people that need it the most. Try it, you'll like it!

I won't miss Commissioner Flynn

Seems like it's all over but for the official announcement-- Springfield's Police Commissioner Flynn will be leaving Springfield less than halfway through his five-year contract for the greener pastures of Wilwaukee. Good riddance, as far as I'm concerned.

My beefs with Flynn are minor compared to his impact-- or lack thereof-- on our community. The last thing we need is another dose of cynicism.

Is violent crime really down in Springfield? You couldn't prove it by me, and nobody knows what figures to believe.

From Flynn's very first day in Springfield, he made it clear that he was going to focus on "quality of life" issues, changing the "perception" of downtown Springfield from dangerous to less dangerous. Part of changing the perception was driving out homeless people. What good has it done?

My civil libertarian friends won't agree with me, but I thought that placing cameras in strategic places downtown and elsewhere was a good idea. People are less likely to commit a crime if they think they can be easily identified and caught! Whatever happened to that initiative, does anyone know?

Maybe the best thing Flynn did was to create a Civilian Review Board. However, I was just on the Springfield Police Department website, and couldn't find any mention of the board.

The faster our city can move on from Flynn, the better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Homeless man who helped catch killer meets widow

He put himself in harm's way to keep the attention of a man who had just shot and killed a Broward deputy until the man could be captured. You can read more at the Florida Sun-Sentinel.

New bill would help homeless veterans

Sen Charles Schumer, D-NY, represents a state where more than 21,000 homeless veterans live. $225 million of his bill would go to expanding housing for veterans. Read more at NY1 News.

There's a real story behind this unstaged photo

Check out Daily Mail to find out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

FOURTH homeless man in a week found dead

On Saturday, another homeless man was found dead, this time in Northampton, MA. Craig Carpenter, 42 years old, was found near the Super Stop and Shop. Police said he appeared to have died of exposure after having fallen asleep while intoxicated.

I know the City of Springfield wants to "share the responsibility" of homelessness with surrounding communities. Perhaps the deaths of four Massachusetts men in one week-- one in Springfield, one in Northampton, one in Westfield and one in Waterford, CT-- is a sign the city is succeeding?

Homeless man Ct. hit and run victim; remembering Westfield death

According to The Day, a homeless man who was killed in a hit and run by a white sports utility vehicle in Waterford, CT was originally from Massachusetts.

Frederick Finn, 43, was probably living behind an old drive-in when we has killed on Boston Post Road.

My sister Liz called me this morning to say she remembers Minh Khuu, the 45 year old man who was struck and killed by a train, as a former resident of the Warming Place Shelter, now closed. She says he was not alcoholic, not an addict, just homeless.

Minh Khuu was wearing earplugs when he was killed, probably why he didn't hear the train coming. Liz says he often wore earplugs at the Warming Place, because the noise of the shelter made it hard for him to sleep. He probably forgot to take them out of his ears on the day he was killed.

The homeless man who was found dead in the Connecticut River last week has been identified as Juan Bonille, 73 years old.

Meanwhile, Masslive posters yesterday were talking about how "dangerous" homeless people are.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Homeless man killed by train in Westfield

Didn't see this on MassLive earlier... a homeless man who had most recently stayed at the Samaritan Inn in Westfield was killed while walking his bicycle on the railroad tracks. His most recent address was listed at 769 Worthington St. in Springfield-- that's the address of both Friends of the Homeless' shelter and their SROs. I wonder why he left. SROs and transitional housing are supposed to help a person take a step up from there, but it doesn't always work out that way.

It's dangerous to be homeless.

Remembering Homeless (and all) Veterans

My dad was a WWII and Korean veteran, serving in the Navy and the Coast Guard. On my dining room wall I've hung the original certificate from the U.S. Navy, stating that he had crossed the Arctic Circle on July 1, 1944 while serving aboard the U.S.S. Tampa. I suppose on most days I don't even notice it anymore, but today we honor veterans and I see that certificate again with new eyes.

The New York Times is reporting seeing the first trickle of homeless vets from the Iraq wars. The Boston Globe has an article with a Massachusetts focus on vets' struggles. The AP reports on Bush's politicking around getting a spending bill passed that would increase veterans' services.

In Boston yesterday, the Globe reports that eighteen veterans were arrested at the Annual Veteran's Day parade, protesting that their anti-war message had been excluded from the parade.

Check out probably the best blog on the web about veterans and homelessness, OldTimer Speaks. Photo is from that site.

Sick of seeing plastic bags tangled in tree branches, sailing on the river, blowing across the road? There's a blog dedicated to eliminating plastic bags from our society. Check out Norquest Bags.

12 million barrels of oil are used to make the one billion bags Americans use and throw away

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cape Cod after Noel

Cape Cod Times has some good pictures of storm damage from Hurricane in this post, however, is from our own Cape vacation, taken by my sister Liz.

Poor Cape Cod. Born only 10,000 years ago, it may not last another millenium.

Air freshener makes us sick

Did you know that many air fresheners work by deadening the olfactory nerves in our nose? In other words, the odors were trying to eliminate are still there, but we can't smell them.

Did you know that households that regularly use air freshener have a higher asthma rate among kids in the household?

Two new studies, one by the National Resources Defense Council and the other by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, should make us all think twice about using air freshener products.
Seventh Generation's Non-Toxic Times Newsletter has some good hints for alternatives. My favorite:
• To scent indoor air, place a drop of a natural essential oil like lavender or mint on a cold light bulb, or add a dozen drops to a bowl of water placed on a radiator or wood stove. You can also boil fragrant dried herbs in a pot of water to release a fresh smell.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Phrases I have probably said more than 10,000 times in my life:

Hey, how are you?
Thanks so much.
Get down, cat.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ward Representation now the law of Springfield's land

Ward representation was passed by Springfield's voters today by an overwhelming 74% Although I believed ward rep would win a majority of votes, I am truly stunned by the level of support. I've been casting my mind around for another candidate or issue in the recent past that won by the same 3 to 1 ratio, but so far have been unable to think of one.

A few thoughts tonight: Eight by ward and five at-large for city council is not the version of ward representation preferred by most of those advocates who really studied this issue, but was instead a pragmatic decision made by City Councilor Jose Tosado (tonight's top vote-getter). It was not easy for those of us in Arise, Oiste, most other plaintiffs in the voting rights lawsuit and other activists to decide to put our weight behind Tosado's version. Hell, he wasn't even in office when we started this campaign. But we did it and I believe ward representation will, as Nick Camerota says, bring an end to politics as usual in this city.

Ward representation received more votes than any single mayoral, city council or school committee candidate-- almost 3,000 votes more. This was also the case in the 1997 election. Of course we worked hard to turn people out, but our hard work cannot take full responsibility for this. A 74% margin represents something deeply true in its urges toward democracy.

Yet at the same time, except for the huge upset of our incumbent Mayor Ryan by challenger Dom Sarno, every single incumbent on the city council and school committee was re-elected. People may want democracy and change, but mostly they don't know how to get it. I know that today, I voted for exactly two city council candidates, and neither was an incumbent. If you're in an at-large system, and you're trying to get a non-incumbent elected, you have to bullet-vote.

This kind of entrenchment of the incumbents is just one effect of an at-large system, now, thankfully, dead. But we still have a lot to learn about how to use ward representation so that we can all really benefit..

--- One last thought for tonight: we Arise folks met up at the Caribbean Club with Vera O'Connor to await poll results. Oiste, Out Now and Neighbor to Neighbor folks joined us, as well as Nick C (who designed our ad in the Springfield Republican) and E. Henry Twiggs, Chair of the City Democratic Committee. What a motley crew we made! From bowlers and overcoats to jeans and sneakers, we looked like the city I know and love. These folks are just the best, and I love them..

Body recovered from Conn. River

Stopped home for a few minutes in between covering polling places-- saw this in MassLive-- yes, homeless people dying is still a problem in Springfield--


SPRINGFIELD - Firefighters, working with police, recovered a man's body this morning from the Connecticut River, near Memorial Bridge.

Police told firefighters they believe the body is that of a homeless man who fell from a river bank, Fire Department Lt. Neil A. Hawley said.

Police summoned the Fire Department to the scene about 10:30 a.m. and a medical examiner arrived a short time later, Hawley said.

It appeared, judging from belongings found by the river, that the man had, at least temporarily, living near there, Hawley said.

Additional information, including the man's identity, was not immediately available.

Monday, November 5, 2007

24 hours until Springfield's polls close

Tonight there are some candidates for City Council who know they don't have a prayer of being "one of the nine" but hope to make a good showing in any case. Some know they're pretty much a shoe-in by virtue of the power of the incumbency. And then there are a couple of incumbents not absolutely sure they'll be re-elected, and a couple of challengers who might have a chance...and then there's the question of ward representation, Question One on the ballot, which will change the landscape of elections in this city from this point forward... if it passes.

I'm done being nervous for tonight, won't do any good, trying to remember when I had my fast cup of coffee because I must get to bed soon and get up early. Good luck to all of us.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Politics as usual-- beginning of the end?

Just came back from another ward representation standout at Wilbraham and Breckwood. There were seven of us, including City Council candidate Vera O'Connor. I'm not one to be overoptimistic, but it sure does seem like ward representation has a lot of support in Springfield .

98 hours until the results start coming in. Vera will be waiting for results Tuesday night at the Caribbean American African American Social Club, and she has graciously offered to let us join her. We'll bring the pizza.

I've wanted to write more about this campaign as it's gone along, but everything has moved so quickly! We didn't even know for sure the question was going to be on the ballot until October 2nd, putting the election only a month and a few days away.

I say the ward representation campaign has moved quickly, but of course that's not true. Some people have been fighting the at-large system since it was implemented 46 years ago. Arise, my organization, has been involved since 1995, when a young man named Joe Fountain brought us a discrimination lawsuit he had filed. The ball started rolling from there.

Ward representation will be no magical cure for Springfield's sick politics, and it won't undo all the damage of the entrenched at-large system all at once. But here's what I see will start happening between now and the first election (2009) actually to have both at-large and ward rep seats on the city council and school committee:

People who have considered running for office-- or who have run before, unsuccessfully-- will start believing that they could run successful campaigns from their wards. Some of these people will make great city councilors and some will be mediocre or worse. However, in a ward campaign, it'll be a lot harder to get over on the community. People will know who you are.

People running a campaign from a ward will have a real reason to encourage voter registration and, more importantly, voter participation. Ward candidates will have to turn out the vote to win.

An unknown number of current city council incumbents, numbering nine, as well as any challengers, will have to decide if they are going to vie for one of the at-large seats, reduced from nine to five, or if they are going to go back to their community and run from their ward-- a bit of a problem when nine of the current councilors come from only three of eight wards. This is all just lading up to the first mixed election.

The Springfield Republican had a very favorable editorial about ward representation today, posted at MassLive: