Thursday, January 31, 2008

Green shelter? New jobs?

The NYTimes recently reported on a new shelter for the homeless in Oakland California which is Green from the bottom up.

It's the only kind of new construction that makes sense anymore

ED Bill Miller from Friends of the Homeless says the new shelter planned there has some Green elements and will be designed with much natural light.

  • In this morning's Republican, Buxton Leather announced it will be off more than half of its employees.
  • Rock-Tenn Corp in Chicopee is laying off all of its 100 employees.
  • Hasbro Games in East Longmeadow is permanently laying off 200 people.

Everyone laid off could be put to work making Springfield, Chicopee, East Longmeadow and other surrounding towns Green communities. But it takes a vision that so far, our elected officials have failed to actualize.

Green is not just about the environment, it's about living, thriving, healthy communities.

Photo from EcoGeek.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bill could protect elders' human rights

Two weeks ago the Boston Globe reported on the lack of protection for seniors when their competency is challenged: no legal representation, no right to be present at competency hearings (if they even are informed that it's taking place), no access to their money if they are declared incompetent. I wrote about it here.

Now two bills in the Massachusetts Legislature would go a long way to remedy this injustice: S.843, An Act Relative to the Uniform Probate Court and S.1116, An Act to Establish a Public Guardianship Commission. Last Thursday these bills had a hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

Al Norman, Director of Mass Home Care, had this to say in his public testimony: "We wish to be recorded in support of S. 843, which we believe is another part of our mission to ensure that only people who really need to be in a nursing home reside there. Reforming the guardianship process is one way of guaranteeing that elders and the disabled are not inappropriately institutionalized or warehoused because of a guardianship process that takes shortcuts with the disabled persons’ independence and dignity. Not only is the elder unjustifiably segregated, but the taxpayers of the Commonwealth have to pay for an inappropriate and expensive level of care for people who should still be living in the community."

Now, just because the bills have had a hearing doesn't mean they will become law! If you are represented by any Judiciary Committee members, tell them you want the bill reported out favorably. Then start working on your state representatives and senators.

Judiciary Committee Members:
Creedon of Second Plymouth and Bristol
Baddour of First Essex
Antonioni of Worcester and Middlesex
Creem of First Middlesex and Norfolk
McGee of Third Essex and Middlesex
Tarr of First Essex and Middlesex

O'Flaherty of Chelsea
C. A. Murphy of Burlington
Naughton of Clinton
J. M. Murphy of Weymouth
Peisch of Wellesley
S. M. Walsh of Lynn
Curran of Springfield
J. D. Keenan of Salem
Walz of Boston
Evangelidis of Holden
Webster of Hanson

If we're lucky, we'll all be old someday. Let's keep our independence as long as we can.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gulf Coast-- help make our presidential candidate accountable

Tomorrow and Friday, CNN, L.A. Times and are hosting presidential debates. YOU can vote on what questions they are asked in the debate. Help them remember the Gulf Coat-- forgotten but not gone! Go here to vote.

Thanks, Color of Change, for letting people know.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Quitting cigarettes

Just so you know-- I am somewhere in the process of quitting smoking-- haven't had a cigarette since a week ago today-- and have the attention span of a gnat. Should be able to blog again this weekend.

My sister and I took last week's long weekend to lock ourselves away so we could watch each other like hawks and quit together.

As Mark Twain said, "Quitting is easy. I've done it a thousand times." Actually, my attempts at quitting have always stayed in the realm of intentions. In 42 years!!! this is the longest I've gone without smoking. At my age, I don't expect quitting to add much time to my life, but it will certainly add to my self-respect.

Don't know if its because of detoxifying or what, but I'm waking up five and six times a night-- look at the clock, go back to sleep-- and lots of dreams but haven't remembered any.

Anyway, I will stop boring people now with this saga.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Click to feed rescued animals

A friend sent me a link to the Animal Rescue Site. One click provides a little more than half a bowl of food for a rescued animal.

Also check out Care2, a community where you can click to support the rain forest, stop violence against women and more (care2 keeps track of the total amount of forest you save, etc.), sign petitions, read articles and send ecards.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How can you clean with products that pollute?

OK, this is it-- when I'm done with the cleaning products I have on hand, I'll save the bottles and mix up batches of green cleaners. I've seen lots of recipes, but I really like the ones from Care2, excerpted from Annie B. Bond's book, Better Basics for the Home. Here's one of them:

Soft Scrub
This superstar formula is as good for cleaning the bathtub as it is for stainless steel appliances and shower stalls.

1/2 cup baking soda
Enough liquid soap or detergent to make a frosting-like consistency
5 drops antibacterial essential oil such as lavender, tea tree oil, or rosemary (optional)

Pour the baking soda in a bowl; slowly pour in the liquid soap or detergent, stirring all the while, until the consistency reaches that of frosting. Scoop the creamy mixture onto a sponge, wash the surface, and rinse.

The Two Pots

I'm not really a "chicken soup for the soul" kind of person, but the following unattributed tale got to me:

A Water Bearer in China had two pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which he carries across his back.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot always arrived only half-full.

For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water to his house. Of course the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it was made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes my water to leak out all the way back to your house."

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path but none on the other pot's side? I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path and every day, when we walk back, you water them. Without you being just the way you are, we would not have such beauty."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mass. elders without families have no protection against being declared incompetent!

Yesterday the Boston Globe reported on the risks of being a Massachusetts elder without family and friends-- you might find yourself placed into state custody against your will!

I didn't want to write this post until I had some good news to go along with the bad, but haven't been able to find much. Surely elders placed into state guardianship are at least entitled to legal representation, right? Well, not that I could figure out.

Every year an unknown number of elders are declared incompetent and placed in state guardianship at the request of nursing homes, hospitals and others. They then become virtual prisoners of the nursing home, with no legal representation, no access to money or even the ability to find out where their money and belongings are, and no one to watch out for them.

Some of these elders, of course, do meet the legal definition of incompetent, defined in the Dictionary as " referring to a person who is not able to manage his/her affairs due to mental deficiency (low I.Q., deterioration, illness or psychosis) or sometimes physical disability. Being incompetent can be the basis for appointment of a guardian or conservator (after a hearing in which the party who may be found to be incompetent has been interviewed by a court investigator and is present and/or represented by an attorney) to handle his/her person and/or affairs (often called "estate"). They need help and they should get help, but they do not deserve to be treated like children. Actually, I take that back, even children don't deserve to be treated the way they are.

A few of the unjustly confined do manage to get out. "In December 2006, it took just 2 minutes and 10 seconds for Mass. General to convince Judge Merrill that 74-year-old Rose Doyle should be put in the care of a guardian. Doyle was confined to a nursing home for three months. She complained to Greater Boston Legal Services. In May 2007, after an outside psychiatrist concluded that Doyle was competent, Merrill reversed her decision. In November, Doyle died."

Massachusetts guardians get $1,200 a year from Medicaid per elder, so some have built businesses around guardianship. Guardians are supposed to file quarterly reports with the court but of 308 reviewed Suffolk County cases, only 46 reports had actually been filed.

I'm a fairly savvy web researcher so I set out looking for a list of rights for elders in this situation. I could find no such list. The Massachusetts Legal Corporation has a web page that addresses a myriad of elder issues, but not this one. Still, I'd start with Legal Services-- here in Western Mass the numbers are
  • 781-7814 for Hampden County
  • 584-4034 for Hampshire County
  • 774-4737 for Franklin County
  • 664-4531 for Berkshire County.
The Massachusetts Dept. of Elder Affairs has a hotline, 1-800-AGE-INFO, and a website, although again, I could find no reference to this issue. The U.S. Administration on Aging also has an "Eldercare Locator"-- an elder referral service-- at 1-800-677-1116.

Last year the Dept. of Elder Affairs and the Dept. of Mental Health had a series of regional forums about the mental health needs of elders. I don't know how many elders were there, because strangely, elders' opinions themselves were not mentioned in the memo about the conclusions reached. Instead, the "stakeholders" were defined as local caregivers, DMH staff, the provider community, the Councils on Aging and some others.
Once again, as I've seen over and over in my organizing life, those most directly affected have the least opportunity to shape the policies that are designed for them.

I could really use some help on this one. If anyone knows of other resources of strategies elders should be using to protect themselves, let me know. I turned sixty last month, and I know there are many issues ahead of me as i age, but nothing terrifies me more than threats to my autonomy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

In order of importance: strawberries, fish, utilities, homeless

I was just reading an article in Tampa Bay Online about how the region was faring during its recent overnight freeze.

  • Strawberries and other produce: first twenty paragraphs. Produce is fairing well except for the strawberries.
  • Tropical fish: next five paragraphs. 95% are expected to survive
  • Utility demand: next three paragraphs. No problems expected.
  • Homeless: final three paragraphs. Blankets, mattresses, coffee and hot chocolate were passed out to the 230 residents at a local tent city.

I was doing research on tent cities when I found this article. A few weeks ago I set out to write a three part article on tent cities (now probably to be four parts)-- what they're like, why they're growing, and how they are a part of an international movement. I thought I'd have the second part last weekend but didn't, and spent much of this weekend doing more research. But soon.

Looks like residents of this city won't be going much of anywhere tomorrow: six to twelve inches of snow starting after midnight, heaviest during morning traffic hours. Well, I have plenty of work I can do from home if we really are temporarily snowed in.

During last week's thaw, I found myself forgetting that winter is not a third over yet-- seemed like spring was just around the corner.

Winter is the longest season for homeless people.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Who deserves more compassion? A puppy or a now-houseless mother and child?

Sometimes I just have to shake my head in disbelief.

A puppy that was thrown out a third floor window in Springfield on Thursday is reaping much sympathy and support from the community. The SPCA has set up a fund to raise the $5,000 needed for medical care. A warrant has been issued for the twenty year old man alleged to have done the deed. Everyone has been rightly horrified by the cruelty.

Meanwhile, the same week, a woman and her four year old son narrowly escaped death by carbon monoxide poisoning because of an inadequately vented furnace. Turns out the apartment, a converted garage, is illegal; the wiring, plumbing and other systems are also out of code. The building is owned by a city employee, Luis Colon.

The community response? It's her fault for choosing to live in an illegal apartment; she is the one who put her son's life (and her own) at risk. The landlord has been roundly criticized also, especially since he is a city employee. But the woman? Pregnant again-- probably no daddy around-- probably living on welfare-- probably getting Section 8. Even though the newspaper picture of the converted garage shows an apparently well-maintained, somewhat charming dwelling, somehow she should have known.

I've met a lot of people through the years of Arise who knowingly lived in illegal apartments. Either it was all they could afford or they feared retaliation, eviction and potential homelessness if they reported the apartment to Code Enforcement. I don't think that was this young woman's story.

I wonder: if the city had the funds to hire enough housing inspectors, and rigorously enforced the housing code, would they be prepared for the crisis in homelessness that would follow?

U.N. Survey

A worldwide survey was conducted by the UN. The only question asked was:

“Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?”

The survey was a huge failure…

In Africa they didn’t know what “food” meant.
In Eastern Europe they didn’t know what “honest” meant.
In Western Europe they didn’t know what “shortage” meant.
In China they didn’t know what “opinion” meant.
In the Middle East they didn’t know what “solution” meant.
In South America they didn’t know what “please” meant.
And in the USA they didn’t know what “the rest of the world” meant.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Optimism about Springfield-- is there any other choice?

I went to Sarno's swearing-in as Mayor yesterday with a few other Arise members to see what I could see. It's the first swearing-in I've ever been to, so I have nothing to compare it with, but Sarno put his priorities out for all to see and of course we'll be keeping a close eye on him.

There's much I could comment about, but the big surprise for me yesterday was Sarno's commitment to move Springfield toward a truly environmentally-friendly city! This is long-overdue in Springfield. Ryan liked to call Springfield "green" because of our wealth of parks and waterways. But as far as I know, he never did anything proactive.

A recent article in the Republican about the new Federal Courthouse mentioned that the General Services Administration required that "art" be integrated into the building. Well, that's fine and good, but not a word about sustainability, energy recapture, solar power, etc. What a lost opportunity!

If I were mayor I'd say that not another building that uses federal, state or local money can be constructed without integrating green principles in the design. (Actually, I'd go farther, but that's another story.)

The Republican didn't mention Sarno's green goals, but it's probably on Bill Dusty's video of yesterday's ceremony.

Do you want poop with that?

"A USDA study found that more than 99 percent of broiler chicken carcasses sold in stores had detectable levels of E. coli, indicating fecal contamination. In other words, if you’re eating chicken flesh, you’re almost certainly eating poop."

That's Number Five in the Top Ten Reasons Not to Eat Chickens posted at GoVeg.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Poor and Fat

When the Arise Food Pantry was operating, we got most of our food from the WMA Food Bank. We'd try to order the fixings for a balanced diet. Protein was usually peanut butter, hot dogs, canned tuna, chicken or hamburg, or sometimes canned beans. Dairy was cheese, cottage cheese or sometimes yogurt; vegetables and fruit were usually canned and occasionally fresh. And oh, those carbohydrates!-- pasta, cereals, white rice, chips. We knew what we were handing out would fill people up but was far from what could be described as a balanced, healthy diet.

Last year, in an article about the Farm Bill, the NY Times reported on a study by obesity researcher Adam Drewnowski about how, if you were grocery shopping on a limited budget, you could buy more calories per dollar shopping in the middle aisles of the grocery store than around the edges. For a dollar you can buy 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.

The blog Wisebread talks about the poor and fat phenomenon, and how it doesn't have to be this way-- It's especially sad, because it actually is possible to eat a good, healthy diet pretty cheaply. "Unfortunately, it's not cheap and easy--it's really quite complex. You have to know about nutrition. You have to have the use of a kitchen, and time to cook. You have to have access to fresh vegetables."

Sadly, I think knowing how to construct a meal is nearly a lost art. The universe of domestic skills keeps getting smaller. Leaving poverty, ecology, lack of education, major corporations and advertising propaganda for another time-- in other words, all the real reasons we eat so badly-- the majority of women work outside of the home and have little free time.

Until a few years ago, when my grandmother died at 102, I was midpoint in my family's generations-- two before me, two after. Both of my grandmothers could crochet, knit, tat, quilt, and make slipcovers, curtains and clothes. They could bake bread, sour cream, and put up jams, pickles and sauerkraut

My mother could do fewer of these things, and I, even fewer. I can do a little embroidery and hem a skirt, while my daughter needs to use hemming tape. Even though I never had cilantro, fresh asparagus, or any whole grain other than rice until I was an adult, I did a little better with food than my mom. My daughters are vegetarians and my granddaughter is a vegan, which means they do more cooking than the average household. Still, there's much we never learned.

Most processed food bears little resemblance to the same food made made at home with fresh ingredients. But a lot of people have learned to prefer Aunt Jemima to maple syrup, canned fruit to fresh, fish sticks to fish. It's scary. How can we work our way back from this desert?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

On my way to work

Snow bombs!
Those mischievous trees
look the other way:
Who, me?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Please: no more murdered women and children in Springfield in 2008!

Patrick Johnson at the Springfield Republican has a story today tallying up the domestic violence murders in Springfield this year. Three women and five children died at the hands of those they should have been able to trust the most.

It's worth posting both the local domestic violence hotline and the national number. Locally, call ARCH, 413-733-7100. Anywhere in Massachusetts, call SafeLink, 1-877-853-2020.

So often the male perpetrators of these crimes kill themselves after they kill their wives and their children. Why don't they just kill themselves first?

Here's an understatement: domestic violence is a complicated issue. Women are not the only victims; children and men suffer, also. It's not rare for violence to be mutual-- although when it comes to the death of a partner, women are almost always the victims.

Interestingly enough, Johnson's article says that the police were never called to the victims' residences, no restraining orders were ever filed, and no neighbors ever complained about excessive noise.

Perhaps this is because the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction to protect women that women often see the "cure" as potentially as damaging as the violence.

An all too common scenario goes like this: you and your husband are having a fight, and voices get loud. (There may or may not be physical violence accompanying this argument.) You have children in the home. A neighbor calls the police. What happens next depends on whether or not the police suspect violence has taken place. But one thing that will surely happen is that the police will file a 51A-- a Care and Protection order-- with the Department of Social Services. DSS will require that you get a restraining order against your husband and remove him from your home and your life. If you fail to do so, your children may be taken away from you. This is a heavy chain of consequences to bear. Many families that need help are destroyed, and, I think, many women who really do need help won't take the risk of asking for it.

I'm not one who thinks that state intervention and incarceration should be the first step and is automatically the best step to solve every social ill. I believe that women who need to be safe should have a place to go. Once upon a time, battered women's shelters were run by dedicated community volunteers. Now they are funded by the Department of Social Services. And everybody and his brother-- every police officer, teacher, doctor, nurse, case manager and social worker-- is a mandated reporter.

For a deeper and contextualized look at violence against women, check out Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. For a look at a violence against men site that is NOT an anti-woman site (even if i don't agree with every perspective), see Battered Men. There's a hopeful page on the Family Violence Prevention Fund about raising boys into men. Check out their home page for more general information.