Monday, March 31, 2008

Food riots grow; we can expect more

In Cote d'Iviore, 1500 people took to the streets today to protest rising food prices. In Egypt last week, two people were killed in a clash over bread. 10,000 Indonesians demonstrated outside Jakarta's presidential palace earlier this month. Recent food riots have also taken place in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Cameroon, Morocco, Burkina Faso, India, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Italy.

Food prices are increasing everywhere. Soybean prices have doubled in a month and gone up 125% in a year. Wheat prices have risen 90% since last March, while unseasonable weather in Canada and Australia, two main producers, has limited supply. In Asia, the price of rice has almost doubled since January, causing India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Egypt to limit or completely end exports in an effort to feed their own people. This is bad news for the Philippines, which depends on rice from Vietnam to help meet its country's food needs.

In Haiti some have returned to making cookies from salt, shortening and edible clay-- but even the price of the clay has risen. Food demonstrations have taken place inHaiti, Egypt, Zimbabwe, India, Namibia, Mexico, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen and even in Italy. the U.N. Food Programme says that as of December, 37 countries faced food crises, and 20 had imposed some sort of food-price controls. The U.N. also says it has a $500 million shortfall to feed 89 million of the world's hungriest people.

Even in the U.S., dairy products are up 15%, fruits and vegetables 10%, and cereals and bread is up 8%. The average middle class family would spend $253 more for the same groceries this year compared to two years ago.. And 28 million people are expected to receive food stamps this year, the highest level since the program was created in 1964.

  • The increasing use of land to produce biofuels like ethanol. A U.N. report last year warned that “rapid growth in liquid biofuel production will make substantial demands on the world’s land and water resources at a time when demand for both food and forest products is also rising rapidly.” Besides the ethics of using food to create fuel, biofuel production can create even more greenhouse gases.
  • The rapid growth of developing nations like India and China. Healthier people demand more food including meat and dairy which sends up the cost of the grain used for cattle feed.
  • High global fuel prices which increase to the cost of everything related to food production, from processing to transport.
Prices are expected to stabilize-- in about ten years. Ten years is long enough to permanently stunt a child's life, to leach the joy from early adulthood, to rob middle-years of their bounty, to darken the hours of the elderly.

We are not without power to take those personal actions we know can help-- driving less, eating less meat, growing even a single tomato plant. But more than ever we need to work together for policy change. I have to write this because I have to believe we can make a difference.

Check out Dr. Gideon Palya's perspective on the food crisis in Countercurrents.

Photo: Food Riot, 1917. During World War I, wartime inflation severely taxed the limited budgets of working-class families. Although wages also rose during the war, they could not keep up with prices. On February 20, 1917, after confronting pushcart peddlers who were charging exorbitant rates for necessities, thousands of women marched to New York�s City Hall to demand relief. The “food riot” precipitated a boycott campaign that eventually forced pushcart prices down. Women in Boston and Philadelphia took similar action.
From History Matters.

Bottled water

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A world without trucks

My brother-in-law is a truck driver, and I don't think there's ever a truck accident anywhere that I don't think of him and wonder where he is.

A terrible tanker truck accident on Route 91 in Chicopee, MAon Friday morning claimed the life of New Hampshire driver Aaron Staelens. The accident wasn't his fault-- in fact, my sister thinks if he had swerved left instead of right, the truck might not have hit a guard rail and exploded. But swerving left would have brought him into the line of more traffic, where more people's lives would have been at risk. Most truck drivers have that instinct-- to avoid passenger cars even when it puts the driver in more danger.

Truck drivers have a difficult life and with the rising cost of diesel fuel, jobs are at risk, especially for independent truckers. There's discussion of a truckers' strike early in April, though what that might accomplish is unclear.

What is the future of trucking? Some European countries are re-examining the idea of transporting goods underground. If it can be done for water, sewage, gas and oil, why not for other products?

Low-Tech magazine describes how it would work. "The most viable techniques, however, adopt just the concept of automated underground transport: they make use of well-known electric propulsion instead of compressed air or electromagnetic forces, and they envision extreme low speeds of 7 to 35 kilometres per hour (4 to 22 mph). In fact, they mix the concept of pneumatic transport with that of an automated subway line or a conveyor belt."

Check it out to see how at least some of our transport problems could be solved in a cheaper, more environmentally sound way than overland delivery by truck.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Late March round-up of news from the homeless blogs

First from the straight news: The Muskogen Chronicle, Michigan, reported last week on the death of 48 year old Lonnie Gordon, a homeless man who died of hypothermia in a February stowstorm. Mr. Gordon was made to leave the Rescue Mission, where he'd been staying for several days, because he had been drinking on premises.
"We don't want to point fingers or make anyone take the blame (for Gordon's death). We just want to know why," said Judith Kell, who chairs the Continuum of Care Network. "What went wrong? How'd he fall through the cracks?"
Wait a minute-- he didn't fall through the cracks, he was pushed!
"We don't turn anyone away, and that is so important, especially in bad weather when so many (homeless people) have nowhere else to turn," Skoglund (director of Rescue Mission) said. "We exist to demonstrate and proclaim God's love to the less fortunate and homeless people of West Michigan, but there are certain rules people in the shelters have to follow for everyone's safety. We don't allow chaos. We can't allow chaos."
Heavens, No! Death before chaos! This could so easily happen in Springfield, MA-- if it hasn't already.

At Just Another Blog from L.A., M. Bouffant comments on Helen and Olga, currently on trial for murdering homeless men for the insurance they took out on them. In Nashville, Kevin Barbieux at The Homeless Guy reports on the death of a homeless woman hit by a pick-up truck.

Oldtimer Speaks Out reports on the bureaucratic snafu that almost prevented his friend Al, who'd been living in the woods for some time, from accessing transitional housing through the VA. WanderingVets comments on the people of Guerneville, CA, good patriots all, who are organizing in opposition to the construction of a Home for War Veterans. they might be dangerous!

On the organizing front, Tim Harris at Apesma's Lament says the city of Tacoma, Washington's failure to make progress on it's ten year plan to end homelessness is finally getting some media attention. Humanity for Homeless in Santa Cruz CA says the city has issued its first citation for violating the Parking Lots and Garages Trespass Law MC 9.64, which became law to prevent homeles people from using parking lots and whose enforcement has already reached ridiculous proportions-- folks were cited and dispersed for showing a silent move against the wall of a building in a non-residential district. There's a lot of information on this blog about the people's struggles. The Anti-Poverty blog in Chicago has a great analysis of the truly creepy Oprah's Big Give.

Last but not least, stop by Homeless Man Speaks for the real words of real people without a home.

Photo: Our Friend Al from Oldtimer Speaks Out.

Why Massachusetts' health care plan is doomed to fail

Romney thought he'd use the creation of a mandated health insurance plan for all uninsured residents to launch his bid for president. His campaign failed and the failure of the state plan may be only a couple of years behind. Even the lowest co-pays are out of reach of many, but if you don't choose a plan, you lose your state income tax refund. The Nation has a good breakdown of why this failure is inevitable.

Queer youth coordinator weighs in on "psychopathic army killers"

yes...thank you liz...and michaelann for your remarks. i, too, feel a sense of sadness and outrage at your remarks, david. i spend many hours each week with queer youth....queer youth from springfield (springfield, documented as a poor city according to the last census). queer youth who are trying to make it in springfield public schools (where in 2003 and 2004 only 33% of entering freshmen, what of the 67% who didn't make it?). queer youth who are mainly from poor families, and who aren't seeing a whole lot of choices out there for their futures. queer youth of color, who are prime targets for the military recruiters, who are promising them everything 'and the kitchen sink' to sign up (and, are told by recruiters not to worry about "Don' Ask, Don't Tell" ...because recruiters are pulling out all stops).
i can tell you, that these young people are not psychopaths or murders. they are our brothers/sisters, neighbors, they are sensitive and reflective and insightful...they are our future....and, i'll tell you right now...i will fight like hell to tell them the truth about the military, send them to trainings on counter-recruitment, show them films, etc to help them not join...because i know for sure they will be damaged in ways we DO have some idea about. but, david, we are up against a huge and powerful institutional oppressive machine (and, that is where i will target my rage, my work). because, when/if these young people sign up, join, get sent to iraq, or wherever...i will not stop loving them and showing them respect for their incredible struggle. and, i will not call them names that will only do further damage to them, their families, and will ultimately damage all of us. i will walk with them through it all, understanding and holding the complexities at the same time.
holly richardson,
arise member
and co-director of Out Now (springfield's queer youth organization)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Navy Mom: Don't you call my son a psychopathic killer!

I am one of the moderators of AriseAction, a listserve that Arise started way back in June of 2000. AriseAction is overtly political and focused toward social justice and against oppression. About three-quarters of our 350 members are from Western Massachusetts and the rest from everywhere else. Views range from liberal to far lest.

Anyone who's ever moderated or been actively involved with a listserve knows it can get pretty contentious out there. We've had our moles and our agent provocateurs and the occasional racist in sheep's clothing, but they don't last long, and for the most part we've had a thoughtful, sincere crew with limited interest in beating each other up.

Still, as moderator I sometimes approve a message with which I strongly disagree. Almost any message that isn't a personal attack or otherwise oppressive gets posted.

Today, a member wanted to commemorate the death of 4,000 military personnel in Iraq by sharing a picture of Bush and Cheney's faces composed of the faces of those who have died. The accompanying text said, "In remembrance of the 4,000 brave men and women who sacrificed everything for us, and the two men who would continue this great tragedy, despite the cost to our soldiers."

When I read it (and approved it), I thought, I didn't ask them to sacrifice for me, maybe that's what they believed, but I believe they were themselves sacrificed by our Government. I thought I might write a response if I had a chance.

But someone else responded first, and his response read: They weren't "brave men and women who sacrifice everything for us." They were psychopathic murderers who participated in perpetrating genocide against the Iraqis.

Well, now I had to respond, and I did, but my sister's post that followed mine was much more eloquent:

As a mother with a son in the military, seeing you call our servicepeople "psychopathic murderers who participated in perpetrating genocide against the Iraqis" caused me to fell several different emotions in the space of seconds.
First I was astonished at the hatred and stupidity in that statement.
Second was pain and sorrow knowing someone hated my son that way.
Third was anger. Anger at you who dare to attack my son.
My son, who still laughs at silly jokes.
My son, who has defended friends, family and complete strangers to his own detriment, and I'm not talking about since he has been in the service.
My son, who at 5 tried to fight off the police as they forced the homeless from "No Homes Inn" in Northampton. Then the rage to defend my son.
Now that I've said that, let me add that my son grew up in an anti-war household with my sister, myself and a father who is an anti-war Vietnam vet.
My son is in the Navy and stationed in Japan, far away from the fighting in Iraq.
And if your statement had that effect on ME, can you imagine the kind of effect it would have on mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters are in Iraq?. Who have died in Iraq?. Who aren't sure how they feel about Iraq? Put yourself in my place and be glad you're not in their place.

No Justice No Peace
"the revolution begins today.."

Rep. Frank to introduce marijuana decriminalization bill

Maybe we're finally coming to our senses about the decriminalization of marijuana. The New Hampshire House of Representatives has passed a decriminalization bill, although The Senate and the Governor are opposed. Twelve other states have already decriminalized possession. Massachusetts has a binding decriminalization question headed for November's ballot. And now Cong. Barney Frank, D-MA, has announced he's going to introduce a federal bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

The Drug War Chronicle
is doing its usual excellent job tracking decriminalization efforts and has this to say about politicians speaking out against decriminalization:
Right now politicians on either sides of the aisle in both states are talking a lot of madness, its all over the place. I recommend checking out the MA and NH sections of to see some of the offenders. However if you really want to see someone make a fool of them self in public check out Democratic Representative Martin Walsh from Dorchester Testify his take on the bill he "knows nothing about." He is quickly becoming an internet star at

Image from Ablogination.

Where the buffalo are afraid to roam


Over 1,000 wild buffalo have been slaughtered in the Yellowstone National Park area since November of 2007, representing the largest kill since the 1800s. "It would seem as though history was not learned the first time, for here we are today, watching these same government entities enacting the same policy," said Nez Perce tribal member James Holt. According to those monitoring the situation, namely the Buffalo Field Campaign, the total kill-off number will likely exceed 2,000 for the year. While the government's official reason for the slaughter is to prevent the spread of brucellosis from wild bison to cattle, no such transmission has ever been documented, and the bison being sent to slaughter are not being tested for the disease. Learn more and get involved: Organic Consumers

Starting today, it's open season on wolves in Greater Yellowstone

Wolves have just been discovered in Utah! And a female from an Idaho pack was found in Oregon!

And, starting today, gray wolves can be killed in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, because federal protection for gray wolves in Greater Yellowstone has been stripped away.

You can sign a petition to support a national wolf recovery plan at the Care2 Petition Site here:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rain barrels make a comeback

Springfield, Massachusetts is blessed with some of the purest and best-tasting water in the country, thanks to the state's largest uncontrolled river, the West Branch Westfield. This river fills the 1,135 acre Cobble Mountain Reservoir in Russell and Blandford; the reservoir then goes on to provide 37 million gallons of water a day to Springfield, Agawam, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow and Ludlow.

Rich in lakes and rivers, no place in New England is more than 400 miles from the ocean, With water so ubiquitous, New Englanders rarely give much thought to its availability..Yet the region experienced a moderately severe drought in 2002 and has had periods of abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions every year since then. Last August was the second driest in 122 years, according to Drought Monitor.

One old water conservation idea that seems to be becoming new again is the rain barrel. The Mass. Department of Environmental Protection has partnered with SkyJuice New England to provide rain barrels to Massachusetts and Maine communities through its Sustainability Grants. Western Mass, Agawam, Easthampton, Greenfield and Lee all applied for and received discount vouchers. Agawam is on its third year of the program, with the goal of reducing per-capita usage from 80 gallons to 65 gallons by 2017. Last year the barrels filled six times in six months.

Kathy Pederson at the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission
says Springfield didn't apply for the program last year, but it is under consideration along with other water conservation measures for this year. She says one of the Commission members will be assigned to oversee conservation measures for Springfield within six months. Not only does this program help conserve water, it can save money for residents during our fiscal crunch.

What can you do with rain barrel water? Water your garden, wash your car, give your dog a bath.
If the rain barrel fully returns, maybe the next generation of children will relearn:

O little playmate
come out and play with me,
and bring your follies three,
climb up my apple tree.
Slide down my rain barrel,
slide down my cellar door,
and we'll be jolly friends
for ever more.

O little playmate,
I cannot play with you,
My dolly has the flu,
Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo.
Don't have no rain barrel,
Don't have no cellar door,
But we'll be jolly friends,
Forever more.

Red birds gather

When I pulled into my driveway yesterday, before I got out of the car I noticed that a small, still-bare bush was sheltering: a robin, two red finches and a male and female cardinal! It's as if they said, "All red birds over here!"

Female cardinals are underrated, I think, for their beauty.

Photo by Tom Hindman

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ontario, CA tent city bulldozed

AP news is reporting that Ontario CA officials decided a tent city had grown too big-- some 400 people-- and are bulldozing it. Homeless people who can "prove" they're from Ontario can return after the land is leveled and the trash removed.

The blog News Raw - Morning was on hand for the evictions to dig a little deeper into what's happening at SoCal,, the name of the tent city.

Just found a picture of Bushville, the tent city in New York city set up by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. About twelve Arise members, most of whom had left their own very real Sanctuary City in Springfield, MA to help protest at the Republican National Convention. We'll be back in 2008 at the John McCain annointment in Minneapolis in September.

New York times covers bat disease

This morning I saw that the NY Times has reported on the mysterious bat disease wiping out up to 90% of the bat population in parts of New England. By this evening, it was the second most frequently emailed article in the Times. iIm glad that other people are finding this situation worthy of concern. Unfortunately there wasn't much more information about a cause and a cure than I had unearthed.

In the Adirondacks, mammal specialist Al Hicks was quoted as he was trying for the perfect picture of concentrations of bats: "“It’s just that I know I’m never going to see these guys again,” he said. “We’re the last to see this concentration of bats in our lifetime.”

Addendum: the bat in my previous post is either a big brown or a pipstrelle. The bat in this post is a little brown bat.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Across the universe in a previously unknown galaxy

7.5 billion light years ago, a star 40 times the size of our sun exploded. On Wednesday, March 19, the light from that explosion reached the earth, becoming the farthest away object to be visible to the naked eye from our planet.

How far away was this sun? Well, one light year equals 5.9 trillion miles. Multiply that by 7.5 billion light years, and you have an explosion that came from halfway to the edge of the universe from our galaxy..

How big is the universe? Scientists have calculated it as slightly larger than 156 billion light years.

How old is the universe? Given the time scale involved, scientists have calculated rather closely-- 13.73 billion years old.

How can the universe be "only" 13.73 billion years old yet be 173 billion light years wide? Because ever since the birth of the universe, the universe has been expanding, and the expansion is proceeding at an accelerated rate.

However, it's not the galaxies themselves are travelling away from each -- it's the space in between the galaxies that's expanding. The farther away a galaxy is from our own, the faster it is receding. Picture an uninflated balloon and draw a series of dots evenly spaced on the surface. Then blow up the balloon. It is the space between the dots that expands. If your galaxy is two dots away from ours, we will recede from your view at twice the rate as the galaxy only one dot away.

(Space expanding at an ever-increasing rate is what scientists are now calling "dark energy," a sort of anti-gravity pushing the galaxies apart.)

For reasons too complex to explain here, nothing in the theory of general relativity prohibits the space between galaxies expanding at faster than the speed of light. Eventually those galaxies will be moving away from us so fast that their light can never reach us.

The amount of knowledge we have about the universe is astounding given that no human has ever been farther than 250,000 miles from earth and no spacecraft has yet left the solar system. With our knowledge we can look at the nighttime sky and savor the fact that those who come after us may know more about the universe, but they can never see more of it than we do right now.

Our Tory at the IRS building, Washington D.C.

Beware of food!

Another Masslive headline to accompany yesterday's "Loaf of Bread Sparks Fatal Fight"--
"Meats Jump Off Shelves at Easter."

Shades of Jean Valjean? I doubt it.

I ought to be in bed but my eye was just caught by a MassLive headline: "Loaf of bread sparks fatal stabbing." This just slays me. Didn't these idiots have enough brains to stop for five seconds and ask themselves, "Hmmm...lost loaf of bread or life in prison? Which will I choose?"

Bet you fifty cents this one will make CNN news.

Stop and Shop discontinuing plastic bags

I went to Stop & Shop today (never Big Y) to pick up some foodstuff for a party tonight, and I heard the cashier ask the woman ahead of me if she wanted to buy a Stop & Shop reusable bag for 99 cents.

"No, thanks," she said.

"You'll have to do it sooner or later," the elderly bagger said, "because after this month, we won't be providing them anymore."

"Will you still have a job?" I asked the bagger.

"Oh, yes, we'll all still be here," he said.

Now, I'm not sure if Stop & Shop's bags are being produced in an environmentally responsible way-- I'll find out more the next time I go-- but this is certainly a step in the right direction. Every now and then, voluntary action gets the jump on mandated regulation.

I've often thought that manufacturing shopping bags could be a great cottage industry right right here in Western Mass. It's just one of the very manyl green collar jobs that could help revitalize our region if we only had the vision and the will.

One of my daughters is getting married in June, and last year for Christmas I bought her enough bags for a two-person household from Eco-Bags. I liked the product a lot, and the prices were reasonable given that they are fair trade and environmentally manufactured, but how much nicer-- as well as more environmental-- if I had been able to buy it locally!

I wrote back in February about some of the larger issues with plastic waste-- and yes, I know it's not the only environmental change we have to make-- but it is a significant problem and I'm proud of Stiop & Shop for making a move in the right direction.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More job losses in Western Mass

Verizon is blaming changing technology on its need to cut 82 jobs at its Greenfield call center, saying people are using the Internet more to find phone numbers. Well, Duh! This is a real "chicken or the egg" situation. We all have had the frustrating experience of using an automated system that rarely understands what you are saying and needs to send you to a live operator who has been listening all the time but is not allowed to give you the information until the automated system has done its thing. No wonder that when people can, they turn to the Internet. Verizon says that jobs have gained overall, that they've added 200 jobs across the state. But the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers Local 2324 says 105 Western Mass jobs have already been lost in the region since last year.

The Republican had more bad news for us this morning: Mass Mutual, one of Springfield's largest employers, is laying off 30 workers in its retirement division.

How bad is job loss in the region?

Last June, Springfield Wire announced it would cease to manufacture in the region and phase out 180 jobs over the next eighteen months. There was another major job loss around the same time, and more since then.

I wish I'd been keeping track, but it's not too late to start.

I hope WMA readers will send in comments about job losses they're aware of in the last year. I did a search of MassLive but didn't turn up much.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Praying (or should I say partying?) mantis

Once a friend of mine was in the supermarket check-out line with a kind of nice-looking guy in front of her. She noticed that he did seem to be glancing back at her frequently. Finally he said, "Do you know you have a praying mantis on your shoulder?" And she did! She left the store and gently placed the mantis on some grass behind the building....Photo by Lawraa on Flickr

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five years of broken hearts

OK-- so one thing I know now that I didn't know then: it's easier to stop a war before it starts than to stop a war once it's started, and it's damn near impossible to do that.

Today I've been remembering what I and so many others were doing-- not so much exactly on March 19-- but in the months leading up to the war in Iraq. Every minute of every day that we weren't asleep was spent organizing: setting up meetings, leafletting, demonstrating, planning for demonstrating, calling Reps. Neal and Olver, training for civil disobedience, phone calling, mass mobilizations, doing everything we knew how to do.

And it wasn't easy, and I don't think we ever kidded ourselves that we had much chance of success, but we had to try.

And it wasn't easy, because let me tell you, people were mean. Bush and his cohorts in crime had done such a good job tying September 11 to Iraq that in many people's minds that to be against the war was the same as supporting the terrorists. But we had to try. We took a lot of abuse but knew it was nothing compared to what our troops and the Iraqi people would suffer.

Then the war began, and then followed forty-eight hours of demonstrations and mass arrests. I've never been much of a one for what I thought of as getting arrested for the sake of getting arrested-- but knowing that the war had begun, there really was nothing left for us to do, for the moment, to witness and resist, and that's what hundreds of us did at Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee and many other places.

Five years. One piece of this insanity that has never ceased to simply floor me is how Bush has been able to get away with it, even when the proof that he lied began to be uncovered almost right away: no weapons of mass destruction, no terrorist threat in Iraq, no ties to September 11. When I think how Nixon was brought down by Watergate, it almost seems like that happened in another world, that we could demand and receive accountability from our government-- not all the time, but when it really mattered.

Five years. In the end, activists have had to return to what we can accomplish, while never being quiet about what we know about the war. It seems like most of the U.S. has finally come around to opposing this misadventure, although I still see people's vulnerability to a good spin. But we are still so powerless to bring this war to an end. No wonder so many people have so much invested in the next presidential election. I myself am less convinced that electing a good Democrat will bring about a sea change.

Five years. I did not choose to go down to the Federal Building tonight to join the Move On demonstration in the rain-- long day organizing, I worked hard, and have to go to Boston early. But some friends of mine who are in the affinity group "8 at the Gate" were arrested at Westover today. And we will all be together again soon on another day.

Ready for a buggy summer?

Bats eat their body weight in insects every night.
Photo: endangered Indiana bat


From Found, where people post notes, drawings, lists, etc. that they have found. Sad, funny, bewildering, real life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If bats are in trouble, so are we

They can live for twenty-five years and only have one baby every twelve months. They eat insects that plague humans and they help to pollinate plants. And 90% of them may have died in some places in New England this winter.

Little brown bats, Northern long-eared, Eastern pipistrelle, and the federally endangered Indiana bat are being stricken by a disease biologists are naming White Nose Syndrome, although whether it's a virus, a bacteria or a fungus is not yet clear. These species are the first infected, but biologists fear that all species of bats are vulnerable.

Sick bats were first discovered only a little more than a year ago in a cave near Albany, New York. In one cave, the population of bats plummeted from 1,300 to 38. By February, sick bats had also been found in Vermont and Massachusetts. By the middle of the month, the Boston Globe reported infected bats had been found in two caves in Western Massachusetts near Chester.

"No one has a clue what is going on," said Tom French, assistant director of the natural heritage and endangered species program of the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, who helped find sick bats in Massachusetts."

Caves where sick bats are found are being closed to the public, not because humans are in danger but because it's not known how the disease is being spread.

This month, sick bats were discovered in caves in West Virginia.

With the stress on bees, our main pollinators, what's happening to bats is a major cause for concern.

Ward Representation - off the record

I heard "off the record" yesterday that not all city departments are eagerly working to make sure ward representation can be put into place for the next election

Given this city's past efforts to stop ward representation, I take these rumors seriously. I'd have to pull out thirteen years of files to completely reconstruct this obstruction, but:
-- say you'll vote yes and then vote no.
-- say you'll approve it under certain conditions, and then change your mind when those conditions are met.
-- say you support it but work against it behind the scenes.

Even as recently as last September, the enabling legislation for WR languished in the House of Representatives while Mayor Ryan, ostensibly a supporter, twiddled his thumbs and the City Council, including Council President Jose Tosado, WR's biggest supporter on the Council, seemed unaware that the bill wasn't moving ahead.. It took hundreds of phone calls to our legislators and the Governor's office to get the ball rolling, and even so, it was signed into law by Governor Patrick with less than 24 hours to spare.

It's not NOVEMBER 2009 by which the city needs to be ready-- it's SEPTEMBER, in time for the Primaries.

I'm going to wager, right now, that every single one of the city's eight wards will need a primary election for City Council, and quite possibly for School Committee. Now that ward representation is law in Springfield, Massachusetts, even those who worked against it will try to take advantage of it.

Political life in Springfield life is about to get even more interesting.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

We're here. We're weird. Get used to it.

Would you measure the intelligence of a blind person by giving him a test he had to see in order to take? So why would you try to measure the intelligence of a person with autism by by using tests that require verbal language skills, social interaction, and cultural knowledge?

The common wisdom-- and the standardized tests-- say that 75% of the people with autism are mentally retarded. Amanda Baggs, a 27 year old woman with autism, would certainly seem to fall in that category on first take: she can't speak, can't look you in the eye, and needs help cooking supper. But Amanda is one of the leaders in a growing movement to redefine the intelligence and the potential of people with autism and Asberger's Syndrome.

Amanda has uploaded a video at YouTube which at first seems to show all the typical behaviors associated with severe autism-- rocking, handflapping, grunting. But then comes the translation, as Amanda "talks" about what is going on in her mind during those behaviors. Amanda is a whiz at the keyboard, uses the Internet, and thanks to innovations like type to speech software, can communicate at 120 words per minute.

Wired magazine has an article about Amanda, the history of how autism has been perceived, and the movement for understanding and acceptance of people with autism and Asberger's. As Amanda says, "We're here. We're weird. Get used to it."

A thought for parents. I know many parents of autistic children are heartbroken over not being able to communicate with their children, and worry about what will happen to their children when they are gone. But maybe if we can start seeing autism in a new way, doors will open hard to imagine right now. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A blogging curiosity

Like all bloggers, I imagine, I use a site to track statistics about my blog. I don't have ads, so tracking my "revenue" isn't something I need to do, but I am curious about where the people who visit my blog come from and how they got there. MapStats lists the city and country of origin, and, if the visitor uses a search engine, what phrase they searched for.

A couple of times I've thought that visitors who want to pay a return visit don't remember my address, but they remember a phrase or post title, and type that in to get back. I mean, how many times might someone type the exact phrase "Thomas Friedman is an idiot" into Google? (Well, maybe more than I think.) But that's the title of one of my posts.

Recently I've noticed a fair number of people are arriving at my blog by typing in the search phrase "No rest for the weary"-- another one of my fairly recent blog titles. Now, what would bring people from places as diverse as Jersey City, New Jersey, Rowland Heights, California, Pine Bluff Arkansas and Farnum Royal, Sough, UK to search for that phrase? Is it just a coincidence? Does anybody know?

Photo: Leo Reynolds

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Springfield starts planning how to implement ward representation

Should city and school committee councilors from wards be paid the same as at-large councilors? How much more will it cost to print eight ballots, one for each ward, instead of just one for the whole city? How much more support staff will be needed in various city departments? And how will thirteen councilors fit into a space designed for nine?

Tonight the City Council's Civil Rights and Race Relations Committee started laying out these and other questions that have to be answered before the city's new, mixed ward and at-large system, can be put into place for the November, 2009 elections. It won't be easy but it won't be difficult, and in any case, the voters mandated it in the 2007 elections.

As City Attorney Ed Pakula said, "It's not many issues that win 75% of the vote."

A few community people were at the meeting to see what the city had in mind for moving ahead., including five of us from Arise and OutNow! It was an odd feeling to hear ward representation talked about as a reality, not something still to be won. Thirteen years of work! Winning ward representation in this city has certainly followed the "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, etc." path. I have a lot more gray hairs now than I did in 1995.

Relevant department heads talked logistics and budgets, and most agreed to get preliminary plans back to Committee Chair Jose Tosado in six to eight weeks.

The two most interesting questions concerned the School Committee and the potentially changing relationship between neighborhood councils and civic associations and the City Council.

Under the old at-large system, six School Committee members were elected for four years in staggered terms. The new system calls for two committee members at-large and four representing two wards each. The three School Committee members elected last fall, Antoinette Pepe, Chris Collins and Thomas Ashe expected to serve four years, but there doesn't seem to be any way to implement ward representation for the School Committee in 2009 except by bringing an end to the staggered system and electing all six members at the same time-- everyone starting off on the same foot. I know Antoinette, Thomas and Chris don't want it that way, but no one's been able to think of any way around it. I certainly hope they wouldn't try to hold up ward representation so they can serve their full terms.

Near the end of the meeting (as always!), we citizens had a chance to speak. Walter Gould of the Outer Belt Civic Association asked, What will the relationship of neighborhood councils and civic associations be to the city council once there are councilors representing each ward? The councils and associations are used to having the ear of the entire council; it's a system they've gotten used to and don't necessarily want to see changed, and, in many neighborhoods, it's a system that has provided those neighborhoods with a vehicle to be heard. Will councils and associations now have to go through their councilor to reach the city? What if they don't like their councilor?

There are no legal ways to answer Mr. Gould's questions; new relationships and alliances will have to be formed. Some fear they will lose power and influence with the city. But having been elected to the McKnight Neighborhood Council twice, I can tell you that not all councils have ever had the ear of the city. Well, as the people said in the last election, More Democracy, please!

I'm just remembering political consultant Tony Cignoli being interviewed on television the night before last November's historic ward representation election. It really doesn't have much chance of passing, he said. Ha! Remind me not to recommend him to any friend considering a run for public office.

Photo: Urban Compass

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eliot Spitzer's Greatest Crime

Eight U.S. soldiers were killed in bomb attacks in Iraq yesterday, but Mr. Spitzer has stolen the headlines.

This week economist Joe Stiglitz has announced the war in Iraq will cost the U.S. people $3 trillion, but Eliot Spitzer's $5,000 dalliance gets more attention.

Spitzer's hypocrisy has hurt his wife and children, but the loved ones of the 33,000 U.S. servicepeople killed or wounded in Iraq feel a hurt that won't be assuaged by a public apology which, in any case, will never come.

Spitzer prosecutes-- and engages in!-- a crime that shouldn't be a crime, while the authors of this country's greatest crime in forty years will retire with pensions and a packed schedule of speaking engagements.

Shame on him, shame on the media and shame on any one of us who allow him to dominate our thoughts for any more than his requisite 24 hours of infamy.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Homeless leader dies

From the Nashville Homeless Power Project: Monday March 3, 2008

It is with great sadness that we share that we have lost one of our leaders this last week. Cyndi, several months pregnant, died while sleeping out in the streets. While the exact cause of death is not known, she was a brittle diabetic who often came close to diabetic comas because of difficulty managing her blood sugar while surviving on the streets.

Cyndi is best remembered for always celebrating life, being a positive person, who always acknowledged the bright side of every situation. She was a faithful member of the Power Project and one of the first vendors of new paper, the Contributor. More than that, she was a friend to so many of us on the streets. Below is a short autobiography that Cyndi wrote in the recent book- Homeless Power!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Found on Natural News.

Seven Blunders of the World

1. Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

3. Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principle

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ludlow prison hangs himself: drug users should not be in jail!

Kevin J. Small of Westfield, Massachusetts hanged himself Tuesday at the Hampden County Correctional Center. Mr. Small's suicide was the third at the Ludlow facility in the last five years.

Don't blame the jail, though, at least according to spokesman Richard McCarthy: Mr. Small's unit wasn't overcrowded, rounds of his unit had been done every thirty minutes as required, and the screening given him at admission did not indicate he was suicidal.

Mr. Small was on the 14th day of a 90 day sentence for possession of drugs.

So much wrong with this picture it's hard to know where to start, but let's start with what should be obvious: drug addiction is not a criminal justice problem, it's a public health problem.

Pro-incarceration supporters point to a drop in violent crime as reason enough to continue with our current "get tough" policy.

But consider this:
  • 60% of federal prisoners are drug offenders.
  • Only 3% are violent offenders.
  • Drug offenders in country jails are not violent offenders.
  • It costs 15 times as much as treatment to run a drug addict through the criminal justice system to achieve the same reduction in costs to society.
  • Fewer than half of the more than five million drug users who desperately need treatment are able to get it. Drug Policy Alliance.

The United States now has the dubious distinction of incarcerating more of its citizens than any other country in the world-- one out of every 99.1 people for a grand total of 2,323,000 individuals. Are we really so much more rotten than the people in Chile, Russia, Pakistan, Switzerland, Turkey, Australia and the Philippines? Do we as a society really so lack imagination that this is the best we can come up with?
Photo by Still Burning.

Do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give others.

- Saint Peter Chrysologus

Is it mating season already?

I just watched a red-headed finch spend five minutes gradually inching toward its drabber companion on the telephone wire outside my kitchen window. Wish I knew more about birds. Maybe they've been together all winter, who knows?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


all are in a hurry -
in the beggar's hand
only the rain

--Jordi Climent

Tiny Words - Fresh Haiku delivered daily

Wolf found in Western Massachusetts; assault continues elsewhere

Genetic tests have confirmed that the first wolf in more than 160 years was found in Massachusetts in October, the Boston Globe reported March 4. The last confirmed sign of any wolf in New England was in 1992 east of Bangor, Maine. Are wolves on their way back in the Northeast?

Wolves had been hunted to regional extinction in Massachusetts by the mid-1800's, at about the same time that coyotes began to increase. Coyotes are often considered to be urban and rural pests; studies in Yellowstone National Park have shown that after wolves were reintroduced there in 1995, the coyote population was reduced by 50%.

The nearest wolf population to New England is in Southern Quebec, according to the Maine Wolf Coalition,
which promotes wolf restoration in Maine. Although the U.S. Dept. of the Interior had been dragging its feet in implementing a 2003 wolf restoration law, a recent ruling by the U.S. District Court in Vermont has ordered the government to get on with the business of restoration of the wolf population in Vermont and Maine.

Elsewhere in the country, however, wolves are not faring so well. Last month The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the protected status of wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, allowing hunting to take place. Aerial shooting of Alaskan wolves has been approved by the Alaskan state government. Wolves, foxes, bears and 10,000 other wild animals a year are being poisoned with sodium cyanide and sodium fluoroacetate in a misguided attempt to control coyotes. You can send a comment to the Environmental Protection Agency to ban these chemicals at the Care2 PetitionSite, and speak out for wolf protections at the Defenders of Wildlife website.

In November I wrote about the return of fishers and moose to Massachusetts, thanks to the increasing reforestation of our state. Seems to me that learning to share our environment with other animals will help us to save our environment for ourselves.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Black Eye

Thanks to a fall, face forward, on an uneven sidewalk, I have the first black eye I have ever had in my life-- somewhat of a misnomer, as it's really one side of my face-- but my eye is particularly horribly fascinating. I feel like Jake LaMotta as he calls for the razorblade to slit his eyelid (or was that Rocky?)

Life goes on; I treated myself to breakfast at Murphy's, worked half a day, bought cat food, spent two wasted hours in Baystate's emergency room before I decided to leave and then dealt with the (fortunately short-lived) catastrophe of having my car key break off in my door lock with no spare to be had.

Some time fairly early in the day, I noticed that most of the people with whom I was having some interaction were not making eye contact with me. They probably think I got beat up by a guy, I realized-- and do you know, at some point I found I was feeling a sense of embarrassment and shame-- as if I really had been beaten.

January 1st, following yet another brutal murder of a Springfield woman, I posted about some of the concerns that keep women from accessing help. Two weeks later the Boston Globe reported a statewide shortage of shelter beds in Massachusetts; on many days a hundred women will call the domestic violence hotline seeking shelter when there is only one bed available anywhere in the state.

Some women pick up the phone. Some women with a black eye stay home. A black eye from someone hitting you never goes away, even when others can't see it anymore.

Sometimes I don't think things have changed for the better all that much. But still-- here's the numbers to have handy:
  • SafeLink: 1-877-785-2020 (toll-free) SafeLink is the Massachusetts statewide domestic violence hotline and is operated by Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc. in Boston. SafeLink is answered by trained advocates 24 hours a day in English, Spanish and TTY (1-877-521-2601). It also has the capacity to provide multilingual translation in more than 140 languages.

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
Art found on a building in the Lower East Side

Sunday, March 2, 2008

News roundup from homeless and poverty blogs

New Orleans: The 13th Juror reports that Phil Mangano, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, is not happy with Mayor Nagle's plan relocating homeless people from under a bridge into a large, barracks-like tent, and would prefer him to focus on long-term solutions...wonder why he was so quiet when the decision was made to tear down hundred of units of public housing. Tulane students are tracking new in New Orleans at their blog, Homeless of New Orleans. I got an email this week from the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. Their national coordinator Cheri Honkala (I should say "our" national coordinator, seeing as Arise is a part of PPEHRC) had charges of impersonating an officer dismissed in court this week; fellow PPEHRC organizer JR Fleming, Chicago Coalition to Protect Public Housing, still has charges pending.

Nashvillian Kevin Barbieux' site The Homeless Guy is running a survey on whether liquor stores should sell alcohol to alcoholics. Stop in and vote. At Humanity for Homeless, you can sign a petition protesting the City of Santa Cruz CA's new 15 minute parking lot law. Lots of good organizing going on in Santa Cruz.Text from the petition:
  • Anyone who remains in a Public Santa Cruz parking lot for longer than fifteen minutes, regardless if you have a car or bike on premises is in violation of the new Parking Lot Trespass law and is guilty of trespassing, punishable as an infraction with a fine ranging from $100-$200.
  • This means no napping or reading in your car, no resting while your other half shops, no sleeping off too much to drink. No associating with others on land we all collectively own. This stifles free speech and assembly rights and is unconstitutional in nature.
  • These types of laws lead to "No speech zones" with small inadequate "Free Speech Zones" nearby -- in a Country where Free Speech is supposed to be a basic right human right we all equally share.
Over at Chosen Fast, Guilford County North Carolina's Point in Time Count shows the homeless population was 981, a drop of 33 people over last year's 1014-- but a real decrease in the number of people going unsheltered.
Cleveland Homeless reports homeless folks not faring too well: "The FAA and Department of Homeland Security closed Aviation High School as the Overflow Shelter for homeless men in Cleveland on February 1, 2008. With the snow and the cold this week, how have homeless people faired since this decision was implemented? 2100 Lakeside shelter is bursting at the seams, and on Thursday February 21, 2008, 25 guys waited throughout the night for a bed to open."

I'll save more news for another post, but there's a blog really worth checking out and reading regularly: Save Feral Human Habitat. This blog from British Columbia is " about what’s happening, what we’re doing and what we could be doing. It’s about freedom of speech and the decriminalization of dissent. It’s about our right to eat and our right to sleep. It’s about the struggles right here in our communities to protect the land we live on and to protect the basic human rights of the people in our community. among other things " Treesitter photo from their site.

The homeless: always from someplace else.

If I could draw, I'd draw a cartoon of a homeless person standing at a crossroads where the sign in all four directions says, "Not in my backyard."

"Vagrants" are wandering the streets of Port-of-Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago, according to a field officer at St. Vincent de Paul's Riverside Homeless Facility, because most homeless people are mentally ill and when they're let out of mental hospitals, their home communities won't deal with them.
The bedbug problem at the shelter has been greatly exaggerated, he said-- it's NOT the reason homeless people have left the shelter in droves . Newsday.

Google to provide voicemail and phone number for San Francisco's homeless

One month before its acquisition by Google in August, 2007, GrandCentral Communications created Project CARE, a service to assist homeless people. Now Google has announced that it intends to provide free phone numbers and voice mail for every homeless person in San Francisco.

"Google launched a website where homeless shelters and agencies across the city could create new accounts. Project CARE staff also plan to visit shelters to educated staff and homeless residents about the system, according to Craig Walker, senior project manager at Google

"While we're excited to bring this technology to our local Bay Area community, our ultimate goal is to provide these invaluable services to cities and shelters across the country," Walker wrote. ChannelWeb.

Well. Can we just get rid of the federal government, acknowledge that our country is ruled by corporations, and just openly turn it over to the best one we can find? (You know I'm kidding, right? Not about already being ruled by corporations, but about giving in.)

Anyway. When can we have it in Springfield, MA?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

TWO movies about the Chicago Trials

Chicago Ten, a documentary telling the story of the Chicago trials in a mix of animation and archival footage, opens this week and is getting great reviews. I wrote Thursday about Steven Speilberg's upcoming film but didn't know about this one. Andrew O'Hehir at Salon says ""Chicago 10" makes you see 1968, that near-apocalyptic year, with fresh eyes, as an extraordinary turning point in history now at least partly set free from boomer nostalgia and regret. Rubin, Kunstler and, especially, the cynical, clownish and wise Abbie Hoffman come alive as real people, not just marijuana-flavored avatars."

This make four films (that I know of) that deal with the Sixties with intelligence, the other two being Across the Universe (Roger Ebert review) and He's Not There-- (NY Times review) though the latter film spans several decades. What's the world coming to?

Poet Martin Espada to read in Springfield; writing workshop coming up

Western Mass. is home to many excellent writers and poets and some, like Magdalena Gomez, even live in Springfield. Starting this Monday, March 3, she will lead writing workshops for women called "Writing From the Belly." Local writer Lynn Bowmaster will also be leading writing groups, including one for teens. Details at the Springfield Library Poetry page.

Some poets not only write well but read well, and that definitely describes Martin Espada . If you haven't heard him read, and you want to be caught up in his rich and glowing world, come hear him on Saturday, March 8, 2 pm. at the Springfield Library. Details here.