Friday, September 26, 2008

Nickelsville tent city ready to house 1,000

King County, WA, which includes Seattle, may seem above average in affluence, but you couldn't prove that to the 8,439 homeless people documented in the annual homeless count last January. More than 2,500 of those people were unsheltered, living on the streets. Back in April, Seattle's Mayor Nickels passed an ordinance pretty much forbidding homeless people to sleep anywhere on public property. I've been following homeless people's struggle in Seattle here and here. Meanwhile, 34 people have died this year while living on the streets. Homeless organizers and their advocates have come up with an alternative to the endless sweeps of homeless encampments. They asked Mayor Nickels to give them a piece of city hand for a more permanent encampment. When no city hall solution was forthcoming, homeless people took the matter into their own hands. This Monday, a 100 tent encampment called Nickelsville opened at 7115 W. Marginal Way SW. (The site, one of four considered, was not revealed until the very last minute to prevent city intervention.)

Today is the day Mayor Nickels has said he will send in the troops to evict everyone. Of course, he has no alternative for them. Perhaps, like Springfield MA's administration and so many other cities, he thinks they can just "go elsewhere." Well, just where is Elsewhere? And how many homeless people already live there?

Tent cities are springing up everywhere. Seattle's mayor should be grateful that people are organizing on their own behalf to find some way to meet some of their needs through the coming winter. You can call him and tell him to leave Nickelsville alone at 206-684-CITY (206-684-2489) or send him an email at
City of Seattle. You can follow homeless peoples' organizing in Seattle at Real Change, Seattle's homeless newspaper, at Nickelsville's home page, or at Apesma's Lament, the blog of Tim Harris, ED of Real Change.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Colony Collapse Disorder: bees continue to die

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) hit the public consciousness last year with news that nearly one-third of all commercial beehives had died-- collapsed. This year has been quieter but the news is no better-- an increase of 13% over last year brings losses to more than one-third through the winter of 2007-08, according to the USDA.

The USDA isn't telling all it knows, however. On August 18, The Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency to force it to reveal any connections between pesticide use and CCD. According to the Organic Consumers Association,

"Recently approved pesticides have been implicated in massive bee die-offs and are the focus of increasing scientific scrutiny," said NRDC Senior Attorney Aaron Colangelo. "EPA should be evaluating the risks to bees before approving new pesticides, but now refuses to tell the public what it knows. Pesticide restrictions might be at the heart of the solution to this growing crisis, so why hide the information they should be using to make those decisions?"

In 2003, EPA granted a registration to a new pesticide manufactured by Bayer CropScience under the condition that Bayer submit studies about its product's impact on bees. EPA has refused to disclose the results of these studies, or if the studies have even been submitted. The pesticide in question, clothianidin, recently was banned in Germany due to concerns about its impact on bees. A similar insecticide was banned in France for the same reason a couple of years before. In the United States, these chemicals still are in use despite a growing consensus among bee specialists that pesticides, including clothianidin and its chemical cousins, may contribute to CCD.

Although no full-scale study has yet taken place, organic beehives have been largely immune to CCD. CCD also does not affect solitary bees. Go Prairie has a post about the amazing number of bees in the U.S. Unfortunately, given that one third of every mouthful of food we eat is pollinated by domesticated bees, we are scarcely out of the woods.

Want to help do your part to protect bees in your own back yard? NRDC has the following suggestions:

Bee Friendly, Bee Safe: Here's How

You can also help keep bees healthy by making your yard and garden colorful, diverse and pesticide free. Here are some tips on how you can Bee Safe:

  • Bee Native: Use local and native plants in your yard and garden. These plants thrive easily and are well suited for local bee populations, providing pollen and nectar for bees to eat.

  • Bee Diverse: Plant lots of different kinds of plants in your yard. Plant diversity ensures that your garden attracts many different varieties of bees and gives them a range of flowering plants to choose from throughout the year. Make sure your yard plants vary in:
    • Color: Bees have good vision and are attracted to several different colors of flowers.
    • Shape: Different species of bees are better suited for different shapes of flowers. Give your bees some variety!
    • Flowering times: Having a sequence of plant species that flower throughout the year helps sustain the food supply and attract different species of bees.

  • Bee Open to Pollen: Pollen is bee food. Genetically engineered pollen-free plants trick bees into thinking they'll find food, and then leave them hungry. (Don't worry, flower pollen isn't a big contributor to most people's allergies.)

  • Bee Pesticide Wary: There are many natural methods to control pests in your garden. Researchers believe pesticides are a contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder. Moreover, some insecticides are harmful to bees and wipe out flowers that provide bees with food. If you must, use targeted pesticides and spray at night -- when bees aren't active -- on dry days.

  • Bee a Hive Builder: Building your own bee hive is easy and fun. Creating a wood nest is a good place to start -- wood-nesting bees don�t sting! Simply take a non-pressure treated block of wood and drill holes that are 3/32 inch to 5/16 inch in diameter and about 5 inches deep and wait for the bees to arrive.
Photo of a bee house from *Susie's* photostream at Flickr.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In her natural habitat

Graphic from Zina Saunders.

Patterns are set early

I've been keeping my eye on the odometer of my car, waiting for that moment when the numbers read 123456. (I already caught 123123 and 123321, but missed 123246).

Driving to work I suddenly remembered the summer my dad came home for lunch so we could all pile in the car and drive around the block a few times to watch as every number but one on the odometer turned to zero: 200,000.

What fun!-- not just the seeing-- but having a father who knew that that silly little moment would bring pleasure to his family.

Getting a bit chilly for tenting out

As I was pulling into my driveway after the Vote No on Question One last night, I saw a friend of mine who's been sleeping out in a tent in a local park. He asked if he could come over and take a shower to clean up for work the next day, and I said yes, so we had a bit of time to chat.

My friend is actually working under the table for a local property owner, helping him with drywall, carpentry, etc. (He has a criminal record for drugs and getting a straight job has proved difficult.) He's making about $65 a day and is able to save a little-- not a lot, because he still has to eat and wash his clothes, and this week had to purchase a tarp to prepare for the weekend's predicted rainy weather.

"I think I could afford to rent a room," he said, "maybe $75, $100 bucks a week."

Problem is, I haven't seen a room for rent for that price for at least five years. If you live in the Springfield, MA area and know of a room at that priice, let me know.

I've been collecting the latest information on tent cities for a post. Meanwhile, Ira from Northampton has told me that many people in the Northampton area are tenting out, and my friend is scarcely the only person I know in Springfield who's also in a tent.

What will this winter bring? Springfield will open another overflow shelter (not the Warming Place, however) and no ground has been broken yet at Friends of the Homeless' Worthington St. shelter renovation, which means yet another winter without a place for people to go in the daytime.

Meanwhile there are boarded-up houses on just about every street in Springfield that I drive down.

Soda dumping could mean six months in jail

A woman takes her father to the local VA Medical Hospital for an appointment. While waiting, she goes to the cafeteria to get a soda and discovers that she is being charged $3.80 for a soda that was only $1.50 the last time she was there. She decides she doesn't want to pay that much and tried to give the soda back, but the cashier refuses to take it. In anger, she dumps the soda on the cashier's counter.

Not very polite, and not very smart, right? But does she deserve six months in jail for it?

The VA contacted the local U.S. District Attorney, who decided to file federal charges against the woman that could lead to six months in jail.

"Remember, this is the same Bush Justice Department which has advised Congress that it “lacks the resources” to investigate or prosecute more than 30 rape cases involving contractors in Iraq, and which recently decided that senior Republican appointees caught in a massive corruption, cocaine and illicit sex scandal at the Interior Department weren’t worth going after. The Justice Department knows, however, just where its priorities lie."
Read more at Harper's.

Graphic from the Observation Deck.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Troy Davis granted stay of execution

I expected to come home after the Question One rally this evening and write about the execution of Troy Davis. Instead, I have the great good fortune to announce that Troy was granted a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court just two hours before his scheduled death at 7 pm. His stay of execution will last at least one week while the Supreme Court reviews the facts of his case.

Troy was convicted for the 1989 murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhai. Since his 1991 trial, seven of the nine eyewitnesses who testified against him have recanted, siting fear of the real perpetrator and police pressure. Eyewitness testimony was the only evidence against Troy; there was no physical evidence and the murder weapon was never found. You can read more about Troy Davis at Amnesty International.

Law and Order is on television as I write this and I'm remembering an episode where it becomes clear that a man serving time for murder is innocent. Another man is charged. But the district attorney who convicted the first man refuses to release him. His argument to the court is that even though the man may be innocent, justice has still been served because due process was followed and twelve men and women had found him guilty. Justice, the attorney argued, is a higher value than the truth.

This is the state of affairs we've come to in 2008. I was a kid when I first read John Adam's statement, 'Better a guilty man go free than one innocent man be sent to prison.' I doubt most people would agree with that statement now, crediting it to the Libertarian Party or some survivalist group I keep waiting for the pendulum to swing the other way, for us to realize that criminalizing everything only makes for more criminals.

And then there are the people that just didn't do it, whatever it may be.

Thanks to the very hard work of Mass Citizens Against the Death Penalty and its allies, Massachusetts remains one of 36 states without a death penalty, so someone like Troy Davis won't be put to death here. But that doesn't mean that all innocent people are exonerated. I know that much firsthand.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Voice of the Day

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute power.

- Adrienne Rich

Excerpted from "Natural Resources" in The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001.

from Sojourners

Which side are you on?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Is Sarah Palin qualified?

Do YOU think Sarah Palin is qualified to be vice-president? PBS is doing a poll and you can register your vote here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CORRECTION: Wednesday, not Tuesday

The Arise event with Zachery Lyons (see previous post) and others is Wednesday the 24th, not Tuesday. Keep getting that day/date confused with the kick-off rally for opposition to Question One, which is TUESDAY, Sept. 23, 5:30 at Court Square, Springfield MA. If it rains, we'll be in First Church at the back of Court Sq.

If you think eliminating 40% of the state budget is similar to cutting off your nose to spite your face, come on down to the rally on Tuesday. We can't take more lost jobs and services right now for a few more bucks in our pockets

Tuesday: Arise event on taking control of our food supply

Next Tuesday, September 24, The Arise Free School and Green Committees will be hosting a discussion with food issue expert and national agricultural journalist Zachary Lyons of Seattle's Chef's Collaborative at 7 pm. at Christ Church Cathedral, 35 Chestnut St., Springfield. Joining him will be Jessica Collins from Live Well Springfield and members from the urban youth agriculture project Garden the Community.

At issue: What if we could make sure that everyone in our community had access to healthful, delicious, low-cost food to nourish us now and into the future?

The event is sponsored by Arise for Social Justice, Live Well Springfield - Partners for a Healthier Community, Out Now and QuEST, the Pioneer Valley Sustainability Network and the Sisters of St. Joseph's SEED Program.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call Arise at (413) 734-4948 or (413)

Photo from Garden Wise.

One of ten best zen stories

The Burden

Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the road sides. At one place a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk accross because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to a her lifted her in his alms and left her on the other side of the road, and continued his way to the monastery.

In the evening the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, "Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman ?"

The elder monk answered "yes, brother".

Then the younger monk asks again, "but then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside ?"

The elder monk smiled at him and told him " I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her."

You can read the other nine at Awake Blogger.
Photo from John S. Adams, Bike Expert

Friday, September 19, 2008

Homeless organizers find each other

Springfield is only 20 miles away from Northampton, but sometimes it seems so much farther. At Arise we've nicknamed that distance the "Tofu Curtain"-- not because there are no poor and homeless people in Northampton and Amherst (there are!) but because the pervading culture beyond that curtain can be very hard for poor and working class people to swallow-- sorta like tofu, if you ask me.

Yesterday I went to Arise to do some copying for my job and met Ira McKinley, a homeless community organizer from Northampton. Suzanne had run into him at the Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, and invited him down to Arise. What a pleasure! Ira had a DVD with him of a cultural event for poor and homeless people that he organized last year. Homeless people showed artwork, read poetry, played music, did juggling and participated in a fashion show. Next year, homeless people in Springfield are going to be a part of it! And Ira will be helping recruit Northampton poor and homeless people for a project we have in mind for later this year.

I added a link to his blog, Social Change in Mind, on my blogroll-- check it out-- Ira's doing more organizing than writing right now, but that's fine with me.

Genuine community organizing is hard enough to find, but homeless organizing, led by homeless people, is even rarer. So glad we found each other.

Marijuana arrests increase, 90% for simple possession

According to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, released on Monday, nearly 1.9 million people were arrested on drug charges in the United States last year, some 872,000 for marijuana offenses. While overall drug arrest figures declined marginally (down 84,000), marijuana arrests increased by more than 5% and are once again at an all-time high. Drug arrests exceed those for any other type of offense, including property crime (1.61 million arrests), driving under the influence (1.43 million), misdemeanor assaults (1.31 million), larceny (1.17 million), and violent crime (597,000).

You can read more about it at Stop the Drug War.

If you live in Massachusetts, Vote YES on Question Two-- decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Stop this madness.

Daytime moon

Daytime moon: will I
ever stop being surprised
to see you shining?

photo from Rusty One's photostream at Flickr

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Have the state DAs broken campaign Finance Laws?

From AP:

Backers of Mass. Pro-pot Issue Take On Opponents

teve LeBlanc, Associated Press Writer

BOSTON — Backers of a pro-marijuana ballot initiative charged Wednesday that 11 district attorneys from Massachusetts violated campaign finance laws and twisted the truth about the question.

Whitney Taylor of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy said the DAs raised and spent money to oppose the question before forming their Coalition to Save Our Streets. Campaign finance laws require groups to form a committee before raising and spending money.

The question would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil rather than criminal offense punishable by a $100 fine.

Opponents say such a change in law would essentially normalize use of marijuana, while supporter say it would reduce a burden on the criminal justice system by sparing those found with small amounts from facing a criminal record and jail.

Taylor's group has filed complaints with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the Attorney General's office against the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and the public relations firm hired to handle opposition to the question.

"This was an attempt to keep their organization as covert as they could for as long a possible," Taylor said. The group also named Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz individually.

The district attorneys planned their own press conference later Wednesday.

Taylor said state records show the district attorneys began raising money as early as July 18, but didn't file a statement of organization with the state until Sept. 5.

Taylor's group has raised far greater sums than the district attorney's group, according to campaign finance reports.

The district attorneys raised just $27,670, virtually all of it from their own campaign accounts, while Taylor group has raised nearly $650,000.

The vast majority of the money raised by Taylor's group came from outside Massachusetts, including a $400,000 donation from billionaire financier and liberal activist George Soros and $180,000 from the Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Taylor also faulted the district attorneys for using their state web site to urge voters to oppose the question, and for misrepresenting the initiative.

In a statement on the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association web site, the district attorneys say if the question is approved "any person may carry and use marijuana at any time, thus 'normalizing' its use."

The district attorneys and other critics say the question could threaten recent positive trends in marijuana use among teens. They also said there's a link between marijuana use and crime, car accidents and workplace safety.

"Do you really want to encourage your kids to smoke dope?" a statement on the DA's web site reads in part.

The district attorneys also said that existing law is fair.

Massachusetts law requires that a first-time drug offender be placed on probation and that, at the successful conclusion of probation, "the case shall be dismissed and the record shall be sealed," according to their statement.

If the question is approved, Massachusetts would become the 13th state to lift or ease criminal penalties on marijuana possession.

Support Question Two: decriminalize less an an ounce of marijuana

Five weeks until the election. Here in Massachusetts, we've got an opportunity to turn possession of small amounts of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense.

The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy released a list of endorsers at a Boston press conference yesterday. Endorsers include:
  • Tom Kiley, Massachusetts' first assistant attorney general
  • Sergeant Howard Donohue, a 33-year veteran of the Boston Police Department
  • Lieutenant Thomas W. Nolan, a 30-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, now a professor at Boston University
  • Dr. Robert Meenan, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health
  • Lester Grinspoon, M.D., associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • Jeffrey Miron, Ph.D, senior lecturer in the Harvard University Department of Economics
  • Massachusetts state Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D), chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs and vice-chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight
  • Massachusetts state Rep. Frank Smizik (D), chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
  • John H. Halpern, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • Charles Barron, professor at Boston College School of Law
  • ACLU of Massachusetts
  • the Union of Minority Neighborhoods
All eleven Massachusetts District Attorneys have signed onto a statement against Question Two at their website which you can find here. Although the DAs would like to portray Question Two as outside the mainstream, the truth is that more and more people, including current and former law enforcement officials, see the drug war as a war that is meant to be waged, not won.

Last Saturday, the Boston Globe ran the following editorial from a law enforcement officer. Read it well and then VOTE YES ON QUESTION TWO.

WAR AND RACE dominate the presidential campaign, but one nation-shaping war with profound racial consequences eludes the political radar: the drug war.

I was a frontline soldier in this self-perpetuating, ineffectual effort that has swallowed more than a trillion tax dollars and currently yields nearly 2 million arrests every year for nonviolent offenses. I helped incarcerate some 1,000 young people as part of this irredeemably wrongheaded attempt to arrest our way out of our drug problems. Those arrests will follow them to their graves.

I know they follow me.

But while no other country locks up as large a percentage of its citizens, the specific impact on minority families has been one step short of the reinstitution of slavery: from media portrayals of marijuana-crazed Mexicans, opium-crazed Asians, and cocaine-crazed blacks, this war has always been about race.

The 1980s produced a jump in the number of cocaine-related stories focused on minority use, yielding grave concern and a dramatic increase in the minority prison population. Many people, of course, assumed that minorities were disproportionately involved in drugs. Even a seemingly street-wise show like "The Wire," which correctly abandoned all hope for this war, supported that impression, portraying virtual swarms of drug-involved blacks.

In fact, according to Federal Household Surveys, whites, blacks, and Hispanics use drugs in direct proportion to their percentage of the population. So, for example, blacks, who are 13 percent of our population, account for 13 percent of our drug use. Yet, according to US Bureau of Justice Statistics, of convicted defendants, 33 percent of whites received a prison sentence and 51 percent of African-Americans received prison sentences. Moreover, the US Sentencing Commission found that black drug defendants receive considerably longer average prison terms than do whites for comparable crimes.

This is not a geographical fluke: a 2007 Justice Policy Institute study found that in Florida blacks were 75 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs while driving than whites; in 1991, blacks were 7 percent of St. Paul's population but 62 percent of those arrested on drug charges; and in Onondaga Country, Syracuse, N.Y., black people are currently 99 times more likely to go to prison for drugs than white people.

There are more black men in US prisons today than there were slaves in 1840, and they are being used for the same purpose; working for private corporations at 16 to 20 cents an hour. Half the states have private, for-profit prisons whose lobbyists are demanding longer mandatory-minimum prison sentences. Indeed, American blacks are incarcerated at nearly eight times the level of South African blacks during the height of apartheid.

Inner-city communities are devastated not by drug use but by the same turf-war street violence that accompanied alcohol prohibition and that dramatically decreased once that drug was legalized and regulated. Almost one in seven African-Americans are denied voting rights largely because of drug arrests, and countless minorities are denied intact families, college loans, driver's licenses, and jobs because of selective enforcement of a prohibition that, even fairly enforced, prevents no one from using drugs.

But things are changing, as resistance grows in precisely those communities hardest hit by this failed policy.

In 2006, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators passed a resolution condemning the failed war on drugs and calling for treatment rather than incarceration. That resolution was echoed by a similar resolution passed unanimously by all 225 mayors at their national conference in 2007. And a national association of black police officers is expected to officially endorse the call for an end to drug prohibition.

I represent Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international organization of sworn antidrug warriors who know that we must end this prohibition in order to legalize and regulate all drugs, thus wresting control from the cartels and street thugs who prey on children.

Ending this prohibition is a singularly potent civil rights issue. It is a remarkable movement, led by both white and minority law enforcement officials.

In an election infused with racial overtones, we wonder which politicians will be brave enough to follow.

Jack A. Cole is executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Don't forget Iraq and Afghanistan

As word comes this morning that seven U.S. soldiers have been killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq, time to check in on the loss of life so far in our war on enduring freedom.

4,106 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq; 597 have been killed in Afghanistan. Bush and McCain call this "winning," a term that makes sense only out of context: don't forget that all of our reasons for starting a war in Iraq have been totally discredited: no link to 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction, and no hotbed of Al Qaeda activity (at least until after we invaded.)

Even if some of us think that the war in Afghanistan was justified (funny how Pakistan has gotten off so easily), how much more successful would our policy there be if we had spent more on building hospitals, schools, roads and communications than we have on armed action.

While some but not all of our economic crisis can be blamed on these wars, at the least they've diverted attention from taking care of business at home. When will it be over?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on baby bottles

Everybody else may get it, but, of course......yesterday the Food and Drug Administration declared that baby bottles that contain bisphenol A are safe, even as a new study, released by the American Medical Association, shows that heart disease and diabetes show up more often in those with higher levels of bisphenol A in their urine.

You can sign a Care2 Petition targeted at Congress calling for the banning of bisphenol A in children's products and food and beverages here.

Wise's White Privilege:

I was a single mom in the late 60's, and life was not easy. I've always looked younger than I am (until recently, anyway) and when I'd get on the bus with my infant daughter, I probably looked fifteen, not twenty. People's eyes would often glance at my hand to see if I was wearing a wedding ring: subtle shift in attitude. Then they'd look at my daughter, with her beautiful curly black hair and her light coffee skin: less subtle shift. But I, the mom, was white, and that's smoothed many a road in my life.

Tim Wise has identified 14 ways in which white privilege is playing out in this country's current race for the presidency. Two that hit me personally:
  • White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
  • White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college--you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

You can read the rest of his insights at Red Room or hear and see him at YouTube.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Breastfeeding rocks!

Picture this: you have the most perfect food in the world to feed your newborn. This food has the perfect nutritional mix for your infant, protects your infant from a myriad of diseases, safeguards your infant against future obesity and offers some protection against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Instead you use an inferior substitute food. You put it in a plastic container that leaches toxins into the food product when you could have used a warm, pliable container that promotes a better bond between you and your baby.

And now, that inferior, substitute food may itself be tainted.

China is investigating one death and more than 50 serious illnesses caused by contaminated infant formula-- contaminated by melamine, the same industrial chemical that caused thousands of pet deaths in the United States last year. The chemical causes products contaminated with it to test as protein and is used because it's cheaper than real protein.

Canada is getting ready to ban all plastic baby bottles that contain bisphenol-A, or BPA, a chemical that mimics a human hormone and which has been shown to cause long-term changes in lab animals exposed to it. Of course it can also be found in canned soups, beans and soft drink containers-- in fact, it can be found in the urine of 95% of all U.S. residents. But exposing infants to this chemical so early in life is potentially much more dangerous. For some reason-- the influence of corporations on American public policy, perhaps?--

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes breastfeeding and tracks breastfeeding statistics. While 70% of U.S. babies had some breastfeeding immediately after birth, only 40& were being breastfed at three months, and only 10% at six months. When it comes to being exclusively breastfed, only 10% of babies were fed through six months.

My first daughter was born six weeks early and delivered by caesarean section in September, 1967. She weighed 5 lbs, 1 oz. They let me breastfeed her the first few days to promote immunity. Then, my baby's pediatrician came stopped into the hospital to tell me she was losing weight and that I needed to switch her to an enriched formula. I still remember the guilt I felt over my milk not being good enough for my baby. It took me years to find out that all newborns lose a little weight directly after birth.

By the time my second daughter was born in 1977, I knew a lot more. I was also 30, not 20, and more able to resist the pressure to start feeding her the empty calories of baby cereal at three months! She had no solid food until 6 months. She was still nursing occasionally after her first birthday.

I know breast feeding can be challenging and time-consuming, and that there's not a lot of support out there for mothers who want to give it a serious try. But if it wasn't possible for almost every mother to succeed, we wouldn't have survived as a species.

Breastfeeding rocks!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The homeless terrorist

A friend of mine is an Iranian-American who has had a run of back luck-- car accident, lost job, lost apartment. Somehow, through it all, he's kept his cheerfulness and innate optimism. He's no fool; he knows social injustice when he sees it, but he believes that change is possible. (He knows when to get out, too, leaving Iran when the Ayatolah Khomeini took over.) I usually see him in a suit and tie, job hunting.

Recently he's been staying at Springfield's Friends of the Homeless shelter on Worthington St. I'm getting the rest of this second-hand, as he spoke to my sister Liz at Arise, but apparently he felt that a staffperson wasn't treating the homeless people who stay there with dignity.

"You have to treat people like human beings.," he said.

"What are you, a terrorist, now? You want I should call the police?" the worker said.

My friend is now sleeping in his sister's car. Given his past experiences, I'm sure a little paranoia seems not unjustified.

I'm calling about my father

I'm calling about my father,
the red-haired daughter said.
He's unable to ambulate on his own
and the doctor said
he needs a visiting nurse--
long pause-- You don't understand.
He can't walk. His heart--
she stops again
listening to a voice
on the line's other end.
The phone becomes
a weapon
in her fist.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sundry and the swing of things

I came back from vacation to discover that both my phone and my internet were only intermittently useable-- after spending more than two hours over three days on hold with Comcast, I think they should pay ME. In any case, not having computer access at home has made it hard to get back into the swing of things.

I went to Worcester and back for work today and seemed to spot a lot more bumper stickers than I usually do.
Got me thinking about a bumper sticker I may need to hand-letter myself:: "COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND PROUD OF IT.."

(My most recent favorite bumper sticker: "What if the hokey pokey is what it's all about?")

Almost without exception, bumper stickers fall in five categories:

Religious and Anti-Religious
In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned
Jesus saves
My father is a Jewish carpenter
Evolution is a fact, God is just a theory
Personal and Cuddly
I Heart Dobermans, Quilts, Montana, etc,
My child is an honor student
I brake for butterflies
Personal and Angry
Ass, gas or grass; nobody rides for free
Please, shut the truck up
Without our families, alcohol wouldn't be necessary
Political and Cuddly
Whirrled Peas
Love your mother (earth)
My other car is a bicycle
Political and Angry
Buck Fush
If you can read this, you're not the President
Life's a bitch, so don't vote for one

People with bumper stickers believe in something and want others to know it or have something to show off. They have older cars with fading paint jobs or newer cars but strong liberal or conservative consciences. People with bumper stickers are working class, middle class and comfortable. What they never are is rich because rich people don't advertise themselves publicly.

Poor kids write their names on the sides of buildings. Working class people have shirts or caps with their names or favorite sports teams. Middle class people advertise clothing designers and stencil their names in calligraphy on their mailboxes. Rich people don't even get mail and live where you can't see them.

It's something to think about the next time you see poor, working and middle class people fighting over the crumbs.

Bumper stickers from Internet Bumper Stickers


Justice is what love looks like in public.
- Cornel West
From Call and Response, a documentary on global slavery.