Sunday, November 30, 2008

Update on killers of Wilford Hamilton, homeless man

In October I wrote about the arrest of two 14 year old boys for the beating murder of Wilford "Frenchie" Hamilton, age 61, in Pontiac, Michigan. When I wrote this post, I was unaware that one of the boys, Thomas McCloud Jr., is also being charged in the beating death of 65 year old Lee Hoffman Jr. this past August. Mr. Hoffman, who was beaten the day after Mr. Hamilton, spent two months comatose in a nursing home before dying on the day the boys were charged with Mr. Hamilton's death.

The Detroit News has an article about the complicated lives of the two 14 year olds. There will be no easy answers to the riddle of why they killed, and no easy solutions to lend themselves to prevention.

Photos of Thomas "TJ" McCloud Jr. and Dontez "Taz" Marc Tillman by Daniel Mears / The Detroit News

Friday, November 28, 2008

Would you kill someone in order to buy a Christmas gift?

Everyone knows about this by now, yet here it is:

5 a.m. on Black Friday at Valley Streams, New York and the doors to Wal-Mart swing open. Within minutes, a 34 year old Wal-Mart employee is knocked down and trampled, and pronounced dead shortly after. Four more people, including a pregnant woman, are also injured. Shoppers had to grab the hands of their children (children? at 5 a.m.?) to keep them from being trampled.

So what do you say to your family when you get home? Don't blame me, I only gave him a little shove, not the big one that drove him to his knees?

I guess the PC thing here would be to blame Wal-Mart, and there's certainly plenty of blame to go around. But tonight I'm thinking about the people, poor and middling, who think they're going to Wal-Mart to buy some happiness for the ones they love, who've absolutely been sold on the definition of celebrating the Holidays being synonymous with spending every penny you can get your hands on.

Here's my reality: Like many other Americans, I've always spent too much around the holidays-- spent, sometimes, when I wasn't sure how I'd pay the rent in January. Spent because so much of the rest of the year was just the bare necessities for me and my family: cheap shoes, generic food, second-hand clothes. So I do understand the impulse.

Yet the monetary poverty of my holidays has made me plan more around giving than buying.

Thanksgiving was never a family-only affair, but included unattached friends and sometimes near-strangers who had nowhere else to go.

Then, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I'd make regular trips to all the second-hand stores, looking for pretty scarves and blouses, special jewelry, cast iron pans, silver candlesticks, retro pyrex bowls, crystal platters, wicker shelves, classic books, throw pillows and art for the walls. I'd refurbish, paint, polish, embroider and decorate.

I'm creative but not really handy, yet I made picture books, birch bark frames and seashell mirrors, winter weeds spray-painted in silver and white, bookmarks, drawstring pouches and potpourri. With nothing magnificently expensive to compare them to, these presents became treasures to my family and friends!

Then, near the Solstice, we'd wash windows and curtains, dust all the books and polish the woodwork, and invite everyone we knew to our Solstice Open House. We'd encourage people to bring food to share if they could, and we always had bounty.

I live alone now, my children are grown, and I'd like to think I'm better off financially than when I was on public assistance, even though, working full-time, I find I am still right on the edge. My daughters have less job security than they did this time last year and other family members are working only part-time or are laid off and looking for work.

A few weeks ago my daughters proposed that we each voluntarily limit our spending this season to $25 a person. It took me a moment longer than I'd have thought it would to agree to their proposal. A couple of times since then I've practically found myself rubbing my hands with glee at a clever idea or Goodwill find. And I won't have to worry (as much) about January's bills.

So why am I writing this? Certainly not to make anybody else feel bad. I love celebrating the holidays and all my adult life and for a lot of different reasons I've preferred second-hand items to new ones; it's just the way I am. I prefer to celebrate, find, make, grow and gather than to spend and buy.

If there is ever a year in recent history for us to think a little deeper about what it is we really love about the holidays, what the holidays really mean to us, this is it.

This year for the first time in several, I and my sister, who lives downstairs, will have a Solstice Open House. If we know each other, you are invited. If we don't, there's still time to become friends.

More work ahead to heal racial wounds

Wednesday night I went to a special interdenominational service at the Old First Church in Springfield, MA's Court Square to show solidarity to the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, which was burned in an act of arson on the night Barack Obama was elected our next president. I've been to interdenominational services before and always find them moving, and I was glad to see so many community members and organizations present.

So: we know that the fire that destroyed the nearly-completed new church was arson, but do we know it was a hate crime? No, we do not, and we may never know, unless the perpetrator is found.
But if it was a hate crime, we'd be in the dubious company of more than 200 hate-related incidents thaqt have taken place since Barack Obama's election, according to the Southern Poverty Law center. The Chicago Tribune has an article about it here.

Barack Obama's election was a huge step forward for this country but we still have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Got a couple bucks? bad neighbors want to take away disabled boy's pony

Seems like usually when I'm writing about Ontario, it's about homeless people...but BoingBoing turned me on to this....and again, I don't usually suggest to my readers that they send a few bucks here and there, because where do you stop?....but I'm making an exception today.

In Caledon, Ontario, a three year old boy with cerebral palsy who cannot walk or crawl gets a great deal of pleasure-- and rehabilitation, in riding his miniature pony. But, because of complaints by a neighbor of a bad smell, the town is threatening to make the boy's family give up their pony because of its smell. (The neighbor's property, by the way, abuts a cattle farm.)

The boy's single mom needs over $1,000 to make a special appeal to the town. you can read more at the National Post.

Photo of Sam and Antonia Spiteri and their pony Emily by Peter Redman, National Post

Monday, November 24, 2008

Solidarity and hope: service Weds. night with Macedonia Church

I received an email announcing "A Service of Thanksgiving and Hope" and wanted to pass it on. Here's a way to show that Springfield can act in solidarity, can envision a future where we are united, not divided.

A Service of Thanksgiving and Hope Responding to the Burning of the Macedonia Church of God Wednesday November 26 7 to 8 pm Old First Church, Court Square, Springfield

The Macedonia Church of God in Springfield was burned to the ground on election night, November 4, 2008.

As Thanksgiving approaches, please join the community to say all of us can work and live together in peace. The entire community of Greater Springfield is invited to respond with a reaffirmation of solidarity and hope. The homily will be given by Bishop Bryant Robinson from the Macedonia Church of God. Clergy of every faith are invited to robe and process.

Invite your friends and family. Clergy, alert your congregations. The time is short, but the message is critical. Yes we can!

"How good it is for brothers and sisters to stand together." Psalm 133

Info: Fred Rose, Pioneer Valley Project, 827-0781,

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I'm tired tonight, long day, tired and happy. My older daughter and her best friend and my younger daughter and her husband came down for the second weekend in a row to do whatever I needed them to do, that I am temporarily incapable of doing or which would take me an inordinate length of time to do. last weekend was more personal needs, but this weekend was look-ahead weekend: look ahead to the Holidays, to next year, and to some number of years after that.

So: my doors and several windows are winterized, my windows and curtains washed, shelves bought and constructed for my crafts, groceries purchased, et cetera.

Between my daughters and my sister and a few special friends, I have been very well taken care of. Thank you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Drop your racist lawsuit!

OK, you're a Canadian railway with more than $2 billion in net income whose rail line runs through 33,000 acres of land coercively taken from Tyenindaga Mohawk land in 1820. When three Tyenindaga Mohawk block your tracks in protest, what do you do? Sue the activists for $105 million in lost income! You can read the whole story at No One Is Illegal. (Double-click the above photo for more details.).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NYC: Sleep Out so maybe others won't have to

I've been thinking a lot about Springfield's homeless and what they are facing this winter-- and knowing their ranks will grow with people who simply couldn't have pictured themselves homeless a year ago.

So sometime "picture the homeless" means picture yourself homeless.

My stringbean friend was over visiting tonight. He was out canning to get some money in his pocket. but is actually very happy to have a room in somebody else's apartment right now tonight-- paying $270 a month.

"How much will you make?"

"If I can stay out there, I can make 50, maybe 60 bucks. It's cold but after a while you don't feel it. So I can pretty much cover my rent.with canning and some yard work for people. Did you know Kentucky Fried Chicken just laid off 170 people?"

"No, I didn't know that," I said, thinking I was going to have to find out more, thinking about the email I had from my boss today wondering if she thought i might be able to work out of my home so we could give up our office and save money.. Glad to have a home.

This Tuesday the homeless-led organization Picture the Homeless will be holding a sleep-out protest on the streets of Harlem.

From their press release:
WE NEED YOU. Meet us at the State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street (corner of 125 and Adam Clayton Powell) at 4PM. Dress warm and bring sleeping bags and blankets if possible.

We will also be handing out our first annual BIG TURKEY AWARDS, to elected and appointed officials whose actions (or inaction) lead to the perpetuation of poverty.

ALSO! We are excited that the musical group Heroes Of The Dancefloor has chosen Picture the Homeless as one of two organizations to receive all proceeds from the release of their latest album, "Torch." Check out the press release, as well as the group's website and MySpace page!

Click here for a sixty-second Public Service Announcement on YouTube.

Photo from Robert the Bear's photostream at Flickr.

The Law

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. Anatole France

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why leopard frogs and other amphibians are dying: closer to understanding

You know how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts? ScienceDaily is reporting that ten popular pesticides in use in the United States, although they may not cause a die-off of frogs and tadpoles individuaally, become deadly when combined.

One pesticide, though, is deadly alone and in nearly any concentration. Endosulfan kills 84% of the tadpoles and frogs exposed to it.

Surely a rescue plan for our planet must include a return to permaculture.

House Negro

My sister was pretty tied up in meetings today so just now when she came upstairs I (being temporarily housebound) was able to give her an informed running commentary on the news which was playing in the background. Al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's 2nd in command, was spouting off.

"Today he called Barack Obama a "'House Negro,'" I said.

"Yeah, that's right," she said, grinning, "A White House Negro, and they'd better not forget it."

Thanksgiving: time to challenge the stereotypes

Yesterday I was one of the group recipients of an email image (as part of a joke) that another person on the list found offensive but didn't say why. I asked her to spell it out and low and behold!-- it was a stereotype that hadn't even crossed my mind, although there'd been a different aspect of the image with which I was uncomfortable. This just goes to show that self-education and the education of our peers is ongoing and essential.

Thanksgiving brings out the worst of the stereotypes as regards American Indians. Somehow non-Indians can only think of indigenous people as they existed in the past. I'm sure sociologists have a word for it, but I call it the "frozen in time" syndrome. Once the European culture intersected the development path of American Indians, it became impossible to know how the culture would have developed without our presence. Would American Indians have developed a technology which would eventually bring them into conflict with their environment? The themes in Jared Diamond's Collapse suggest that as a possibility. (See a short video at Treehugger.) On the other hand they may have found a way to successfully integrate their spiritual values with their economic and social development . We will never know for sure, but we certainly can know that they would not have remained as they were 400 years ago. Even the image of American Indians astride their horses is an image of the interference of the European culture-- horses are not indigenous to the Americas.

American Indians understand this all too well and have their own struggle for authenticity. I found the picture in this postat Sociological Images.

A few years ago I had the great good fortune to attend the National Day of Mourning, held every year since 1970 in Plymouth, Massachusetts and sponsored by the United American Indians of New England. Young and old, white and black, native and non-native, fat and thin, women and men, limber and lame, pretty and plain, all of us there and everywhere stood on one side of the river and not the other-- and yet we stood together, knowing there was much we did not understand, yet oh so willing. The remarkable time in which we find ourselves now gives us room to explore our differences and our commonality. Let us not allow fear of mistakes keep us from walking this road together.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When will Victoria's homeless finally get a break?

Victoria's Mayor-Elect Dean Fortin says that his landslide election, along with six others on a green and progressive slate of nine, shows is a clear mandate to get moving to tackle homeless and environmental issues in Victoria. He wants housing solutions for homeless people and those at risk. Janine Bandcroft at A Room of My Own doesn't feel very positive about his election, though, and says that only two of the councilors elected support a Dignity Village-style community as part of the solution, a solution that homeless people themselves favor.

One piece of good news for Victoria is the recent ruling by Judge Ross in support of homeless people's right to shelter themselves if the city fails to do so. You can read her ruling here.

A new mayor takes over in Vancouver, also, who is making a similar pledge about homelessness. Vancouver is particularly cash-strapped right now because the cost of security for the 2010 Olympics which Vancouver is hosting keeps on mounting. David Eby's blog has been tracking the impact of the Olympics on housing and homelessness.homelessness and security.

Graphic from StreetNewz, Victoria's street paper.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dada in my dreams; chickens and rabbits

OK, so I had major surgery last week and my body is full of all sorts of drugs including the still much loved and needed painkillers, but I must say my dreams for the last several nights have been quite bizarre...and also more hopeful than I'm allowing in my conscious mind, which I am forcing to "be realistic" but in any case, when I find a Dadaesque poem written on the walls of my bedroom, I have to take notice.

Anyone who has had the pleasure to be familiar with Dr. Ann Faraday's books Dream Power and The Dream Game knows that houses are generally oneself and the rooms in them, different part of oneself. Yesterday, naptime, I was living in this wonderful, mostly white, old-fashioned house on a grassy knoll (hmmm...) which I didn't own but was free to alter to suit my needs. I kept finding rooms I didn't know existed, upstairs, downstairs, all around stairs. One very nice feature about the house on the grassy knoll was that the previous owner had had friendships with many dogs, and those dogs still came to visit every day; we got to be friends without my having to be responsible for them.

By my evening dream, I was repainting the bedroom in my old house white, in preparation for taking some of the walls with me. I realized that my nephew had come into the room when I wasn't there and had painted different parts of the walls vivid primary and jewel colors. At first I thought he had "ruined" it, until I took a closer look. A panel on one wall was painted with the words:
zero equals dada
one is dada minus one
two is dada plus dada
three is dada
four is dada
five is dada minus five.

I'm taking that with me, I thought in my dream.

So, to bracket that dream, I found a video on BoingBoing that you simply must see of two chickens breaking up a fight between two rabbits. I don't have sound on my computer, but i think it goes something like this: Stop it, you bad rabbits! What do you think you're doing? Cut it out right now! How dare you waste my time like this? Don't you know you've interrupted my cluckada? Now, I'm going to stand. right. here. until I know you've stopped. Hhmph!
The White Room: Katherine Dutiel

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shipping containers for Tent City?

Stone Soup Station is reporting that a donor may be bringing ten shipping containers to Nashville's tent city to Nashville's Tent City. I've been trying to keep up on some of the great re-use ideas for shipping containers, which would otherwise sit in rail and shipyards, rusting away. Check it out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sorry, I prefer

Sorry, I prefer
to sit upright
to feel my fingertips
to let my hair just grow
to let the sun
have its way with me
to tell time with my bones.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How will we feed ourselves? Food pantries feel the pinch

Pamela Metaxas at the Republican checked in with the area food pantries in an article on Tuesday, and the news is not good: as you might suspect, demand is up and supply is down. Well, few of us are better off this year than last. We need to find ways to feed ourselves.

There's a commercial on TV that drives me crazy. It shows a family in a car trying to eat a fast food meal. Soda is slopping, ketchup is dripping, and a hidden voice says, "Since when did this become a sit-down meal?" Next scene is set in a kitchen, eager family around the table, and mom pulling a pre-made Stouffer's lasagna out of the oven. "Now that's a sit-down meal!" the voice exclaims. Oh, yeah? Convenience foods are convenient, and that's about it.for value.

In future posts I intend to talk about community-supported agriculture, food coops, community gardens, kitchen gardens and bulk purchasing. But we have a long winter ahead of us, and the best food in the world will be for naught unless people start learning/remembering how to cook.

OK, I'm generalizing; I do know people who cook a lot and cook well./ But I'm not sure those folks are in the majority anymore.

We were on a pretty tight budget when I was a kid and I know now we usually ran out of money before the next paycheck. Coming from a French-Irish household, I can't say my mother was a very creative cook. Still, one of my favorite meals was potato stew with lots of black pepper. Basically, this was potatoes and onions sliced thin and thickened with a paste of flour. Maybe there'd be a small salad also. Then there was creamed peas and tuna on toast, or sometimes just the peas. Nutrition would balance out over time. Anyway, we got by.

My organization, Arise for Social Justice, is collecting "end of the month" recipes. if you have one, you can send it as a comment or email me at

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Laughing dog

From Neatorama

The evil crime of arson

An election night fire at a Black church in Springfield is ruled arson, leading to suspicions of a hate crime, with counter-accusations that someone in the congregation lit the fire and is "playing the race card."

A Springfield resident is arrested for hiring a fifteen year old boy to set fire to a house he he owned and rented out. Four tenants were home at the time.

Both of these recent incidents reminded me of the sad story of someone I used to know, Jerry Rife.

In 1970 I was living in a three bedroom tenement on the corner of Columbia and Broadway just off Central Square with a varying cast of six, sometimes seven other people, and Jerry was one of them. (This address's big claim to fame was that it was the former residence of radical bomber Stanley Bond, which we found out one day when the FBI burst into our apartment, ignored an ounce of pot on the kitchen table, and searched every room before departing.)

We were a somewhat typical hippie household-- musicians, poets, activists and acidheads-- living on part-time jobs and spare change. Jerry was the first person I'd met who'd grown up in foster care, sometimes in a home but more often in an institution. Jerry was in his early twenties and had a brother a couple of years younger who had also grown up in foster care. They had been separated for most of their childhood but Jerry had finally tracked down his brother, who had aged out of foster care at eighteen and was crashing with some friends in a Boston residential hotel. It was Jerry's big dream to save enough money for his brother and him to get a place together.

One day Jerry came home with tears streaming down his face. The hotel where his brother was staying had caught fire and his brother-- and Jerry's dream-- was dead. The fire was determined to be arson.

Jerry drifted away after that and we lost track of each other. Some years later I heard about an arson scandal in Boston, which had been plagued with fires in the early 70's. The scandal revolved around collusion between property owners and some members of the Boston Fire Department. I don't know that the fire in which jerry's brother died was part of that scandal or a separate incident.

I've often wondered what became of Jerry. If anyone knows him, I would be happy to hear. He'd be in his late fifties now and I believe he was a townie, born and raised in the metropolitan Boston area. After all these years so many memories have faded, but I will never forget the tears on Jerry's face the day his brother died.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homeless man found dead in Northampton

Yesterday morning I checked the news and found an article by Fred Contrada at the Republican about a homeless man found dead in Northampton. His name was John Paul Kozlowski and apparently he'd been sleeping out in the Meadows,.

I asked my sister, a former staffer at the Warming Place, if she knew him.

"I thought he'd gone to Alaska!" she exclaimed.

I hope to find out more about Mr. Kozlowski in the coming days. If anyone knows more, please respond.

Meanwhile I continue to wonder where the area's homeless people will be spending their days this winter.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Internally displaced: refugees abound in rich and poor countries

You can hide the homeless and internally displaced for a while, but not forever.

Four years ago the government forcibly removed 36,000 families living in a slum in New Delhi, India and promised them land and a fresh start in a "model resettlement community" in Bawana, 40 kilometers away. But the government counts only 9,000 families in need of help; 27,000 additional families were evicted and no one seems to know where most of them they are.Most of the internally displaced relocated to Bawana still don't have running water or electricity.

Barbados has divided its country into residential and non-residential areas in an effort to reduce the risk of water pollution in water catchment areas. But squatters continue to live in water catchment area; five of their communities have been bulldozed but hundreds of people find their way back to the area because they have nowhere else to go.

In the U.S., a tent city in Ontario, CA was set up as a temporary refuge for the area's homeless, but grew so quickly that in May, public officials removed anyone who could not prove they were originally from the area. In Seattle, WA an intentionally-designed tent city called "Nickelsville" after the city's Mayor Nickels is on its third home, currently in the parking lot of the University Christian Church, and housing 90 people.

In the UK, a website called the Advisory Service for Squatters post listings of vacant property in the UK and helps match British people as well as Eastern Europeans and others with the properties.

Nearly one-sixth of the world's population live in squatter communities or otherwise unorganized townships and parking lots. As long as the economic disparity between the world's weathiest and poorest citizens continues to grow, the numbers of internally displaced persons will grow also.

Today, November 10, hundreds of bloggers at Bloggers Unite, a project of BlogCatalogue, are writing about the dilemma of refugees around the world. I'm encouraging everyone to take a look in our own backyards: refugees are not just in faraway countries but everywhere among us. Figure out what you can do to help and then-- take action. Go to Refugees Unite to learn more, and check out the posts at Bloggers Unite.

Photo: A squatters' flag from the International Institute of Social History

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eclipsed by national politics, homeless murders still unsolved

Police in Long Beach, California have identified the last of five people found shot to death in a homeless encampment the weekend of November 1st, but the motive and the perpetrator remain unknown. Police became aware of the murders when they received an anonymous phone call, and they are hoping the caller will come forward with more information.

One of the two women who was murdered was not homeless, but spent considerable time at the encampment.

In Los Angeles, police are still looking for the persons who set John McGraham on fire on October 9. Mr. McGraham was well-known and well-liked in the Rampart area. More than 300 of his family and friends gathered the week after his murder for a memorial service, and showed a slideshow of photos of different stages of Mr. McGraham's life, including his last job as a bellhop for the Ambassador Hotel.

The Los Angeles City Council has authorized a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.

In an unusual move, John Walsh of America's Most Wanted is featuring the case of John McGraham on his show. His site tells a longer story of Mr. McGraham's life and death.

Photo: John McGraham as a child.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oldie but goodie

These are from a book called Disorder in the American Courts, and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place.

ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS: No, I just lie there.

ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example ofsomething you forgot?

ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, 'Where am I, Cathy?'
And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the
next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-one-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: Uh, he's twenty-one.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken ?
WITNESS: Is this a trick question?

ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Uh..... I was getting laid!

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Are you shittin' me? Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?
_________________________________ _______________

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?

ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.
___________________ _____________________________

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All my autopsies are performed on dead
people. Would you like to rephrase that?

ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What
school did you go to?

ATTORNEY : Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m..
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him!

-- And the best for last: ---

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A traffic observation

Why is it that when you're in traffic in your car, trying to make a left-hand turn, no one will give you an opening except the very last car in line, who somehow hasn't looked in his rearview mirror to realize you can take that turn as soon as he goes by? Of course you have to be grateful, but it seems such a wasted gesture.

Conversely, why is it that when you're the last car in line, with clear sailing behind you, some idiot is going to cut in right in front of you, causing you to slam on your brakes? And he seems to have no idea of what he's done, mind a million miles away, hurrying and getting one whole car length ahead of you?

Marijuana decrim: local DAs will follow the law-- for now

Hampden County District Attorney announced yesterday that he was dropping all charges currently pending for possession of small amounts of marijuana and intended to act as if the law turning possession of marijuana into a civil offense was already in place.

Question Two passed overwhelmingly in Massachusetts on Election Day, and because of its strong community support-- 65% in favor-- Bennett said he would not work for the repeal of the law, which is set to go into effect December 4.

Bennett will also end a diversion program in his office which is heavily populated by those arrested for possession of marijuana.

Other district attorneys are not sure if they will attempt to have the law repealed, which would require action by the Massachusetts Legislature. Given the commonwealth's fiscal crisis, the estimated $30 million savings may be enough incentive for the Legislature to leave the issue alone.

Proponents of marijuana reform estimate

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hate crime? Hours after election, black church burns

Sometime after 3 a.m., just hours after Barack Obama was declared the next president of the United States, the fire department in Springfield Massachusetts received an urgent call: the nearly constructed new home of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ was on fire. By 7 a.m. this morning, the building was declared a total loss-- about $2 million in damages. Three firefighters were slightly injured while fighting the blaze.

Pastor of the predominantly African-American church Bishop Bryant Robinson Jr. said that the church was down but not out. "Our belief in God will sustain us. ... Our faith is of such quality and maturity that we will be building." Robinson said. Springfield Republican

There were few reasons for the building to burn, Springfield Fire Department spokesperson Dennis Leger said, because the building was vacant and utilities to the 90%-completed building had not yet been connected. The fire is considered suspicious and by this morning the site was being examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

State Representative Ben Swan, who was on his way to meet with Bishop Robinson when contacted, said that the community would be kept informed of developments. Bishop Robinson is a member of the Black Pastors Council, which held a Get Out the Vote for Obama rally last Saturday. (I was honored to be asked to speak.)

Springfield voters gave 75% of its vote to Barack Obama yesterday but at least a few of the 25% who cast their vote elsewhere suspect Bishop Robinson had the church burned for the insurance money, or that maybe church members went to the church to celebrate and set it on fire with a candle . Bishop Robinson says he's at a loss to understand why anyone would want to harm the church.

Bryant Robinson Jr. was Deputy Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools for many years and in line to become superintendent in 1989 when the when the Springfield School Committee decided to conduct a national search instead. Many Black leaders remain convinced to this day that the search was conducted so that Robinson could be passed over.

I want to live in Barack Obama's country

One quick observation before I run off for the day: Last night, I looked at the crowd surrounding McCain at this concession speech, and the faces around him were all white. I looked at the crowd surrounding Barak Obama and I saw white, Black, Asian and Latino/as cheering and hugging each other.

That's the country in which I want to live, and as a community organizer, I am more than ready to take on his challenge to "join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand."

PS: You notice I've chosen a green map, not a red and blue one, to illustrate what our future can hold.

Massachusetts makes the right choices

For once, the value of organizing is clear: Massachusetts has rejected Question One, eliminating the state income tax, and approved Questions Two and Three, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and banning dog racing. I can't remember if there's ever been a time before in any election when everything went the way I believed it should go.

I am particularly glad for the people whose lives can no longer be ruined by a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why I'm voting for Barack Obama

In spite of our history of Republican governors, Massachusetts is one of those states that can always be counted on to vote Democratic in the national elections. That has freed up many of us up to "vote our consciences" without fear of jinxing the Democratic candidate, but has also sometimes had an enervating effect on progressives using the electoral system to organize. I did see that start to change during the Deval Patrick campaign. The opportunity to have a Black governor was too good for many to pass up.

Through the years I've mostly voted Democratic, but I can't say I've been a great Democrat-- haven't joined ward committees and have rarely worked on a campaign. One exception was the Jesse Jackson campaign of 1984. I was inspired by the Jackson of 1984. By volunteering for his campaign, I was taken under the wing of some of Springfield's most dedicated and political African-American leaders-- then State Rep. Ray Jordan, E. Henry Twiggs, Candace Lopes, to name a few-- and the contacts I made there have lasted 25 years. I also learned the basic skills of looking up numbers in reverse directories, phonebanking, door to door work and stand-outs. I know that the Internet has added to a campaign organizer's toolbox, but still, nothing beats the basics. I wish some of my progressive friends could bring themselves to roll up their sleeves and labor with the on-the-ground Democrats.

Twenty-five years later I am far less likely to be idealistic about any candidate because the options for a political platform in the United States are very narrow and defined by the parameters of capitalism and Christianity. Unlike most other democracies, we have two major parties only, and while I agree there's a difference between them, it's the difference between one and three on a scale of ten. I will never forget sitting in a homeless shelter lunchroom watching Bill Clinton be inaugurated on the TV, when all of us expected him to include ending homelessness in his address, and the slow slumping of shoulders when homeless people were ignored yet again.

I am a faithful voter, however, because of what every organizer knows: Use what you've got to get what you need.

Within this framework, the candidacy of Barack Obama is so extraordinary that for months it barely seemed real to me. If truth be told, I still find it difficult to believe that the U.S. is ready to elect a Black man to the Presidency. but I'm starting to think I'm wrong. I want to be proud of my country. If Barack is elected, it'll be one of those too-rare moments when we can say to each other, Well, I guess the struggle is worth it after all.

So here's my short list of reasons I'm voting for Barack Obama.

Save the environment, save the world. I won't need to worry about policy decisions that make things worse and can expect some positive movement. (Nuclear energy and clean coal be damned.)

Jobs, jobs, jobs. I'm tired of seeing people work and struggle to get by . I'm tired of seeing young people grow up not knowing the value of work. My first jobs out of high school were in factories, making things, and relatively speaking, they were still probably the best-paying jobs I've ever had. Moving toward energy independence could almost be like a national jobs program.

Peace and civil rights. I'm not a pacifist (maybe in my next life) but I believe war should be such a last resort as to make it nearly impossible. I doubt Barack Obama will find it necessary to start any new wars and he'll help us get out of the ones we're in.

So I'm off to the polls then home for a long night in front of the TV with my sister and her husband and a six-pack of beer (sorry, Sarah Palin). Michaelann the organizer is voting Obama.

(BTW, it's time for Blogger to stop underlining Barack Obama as if it's a misspelled word!)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Early voting for Massachusetts?

Just got a call at home from a guy who said his mom suggested he call me. He's a truck driver who was just told by his boss that he's going to have to make an unexpected trip to New York tomorrow, leaving at 4 a.m. and not returning until after the polls close.

"'How am I supposed to vote?'" he tells me he asked his boss. "He told me I could take the day off without pay if I wanted, but I've got four kids-- can't afford to do that."

He went down to the Election Commission about 2 pm. to see if he could get an absentee ballot only to be told that they stopped giving out applications at noon. It's the law, he was told.

I had to reassure him, while not wanting at all to make it seem that his vote was unimportant, that our state was definitely going to go for Obama. Of course there's important questions, state rep races, etc.

"I know, I know," he said. "I just wanted to be a part of history."

When things settle down a bit I'll research the possibilities of early voting in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, I'm a nervous wreck about the Presidential election, and headed off to an Arise board meeting, which I hope will distract me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pigs and chickens help empty the oceans

We catch nearly 100 million tons of fish from our oceans each year, and an astounding one-third of that catch is fed to pigs, chickens and farm bred fish, according to a new study by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.

Even worse, the fish in question-- sardines, anchovies and other small to medium-sized fish-- come from near the bottom of the food chain, not the top, meaning their decline impacts ocean life on every level, right up to the tunas, swordfish and ocean mammals.

A billion people a day, mostly in developing countries, depend on fish as their primary protein source. Yet in a scenario similar to the production of ethanol, three to five pounds of fish is required to produce a single pound of farm-bred fish. Given that these "forage fish" are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it makes more sense for people to consume these fish directly, the Institute's director Ellen Pikitch says.

Fish stocks are in decline worldwide, although at least some nations-- members of the European Union, the United States and Canada-- have begun reducing their fishing fleets controlling the size of the catch. Better management in warm water countries have shown fish populations can rebound in as little as 18 months, although cold water fish take longer.

In the meantime, people who enjoy fish have yet another reason to stick to fresh-caught fish and to avoid farmed products.

Chart from the World Watch Institute

Can you spot the phony smile?

My kids say I'm a sucker. I don't think so, but I have to admit, I didn't do as well as I thought I would on this test from the BBC Science and Nature section. Check it out!

Photo from Korso87's photostream at Flickr

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Being homeless on Cape Cod is no picnic

The first homeless person I ever met on Cape Cod was more than 15 years ago, when my daughters and I were camping at Nickerson State Park. He was on crutches, a carpenter hurt on the job, and he and his wife had been moving from campsite to campsite.

"I'm not really homeless," he told me. "Nine months of the year I rent a house in Orleans. But the other three months we have to go somewhere else, because my landlord can get in one week what I pay her a month."

Back in 1990, Nickerson's was first-come, first-served; there was a two week maximum on how long campers could stay. But in this family's case, the rangers looked the other way when they'd re-register and move their tent and gear to another site. To me it seemed tedious but doable.

Fifteen years later homelessness on Cape Cod has gotten bad enough that rancor runs high between the business community and the homeless and providers. A public hearing in Hyannis earlier this week resulted in some name-calling, with Cynthia Cole, the head of the Businesss Improvement District shouting, ""Why don't you go back to work?" at a homeless woman, and a homeless man telling a homeowner whose house had been broken into (she assumes by a homeless person) to "Take a valium." Cape Cod Times. Other residents consider the homeless to be "washashore" people attracted by a Field of Dreams-- the "if you built it, they will come" state of being that can only be ended by eliminating services for homeless people.

Homeless providers say the shelters in Hyannis are very low-key and that shelters are not the problem. Indeed, it seems to be a small number of street people, maybe twenty, on whom complaints most focus. Homeless single people with severe mental health or addiction prolems are not welcome at most shelters. But shelters are full and many people on the street just have nowhere to go. The Leadership Council to End Homelessness on Cape Cod and the Islands has counted 43 family members and 64 individuals living who are homeless and unsheltered.

Hyannis businesspeople want homeless services "decentralized," saying Hyannis bears a disproportionate share of the responsibility. Of course this is the mantra of every metropolitan area, many of whose citizens seem to think that if the shelters disappeared, homeless people would disappear also.

Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, who was in Hyannis yesterday to announce a $2 million, five year grant to assist the region with its Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, suggested cooperation rather than conflict might serve the region better. Mangano's focus for the last six years has been on "Housing First"-- get the chronic users of homeless services into housing and provide supportive services to help keep them stabilized. A few communities, like my home city Springfield, MA, have started working to integrate "crisis" homelessness into their "chronic" homelessness plan. All possible successes, however, begin with a supply of affordable housing, scarce everythere but rare on Cape Cod.

Joe Burns, a columnist with the Bourne Courier, remembers growing up a in working class neighborhood of storefront businesses with apartments upstairs, row housing and railroad flats It was a real neighborhood and it was affordable for regular people. But those neighborhoods are gone, and the mention of affordable housing sends ripples of fear through the homeowning community. That fear is built on on the grey, sprawling, almost prison-style affordable housing that was the federal model for so many years. Burns calls for a "back to square one" approach that uses what would now be called "smart growth" to build affordable housing and community at the same time.

Affordable housing is housing that has a realistic relationship with the average family income in a given area, something that even within the current downturn in property values is not often found on the market. Affordable housing is the foundation of our economic pyramid, one that is straining as a result of the economic imbalance at the top

In the past 25 years housing prices have increased tenfold. Family incomes haven’t come close to keeping pace. And as incomes shrink as the result of inflation, salary freezes and unemployment, the disparity grows greater. And as it does it’s becoming increasingly clear that there that there is no “them” there’s only “us”— the seniors on fixed incomes and shrinking retirement funds, the families trying to meet mortgage payments while the value of the earnings and their home decreases, the single parent trying to rent a house with financial assistance that pays only a pittance of the actual cost, the growing number of jobless and homeless. Every man, woman and child hurt by years of corporate greed and federal incompetence and irresponsibility. It’s you and me drowning in a sea of unaffordability.

Photo from Cape Cod Cyclist's photostream at Flickr.