Friday, October 30, 2009

"Begging" online-- what's left after more homeless cuts?

Driving through the South End yesterday,  I noticed that the can recycling center on Main St. is closed.  How far away do people with shopping carts have to go now to redeem their bottles?  It's funny that no matter how poor the average person may feel, he doesn't feel poor enough to keep from tossing that can in the trash.  So literally, one man's trash becomes another man's treasure.

Earlier this week the Boston Globe's David Abel wrote an article on the phenomenon of "online begging," where homeless people-- and others--  ask for donations.  There are definitely some advantages for the potential giver-- you do it on your own time, not under the pressure of a personal "ask" on the street, and if the person doing the asking actually has a blog, you get a chance to know a little about a person before you decide.  I've given a little bit this way-- not a lot, but probably  a larger amount than if I were digging in my pocket for spare change.  Of course, you can still be scammed.

So let's talk about scammers a little bit.

There are scammers like the guy who approached me in a parking lot last summer, begging for four bucks to take a bus back to Greenfield for a job interview.  I happened to stop at the same store the next day and he was still there, begging for another four bucks for the very same reason!  (I had a few choice comments.)  Then there are scammers who steal your identity and run up your bills-- truly among the evil, if you ask me.
Some get caught, most don't, but what they do is against the law.

But to be a really big scammer, you have to work on Wall St.  There, you can be the giant puppermaster and juggler.  You can play with derivatives, which are harder to understand than the Standard Model of quantum physics and which are tied to nothing of tangible value at all, and if you start dropping your balls, then 300 million people become your victims-- and that's just in this country.  We lose our jobs, we lose our homes and retirement savings, or, if we have none of these things in the first place, we lose those few social services and subsidies that help us survive and maybe offer a bit of hope for the future.

Of course when we have less income, there's less tax revenue, and then mayors and governors like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick start making budget cuts.  Every one of the cuts that Patrick is making are going to hurt real people.  One thousand people who had a job today with the Commonwealth won't have that job tomorrow. I know the prescription drug program for low-income seniors has been cut once again.  You name it, the cuts are there.

But the cuts that really get me are the disproportional share of cutt to homeless shelter and services.

Thanks to the recession, the number of homeless families in Massachusetts has doubled in one year to more than 3,000.  Every shelter for single people is full and  the Governor is cutting $2.9 million from the $36.6 million Homeless Individual Assistance Account, Line 7004-0102, putting 500 shelter beds across the state in jeopardy.  Cities and towns take one step forward in their plans to get homeless people off the streets and out of the shelters, and then are forced to take two steps back.

The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless is assessing these cuts right now and will be public soon with action steps.  Meanwhile, if you're a still-housed regular person, I hope you think twice about repeating the "Get a job" mantra when you start to sense there are more homeless people ion the street than last year.  Just be glad it's not you, and if you can spare any change, don't stop yourself.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chestnuts warm you up

There's something about the taste of a chestnut that warms me up, that evokes memories not my own, all the way back to the hunter/gatherer days.

This weekend at the veggie store I picked up a pound or so of chestnuts.  The absolutely easiest way to eat them is by making a half-inch cross-cut in the shell (otherwise, they explode) and roasting them for twenty minutes or so in a 350 oven.  Yum!

A hundred years ago, there were more than 3 billion American Chestnut trees in the U.S., but almost all were decimated by a blight.  A few groves of the American Chestnut have been discovered and there's still some hope resistant strains can be bred, but for now we don't have to go chestnut-less because blight-resistant Chinese Chestnuts grow well here.

Chestnuts have much less fat than other nuts and have been compared to brown rice in nutritional value.  I looked for a site online where I could capitalize on their low-fat benefits but instead found some recipes so decadent I gained weight reading them.  Here's one; check out others at Buy Chestnuts.

From Frank A. Marra Jr. of West Virginia

2 8 oz. packages of Portabella Mushrooms - diced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 stick butter (not margarine)
6 cloves garlic - diced finely
16 oz.heavy cream (2 half pint containers)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley - chopped
2 tablespoons of flour - optional 1/2 pound to a pound of Chestnuts - Prepared (shelled and chopped into quarters)

Combine olive oil and butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add sliced Portabella Mushrooms and garlic. Sauté until reduced by half. Add the cut up chestnuts and continue to warm through. Add the heavy cream and work down again until warm and bubbly. Season to taste. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.
If sauce is too thin, up to 2 tablespoons of flour can be whisked in immediately after the addition of the heavy cream.
Serve over baked potato or pork chops.
A special Thanks to Frank A. Marra Jr. from West Virginia for sharing his special recipe!
Photo from Kanko's photostream at Flickr.

Those damn rich people...

Those damn rich people were in town today, giving a round of cheers to Bay State Medical Center for hiring a union-busting law firm and to Health New England for  its membership in America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the lobbying group trying to turn health care reform into a government subsidy for their profits. 

Carrying signs reading "Whatever happened to an apple a day?" and "Let them eat Advil," the Billionaires for Wealthfare went to offer their support at HNE's offices at One Monarch Place, Springfield.  That support was not appreciated, however. 

The billionaires describe themselves as " a grassroots network of health insurance CEOs, HMO lobbyists, talk-show hosts, and others profiting off of our broken health care system. We'll do whatever it takes to ensure another decade where your pain is our gain. After all, when it comes to health insurance, if we ain't broke, why fix it?"

Somehow the word got out about the billionaires' rally and counter-demonstrators  also turned up, urging passerbys  to call Congressman Richard Neal and urge him to honor  his April  24, 2006 promise to vote for Single Payer should it ever come to the floor of the House.  Well, the it has, and the time is now!

Go to or, or send a free eFax to Neal at

Seriously, can we please get health care reform finished in this country so we can get on to other issues?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Name that bird

Do you think you could identify the name of a bird in a language you don't know?  I did surprisingly well on an online quiz in the New York Times where we are given two different words in the Peruvian Huambisa language, and are asked to decide which word is the name of a bird.  Try your ear and your intuition.

Photo: Peruvian hummingbird from Alobos' photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why do we throw away $14 out of every $100 we spend on food?

That's right-- U.S. and Canadian residents waste 14% of our food because we let it go bad and throw it away.  I've been working on buying less (my fridge is dying and doesn't keep food well) but buying only what I need would be so much simpler if I could go to the corner store and buy a potato or an apple as easily as M&Ms and Frito-Lays.

“Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without” is how Colleen Vanderlinden begins her post, 50 Ways to Never Waste Food Again.  Here's a few of her tips; check out the rest at Planet Green
  • If you have to dice part of an onion or pepper for a recipe, don't waste the rest of it. Chop it up and store it in the freezer for the next time you need diced onion or peppers.
  • If you’re preparing squash, don’t toss the seeds. Rinse and roast them in the oven, just like you would with pumpkin seeds. The taste is pretty much the same.
  • Made too many pancakes for breakfast? Put them in the freezer, then toss in the toaster for a fast, tasty weekday breakfast. Ditto waffles.
  • If you have pickle juice left in a jar, don’t pour it down the drain. Use it to make a fresh batch of refrigerator pickles, or add it to salad dressings.
Photo from Evelynishere's photostream at Flickr.

The Roma Journeys

Here's three of the wonderful, haunting photos in the Roma Journeys by Joakim Eskildsen, an exploration of the lives of the Roma people in Greece, Hungary, India, Finland, Russia, France and Romania.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anti-biomass work has taken over my life

I was looking at the stats for how many posts I've written recently and it's not what I would like. Seems like I'm spending so much of my time recently talking on the phone, at meetings and writing/answering emails about biomass that by the evening, I'm just out of words for my blog. I can change that, though.

Last night a friend and I went to the No Biomass Harvest Dinner & Dance at the VFW in Russell. Driving down Route. 20, I was struck by how the small town prettiness and warmth of Russell rests in wildness. The Westfield River runs beside much of the road, and it's that river, among other things, that Concerned Citizens of Russell wants to protect. Some 800,000 gallons a day would be drawn from the river if the Russell biomass plant is constructed, with 100,000 gallons of heated water re-added. As the Concerned Citizens website points out, in the summer there are many places where you can walk across the Westfield River. A thriving fishing and sporting industry will suffer if the river suffers.

Biomass opponents are sometimes accused of acting from NIMBY-- not in my backyard-- motives. But this is not a question of esthetics. Just why should any community be willing to accept pollution and environmental degradation in return for a few jobs and some tax revenue?

I had a good time at Concerned Citizens' dinner and dance last night, and I know they raised some money. But best of all was getting to hang out with folks that I know have their priorities straight.

For information about the biomass incinerator planned for Springfield, go to Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield.

Photos: Jana Chicoine, organizer extraordinaire, with Chris Matera from Massachusetts Forest Watch and his wife; a celebratory cake; the Slickpickers; and the woman I'm told did 90% of the organizing for the event and whose name I don't know. (Anybody?)

Aspirin crystals

Images from Popular Science magazine

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where is Tony? and other conundrums of homeless bloggers

Maintaining a blog when you're homeless is not easy. You might not be welcome at the internet cafe, or have the money to buy time somewhere else, and if you have a little notebook, you have to guard it with your life. (The blogger at 21st Century Homeless just prevented the theft of his laptop at McDonald's with his multi-purpose pocket tool!) Still, feeling that sense of connection with mostly unknown readers keeps many homeless bloggers online. But sometimes bloggers just disappear, and you don't know if it's because their life got better, or worse, or even if they're still alive at all.

Tony has been a frequent, wry voice at Homeless Man Speaks, but for a couple of weeks, no one could find him. "Where is Tony?" the unknown author of the blog kept writing. Well, Tony turned up at a local hospital and the news is not good-- the Big C, as the author says, on top of all his other health problems. Tony is out of the hospital now, back on the street, and thanking God for socialized medicine (he's in Canada), so he can get some of what he needs to stay alive a little longer.

The woman who writes Adventures of Homeless Girl recently had the sad experience of seeing the house that used to be her home being renovated by a new owner. She's closing in on three years of homelessness.

Things are still looking up for Brianna Karp at  Girl's Guide to Homelessness.  Thanks to public pressure created through her blog, Walmart returned her impounded trailer (quite a story, read about it) and she got a job. But she's feeling like a lot of her good fortune is sheer, dumb luck-- and how much luck is there to go around for homeless people?

Tom Armstrong at Homeless Tom is grateful that his blog, which is mostly about Buddhism and the search for enlightenment, has been acknowledged and honored by the Buddhist community. He's survived a recent stint in jail and is still writing. But over on his other blog, Sacramento Homeless, he's writing about how now, no one is allowed to camp in the city at the same site for more than 24 hours. The director of a local social service agency is putting out the call for anyone in the community who has property they'd be willing to let homeless people stay on for that 24 hour period. There aren't enough shelter beds in the city and Tom himself spent two nights completely "out on the streets" and remarks that he probably was breaking the law.

The Welcome to Nickelsville Seattle blog hasn't had an entry since the day after their tent city was closed down by the city on October 4. The tent city is up again, 90 residents allowed to stay for three weeks at University Christian Church's parking lot, but no one knows what the future holds, and winter is coming.

On the advocacy side of the homeless conundrum, Diane Nilan at Invisible Homeless Kids is appalled by the living conditions of homeless families and children. She says thatin one of the most affluent counties in the country, homeless families and adults are given less attention than homeless pets.

Mark Horvath of Invisible People TV is back from a weeks-long road trip documenting the lives and the options of our nation's homeless. He has a fascinating and poignant slide show of some of the people he met at his Flickr site. You owe it to yourself to take a look.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Eradicating poverty

I'm sitting here this morning feeling particularly poor. My wallet was stolen on Thursday and within two hours, the thief had emptied my bank account by charging cartons of cigarettes at a cluster of convenience stores and gas stations. According to my bank, I'll get the money back eventually. Meanwhile, I'm broke.

But am I poor? I have a roof over my head even though I'm behind in my rent. There's food in my kitchen-- rice, squash, corn meal, onions and boxes of pasta -- even if it doesn't particularly appeal to me to make a dinner from scratch. And I still have access to the Internet or I wouldn't be writing this!

I live simply and yet I am surely in the category of the world's richest 20%, who consume 76.6% of the world's resources. My cats probably had more to eat this morning than many of the one out of two children in this world who live in poverty.

For the last month I've been working my way through the rather dry but fascinating History of the Modern World by R. R. Palmer. I recently finished the chapter on Europe in 1848-- a year of revolution across the European continent. I hadn't known that capitalism was being critiqued so long ago!

"The early socialists, those before the revolution of 1848, were of many kinds, but all had certain ideas in common.....All thought it improper for owners of wealth to have so much economic power-- to give or deny work to the workers, to set wages and hours in their own interest, to guide all the labors of society in the interest of private profit. All therefore questioned the value of private enterprise, favoring some degree of communal ownership of productive assets-- banks, factories, machines, land and transportation. All disliked competition as a governing principle, and set forth principles of harmony, coordination, organizations or association instead.....Where the owners thought mainly of increasing production, without much concern over distribution, the early socialists thought mainly of a fairer or more equal distribution of income among all useful members of society."

Today, the position of corporations as persons is likely to be strengthened by the U.S. Supreme Court as corporations may be granted full First Amendment rights! See Dangerous Intersection.

I had a great chart I wanted to add to this post, but Blogger is having internal problems today.
Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine, and maybe the bank will have returned my money by then. Meanwhile, I think I'll go make some rice.

Don't drain Massachusetts rivers!


Last week, the Patrick Administration took a giant step backward in protecting our streams and rivers, all the while claiming that it had the environment’s best interests in mind. CLF and the three other environmental members of the state's Water Resources Management Advisory Committee needed to act swiftly and boldly. To that end, CLF and the three other environmental members resigned from the committee. CLF has sent a clear message of protest - and now we need you to do the same.

What happened?

During its announcement of its new “integrated water initiative,” the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced that the state was unilaterally revoking its earlier definition of “safe yield” that included environmental protections for rivers. EOEEA and MassDEP are now using a definition that would allow withdrawals of all water from rivers and steams.

What does it mean?

Simply put, our rivers and streams are no longer protected. Our rivers could be drained entirely, resulting in massive fish kills and environmental damage. We already have rivers and streams that are being drawn dry and we are steadily losing trout streams and other cold water fisheries. We can and must do better than this.

What can you do about it?

Michaelann, CLF needs you to stand up with us. Momentum is on our side, but we need you to build on it.

  1. Send a pre-written letter to Governor Duval Patrick, the EOEEA and MassDEP by clicking here.
  2. Forward this message to everyone that you know in Massachusetts. There is strength in our numbers.

Click to Take Action Now

Massachusetts has abundant natural water supplies that require smart stewardship, not more bureaucratic process. The state is in the process right now of issuing new long-term permits for many of the water systems that are already overdrawing our rivers and streams. We need you to act now.


Peter Shelley
Massachusetts Advocacy Center Director

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Impact zone: how much of our communities will be affected by a new incineration plant?

This is a map of the schools within a five mile area of the wood-burning incineration plant proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy. The plant will be placed just off Page Blvd. on Cadwell Dr. in Springfield.

I need community input to help fill in the other "sensitive receptors" in that five mile area. Hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, day care centers, senior centers, elder housing, public and private recreational facilities, reservoirs-- anything that might be affected by a decrease in air quality or by pollutants such as lead and mercury that will fall to the ground or on the water.

Our area is already out of compliance with EPA ozone rules; our asthma rates are significantly higher than the state average; the plant will add a ton of lead plus other contaminants to our environment. You can find out a LOT more by going to Say No to Construction and Demolition Debris Incineration. You can help us flesh out this map by leaving a comment here or sending an email to

There will be an air permit hearing sometime within the next several months, where the public can tell the Department of Environmental Protection that we don't feel "protected" by their regulations! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The last Morning Glory

Homeless are the canaries in the coal mine

New England papers like the Boston Globe have been following the horrendous story of the slaughter of a Manchester, New Hampshire nurse and the maiming of her daughter by four teenagers for no apparent reason. Of course there is a reason, it just doesn't make sense to most rational people.

On the face of it, attacks on homeless people don't seem to make a lot of sense, either. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, between 1999 and 2008 there were 244 deaths of homeless people and 636 victims of non-lethal violence perpetrated by housed people. Many assaults go uncounted.

A Eugene, Oregon man was "lucky" this week-- he did not become the city's third homeless murder victim when he was set on fire from behind by an unknown assailant; he survived with burns to his hands and face. 35 year old Brian Armstrong of Monroe, Louisiana didn't fare so well-- picked up and incarcerated for being drunk and disorderly, he was found beaten to death in his cell the next morning. His three cellmates are being questioned in what is being treated as a murder. The motive for last Saturday's shooting death of a homeless white woman in Pheonix, Arizona may be clearer-- she was walking with a homeless Black friend when a bald, tattooed white man hollered at the Black man because he was walking with a white woman. Moments later, he shot at them, wounding the man and killing the woman.

Poverty (and addiction) is getting a lot of people in trouble with the law these days, but homeless people are particularly at risk. When you hear about a man with 50 prior convictions arrested yet again for theft, a 15 year sentence might not seem excessive. But then when you hear that the man was homeless and stole a box of cereal and a can of evaporated milk, and that most of his prior convictions were for charges such as trespassing and public intoxication...The 13th Juror has a good story about Mark Anthony Griffin of Bartow, Florida..

And thank you, Officer Michael Hennessey of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for blowing the whistle on a police department incentive program that he believes unfairly targeted homeless people. The incentive program, which offered days off and gift certificates, included a scavenger hunt for actions such as arresting a homeless person who violated the Open Container law with a drink other than Natural Ice beer. Broward County prosecutors dismissed claims of prejudice last week, but at least the incentive program is now dead.

Photo from Matt from London's photostream at Flickr.

Savoring the rain

Found at Cute Overload.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mystery tire tracks, bureaucracy, pizza and outreach

I spent almost all of today on the telephone, but tonight I got to hang out with flesh and blood people and talk about community outreach.

The City of Springfield's 311 Call Center has been promoted as a helpmeet to the city's residents, but I have not warmed up to it. Sometimes It feels as if its main role is to protect city employees from having to deal with the public. When I'm calling a city department, it's usually because...hmm, let me see....oh, yes, it's because I want to talk to somebody in that department, not someone at the call center.

I called Helen Caulton-Harris at the Health and Human Services Department to see if she'd received the letter detailing the health risks of the wood-burning plant proposed for Springfield by Palmer Renewal Energy and got right through (to her voicemail, anyway).

I called the Election Office about a voter list and, as usual, was treated with friendliness and efficiency.

But getting through to the Department of Public Works to follow up on the tire tracks all over the neighborhood was a different story, one I won't bother to go into here, because I've already had my say to a call center supervisor and don't feel like getting anybody in trouble. Well, maybe I do-- but I won't, because my main goal was to find out how it happened that a DPW solid waste truck marked up so many streets in my neighborhood.

(However, seeing as I've made what appear to be anti-worker statements in my last two posts, let me just add that yeah, I may understand the surliness of workers in underpaid or job-insecure positions, but I don't excuse it. I've had my fair share of menial jobs in my working life, and they are only bearable by being the best human and doing the best job that you can.)

I'd posted a link to my DPW blog post on our local Springfield online forum, and had some interesting comments, one in particular by either a DPW worker or someone close to one. This person pointed to cutbacks in both drivers and mechanics, and talked about threats to employee and public safety.

Fellow blogger Mark Alamed, who writes the exquisite Exploring Western Massachusetts, emailed me a different idea.

The marks are caused by the driver setting the air brakes while the truck is still rolling. It's about the same as if you were setting your car's emergency brake while the vehicle was still in motion. With frequent stops, drivers are too impatient to let the vehicle roll to a complete stop before pulling the brake.

I work on many local town and city vehicles and this occurrence isn't exclusive to Springfield. In fact, at my shop we designed a special "wrapper" spring leaf because of how often the rear spring "eyes" of recycling trucks were snapping due to this driving style. It takes some torque to snap 3" wide, .447 thick spring steel. When both "eyes" break, the vehicle has to be towed to a repair shop, adding to the repair expense. The wrapper leaves generally eliminate this issue and the vehicle can still be driven to a garage even with broken spring "eyes."

Unfortunately, from my experience, chances are slim that this practice of pulling the air brake prematurely will be corrected.
I did eventually talk to two very nice people at DPW, one of whom will talk to the driver of the truck assigned to my neighborhood to see if he can figure out what happened and how it can not happen again. Will I ever find out? I don't know.

More calls, until I thought my arm would fall off:
-- I called the guy in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs who'd told me that the work of the analyst who reviewed the environmental certificate for the biomass plant had been reviewed by a second person to tell him that that person knew nothing about it and had not been involved in the review.
-- I called the office of the Secretary Ian Bowles, EOEEA, to see if I could get a copy of the report on the environmental justice policy that he was supposed to deliver to the Legislature on January 1st of this year.
-- I called a reporter to see if I could get her interested in a substantial story on Palmer's proposed plant but found out that she has a conflict of interest-- wonder what it is?

Finally, I went over to Arise to do the second half of the ward representation outreach training and got to eat pizza with down to earth people. Now I'm home with my cats and the History Channel-- did aliens really help provide the technical information to ancient cultures to build the pyramids? And tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Not always old....

The next time you look at an old woman, just remember... she was not always old....and when she was young, she might have been a burlesque dancer!

The next time you look at an old woman, just remember... she was not always old....and when she was young, she might have been a burlesque dancer!

the dancer Pat Flannery. See the NYTimes for a burlesque dancers' reunion; photos by Nicole Bengiveno.

Friday, October 2, 2009

STUPID Public Works! Burning rubber or what?

I'm tired, but I've just got to write this.

When I headed off to a meeting this morning, I noticed tire marks on the street where I live that looked like someone had been burning rubber. "Stupid people," I thought, although I couldn't remember hearing any noise like that either last night or early this morning.

It wasn't until I came home this afternoon that I realized the marks were not just on my street-- but on Garfield, Fairfield, Litchfield, Belmont Ave. and Oakland! And I'm sure there are other streets with similar tattoos, also marked.

Finally I realized that the tire marks occurred in front of every home, and guess what? Today was trash day. Obviously the marks were left by a City of Springfield trash truck.

So what the hell was happening? How, physically, was this accomplished? What I can definitely know, though, is that the employees on that particular truck were well aware of leaving the marks, and also how the marks were made.

When we walk or drive through a neighborhood in Springfield, our impression of whether we're in a "good" neighborhood or a neighborhood in decline is partly based on the streets-- not just their condition, but their appearance. It's subtle, but it matters. I've been feeling guilty about the drops of power steering fluid I leave when I pull my car out of the driveway. (Still do.)
But man, these guys really made a mess of our streets!

I tried to mentally picture a truck driver, picking up his rig this morning, saying, "Hey, Boss, this is a bad truck-- messes up the roads. How about a different one?" Or not knowing when he took the truck out, but then figuring it out and calling it in. But obviously neither of those things happened (unless the boss refused.) And it may very well have been the driver himself who was responsible-- deliberately slamming on the brakes?

Somehow I felt very discouraged by this event. I understand (but don't forgive) the random thoughtlessness of those people who toss a candy wrapper on the street instead of using the trash receptacle right by the door. I'm even less understanding of store owners who don't keep up their property-- the gas station/convenience store on the corner of State and Magazine Streets is a pigsty outside, with NO trash receptacle. But damage paid for by the City of Springfield?

Yes, I know there are hundreds of more important issues that deserve our attention, but I'll work on those tomorrow. And Monday morning, I'm calling DPH.