Thursday, November 19, 2009

I have great daughters and a great granddaughter!

My daughter Jess just updated her blog and I'm going to take this opportunity, before turning to more serious things,  to remark that both of my daughters and my granddaughter have blogs.  Jessie's blog came about after she discovered a trove of old writings she did as a kid, including an advice column she wrote at age 13 on an old Smith-Corona typewriter-- this is pre-spellcheck days, mind you.  (I strongly discouraged her from throwing her childhood writings away, and still have a bunch of stuff I rescued from the trash.) She now works in a field where a high degree of literacy is an absolute requirement.

Emily's blog is part of the website for her community acupuncture business in Worcester, River Valley Acupuncture. (I've still got all your old sticker books, Emily.)  Her goal is to make acupuncture affordable for regular folks and she uses her blog to share information and dispel myths about acupuncture.

Melody's blog, which she isn't keeping up right now, is about her trip to Brazil this summer to study Brazilian art songs.  Her post about her master class had me on pins and needles. I'd like to see her turn it into an article, but she's in her last year at UNH and has plenty to keep her busy.

My kids grew up surrounded by books and are all vociferous readers.  Therefore, they are all good writers!  I feel bad for so many of today's kids, who don't know what it's like to be transported to another world without the aid of a computer screen.
The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Althsuler

Photo is Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of Night Flight, Wind, Sand and Stars and The Little Prince.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Seven reasons to oppose a toxic incinerator in Springfield.

Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposal to build an electricity-generating biomass plant in Springfield, Massachusetts is moving very quickly, now—the developers need two more permits and then they get the green light.

I myself refuse to call PRE’s proposal a biomass plant: it’s a construction and demolition wood-burning incinerator that will provide a few jobs, create a little electricity, and degrade and pollute our community.  What a trade-off!

Some of us, in a new group called Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, have been working very hard to stop PRE from going ahead.  We need a lot more help because time is so short.  But I will say that I haven’t talked to a single person who, once he or she knows about the plant, is in favor of it, although I’m sure there are some, especially where potential financial benefits may exist—a job, for example, or a neighborhood improvement project.  Well, times are tough and I can’t blame them.  They’re not the one who will be making the big bucks from this project.

The Springfield Public Health Council is concerned enough about the health threats of this incinerator to dedicate their next meeting, this Wednesday, November 18, to hearing concerns. The meeting will start at 6 pm. at the Pine Point Citizens Council, 335 Berkshire Ave.  It’s an open meeting and I hope that people will take this opportunity to learn more .

Then, on Wednesday, December 2nd, the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection will be holding a public hearing on whether to grant PRE an air permit.  This is folks’ chance to hear what PRE has to say, to hear the concerns of Springfield’s residents, and to ask questions.  The meeting starts at 7 pm. at  Kennedy Middle School, 1385 Berkshire Ave.

Air is no respecter of town and county borders.  Here are seven reasons residents of the Pioneer Valley should be against PRE’s proposal.

  1. WE’RE HEALTH-STRESSED ENOUGH ALREADY.  We live in the Pioneer Valley, where air is often trapped like an inverted bowl-- and PRE’s proposed incinerator is only one of five being planned for Western Mass.
 Almost half the population of Hampden County is already considered at risk from the effects of air pollution. Our childhood asthma rate is 50% higher than the state average.  The American Lung Association gives our county an F based on smog and short and year round levels of fine particulate matter (FPM), of which there are no “safe” levels.  Why would we want to make things worse than they already are?

Our children have blood lead levels about twice the state average; PRE’s incinerator will send another ton of lead into the air. Chromium, mercury, dioxin, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, manganese, antimony, beryllium, cobalt, selenium will also be emitted by this plant, all within “safe” levels.  Exposure to pollutants is linked not only to poor health and sometimes fatalities but also to a decline in I.Q.

  1. THE REGULATIONS DON’T PROTECT US.  Somehow the projected emission levels came in just below the threshold that would have required a full environmental impact review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.  Even assuming that the state regulations that apply to this plant can be met, each of the five wood-burning plants proposed for Western Mass. is judged separately—combined impacts are not taken into account.  Emissions from the machines that will run the plant and emissions from the 160 trucks delivering 900 tons of fuel each day aren’t counted in emission totals, either.
 We’re guinea pigs for the rest of the state.

  1. THE PLANT EMISSIONS MONITORING SYSTEM IS FULL OF HOLES. PRE’s fuel will come from third parties that want to sell their fuel and have every incentive to bend the rules.  No one will know on any given day what is being burned; there’s no stack monitoring of toxins and no real-time third-party testing of what comes out of the smokestack.
  1. THE GOVERNMENT HAS NOT BEEN PLAYING FAIR WITH US.  Springfield’s Planning Dept. presented PRE’s proposal to City Council as a “recycling plant” when PRE sought a zone change.  The state defined Springfield as an “Environmental Justice Community” and then didn’t follow its own guidelines for informing the public so we could have real and timely input. 

  1. PROPERTY VALUES AND OUR QUALITY OF LIFE WILL DECLINE.  More trucks, more traffic, more pollution, more noise and a smokestack as high as the city’s landmark Campanile, will, as in other communities lead to a decline in property values estimated by some realtors as up to 20%.          
  1. THE PLANT IS A WASTE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY.  Without huge state and federal subsidies, this plant would not have been feasible.  All five proposed plants will meet only 1% of the state’s energy needs.  If we subsidized weatherization and conservation instead, we could reduce our need for energy by far more than 1%.
  1. BURNING WOOD FOR FUEL TAKES US BACK TO THE CAVEMAN DAYS.  We banned new incinerators in Massachusetts 20 years ago and with good reason.  Burning wood creates pollution! Trees don’t grow as fast as we can burn them, so they can’t be carbon-neutral. The planet is in trouble and wood-burning incinerators will only make things worse.
 It’s not too late to make a difference.  You can join our group.  (Check out our website at Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield.) You can pass out flyers.  You can let our elected officials know how you feel.  Start by calling your new ward councilors; some are already opposed.  Call your state senators and representative.  Then make three more calls: to Gov. Deval Patrick at 888-870-7770, DEP Commissioner Laurie Burt at 617-292-5500, and Secretary Ian Bowles of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs at 617-626-1000.  Tell them: no toxic incinerators in Springfield—or anywhere else in Massachusetts!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Former shelter director Keough arrested - some people just don't learn

Can't let this sad, funny and infuriating event pass without comment: on Friday, Frank Keough, former director of the Worthington St. Shelter, was arrested in Rhode Island after attempting to steal his former furniture from his former house!  Some people just don't learn.

Keough is on probation after his conviction for defrauding the federal government by stealing funds from the shelter to use for a variety of personal uses.  All together, he served 30 months in prison, 20 of them pre-trial.  He could have been out on bail for most of that, but, as I recall, he was incarcerated pre-trial for attempting to contact the witnesses against him.

He had a lovely home on the Rhode Island coast which he built partly with the "help" of shelter residents.  (Can you imagine, living in that shelter, that you would have the right to say NO to Keough?)  He stole TVs,   furniture and more from the shelter, and when he failed to make payments on the $300,000 in restitution he was required to make, his home was seized by the feds.

I wrote a little about Frank in 2007.  He was a player with other big, corrupt plays in our recent scandal-ridden years in Springfield.  Now he has violated his probation.  Is he headed back to jail?

Some readers of this blog know I'm not a big fan of prison, especially for non-violent crimes.  Frank's crimes, of course, certainly did violence to the homeless and the residents of Springfield.  But what should we do with him now?

I'd like to urge those in charge to turn him over to a local non-profit.  We'll put him to work.  He could serve meals at Loaves and Fishes.  He could clean the toilets at Worthington St. Shelter. He could stand on the corner of State and Main with a sign announcing himself as a thief and a fool.  And at night he could sleep on City Hall steps, where he once "served" as city councilor.  Come on, Frank, we'll find a use for you.

Photo from Tommy Devine's site.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Particle Zoo

From the Particle Zoo, where you can buy your favorite stuffed gluon, photon, or proton or neutrino.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day: may they all come home (and always HAVE a home)

I saw some of Springfield's Veterans Day parade today as marchers kicked off from State and Federal Streets.

Only a few blocks away, at Worthington St. shelter, I knew that more than a quarter of the homeless men and women "living there" are veterans.

Most are Vietnam Era vets, but the Veterans Administration says there are more than 2,000 vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are homeless right now in this country.

War-- especially the kind of wars we're fighting right now-- seem to take the ground out from under the feet of those who serve.  Many never find their footing again.

Maybe next year, with some special outreach to those homeless vets, they can be included in the day's events.

This lovely video is of a returning soldier being greeted by his dog.  The next video is of returning soldiers surprising their kids.  Yes, it's a bit manipulative, but  it helps us civilians remember that it's real people with real families who are sacrificing-- and being sacrificed-- in these unnecessary and unending wars,

What are these?

I have no idea what these animals are, or where the photo was taken.  Anybody?  From Fires of Heaven.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The dead tailgate

Living in Springfield most of my life, sometimes I feel like every person's face I see is familiar to me, that I know everyone.  That's probably why it took a trip to Boston yesterday to re-trigger that strange realization that everyone is at the center of their own consciousness: homeless people at the Boston Common, people in suits, the dozens who passed me while chatting on their cellphones-- everyone is more real to themselves than any other person.  Realizing this is a strange, disquieting and liberating sensation.

Usually, if I mention this phenomenon to other people, I get a blank look or a response that indicates they think I might be crazy.  (Same with the other odd things that happen sometimes: like when a word or object loses its meaning and it becomes clear that the meaning is only what we give it.)  But I did have a satisfying exchange with my granddaughter's fiance Jeff a few weeks ago.  We had some time to kill in a bus station together and when I described my experience, he gave me a startled look.

"I think about this all the time!" he said.  No wonder we get along so well.  (In our other rare moments together, we talk about quantum physics-- something else that most of my family and friends have little tolerance to listen to.  Coincidence?  I think not!)

Anyway, driving home on the Turnpike, a poem I wrote some years ago popped into my mind so I share it here:

The dead tailgate.
They get on your ass
or pull right in front of you
so you can't pass.
Like they own the road,
like the road is their name.
Some pull over and watch you
from the breakdown lane.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Salem on Halloween

Don't let Massachusetts' homeless die on the streets

Springfield's Worthington St.Shelter broke ground last week for a new resource center, a rehab of the existing shelter, and 32 efficiency apartments.  It's been a very long time coming, and  completion may still be affected by funding shortfalls.  In theory, 32 homeless people now living in the shelter will move into the apartments, freeing up 32 beds at the overnight shelter.  But that won't happen this year.  This year there are still not enough beds in Springfield for homeless people.  A friend of mine just finished up a weeklong stay on the floor in a hallway of the shelter.  The emergency shelter at the former St. Francis Chapel

The new complex, however, still will not be a 24 hour shelter.  (Don't want those homeless people to get too comfortable, now, do we?)  So homeless people have limited options for what to do in the 12 hours they are unsheltered.  Many of these folks have physical disabilities that make it difficult for them to spend much time walking around, but if they can, they'll make their way to the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen on State St., which stays open as much as possible between the noontime and the suppertime meal.

Meanwhile, Gov. Patrick's 9C cuts are eliminating $2.7 million from the $36 million line item which provides shelter and case management services for the state's single homeless people.  It wasn't enough money to start with,, and now, some 500 shelter beds across the state are at risk.  You can read the details at the Mass. Housing and Shelter Alliance.  Then, I beg you, take action.

Call the Governor and your state reps and senators and:

  • Ask them to restore the $2.7 million in funding eliminated from the Homeless Individual Assistance Account in order to protect the health and safety of individuals who are homeless this winter with no where to turn.

Calls to the Governor can be placed through his constituent office:  617-725-4005.  Your State Senator and Representative can be reached through the general state house number at 617-722-2000.

Alien Vs. Predator

From Pixdaus.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Greenfield residents sold down the river-- or should I say sewage line?

"If you wouldn't want to drink it, why would you want to breathe it?"  That very reasonable question by a Greenfield resident to the Greenfield Appointment and Ordinance Committee at a public hearing last Monday summed up the concerns of the 100 people in the Greenfield Middle School auditorium..

Greenfield is one of the three communities targeted for the development of biomass plants, Governor Patrick's newest, one-size-fits-all solution to Massachusett's energy needs. Biomass developer Matthew Wolfe's original proposal called for the plant to purchase water from the municipality to dissipate heat from its incinerator.

Now Wolfe wants to purchase partially-treated waste water from the town instead. Gotta keep those costs down, you know? The waste water would be pumped uphill to the plant.

Not one of the residents of Greenfield, many of whom were medical and scientific experts, spoke in favor of this idea.

First, there's the pathogens that might be emitted-- viruses and bacteria that abound in partially treated water. But even assuming that most of them would be destroyed in the heating process, that leaves everything else. A 2005 survey of drinking water in 42 states by the Environmental Working Group found 141 unregulated chemicals and an additional 119 for which the Environmental Protection Agency has set health-based limits, including disinfection byproducts, nitrates, chloroform, barium, arsenic and copper. CommonDreams.

Two categories of chemicals were of particular concern to Greenfield residents: antibiotics and endocrine disruptors.  The dangers of antibiotic overuse are becoming better-known: we get resistant to antibiotics and so do the pathogens.  Endocrine disruptors, which are both hormones and those chemicals which mimic hormones, are less well-known to the public, although biologists are aware of their effect on sexual reproduction on amphibians and fish.  Nicholas Kristof's column, It's Time to Learn From Frogs, details some of the effects already taking place in humans, and it's scary reading.

In the end, after receiving page after page of testimony against the use of waste water for cooling, the
Greenfield Appointment and Ordinance Committee did the only thing they could do-- they approved Wolfe's request.  The chairman of the board tried to get the decision put off for a week so it could be studied, but none of the other three had the guts-- or the intelligence-- to second the motion.

It's not all over for Greenfield residents, who continue organizing against this incinerator and who have a number of legal strategies in play.  We in Springfield, however, had almost almost lost the battle against the incinerator proposed for our community before we even knew knew about the war.  Our incinerator, proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy, will burn mostly construction and demolition wood, contaminated with arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic chemicals.  We're late in the day getting started, but I don't believe we're too late.  Check out the website for our organizing efforts, Say NO to Construction and Debris Incineration.

Photo from Aliwest44's photostream at Flickr.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Adjusting the sails

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

—William Arthur Ward

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Enough! End this stupid war!

This is not quite the post I was going to write for Bloggers Unite's BlogBlast For Peace ~ Dona Nobis Pacem, which is today.  I was going to start by writing about the "Withdrawal from Iraq" widget at the top right corner of my blog and how just about every day I think about removing it because somehow it seems to imply that I am patiently waiting another seven hundred and eighty-seven days for our troops (at least in Iraq) to come home.  I don't feel patient at all.

I returned home tonight to news that an Army major and psychiatrist at Fort Hood had shot and killed 11 soldiers and had wounded 31 others before being shot dead himself. There will be much discussion over the next week about the stress our soldiers are under, how frequently they are deployed and what a difficult time they are having re-adjusting to civilian life.  And then will everything settle down again, a new story for the media and our momentarily heightened consciousness of the insanity of these wars sinking back into our everyday reality?  God, I hope not.

 The great majority of  us in this country want these wars to end-- that's at least part of the reason so many voted for Barack Obama.   So why the hell isn't it happening?  Instead, Obama contemplates sending more men and women-- our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters-- to Afghanistan.

Eight years of war.  More than 5,000 troops killed.  Hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.  And nothing to show for it.  Weren't we supposed to be after the terrorists who attacked us on September 11?  Why wasn't this treated as a criminal matter instead of dragging the nation into war?

I know it's hard to keep the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the forefront of our minds when so many of us are struggling just to make ends meet.  Not long ago General David Grange said that the military is at war but the nation is not.  I beg to differ.  The cost of both wars is approaching $1 trillion and I can only begin to imagine the number of small businesses that could have stayed open and the jobs that could have been saved with that money.

Are we really committed to a war on terror?  If so, there are better ways to do it.  New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff made some interesting calculations last month:  for the cost of a single soldier in Afghanistan for a year, we could build twenty schools.  Educated people are essential for a free society, and if we'd started building schools in Afghanistan eight years ago, we could pretty much guarantee the creation of an extremism-free generation.

So what are we to do?  MoveOn, once a key leader in the anti-war movement, seems to have moved on to health care.  United for Peace and Justice is urging us to take action both before and after Obama sends more troops to Afghanistan, as if such action is inevitable. Only A.N.S.W.E.R. is calling for national days of action and mobilization, on March 19 and 20th.

I'm a community organizer, but right now I just don't know how we can get enough power to enforce our common will on the government of this country.  I do know that on November 13th, at 3 p.m, a march against the war will start at Arise for Social Justice, 467 State St., Springfield ,Masasachusetts, before heading down to the steps of City Hall.  And tomorrow at noon I'm going to stand on the corner of State and Federal Streets and say, Enough of this stupid war.  If you're in town, come join me.  It may not be much, but it's better than remaining silent.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some quick thoughts on Springfield's new city council

The bad news: The power of at-large incumbency continues to rule.  All four incumbents were re-elected; newcomer Thomas Ashe won a seat (and came in third of the five in number of votes) Almost 2,500 votes separatied the lowest ranking incumbent, James Ferrera III,  from the next top challenger, Vera O'Connor.  No offense to the winners, but this is why we need ward representation.

The good news; 4 of the 8 ward races were really tight, meaning good campaigns and good competition.  In ward 6, winner Keith Wright and Amaad Rivera were separated by  6% of the vote, about the same percentage that separated ward 2 winner Michael Felton from Thomas Sullivan.  In ward 8, winner John Lysak got less than 4% more votes than Orlando Ramos.  And in the closest race in the city, winner Claudo Concepcion received 86 votes more than former councilor Carol Caulton-- that's less than 2.5% of the vote.

Of course I am personally disappointed that the candidate I supported in my ward, Amaad Rivera, did not win a seat on the council.  But really, this guy should be mayor.  We haven't heard the last of him, and I hope that's true for some of the others.

I'll compare turn-out totals tomorrow and see how we did.

Today's election in Springfield

I haven't posted much about today's election for mayor, city council and school committee, but I've certainly been watching.  The all at-large system of election has gone the way of the dodo bird, and today, we'll be electing by ward as well as at-large. 

As someone who worked with community groups and members for thirteen years to bring this about, now is a good time to review some of the goals of the campaign and see how we're doing so far.

Overall goal: to improve democracy in Springfield. 

Goal: to increase the racial diversity of the city council and school committee.  So far, so good.  Springfield went fifty years with only five people of color elected to the city council.  Now, with thirteen seats to be filled, we can guarantee a Latino/a from ward one,  African-Americans from wards three and four, and an African-American or Latino from ward five.  Candidates of color are also running strong races in wards six and eight, and three of the eight at-large candidates are also of color.  I'd say Jose Tosado, at least, is a shoe-in.  We'll see a less dramatic change in the school committee, but at least one African-American and one Latino will be elected.  (I know there's still a fair number of Springfield voters who think increasing diversity is a bad thing; they tend to be the same people who wonder why "those people" don't do more to help the community.)

Goal: to increase the number of candidates seeking office so Springfield voters have a wider choice.  30 candidates ran for 9 ward seats in September's preliminary.  If you're not already an incumbent, running an at-large campaign is expensive, daunting and difficult.  It's a rare candidate who can beat an incumbent.  Once a candidate is holding office, pretty much they're there to stay.  The only two incumbents I can think of who were not re-elected were both of color: Mo Jones and Carol Lewis-Caulton.

Goal: increase geographic representation on the city council and school committee.  We did it!  Sorry, there's just no way that our past city councils, where the vast majority of councilors came from wards 2, 6 and 7, could possibly understand the challenges of inner-city wards and ward 8.  And even 2, 6 and 7 had no direct representation.  We'll have a far better balance of concerns and solutions under the new system.

Goal: to increase voter participation.  Although some folks are already calling ward rep a "dud" because the preliminary turn-out was no higher than usual, I think today's election will show a significant difference, and that we'll see voter participation continue to increase over time.  We have a new tool in our toolbox and we have to learn how to use it.  I'm not worried.  I have the stats by ward for the last two city elections, and when all the results are in, I'll post the comparisons.

Nearly 75% of those who voted in the last city election voted for ward representation.  We're ready for change.  But ward rep is just the beginning.  To keep our city councilors accountable, we're going to have to keep our eye on them.

Question: what kind of structures would you, the voters, like to see our new councilors institute so that we can keep them accountable?

Photo from Nsub1's photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Comment problem?

Someone just left me a long comment about Helen Hatat and though I approved it, it hasn't appeared.  if that person would like to write again, we'll give it another try.

Quantum dot nanocrystals

Quantum dot nanocrystals: the 2004 winner of Nikon’s annual Small World photomicrography competition. See links to this year's top 20 and previous years' winners at Wired Science.