Sunday, January 31, 2010

Disorderly conduct arrests faulted by NYC's Picture the Homeless

They're tired of being targeted, ticketed, jailed and fined under the banner of New York City's Disorderly Conduct statute, and they're doing something about it-- launching a civil rights campaign..

Members of Picture the Homeless, a grassroots organization founded and led by homeless people, last week held a civil rights summit with other community groups to discuss how this "overly broad and ill-defined law"  is used as a way of making money for the city.  Meanwhile, the lives of people who can least afford it are disrupted as they accumulate arrest records and default warrants if they can't pay the $150 fine.

PTH members talk about their experiences and why they're involved in this campaign on video.  It's not a slick production but bear with it and you will hear real people, obviously weary, who haven't had it easy, stand up for themselves and each other.

The Indypendent has coverage of this forum, at at PTH's blog, the administrator says, "We appreciate the Center for Constitutional Rights for hosting -- and much appreciate the participation of George Bethos of NYC AIDS Housing Network / VOCAL NY Users Union, Lalit Clarkson of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the courageous Juanita Young of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and Parents Against Police Brutality.  Within PTH, we thank Maria and Salaam for running the show, and Carlos for his always-blazing poetry."
 Photo: Picture the Homeless members

The Future is in Your Hands

1964 NAACP comic book on the importance of voting. From Comics with Problems, a collection of public-minded comic books-- most of them odd, unintentionally hilarious, touching, repulsive..

Saturday, January 30, 2010

You take my homeless, and I'll take yours. Yeah, sure.

Colorado Springs officials think they can reduce their unsheltered-- that is, camping out-- population of homeless people by about 10 percent by putting them on a bus and sending them home.

The police department’s three-man Homeless Outreach Team will be working with people who have family members or friends in another city willing to take them in, and who just don't have a way to get there.  The team is hoping some 25 to 30 homeless people will take advantage of the offer, which is funded by the Salvation Army through a grant.  Some 300 to 500 people are estimated to be "camping out" in the Colorado Springs area.

Lancaster, California, a small city of 145,000, operated a similar program last year.  The city's mayor felt as if the City of Los Angeles, an hour to the south,  was sending their own homeless to overwhelm Lancaster's homeless.  But most of the homeless people who took advantage of the offer were local people who chose to go somewhere else.

For every touching story of a daughter who discovers her long-lost father in a homeless shelter and welcomes him in to her loving home, there are ten homeless people who can't go home again.  Maybe there is no home to go to, parents and siblings dead, or scattered to the winds.  Maybe families are why a person is homeless in the first place-- shelters have their share of the young, runaway victims of abuse.  Sometimes homeless peoples have slammed the door shut themselves, or had it slammed on them because of their own behavior.

But what if every homeless person went back to the city in which they were born?  Or in which they'd spent most of their lives?  The affluent communities, the small towns, the capital cities: what would you do if all the homeless people came home?

Photo from DavidX Zhang's photostream at Flickr.

Make seedling pots, grow dishcloths, amaze your friends

Living in New England I've never tried to grow loofahs because they have a fairly long growing season-- about 150 days from planting the seeds till harvest-- but this may be the year I give it a try.  A good, sunny trellis growing against a western or southern-facing should do it.  Garden Guides has some good tips.

A home-grown loofah makes a great gift, but I really want to try making my own dishcloths from loofahs!  Tipnut tells how to prepare a loofah after harvest  to make dish and other cleaning cloths.  Sounds worth it!

But no matter what you'd like to plant this spring, it's time to start making seedling pots out of old newspaper.  Ancient Light actually sells a nifty little tool to make it  really easy,   But you can do it with a regular drinking glass or a jar; and eHOW has a video to shw you how.

You can plant your pot right in the ground and the newspaper will dissolve.  Use only black and white sections of the paper, though, unless you're sure the publisher uses only soy-based inks.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Those clever, clever dolphins (and their "accidental" art)

Thanks for the tip, Cute Overload!

My favorite cartoonist auctioning work for Haiti

I discovered the Laugh Out Loud cats on BoingBoing a couple of years ago...don't know why they tug on my heartstrings so much
but they do.  If you go to Hobotopia, you'll have a chance to bid on the cartoon in this post and all proceeds will go to benefit relief work in Haiti (and you'll get to discover the great drawings and characters created by Adam Koford).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The law of unintended consequences as applied to the hole in the ozone

Some people remember exactly where they were the day the first men walked on the moon; I happen to remember exactly where I was when I first heard there was a hole in the ozone layer: summer, 1985, sitting at a picnic table at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, with my radio tuned to All Things Considered..  A hole in the ozone?  Inconceivable!

How quickly we can become accustomed to truly bad news, especially if the consequences are not immediately apparent-- although the nearly 1,000,000 U.S. residents who discovered they had skin cancer in 1985 would certainly disagree with me.   1985 was also the year that President Ronald Reagan declared the first National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Week, although he'd spent the first three years of his administration fighting regulation of chlorofluorocarbons, the chief but not sole cause of ozone thinning and, at the time, ubiquitous in aerosol sprays and air conditioning units.

So who's kept track of the hole in the ozone layer, which at times can be nearly twice the size of the continental U.S.?  (This is not a tidy little hole, by the way, with clear margins, but instead manifests as gradations in thinning.) Many of us remember the slow phase-out of  chlorofluorocarbons; we hoped the ozone layer could begin to repair itself.

That repair is slowly happening, although at the current rate, we won't reach pre-1980 levels until at least 2060.  But it turns out this good news has its dark side: in the Antarctic, high winds caused by the hole created moist, bright, fluffy clouds which also shielded the Antarctic from some of the effects of global warming, according to researchers published in today's Geophysical Research Letters,  The New York Times covered this report on January 25, as well as that of a dissenting voice, who feels that the effects of global warming itself will keep the high winds blowing, protecting the Antarctic.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Gee, can't we have it all?  A repaired ozone hole and a reduction of global warming?
Graphics from The Ozone Hole

What kind of playhouse do you want?

I couldn't find a price for this table turned playhouse (link at Inhabitots timed out) but would guessing $750+ be excessive?

At the risk of sounding extremely ancient or extremely crabby , when I was a kid, the best playhouses came when you could talk your mom or your auntie into letting you throw a sheet over the kitchen table or four chairs-- although the chairs were often arranged to make the seats of a car..

Here's a link to pretty easy instructions for making a cardboard playhouse for your kid-- or yourself; I won't tell.

Photo and directions from Make Baby Stuff.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

If you intended to murder an infant

If you intended to murder an infant and you had roughly three hours in which to accomplish that deed, what method would you choose?

(I can barely stand to read these words as I write them.)

Would you decide to plunge the infant into cold water, set him naked in front of an air conditioner and then hope for the best?

I'm writing, of course, about the dreadful death of a six week old baby in West Springfield's Clarion Motel in the first hours after midnight on Sunday.

According to MassLive, West Springfield police received a call from the infant's mother, 22 year old Erica Luce, requesting assistance, about 3 am. The baby was taken by ambulance to Baystate Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

The mother told WWLP she had been visiting a next door neighbor while her three year old son and infant son slept, checking on them every fifteen minutes, but then she dropped off to sleep in her friend's room, awakening with a bad feeling. that she found her baby naked, wet and in front of the air conditioner.

So why am I writing this post?  I'm writing this in part because of a conversation my daughter and I had yesterday afternoon about this baby's death..  I'd said that something about the situation just didn't feel right,  but that I probably wouldn't write about it because I didn't know enough.  She'd said, Why not?  It doesn't stop you from writing about the cops when you think that something doesn't seem right.  And she was completely on target.

A few weeks ago, I wrote the following:  I know from experience how hard it can be to criticize one of "your own kind."  You already know there's a set of stereotypes that will instantly kick into play and which will go far beyond the specific person to castigate an entire group.  And you already know too much about how hard life can be for that kind of person, and that very  few people who haven't lived that life will be capable of  taking that into consideration.

Sure enough, much of the comments on the news story about this baby's death-- I don't even know the poor baby's name-- have been drawn from the stereotypes people have about welfare, single mothers and poverty.

So let me say some of what I know-- some from my own experience and some from years of observation-- no, that's not the right word, let's say thirty years of relationships with other poor, single mothers on welfare.

Tolstoy said that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way but I've found there's much that ties us together.  So I will generalize, knowing there are exceptions, and also leaving out whole categories of families on welfare such as those for whom relying on public assistance comes after a long fall from the working or middle class (and yes, there are a lot of them).  I am deliberately writing about the mothers on welfare that seem to most closely fit the stereotypes. 

Almost every girl and young woman who has an unplanned pregnancy, or a pregnancy without a solid plan for the future,  lacks a deep sense of self-worth.  We think we know what we're doing but we don't.  Still, most of us are ready to make the best of the situation, and most of us have grand plans for our children's lives, and how they'll be different from our own.

But it's hard, harder than we'd ever guess.  It shouldn't be impossible to raise children well in a single parent household and mostly the problem comes down to money.  The level of economic insecurity that comes with living on welfare is almost impossible to conceive-- housing always at risk, utility shut-offs looming, the constant and energy-sapping tension that comes from not knowing the face of the next disaster waiting around the corner.

Having more children usually makes things much worse.  But a second pregnancy comes along because we think we've found a relationship that will last until our children are grown up and can fend for themselves.  And nine times out of ten, we're wrong.

So getting a good job and getting off welfare is what makes the most sense, right?  But here's what I've seen in the last thirty years and every reader knows this is true: there are just fewer and fewer good jobs out there.  As a young mother, I worked in two factories; they are long closed.  I worked in two bookstores; now we don't have a single bookstore in the city.  I have aunts that worked at Forbes & Wallace selling gloves and hats and actually retired from there.

Still, the vast majority of mothers on welfare will eventually enter the workforce.  Welfare reform has "worked," if you want to call it that.  In 1997 Massachusetts had a 3.2% unemployment rate and a welfare caseload of  80,000; the monthly cash assistance for a family of three was $579.  Now, in January 2010,  we have an unemployment rate of 9.4% (or 17.2%, if you go by the "underemployment" rate) a welfare caseload of 50,500 families; the monthly cash assistance for a family of three is $618!   (That's less than a 7% increase in 13 years.)  Where is everyone, you might ask, if they're not on welfare and not working?  But maybe you really don't want to know about the kind of life that goes with the poverty they're experiencing.

Some mothers find alternatives to welfare because they have a child with a disability.  The vast majority of these disabilities are real  but there are also those parents will grasp at any straw to find a way to have income.  Maybe they're pushed by their kid's school into complicity with pathologizing their children.  Maybe they willingly and with relief accept some explanation for their children's behavior  because without that explanation, they feel like failures even more than they do already. 

Getting an education can really help a single mom leave welfare-- but childcare is hard to come by, transportation costs money, and a sick kid can throw everything into chaos.  And there still have to be jobs available at the end of the process.  Just how many cosmetologists do we need, anyway?.

There is no room here to make a summary of all the other ills that can affect poor families, and many of those ills, like domestic violence and addiction, cut across all class lines.  It's just if you're a poor single mom, it's like being hit when you're already down.

I can hear the voices now:  Throw them off!  Make them self-reliant!  But we're not exactly talking about the pioneer days, with wagon trains,  homesteading and subsistence farming.  We have to fit into the structure that already exists.

And this is where I feel like throwing up my hands because we are so completely going in the wrong direction.  According to Webster's, a society is " a highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security, and a national identity for its members."  Society has to work for most of us-- the regular people with regular lives who deserve to be able to get by.  Instead more and more of us are being left behind.

Some will call my attempt to place welfare moms in a larger context the same as making excuses for them. I would never deny the power of an individual to change her whole family's life for the better, because it happens every day.But why do we have to build our lives in the heart of a hurricane?

Photos from Gabba Gabba Hey!'s photostream at Flickr.,House Of Sims' photostream

Sunday, January 24, 2010

5 more Springfield cops under investigation for alleged beating

On the face of it, police officers Jeffrey Asher and Danilo Feliciano couldn't be more different.

Jeffrey Asher has been involved in a number of unsavory incidents, including, most recently, the caught on tape beating of suspect Melvin Jones III.

Officer Feliciano, on the other hand, has helped to stop a woman from jumping out a window, helped save the life of a four year old who'd fallen into a motel swimming pool, and helped save a two year old who had stopped breathing after falling out of his crib.  MassLive.

But Feliciano has now been indicted for assault and battery,  and he and at least four other officers are under criminal and departmental investigation.

Here's what appears to have happened: Feliciano's niece came to the Springfield, MA police station September 24 to file a complaint against her boyfriend, Rolando Rivera, saying he had assaulted her.  She was advised to seek a restraining order and on the next day, officers went to Rivera's apartment to serve the restraining order.  Now, the police department arrest record for Rivera was written by an Officer Pedro Mendez, and he says in his report that Rivera took a swing at him and then a violent struggle ensued, during which he struck Rivera several times with his police radio.  Eventually Rivera was subdued and arrested for assault and battery on a police officer, taken to the station, and then served the restraining order.  Officer Feliciano's name is not mentioned in the report.

On October 4, Rivera filed a complaint against Feliciano and on January 22, the Westfield District Court found probable cause to issue a criminal complaint of assault and battery.  It does not require a very deep reading between the lines of the arrest record and the criminal complaint to get a sense of how the incident unfolded.

Wouldn't it make good sense for an officer with a family member who says she was assaulted NOT to be among the team serving a restraining order to the assaultee?   Mendez says he was unable to call for help on his radio, which he was using in other ways, but he was able to click the radio key open.  Is that why other police showed up?  Or, more likely, were they all there from the beginning?

Meanwhile, Mayor Sarno said last week that he expected to hear back from City Solicitor Ed Pakula with a proposal for a police citizens review with disciplinary powers. I'm reserving judgment,  but I'm already concerned because of the lack of citizen input. Some organizations in this city, including Arise for Social Justice, have been working on the issue of police accountability for a long time.  We never fail to speak up and we are never paid more than lip service.   Will this time be different?

From junk to survival gear for the homeless

Social Earth has one of those stories that helps you to realize solutions are out there.  Industrial designer Nate Bastien is turning our so-called disposable items into backpacks and shelter for the homeless.  It's quite a story and until we can figure out how to make our goods more durable, re-use is the next best thing.

Frank Keough not the only crook in the shelter system

Former homeless shelter Francis Keough III was ordered back to prison this month for breaking into a house he used to own to steal furniture no longer his.  He'd just finished serving two years in federal prison for conspiracy, extortion, mail fraud, witness tampering and perjury charges, but apparently was willing to risk even more prison time while on parole to retrieve a kitchenette set.  Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees!  This is the same Keough who, when running the Friends of the Homeless shelter, reimbursed himself $165 for a pair of shoes he'd ruined while exploring the flood in the shelter's basement where homeless people stayed.

Keough is not alone, of course, in treating the homeless as his personal cash cows.

Earlier this week the former executive assistant of a youth crisis shelter in Los Alamito, California was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling nearly half a million from the shelter and spending it on remodeling her home, going on vacation, and buying lots of new clothes.  LA Times.

Two years ago, a shelter director and the CEO of  City of Angels Medical Center in Los Angeles were indicted (and have since pled guilty) to a $1 million fraud scheme where they offered to pay homeless people to pretend they had received medical treatment at the hospital.

While personal gain does seem to be the primary motive for shelter fraud, one Detroit shelter director and his bookkeeper had "higher" motives: they funneled $750,000 of the shelter's money into a shell company that then contributed to Democratic Party candidates and causes. Debbie Schlussel.

Lest I give the impression that only shelter directors are crooks,  when Keough went down, after a U.S. Justice Department investigation began in 2004, so did the head of the Springfield Housing Authority Ray Asselin and nearly his entire family including his son, a former state representative, Carol Aranjo and her husband and son for stealing from (and destroying) the Edward G. Wells Credit Union, former Police Commission Chairman and head of the Mass. Career Development Center Gerald Phillips for fraud, and former Albano mayoral aide Anthony Aldolino and his brother Chet, a former police officer, for fraud and filing false income tax returns.

I bring this up today only so we can remind ourselves that no one in a position of public trust deserves to go unexamined.

Photo from 10b travelling's photostream at Flickr.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From politics to puppies

Satisfying story over at Birmingham News about a puppy found frozen to the railroad tracks.  Read it here.

Well, we're really screwed now: corporations given the right to buy elections

"Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."  Abraham Lincoln
OK, this is going to be all over the news, but this morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend as much as they want to get a candidate elected, and that restraints on their spending are violations of the 1st Amendment right to free speech.

Labor unions and other organizations were also given the right to spend freely, but I do think we'll be a little outclassed, don't you?

I imagine U.S. Chamber of Commerce members will be dancing in the streets.  The chamber recently spent $2.5 million in the state of Maine to oppose federal health care legislation, even though no local ballot question was pending, but that state is represented by moderate Republicans Sens. Olympia Snowe, considered to be possible swing votes in the Senate battle.  ABC.   They're also claiming part of the credit for getting Massachuetts' Scott Brown elected, and plan to spend $100 million more to defeat health care reform.  Think Progress. 

Now, clearly there are lots of Massachusetts folks opposed to the current version of health care reform who voted for Scott Brown, but ask yourself:  do you think you might have been overly influenced?  (You'd never admit it to me, so just be answerable to yourself.) 

The Chamber is also launching a campaign against the creation of a new federal agency to protect consumers from financial abuses. Denver Post

For those of us who think big money already plays too large a role in elections, the news couldn't be worse.  Do we really want the U.S. to be a country where you can only have democracy if you can buy it?

This picture makes me happy

A tourist took this picture of a skateboarding monk at  the Emei Teple in Sichuan Province in China and apparently, as it made the rounds on the Internet, some people were not happy and felt it was disrespectful.  I disagree.  Ananova.

Anyone walking about Chinatowns in America will observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha. 

This Hotei lived in the T'ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets. 

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: "Give me one penny." And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: "Give me one penny." 

Once he was about his play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: "What is the significance of Zen?" 

Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer. 

"Then," asked the other, "what is the actualization of Zen?" 

At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.  Ashida Kim. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A win is a win is a loss

Well, I've been trying to write a decent post about the Scott Brown win yesterday and find I just can't do it. I think I'm already in the "Just deal with it" mode.

So let me just say two things I don't understand.

I don't understand how Pres. Obama and Congress have come up with a health care plan that's so incomprehensible that it can be misinterpreted at best and lied about at worst.  As Ernest Rutherford said, "If you can't explain your physics to a barmaid it is probably not very good physics."

I don't understand how the self-proclaimed "outraged, average Joe" voters of Massachusetts voters have come to think that the Republican party will even come close to representing their needs.  Does anyone remember the eight years of extravagant spending of George Bush on war?  Of course Obama inherited this, but he also continues it.  Would Scott Brown had won if he'd directed his outrage toward military spending?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Give Haiti a fresh start: cancel the debt!

From my safe distance behind a desk, I've spent more hours watching coverage of the Haitian earthquake  for the last week than anything else.  Like millions of others, I've wished I could reach through the television set to offer water and whatever medicines and bandages I have in my cabinet.  I've sent what money I could afford to the relief efforts and I've used this blog to promote organizations like Doctors Without Borders that have exemplary reputations for delivering the good.  So what else can we do?

We can all go to  Care2's Petition Site and ask for Haiti's international debt to be cancelled.  Help Haiti get a fresh start!

The petition asks U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner  to use his influence to persuade international lending institutions and countries to do the right thing and drop Haiti's debt.

The Jubilee USA Network has been working on debt cancellation for Haiti and the other world's poorest country for many years and last year did manage to get a huge chunk of Haiti's international debt canceled, but nearly $1 billion in debt remains for the world's fourth-poorest country.

If you were a slave, how much would you pay (if you could) to be free?  The slave colony Haiti won its freedom from France in 1804, but 20 years later, surrounded by French warships, Haiti was forced to agree to compensate France for the loss of its colony-- some $21 billion in today's terms.

At the peak of Haiti's debt, some $1.4 billion, some 45% of that debt was estimated to occur under the U.S.-supported dictatorship of the Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvaliers.  I think we have a special responsibility in this country to get this debt canceled.  Sign the petition and then call the White House at  202-456-1111 and leave a message for Geithner.  It's the least we can do.

Coakley/Brown: Holding my nose and voting

Scott Brown supporters have taken over the local news forums in the last week, outnumbering Coakley supporters, who I can only hope are saving their breath for getting their less politically active friends committed to voting.  I'll be walking around the corner later this morning and voting-- for Coakley.

I don't blame the majority of Brown voters for feeling unrepresented and as if their core concerns are being ignored by the majority political party.  That's the way Democrats felt for the eight years of George Bush!  Of course, Republicans would benefit from health care reform, stronger environmental laws and other Democratic agenda items, whereas, as a Democrat, I can't think of a single way I benefited from Bush's presidency.  He left us with wars, economic collapse and a near total neglect of the environment. It's always amazed me how short people's memory can be.

My disappointment with Obama and many of the Democrats is not what they have done, but what they haven't done.  On Sunday, NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman captured my feelings pretty well.
The Obama administration’s troubles are the result not of excessive ambition, but of policy and political misjudgments. The stimulus was too small; policy toward the banks wasn’t tough enough; and Mr. Obama didn’t do what Ronald Reagan, who also faced a poor economy early in his administration, did — namely, shelter himself from criticism with a narrative that placed the blame on previous administrations.
 For me, Obama hasn't been radical enough.  Krugman suspects that Obama really did have a belief that such as thing as bipartisanship could still exist in Washington, D.C., and that he wanted to make it possible for Republicans to support health care reform.  But let's face it-- no plan Obama comes up with is going to win Republican support, because they're more interested in seeing Obama fail than in assuring U.S. citizens have health care.  If you want some sense of how impossible bipartisan support has become, check out  Thomas Geoghegan's column on the filibuster.

Here in Massachusetts, where we already have health care, maybe it's easy for the state's Republicans to forget.  I have been and will continue to be a critic of our commonwealth's system.  Yet, in spite of the cost, I've had health care when I most needed it.

What I don't have, however, is a job.  I'm more than half-way through my unemployment benefits and getting a little scared.  And as an opponent of a biomass incinerator in Springfield, I'm unhappy that the Obama administration is so gung-ho for biomass.   But I do believe that the administration is open to the truth-- something I never felt under Bush.  And with the impossibility of bipartisanship, a vote for Scott Brown, who proudly proclaims himself as a spoiler, we can forget about health care.

I'm not a fan of Martha Coakley.  But I'm voting for her.  I have no alternative.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Whole tree logging in Nova Scotia

"Whole-tree harvest in Nova Scotia by the pulp and paper company Northern Pulp. Northern Pulp is an affiliate of Atlas Holdings LLC and Blue Wolf Capital Management LLC. (Atlas Holdings LLC • One Sound Shore Drive, Suite 203 • Greenwich, CT, USA) This harvest is certified as sustainable by SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative)"

Photos from bocabec

Sunday, January 17, 2010

BPA: Canada knows, is the U.S. catching on?

The plastic additive bisphenol-A-- BPA--  has been banned from children's products in Canada, but it's gotten a pass in the U.S.-- until Friday, January 16, when the Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children,” and would join other federal health agencies in studying the chemical in both animals and humans. New York Times.

BPA can be found in hard plastic bottles, babies' sipping cups, dental fillings and sealants, and as coatings on the inside of virtually all soda and food cans.

BPA is also considered an endocrine disruptor, which means it could affect our health in many different ways.  Recently it's been implicated in making us fat!  See Newsweek.

So what can you do to avoid BPA given its ubiquitous nature?
  • Know what PBA products look like-- usually hard and clear.
  • Avoid No.7 plastic containers.
  • Give up plastic containers entirely and use glass covered bowls or Chinese take-out food  containers.
  • Use aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap (you can often clean and re-use aluminum foil).
  • Avoid canned foods, especially canned soup and pasta.  Rinsing canned vegetables and fruit may help.
  • Give up plastic water bottles and use stainless steel containers instead (some metal containers are lined with PBA).
  • Use powdered baby formula instead of canned.
  • Be careful microwaving  in plastic!  Pyrex containers are PBA-free; know what you're getting.

Photo from poolie's photostream at Flickr.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How to help in Haiti

I've added a Doctors Without Borders widget at the upper right corner of my blog which makes it really easy to donate to an organization which has only one purpose. From their website:
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971.

Today, MSF provides aid in nearly 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters. MSF provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need. MSF reserves the right to speak out to bring attention to neglected crises, to challenge inadequacies or abuse of the aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols.

In 1999, MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize.

MassLive has a good list of local places to donate in Western Mass., but here's another, put out by poet Magdalena Gomez:

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center (38 School Street Springfield, MA 01105-1338 - (413) 737-7450) is putting out a call for aid to Haiti. Below is a list of the needed items. It would be great if all of as can bring a contribution of the items needed to our Teatro V!da meeting on January 26th. A representative of PRCC will be there. I encourage everyone to give within their means. If everyone gives up a little luxury such as eating out, buying coffee at a cafe, or buying something we really know we can do without, it should be simple for each of us to bring something to show our solidarity with the people of Haiti and show support to our brothers and sisters during this tragic and sorrowful time. If this is not possible for you, perhaps you have some gently worn, clean clothing or shoes in good condition that we can also contribute. Please consider giving your best.

Here is the list:
* water
* supplies for First Aid
* toiletries
* clothes and shoes of all sizes
* linens
* non-perishable canned foods
* items for baby and infants

Please join me in contributing and let us put into action the civic engagement of Teatro V!da. It is my hope that everyone of us will bring something to contribute. Give from the heart, give what you can.

I know we can count on you.
Love to all,
Magdalena Gomez,Co-founder and Artistic Director,Teatro V!da, (a project of the Latino Breakfast Club)
P.O. 80722, Springfield, MA 01138-0722

Art about the homeless

I came across this short poem on the internet and liked it-- there's a sense of stillness in the middle of its questions and observations.

What do we know about the homeless people
Sleeping in the cracks that we avoid?
Some seem drunk, some lost, some feeble.
What do we know about the homeless people?
One runs, one walks, one seems peaceful.
We turn our backs we’re so annoyed.
What do we know about the homeless people
Sleeping in the cracks that we avoid?

John K. O'Zemko The Poetry Showcase

"Land of Plenty" by Tammy deGruchy 
You can purchase this print to benefit the National Coalition for the Homeless here. 

Doomsday Clock moved back one minute

Too much tragedy this week.....yet on Wednesday, January 13, the possibility of our survival as a species increased by one minute.  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, citing the "growing political will" to tackle both the "terror of nuclear weapons" and "runaway climate change," has moved the Doomsday Clock back one minute, to the same setting as when it wa was first created in 1947.  BBC.  

Friday, January 15, 2010

Homeless families evicted on MLK's birthday?

Yes, I do remember this song!  Crystal Waters performs tomorrow with homeless people to try to stop the City of New York and Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project from evicting 88 homeless families from a shelter on Martin Luther King's Birthday.  You can read more about it at Found in Brooklyn.

Two photos

I see that a building I've always admired on Chestnut St. is up for auction.  Unfortunately it's squeezed between the expansions of Mercy Hospital and Baystate Medical Center and is probably considered prime real estate.  Can it survive ?
 Sasha enjoying a bitter cold but sunny morning on the porch.

Beatings, lynchings, brutality: one difference between black and white

I woke up in the middle of the night  Wednesday realizing I'd overlooked something that only a white person could overlook.  I'd written a post that day about the "lynch mob" mentality statement by Springfield Patrol Officers Union President Joseph Gentile, and saw it as a threat to the community that police would be less willing to do their jobs.  What I had lacked was the immediate emotional trigger that the words lynch mob would evoke in the African-American community. 

That's why if you're a white person committed to undoing your own racism, you have to commit to a lifelong effort.  It's painful and often discouraging but it's the least we can do: make the effort.

Yesterday the Statewide African-American Clergy Alliance held a press conference that called for full community involvement in the shaping of a new community complaint review board.  Arise was invited to attend and I heard statements from Rev. Talbert Swan, Archbishop Timothy Baymon, Rev. J.P. Morgan and Greater Springfield Council of Churches President Rev. Everett Frye Sr.  Rabbi Mark Shapiro couldn't attend but sent a statement of support.

Beyond the sensible suggestions for a new CCRB, Rev. Swan made two points worth repeating.

Holding police accountable for their misconduct is not a Black/white issue, he stressed.. He introduced Phil LaRouche, a white man who says he's also been brutalized by Officer Jeffrey Asher.  In fact, Buffy Spencer has an article in this morning's Republican listing seven different civilian complaints against Asher in the last 12 years; those complaints will be used as part of a defense strategy for a white man headed to trial who is charged with assault and battery on a police officer-- Jeffrey Asher.  I don't disagree with Rev. Swan's point but I do think that for officers like Jeffry Asher, brutality is more likely to occur when there is a perceived powerlessness on the part of the victim-- and people of color are more likely to be perceived that way.

Rev. Swan also spoke about the "No Snitch" mindset that the police-- and the community-- often run up against when trying to investigate a crime.  He said that both he and Archbishop Baymon had preached about this in their congregations.  but he also said that the same mindset existed in the Springfield Police Department, and he called on other police officers to refuse to tolerate the bad apples in their midst.

I know from experience how hard it can be to criticize one of "your own kind."  You already know there's a set of stereotypes that will instantly kick into play and which will go far beyond the specific person to castigate an entire group.  And you already know too much about how hard life can be for that kind of person, and that very  few people who haven't lived that life will be capable of  taking that into consideration.

But sometimes you just have to stop looking the other way.  You have to ask yourself to whom you are supposed to be the most accountable.  And then you have to act.  This is true for all of us but is especially  true for those who need the public's trust to do their job. 

Can we turn over a new leaf in Springfield?  History is against us, but I have always believed that if enough people want change, we can get it.  Maybe this time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disgusting Martha Coakley ad

Well, I'm not voting for Scott Brown (I happen to want health care to pass Congress, flawed though it is), but don't we have some other option besides Martha Coakley?

Just saw a Martha Coakley  ad on TV that really pissed me off.  The voiceover says, "Who is Scott Brown, really?"  and then continues to say he is a "lockstep Republican vote to return us back to the same failed policies of George Bush and Dick Cheney."

But that's not the part that pisses me off.  It's the accompanying video, because at the very second the voice says "lockstep," the image on the screen is that of Brown with his arm held high, palm forward.  If he'd had his elbow straight, it would have looked like a Nazi salute, but that was certainly the unconscious association we were supposed to make, with "lockstep" evoking "goose step."

Shame on the ad agency that produced this ad, shame on Coakley for approving it.

Two friends of mine

Two friends of mine are moving into their own apartment in Holyoke and are in need of furniture.  They're working folks who just don't have much to spare after rent and utilities.  If anyone is in the Holyoke area and has some extra household items, email me at  Thanks!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Springfield shorts

Springfield blogger Bill Dusty has an excellent post at MassLive that gives a history of the current Community Complaint Review Board and why the board was problematic from the start.  Funny, I remember talking to a couple of the board members a few months after their appointment and they seemed really bewildered about what their job was and how they were expected to do it.

Joe Gentile, the president of Springfield's Local 364, International Brotherhood of Police Officers, released a statement today in support of Officer Jeffrey Asher.  You can read the whole statement at MassLive, but here's one paragraph that jumped out at me:
The unwarranted public attacks on Off. Asher and the other officers involved in the arrest
of Mr. Jones have a price. Most good police work is proactive, being the result of officers actively seeking out lawbreakers and making arrests. The current “lynch mob” reaction to the Jones arrest is a message to all police officers to do as little as possible, because if something goes wrong, some segments of the community you are supposed to protect, and even some of your elected officials, will throw you to the mob.
Mr. Gentile implies-- no, not implies, come right out and says--  that because the public criticizes a particular officer or officers, that other police officers interpret that as a message to be less pro-active, to do less to protect the public.  I don't have a hard time imagining that that is exactly how many officers are feeling right now.  But there is another solution: Clean house!  Aim for the absolute highest standards for your officers.  Train, train, train.  And don't give up.  Springfield police officers have plenty of allies but shouldn't waste their capital in defense of the indefensible.  It's not that we haven't heard Officer Jeffrey Asher's name before.

Finally, U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor has ordered former city councilor and former shelter director Francis Keough back to federal prison for four months for violating the terms of his parole.  He has to report  in 30 days. I still think Frank should have been sentenced to toilet-cleaning at his former shelter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Videotaping police could be illegal

I wonder if the person who taped the November 27th beating of Melvin Jones III by Officer Jeffrey Asher knew that she could have been arrested for illegal wiretapping?

Massachusetts is one of twelve "two-party consent" states, meaning that persons being taped must consent to their taping.

According to a story in this morning's Boston Globe, some police officers have been using that law to arrest people who are taping them on their cellphones, although convictions, at this point, have been reserved for cases where the taping was done in secret.

Two years ago, Vermont resident Emily Peyton was arrested at a Greenfield, MA anti-war protest for illegal wiretapping, but never prosecuted, primarily because she was very open about her taping of the arrest of a different anti-war protester.

Although video isn't covered by this law, one could imagine that strictly enforcement of this law would impact many businesses, government facilities and law enforcement techniques.

Unless and until this law is changed, the best defense for anyone wanting to document instances of excessive force is to do it as openly as possible.

Photo from bennylin0724's photostream at Flickr.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Police officer to head new civilian police commission?

In a seemingly quick response to Thursday's news about another alleged instance of police use of excessive force, Springfield's Mayor Domenic Sarno announced today he intends to create a new civilian police commission-- one with disciplinary powers.  He announced that beginning Sunday, Captain Robert Cheetham will be in charge, not only of the new board, but also the entire Internal Affairs Unit.

I'm sure we'll hear more details tomorrow, but at the moment I have some questions.

First, when did Mayor Sarno actually find out about the November 27th "encounter" between Melvin Jones III and the four police officers, which left Melvin with partial loss of sight in one eye?  We the community found out last Thursday, when the Springfield Republican broke the story, along with accompanying video.  Turns out that city and police officials had had the video for several weeks.  So it seems as if Sarno's quick response was only quick if compared to the date of community outrage.

Second, not too make too long a process out of this, will Sarno be seeking community input into the structure and composition of this new civilian police commission

Third, what is the police union going to have to say about this?  I find it hard to believe the union will willingly allow its members to be disciplined by a structure outside the department.  (Not saying this shouldn't happen, but will it?)

Does anyone remember the April, 2007 report on the right form of community review of the police for the City of Springfield?  The city paid a pretty penny for it and that report shaped the current, toothless system of police oversight, but it did put its finger on one serious problem.  From the report by Jack McDevitt and Amy Farrell:
The single most significant challenge facing the City of Springfield as they establish a new Civilian Review Board is the time constraints that the department is operating under as part of the existing Collective bargaining agreement. The current police contract for the Springfield Police Department requires a disposition of all complaints within 90 days. The current contact specifies:

        All interdepartmental charges against a unit member shall be initiated no later
        than ninety (90) days following the alleged offense or the date the City became
        aware of the alleged offense whichever is later, and a hearing on said charges
        shall be held within six (60) days thereafter, unless a later date is mutually
        agreed upon by the parties (Article 6, Section 4).

This requirement creates a major obstacle to any complaint review process adopted in
Springfield. Thus, the review model chosen for the city most work within the confines of
the existing 90 day disposition requirement. Very few police agencies across the country
face similar constraints when they attempt to establish an external review process.
Last question, but scarcely the least important: what is going to happen to Officer Jeffrey Asher and the other three officers?

Watching the community forum the last few days, I've wondered why the pro-police commenters, who are often the same people who think Melvin Jones III got what was coming to him, don't realize something very basic: that much of our community will not be able to turn to the police as part of the solution to a safe community until we ourselves feel safe intersecting with the police. A few bad cops are allowed to poison the atmosphere, and why other officers and the department in general put up with it, I just don't know.

Wheelchair-bound, homeless-- AND music-makers

I came across a story about some Congolese musicians who live behind a zoo in Kinshasa who, with the accompaniment of some local youth, have produced an album!  You can go to a fantastic music site, Mog, to hear two tracks from the group called Staff Benda Bilili.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What do a white mother of nine and a black suspect beaten by police have in common?

Springfield, Massachusetts events have hit the national news twice since the beginning of the new year.

First, 35 year old Tessa Savicki, Springfield mother of nine children, filed a lawsuit against Baystate Medical Center, two nurses and three doctors, claiming she was sterilized against her will while undergoing a cesarean section during the birth of her last child..

Then, on Thursday, news broke that the Springfield Police Department is investigating the beating of 28 year old Melvin Jones III by four Springfield police officers in late November, 2009.  The Springfield Republican  posted a videotape of the beating taken by an anonymous bystander.

Public reaction to both stories has been vocal and across the board politically, but much of the discourse can be place in one of two categories.

EITHER human rights apply to everyone equally OR  human rights should be applied differently depending on one's perception of the human beings involved.

When I say human rights, I also mean the laws and regulations that are supposed to support those rights.

Ms. Savicki has nine children, has never been married,  and has spent a good portion of her motherhood receiving public assistance of some kind.

Mr. Jones has a previous arrest record and recently finished an 18-month jail term for possession of crack cocaine.

According to some of the public, Ms. Savicki, should have been forcibly sterilized a long time ago, and Mr. Jones got what was coming to him.  Poor people shouldn't have children and young Black men shouldn't get addicted to drugs.  Therefore, whatever happens to them that violates their human rights is acceptable.

The problem with having a flexible standard for human rights is, of course, who gets to decide how those rights are applied.

Forcible sterilization of particular groups of people such as Jews, gypsies, and the physically and mentally handicapped were well-accepted during certain historical times and by certain governments.  Apparently much of the today's public finds forcible sterilization of welfare mothers quite appropriate-- after all, it's their tax dollars that support these mothers.  However, the forced sterilization of a mother of nine-- or nineteen!-- who's a good evangelical Christian in a two-parent family not accepting any public assistance would create a huge public uproar.

Many countries at different times have ceded their human rights to law enforcement, and though private opinion might hold otherwise, public opinion is often vociferously supportive.  So what if our phones are tapped, our email monitored, and our headscarves trigger a full body search?  Hey, if you haven't done anything wrong, what have you got to worry about? 

I have my own opinions, of course, about Ms. Savicki and Mr. Jones.  I think anyone who has nine children in this day and age, and who still wants more, is out of her mind-- whether she's on welfare or wealthy.  I also think Mr. Jones is clearly not benefiting by his relationship with illegal drugs.

Readers of this blog also know I support decriminalization of drugs and believe that a public health approach rather than a criminal justice approach would be more beneficial both to drug users and society. And I shook my head in dismay but not disbelief when Officer Jeffrey Asher's was revealed to be one of the four officers being investigated; I'm all too familiar with that name. 

But what I believe, with all my heart, is that human rights belong to everyone. You have the right to have children whether society approves or not, and you have the right to be treated humanely even if you have broken the law.  That so many of us are willing to allow these rights only for those of whom we approve is sad and repellent.  I can only hope that the majority of us continue to feel differently.

Photo from riacale's photostream at Flickr.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Burning wood for warmth NOT the same as large-scale biomass

I'm a member of a couple of anti-biomass lists and was recently very taken with the following message by Divid Nickell, who lives in a farm in West Kentucky.  With his permission, I'm posting it here.

I live on a farm and my primary source of heat is wood.  All the wood I have burned for the past 25 years or so has been from what fell out in the fields or across fences on its own and had to be cleaned up in order to continue farming--I have felled nothing for the purpose of firewood; whether live or dead.  And I have rarely used an already down tree in the forest; if it doesn't have to be moved to keep my limited farming (raising and training draft horses, and raising their feed) going, I leave it for the bottom feeders that are the foundation of the ecology on my little piece of the world. This means I have burned everything from Oak, Ash, Elm, Hedge Apple, Dogwood, Redbud, Hackberry, Box Elder, Tulip Poplar, Willow, or whatever else the world throws my direction.  So, I guess I use biomass for at least part of my energy consumption.

I also realize that I live in far western Kentucky where natural wild fire is not an issue.  A five or ten acre natural fire is a rare occurrence.  It is humid here in the summer and muddy all winter.  Most of the year you have to work at it to get a fire started.

I would not want for everybody to burn wood for heat.  That would be catastrophic.  I would like to see more people in  similar circumstances to my own try to get away from fossil fuel energy for heat.

BUT, when I think of Biomass as the corporate powers are promoting it, I cannot help but have the image of Easter Island.  As Wendell Berry has said, the fact that we are willing to destroy the world in our effort to sustain a clearly unsustainable lifestyle should give us pause.

"Economy of scale" needs to take on a new meaning, based in the philosophy of the Buddhist economic model outlined in the book, "Small is Beautiful."  When economic rationality is the driving force of what happens, evil is the inevitable outcome.  That is an unpopular thing to say in this culture, but it is the unavoidable truth.

The thing that worries me the most is that the only hope we seem to have is a mass awakening of awareness--an emergence of class consciousness, as another very unpopular philosopher phrased it.  Given the influence of the corporate media promoting corporate strategies, I don't see much hope for that.

My only hope is that dramatic and unexpected changes have taken place throughout history.  Short of quietly waiting for the unexpected to happen, all I can reasonably do is speak out against destruction of that which all life is based upon.  Corporate scale, market driven plans, are always destructive.  I challenge anyone to give me an exception to that rule.  Small, regionally based strategies driven by local cultural knowledge of and care for place are the best answer I see out there.

Biomass makes some sense in limited applications in very localized situations.  As a mass, one size fits all, for profit enterprise, defined by corporations with no concern for any place or any people, it is an abomination that must be opposed with everything we can throw in its path.

I think it is worth remembering that the major obstacle to Henry Ford's new automobiles was that there were no paved roads.  He had to convince local, state and federal governments that it was worth spending massive amounts of society's resources to build paved roads.  His main argument was that automobiles were the solution to pollution.  The main pollution problem of that time was mountains of horse manure in the cities.  Flies spread disease and the stench was overwhelming in the summer.  The exhaust from the new Model T's just blew away.  It seemed, at the time, to be the perfect solution.  We now know it only replaced one problem with a far worse problem.  As Paul Yambert always said, "The first rule of ecology is that there is no such place as 'away'."

Biomass, on a corporate scale with profit as the driving impetus, is just another technological fix, replacing one problem with a far more complex problem for our children to have to deal with.

Just my thoughts...

Photo from Denis Collette...!!!'s photostream at Flickr.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

McKnight Youth Council to hold Public Safety forum on Friday

Sometimes it seems like we live in a "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" city. Mostly we ignore the potential for violence in our community, or complain and do little to prevent it. Then, when violence hurts or even kills someone, we complain about how nobody does anything.

Truth is, a lot of good people and agencies are doing a lot to prevent violence in Springfield.  Youth-led efforts, however,  are rarer, not because youth don't care, but because often they don't get the structural support they need to do good work.

The McKnight Neighborhood Youth Council.does get the full support of the McKnight Neighborhood Council, and the Youth Council has pulled together a pretty power-house forum on public safety this on Friday and, while focused on McKnight, is open to the community at large.
                                    PUBLIC SAFETY FORUM
                                    Panel to include  MAYOR SARNO & CMR. FITCHET 

WHEN:           FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 20106 TO 8 pm

                        55 Catherine Street, Springfield

The McKnight Neighborhood Youth Council will host an open forum on public safety at Rebecca Johnson School, 55 Catherine Street, on Friday, January 8, 2010, from 6 to 8 pm.
The forum will feature a panel including Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet, Officer Reggie Miller and Kathleen N. Brown of Springfield Community Policing, Sgt. James Brown of the Neighborhood Watch, representatives of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, and Walter Kroll of the McKnight Neighborhood Council Public Safety Committee.
Panelists will be taking questions from the audience about what residents feel are the major problems that contribute to crime and violence in the city and what they want their city government and police department to do about it!
All of the newly elected and re-elected Springfield City Councilors have been invited, as have representatives of Mason Square community and youth organizations, businesses and churches.
The Youth Council, with the full support and backing of the McKnight Neighborhood Council, Inc., is responsible for organizing this major event in bringing greater citizen participation to the important issue of our common need for safety on our streets, in our schools and playgrounds, and in our homes.
The forum is open to all residents of Springfield, although the main focus will be McKnight and the neighborhoods surrounding Mason Square.
For information email, or call Youth Council Chair Jesse Lederman, 351-6785, or  Administrative Staff Kat Wright at 827-9526.

Photo from Meanest Indian's photostream at Flickr.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The state of our forests in the state of Massachusetts

The Media Education Foundation has been sponsoring a series of films each Friday night-- free to the public-- but this Friday night is something special.

Chris Matera and Dave Gafney of Massachusetts Forest Watch will be presenting about the threats to our Massachusetts forests.  They'll be bring lots of photos-- and lots of passion-- with them, and engaging people in a discussion of how we can be involved in protecting our forests.                                                                    
January 8    7:00 PM
Media Education Center 
60 Masonic St, Northampton

Fighting the Massachusetts Chainsaw Massacre!                         

Learn about the clear cutting of State public forests, watersheds and parks, and the latest developments surrounding proposed wood burning Biomass plants in Western Massachusetts.

Sponsored by the Northampton Committee to stop the War in Iraq and Afghanistan