Saturday, May 29, 2010

One tree at a time

We had a little tree growing in front of Arise last year, but one day, it was gone, cut down-- a casualty of the State St. Corridor renovation.  We were told that in the spring, we'd get another little tree-- not the same one, of course.  The ghost of our original little tree  lingered above the sidewalk-- and in my mind-- all winter.

This spring I watched trees and flowers being planted up and down State St.-- trees in the median strips, lavender bushes on the slope outside STCC's iron fence.  Then, one day a month ago, I came into work to discover that the previously grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb had been paved with black tar.

Trees and grass everywhere I looked!-- in front of Burger King, the closed Kavanagh's building, the median strip-- but not in front of our little strip of storefronts, which house a Black-owned clothing alteration and tee-shirt shop, a Latino-owned recording studio and music store, a storefront evangelical church, a Vietnamese-owned nail salon, a Chinese restaurant, a Turkish-owned pizza shop-- and, of course, Arise.

"What are we, too ghetto to get grass and trees?" I asked myself-- and started my phone calls to get to the bottom of this story.  First I was told by the city that it was a state plan, and I'd have to get my question answered by one of several state employees.  No calls were returned over several days.  Then finally I was sent back to the city, to Dept. of Public Works Director Al Chwalak.

Al told me that the tar was only temporary, that eventually the tar would be replaced by brick.

"And what about our tree?" I asked.

"There's no room for a tree," he said.  "The strip is smaller since we widened the street."

"And you know that for sure?"

Long pause.

"I'd have to check with the city forester," Al said.

Now, I'd already called the city forester, Ed Casey, and he hadn't called me back.  Maybe a call from Al would get a better response.

Then I was away for a week, and when I called Al on my return, he told me that the forester hadn't called him back, but he'd try Ed again.  He also mentioned that city employees would be walking up State St. on Wednesday and Thursday, doing their punch list to track the work finished and unfinished.

So we made our signs, put them in front of Arise, and waited for the city to come by.

On Wednesday, we spotted the folks in suits and orange vests on the sidewalk outside our office.  I went out to talk to them, and one turned out to be Al Chwalek.

"You're getting three trees," he said.  We're bricking the strip but we'll create three tree wells."

"Thank you very much!" I said, and we shook hands.  So it turned out our signs were unnecessary, and yet I knew that without the dozen phone calls,our strip would have remained treeless.

Last week I drove by the house where I lived for thirty years, owned by a slumlord who never maintained the house, and which eventually, after the chimney started to fall to pieces and the foundation began to crumble, I had to leave.  Someone-- and I think not the city-- had cut not only the junk trees, but also a magnificent maple tree, at least a hundred years old,  that had provided afternoon shade for my bedroom on hot summer days.  Only a ten foot trunk still remained standing.  It was heartbreaking.

Waiting for a Message
by Rochelle Mass

Trees help you see slices of sky between branches,
point to things you could never reach.
Trees help you watch the growing happen,
watch blossoms burst then dry,
see shade twist to the pace of a sun,
birds tear at unwilling seeds.
Trees take the eye to where it is,
where it was,
then over to distant hills,
faraway to other places and times,
long ago.
A tree is a lens,
a viewfinder, a window.
I wait below
for a message
of what is yet to come.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Liar, liar: 70,000 barrels a day, not 5,000, spilling into the gulf

Well, looks as if the Gulf oil spill is much larger than BP and the U.S. government want to admit-- closer to 70,000 barrels a day.  At the new numbers, the amount of oil is currently twice the amount of the Exxon Valdez. The spill is now the size of the state of Connecticut.

BP keeps saying that it's more important to stop the leak than to measure it.  But it's just not an either/or situation.
“If we are systematically underestimating the rate that’s being spilled, and we design a response capability based on that underestimate, then the next time we have an event of this magnitude, we are doomed to fail again,” said John Amos, the president of SkyTruth. “So it’s really important to get this number right.” New York Times
Apparently two scientists who know how to more accurately measure the flow of oil coming from the ocean floor were set to fly out to the site of the disaster at the invitation of BP-- but the invitation was canceled.

Meanwhile, BP has sprayed more than 500,000 gallons of dangerous dispersants on the oil leak.  This can't go on forever, seeing as BP has already purchased one-third of the world's supply of these chemicals.  An article in Scientific American says the chemicals will create their own set of environmental and health problems.  When weather conditions permit, BP is also burning the oil (see photo).  As I write this, BP is trying to sink a pipe which can siphon off the oil and load it into a tanker.  Don't hold your breathe--although if you live in New Orleans, you sure may feel like it. 

The Center for Biological Diversity has become one of environmental organizations that impresses me the most for their commitment and depth of strategy to preserve life on earth.  (That includes us, folks.)  Their page on the Gulf disaster is a great source of real information.  Check it out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cloning, DNA altering and more-- what's your opinion?

How do you feel about altering DNA, stem cell research, medical treatment for prisoners, euthanasia, cloning and other cutting-edge issues?  If you take Health Guru's Medical Ethics Survey, you can compare your answers to the others who've taken the survey.  I must say the answers on euthanasia were an unpleasant surprise to me!

Photo from Maria Keays' photostream at Flickr

Monday, May 10, 2010

Which designer?

 More of Han Sylvester's lovely photos of the art of  Surma and Mursi tribes of East Africa's Omo Valley can be found here:.

I saw this and was reminded of my all-time favorite artist, Andy Goldsworthy.  This video clip is from the documentary Rivers and Tides.

Chris Asselin doesn't deserve public office

I didn't think I'd be writing about former state rep and convicted felon Christopher Asselin on my blog quite as soon as today, but two events this weekend made me change my mind.

On Friday, a Facebook friend posted a question on his page,  asking if an "honest mistake" is deserving of latitude if an individual's ethics are in question.  I wrote back, aiming for a little humor :Sure, unless it's Chris Asselin!  Later, I noticed my comment had been removed, and when I checked my friend's friends, sure enough, Chris was among them.

Then, yesterday, I was dress-shopping at the Goodwill on Boston Rd. when I heard a voice saying, "OK, guys, that's enough, time to move on."  Something made me look up-- and it was Chris Asselin!  Now, I've met Chris exactly once in my life, when I paid him a legislative visit, and I doubt he knew who I was, but he said "Hello." and I said hello back.  I don't like to be rude to someone in front of children.

But I feel  obliged to say exactly what I think about Chris Asselin's attempt to regain his state representative seat.

He's an idiot!   He's crazy!  What a jerk!  What an asshole!  He's learned NOTHING!  I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him!

There, now that I have that out of my system, let me explain my thinking.

The Asselin family (those who were charged and convicted) stole from every taxpayer in the city, more than $4 million, if you put it all together, but, in particular, they stole from  poor people, from those who suffer the most and have the least to give.  They lived high on the hog, with nice houses in Springfield and a vacation home on Cape Cod.  If anyone needs a reminder, see this history of corruption in Springfield, which includes the indictment of nine members of the Asselin family.

Now Chris may not be responsible for everything other family members did--  Daddy certainly set a poor example-- but this is what he did admit to: 
As part of a plea deal, Christopher Asselin admitted accepting up to $120,000 in bribes from authority contractors funneled through his father – including improvements to his Springfield home and a swimming pool. He also admitted the same contractors made illegal campaign contributions and financed flyers, signs and fund-raisers  (Emphasis mine.)  Masslive.

Folks who know me are aware that I'm not particularly pro-incarceration, and I wish judges were allowed more creativity in sentencing.  I'd have preferred the judge had sentenced Chris to live in a half-way house for 18 months, with his days spent serving the poor (instead of costing the taxpayers even MORE money).  Chris could have worked third shift at the Worthington St. Shelter, served meals at Loaves and Fishes, helped prepare the bodies of the indigent for burial, washed floors at Arise or the Open Pantry-- you get the idea.That's not what happened, of course, but at least he served his time.

I also support ex-felons' right to vote-- it's a way to share in the responsibility of being a member of society-- BUT-- anyone who has ever been convicted of election fraud in any form should never be allowed to seek public office again.  Is there any one of our current state legislators who'd be willing to introduce such a law?

 How pathetic.  I don't like criticizing people personally and don't usually feel the need to do so.  Chris says he wants a second chance and he deserves one-- but not a second chance at political office, especially when illegal campaign contributions helped him win his first state representative seat.  Please, Chris, do yourself, your family and the residents of Springfield a favor and withdraw from the race.  I don't know in what direction your redemption lies, but it is not toward Boston.  Please.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Anti-War Movement is Dead

Chris hedges at Truthdig has an important article-- not just about the anti-war movement-- but also the privatization of the federal government.  It's not good news, but it's news we've got to know.

As an anti-poverty activist, the following paragraph jumped out at me:
The roots of mass apathy are found in the profound divide between liberals, who are mostly white and well educated, and our disenfranchised working class, whose sons and daughters, because they cannot get decent jobs with benefits, have few options besides the military. Liberals, whose children are more often to be found in elite colleges than the Marine Corps, did not fight the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 and the dismantling of our manufacturing base. They did nothing when the Democrats gutted welfare two years later and stood by as our banks were turned over to Wall Street speculators. They signed on, by supporting the Clinton and Obama Democrats, for the corporate rape carried out in the name of globalization and endless war, and they ignored the plight of the poor. And for this reason the poor have little interest in the moral protestations of liberals. We have lost all credibility. We are justly hated for our tacit complicity in the corporate assault on workers and their families.

(Congratulations, by the way, to Truthdig for winning the Webby award for best political blog.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Welcome to Arizona

Thanks, Jess!

Monsanto: I told you so

It's late but I have to get something out about this tonight.  My litany of grievances against Monsanto is long; today's not-unexpected news that weeds are becoming resistant to Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller still has me shaking my head a bit at the fact that anyone is surprised.  Actually, maybe I am a bit surprised that the resistance has come so quickly-- in just ten years..

The New York Times just posted an article, The Rise of the Superweeds, There's an interactive version of the graphic in this post that shows areas with resistant weeds.

The Organic Consumers Association has a Millions Against Monsanto campaign  Their current stories include: Conflict of Interest: Ex Monsanto Lawyer Clarence Thomas to Hear Major Monsanto Case,Monsanto Hid PCB Pollution for Decades,Monsanto Sues More Small Family Farmers,Monsanto Takes Ownership of Public Water Resources.  You won't believe the corporation's reach.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ephemeral art

From the Wooster Collective, a site "dedicated to showcasing and celebrating ephemeral art placed on streets in cities around the world."

Heroes and villians: homeless tales you're not likely to hear.

Do you know how easy it is to take an online action for the environment?  Every day I get at least half a dozen emails with links to petitions and legislative actions I can take to stop offshore oil drilling, protect a river or speak out for an endangered animal.  Not so for homeless and poor people, though-- there are few national organizations and the local organizations are often disconnected from each other.  That's why I'm putting up with a misbehaving widget on the top right of my blog which would help provide some safety for young people on the streets.  Please sign it.

Last week a homeless man, Alfredo Tale-Yax, intervened in a fight between a man and a woman where the man was threatening the woman with a knife.  Mr. Tale-Yax was then stabbed by the man, and as he lay dying on the sidewalk, people just passed him by.

The New York Post has a little more of his story.

Last week the Cincinnati, Ohio Coalition for the Homeless called for crimes against homeless people to be considered a hate crime-- this after a homeless man, John Johnson, was attacked while he was sleeping by four skinheads, three of whom turned out to be U.S. servicemen stationed at Ft. Bragg.  Mr. Johnson survived the attack with a fractured cheek, a head wound requiring 18 stitches and other injuries.

For two days, former steelworker Danny lived on a billboard to help raise awareness-- and funds-- for homeless people.  Check out his story at MediaLife.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Conspiracy theories; Website tracking EPA response to BP oil "spill"

For those of you interested in the EPA take on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a new webpage at the EPA site has Q & A's,  air quality monitoring, and government actions.  Not much finger-pointing going on yet at the EPA, at least not that the agency is making public, and not much of the  real sense of catastrophe that many of us feel.  Still, it's interesting reading.

Just what are we to call this catastrophe, anyway?  Calling it a "spill" makes no sense: a spill is an overturned glass of water; a spill is a hole in the side of a leaking oil tanker; a spill is finite.  What we have here is an open faucet to the oil in our earth's crust which we will not be able to turn off for months.

Conspiracy theories:  I don't have to think too hard to figure out how this catastrophe happened, because man-made catastrophes occur whenever profit is placed before people's wellbeing.  Those catastrophes may unfold slowly, like our current recession, or all at once. But almost all could have been predicted.  The Houston Chronicle reports on the fines that BP was fighting for safety violations.  And I know I read-- but now can't find-- an article that says that equipment required in Europe for these rigs is not required in the U.S.  I did, however, find a reference to BP's attempts to avoid additional safety regulations. 
BP's Haywood  'will also be asked to explain more distant actions, including the company's resistance to Washington's attempts to introduce a new rule to make deep-sea drilling safer. A letter from BP to the US government dated 14 September 2009, made its position clear. "While BP is supportive of companies having a system in place to reduce risks, accidents, injuries and spills, we are not supportive of the extensive prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule," the letter said.'  Independent UK.
 Remember Halliburton from the Iraq War?

Halliburton IS the War Machine: Finally, we come to the most likely culprit in all of this, and a sure sign that indeed this is an act of war. Wherever Halliburton goes, so goes the war machine, and vice versa. From no-bid and no-account contracts in Iraq (and post-Katrina New Orleans, by the way) to a massive corporate presence in the Gulf region, these folks seem to have an acute capacity for making a buck on cataclysms of all sorts. Perhaps more to the point, they appear to be at the nexus of most disaster zones, including the erstwhile Bush Presidency and now the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. As a recent article in the Huffington Post notes:

"Giant oil-services provider Halliburton may be a primary suspect in the investigation into the oil rig explosion that has devastated the Gulf Coast, the Wall Street Journal reports. Though the investigation into the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon site is still in its early stages, drilling experts agree that blame probably lies with flaws in the 'cementing' process -- that is, plugging holes in the pipeline seal by pumping cement into it from the rig. Halliburton was in charge of cementing for Deepwater Horizon."  Huffington Post.
The rest of this Huffington Post article by Randall Amster is worth a read, because apparently the conspiracy nuts are going to have a good time with the Deepwater Horizon event.  Al Gore, eco-terrorists, even North Korea, in a plot to make us use our nuclear weapons to stop the oil leak.  Get ready.  Wonder what the Tea Party folks think, or do I have to ask?

Photo: nesting pelicans on Bretton Island, containment booms behind them.  Alex Brandon, Axis of Logic.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Water main break leaves 37 MA communities without drinkable water

A friend from Springfield called me a few minutes ago to ask if I'd heard anything about a need to boil our water in Springfield because of something that had happened to the Quabbin Reservoir.  I told her I'd check around and it didn't take long to locate the news at a major break in a pipe carrying water from the Quabbin and the Wachusetts Reservoirs  to Metropolitan Boston has ruptured, dumping an astounding 8 million gallons of water an hour into the Charles River. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority is turning to its emergency back-up reserves from the Chestnut Hill and Spot Pond Reservoirs and the Sudbury Aqueduct.

Life would be nothing without ironies, yes?  On Thursday, Concord, Massachusetts became the first city in the country to ban all sales of bottled water.  Concord  is not among one of the 37 communities who now needs to boil its water, or I imagine there would be plenty of "I told you so's" going on in the town right now.

My older daughter is moving today from her apartment in Salem to an apartment in Arlington, which is under the Boil Water order, and I gave her a call.  I can just imagine she and her friends, having just now finished moving furniture, going to the kitchen sink in the new place and getting a nice cold drink from the tap.

I've been waiting to calm down, if that ever happens,  before blogging about what is now being described as a "river of oil" rushing from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico.  What ought to be clear, though is that we are using 19th and 20th century infrastructures to deal with 21st century life on earth,  and dangerous 21st century technologies to solve energy problems that demand a cutting edge vision.  When will we shift our priorities?

Photo of Quabbin Reservoir from thelehegarets' photostream at Flickr,

Denial, then acknowledgement: civilian deaths in Afghanistan

Check out this sad but telling article from Common Dreams about the NATO pattern of first denying, then acknowledging, civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

Photo: 1962: National celebration; children get ready to perform.  From United Nations Photo's photostream at Flickr.