Friday, December 31, 2010

Standing dead wood, living lungs

The EPA has listed a warning for today's air quality-- poor.  All of the Connecticut River Valley is affected, including Springfield.  Fine particulate matter is expected to exceed 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours.  Besides reducing outdoor exposure for all people, the EPA suggests "The public can help reduce pollution by taking steps including: using public transportation, car pooling and/or combining trips; avoiding idling of cars and trucks; following EPA Burnwise practices for cleaner indoor wood burning; and avoiding outdoor burning."

I love burning wood.  When I was a kid, I'd sometimes sneak off the the wooded hills behiind my house, make a little fire, and pop popcorn.  Later, homesteading in Maine, I learned to scan for standing dead wood near my shelter so I could haul it home, cut it up, and burn it-- summertime in a natural firepit vented by turning back the canvas roof, wintertime in a little tin stove.  In the Springfield house I lived in for thirty years, we'd have a fire in the fireplace every fall and winter weekend, and in the summer, camping at Nickerson State Park had to include a nightly campfire.  I've breathed a hell of a lot of wood smoke during my life and I never gave it much of a thought.

That's all changed now, of course. Now I know that what you can't see or smell in wood smoke is the most dangerous of all-- fine particulate matter (FPM).  I've learned this in the year and a half community battle to stop Palmer Renewable Energy from building a biomass incinerator in Springfield.

In reviewing Palmer's latest  proposal (which it approved), the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection notes 
"the revised modeling analysis for fine particulate (PM2.5) documents that the cumulative impact of the high background concentration and the incremental emissions from the facility is 29.9 µg/m3 (of which x is attributable to the proposed facility), which is well below the current 24 hour NAAQS limit of 35 µg/m3.  The cumulative impact is, however, very close to 30.0 µg/m3, the limit EPA is considering adopting in its pending revision of the PM.2.5 limit. MassDEP has supported tightening this standard in light of the evidence linking fine particulates to adverse health impacts in sensitive populations."
(Just a note: somehow, even though PRE's new proposal will burn 1,200 tons of wood a day, instead of their proposed 700 tons, PRE projects its emissions will be less than before, thus not pushing the plant's contribution to FPM above the 30 micrograms per cubic meter That may become the new standard next year.)
I didn't know it when we started fighting back against PRE's incinerator, But the New England Journal of Medicine had just  published a study of Springfield and 50 other U.S. metropolitan areas in a January 2009,  “Fine-Particulate Air Pollution and Life Expectancy in the United States”.    There was a correlation between higher levels of particulate air pollution and decreases in life expectancy.  The authors concluded “A reduction in exposure to ambient fine-particulate air pollution contributed to significant and measurable improvements in the life expectancy in the United States.”  

 So the truth is known; industry doesn't care; and state governments are still jumping on the biomass bandwagon even though the ride is getting bumpy.

Some small part of me wants to thank Palmer Renewable Energy for giving this community the opportunity to learn about one of the biggest, preventable threats to our well-being-- air pollution.  Yeah, thanks for the opportunity but no thanks to the plant.  Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield is waiting for the 2011 city council to take action and revoke the permit for Palmer Renewable Energy to build in our city.  By now, the councilors have certainly heard the voice of the community.  Will they heed us?

Go here if you want to realtime picture of pollution as to spreads over New England.

Photo from Alan Slimak's photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nina Simone/Feeling Good

Do yourself a favor and just listen for three minutes.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Woodcarver's shooting death video by Seattle officee released

Not long ago I wrote about the death of John T.Williams, a First Nation homeless woodcarver shot and killed by Seattle police officer Ian Birk on August 31.  Now the video from the officer's dashboard cam has been released, over the objections of Birk's lawyer.  While the actual shooting takes place off-camera, keep watching to see Mr. Williams, who was deaf in one ear, saunter across a Seattle crosswalk.  A few seconds later, he is dead.

An inquest will be held soon.  A preliminary police finding has called the shooting unjustified.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Waiting for shelter

This woman with her clothes
too small too short too thin
a decade out of style
holds her coat together
with a safety pin.  She smiles.
No wind no rain
at least two hours of sun remain
before the dark door opens
and she wears her chains.

Photo from Hadassah28's photostream at Flickr.

Verge St: no foreclosure yesterday!

Earlier this week I posted a photo of bittersweet draped over an apple tree.  The photo was taken on Verge Street-- I'd spotted it on my way to the pet store.  Yesterday, I took a couple of other photos, also on Verge St.: people standing up to the banks and saying, No One Leaves!

Half an hour before the scheduled auction at his house, Carlos Pena managed to negotiate with HSBC/Fannie Mae to give him more time to restructure his loan.  The message from all of us?  We're tired of big banks pushing us around, destabilizing neighborhood and making people homeless!

If you want to get involved in this effort, here's how you can do it-- The Springfield Bank Tenant Association and No One Leaves Coalition are newly formed groups dedicated to standing up and fighting back against the banks to put an end to post-foreclosure evictions, displacement of our families and the destruction of our communities. The SBTA--a group of bank tenants (tenants and homeowners living in foreclosed buildings) meets every Tuesday from 6-8PM at HAP Housing (322 Main St.). If you would like more information about the campaign and the effort to fight back, please contact or call Liz at Arise, 413 734-4948.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Palmer Renewable Energy tries to bully City Council

So let me get this straight: Palmer Renewable Energy's attorney Frank Fitzgerald says it doesn't matter if Springfield City Council revokes its special permit to construct a biomass incinerator.

BUT if the council does revoke, PRE will sue the City of Springfield for its "arbitrary and capricious" actions.

Why sue over the revocation of a permit that you don't need?

No dollar amount was mentioned in the Springfield Republican article, but I've heard off the record that the amount of damages sought could be $125 million.  I can see why this would make city council swallow hard.  But there's something wrong with this picture.

Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield will be meeting this Tuesday at the Arise office to figure out where we go from here.  But we're not done  pushing Springfield City Council to do the right thing.  We have some volunteer lawyers examining every aspect of the permitting process, zoning regulations, etc. and we will be getting back to City Council soon with the alternate legal opinions.  We have a few other cards to play, also.

The state hasn't protected us and city council seems to think they can't protect us, either.  No revocation vote was taken Monday night and while we were originally assured that that vote would take place in January, that vote is far from assured.

So here's what I'd like the Springfield readers of this blog to do: call your city councilors, both your ward rep and the at large councilors, and ask them: Why is PRE threatening to sue for a permit they claim not to need?

Just one more short note about something we need to think about, both short and long term:  When PRE wanted to burn Construction and Demolition debris,  no figures were available for the already existing levels of pollutants in the area. for much of the pollutants they would emit.  But some of these figures are available now.  They were measured at an air monitoring site in Westover.  We're already in deep trouble.  
  • Arsenic: 525% of the Allowable Ambient Limit
  • Cadmium: 810%
  • Formaldehyde: 2688%
  • Benzene: 718%
Many of these pollutants are produced by the simple action of combustion.  Yeah, we need energy-- but why poison ourselves when there are better ways to get it?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Small world after all

The competition is open for Nikon's Small World Photomicrography Competition.  Here's a link to the 1010 winners; this photo, the 2010 winner, is the  Pluteus larva of a sea biscuit, enlarged 200 times, by Bruno Vellutini.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

City Council and Palmer renewable Energy

Well, this is not going to be the night I write a long post about what happened at City Council last night.

It's really been a lousy day.
A good friend of mine, who has been more in the hospital and long-term care facilities than out for the last year, was readmitted to Baystate.
The pipes burst in the the empty building next door, flooded their cellar, and shorted out Arise's telephone lines.  We were without phone service all day and that will continue through at least part of tomorrow.
And of course I've been brooding about last night's city council meeting.

So a few thoughts:
First, I am incredibly proud of the people of Springfield.  You filled city council chambers last night and many more of you have spoken out against Palmer Renewable Energy's 's biomass incinerator.
Second, I am astounded (and not thoroughly convinced)  by the city council i being told that even if they do revoke PRE's permit, that it will make no difference-- that the council has no power!  If this does turn out to be true, then we'd better create some new laws and policies in Springfield that can prevent harm being done to us by enterprises like PRE.
Third, it's not over.

Photo from Bertiemabootoo's photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

We really do glow with visible light

If you're old enough to remember when talking about someone's aura was not considered completely off the wall, then you may get a bit of satisfaction out of knowing that indeed we do glow with visible light-- and it's been photographed.

Scientist at Kyoto University in Japan placed subjects in a totally dark room 20 minutes every three hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for three days, with cameras sensitive enough to record single photons.  Not only could they record light emanating from the subjects, they were able to record its rise and fall during the day-- lowest at about 10 am. and highest at 4 pm.  You can read more at LiveScience.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jose Tosado: one more councilor opposed to the biomass incinerator

On Monday night, at Springfield City Council, Palmer Renewable Energy proponents will appear before the council to answer questions about whether or not their plant should go forward.  Those of us who've been working so hard to stop this plant from being built and polluting our air have lots of reasons why the plant is bad for Springfield, but Springfield city councilors will only be able to legally challenge PRE's project based on difference between their original permit, granted by the council in 2008, and their new proposal for what developers want to build now.  The council won't be able to take a vote to revoke the original permit on Monday, because PRE did not receive a full 14 days notice of the hearing.  Still, it's a big step in the right direction.  Whether we currently have a two-thirds majority of councilors in opposition is still not clear-- but hey, we're not done trying. 

Yesterday I received an advance copy of the following letter from City Council President Jose Tosado, who has been noncommittal about the plant until this point .  Mark down one more for being on the side of the residents of Springfield.
On Monday December 13 at 8 o'clock in the evenning the Springfield City Council will conduct a special meeting with representatives of  Palmer Renewable Energy.  The meeting will follow a hearings format where proponents and opponents will be allowed a set amount of time to speak.
When I voted for this project over a year ago it was based on the information available at that time which seemed like an environmentally friendly recycleing plant; however as time has passed there is much more information available and we have been provided with a mountain of information from citizens and public health officials about the negative impact that a bio mass plant located in a densely populated neighborhood would have on the health and quality of life for our residents. Springfield residents and our children in particular already live with their fair share of airborn pollutants.  A new biomass plant with ffity five schools within a five mile radius will exacerbate already unacceptable health disparities.
Beyond the public health impacts, research shows that prenatal and early childhood exposure to airborne pollutants has an impact on brain development, student achievement, attendance and other factors that predict the overall success off the next generation of Springfield residents.  Given our current education challenges, can we really afford to further stack the deck against our future generation of students?
I am grateful that our residents, community groups, regional health and environmental organizations as well as our Public Health Commission have mobilized to make sure that we have all the facts.
Over the course of the past several months I have had an opportunity to hear directly from opponents of this plant as well as from officials of Palmer Renewable Energy and based on all the information which I have recieved and reviewed, in good conscious I could not and cannot support this project.
Jose F. Tosado, President
Springfield City Council
Photo of Jose Tosado and E. Henry Twiggs, City Council Vice President, from Jose's website. 

Largest inventory...of pigeons?

An apology to Springfield Technical Community College

I owe an apology to Springfield Technical Community College and here it is. 

About ten days ago I wrote a post on the experience of several women who attended a Rosa Parks Day event at the college.  Within 36 hours I began hearing from several people who work at STCC and who told me that what I had written was far from accurate, and that I had offended many people who had worked hard on the event and felt I had completely misrepresented what had actually happened.

I did try to set up a meeting with the women who attended the event and those who told me my post was way off the wall, so that I could find out exactly what happened and how my post was inaccurate, because, after all, I hadn't been there.  And that is exactly the STCCers' point: I hadn't been there, so how, if I hadn't checked with the STCC side of the story, could I possibly know what had happened?

My request for a meeting was turned down, but in my investigation I did find at least a couple of inconsistencies in the women's stories.  I don't blame them at all, seeing as I am the one who wrote what I wrote, but in spite of not being able to confirm details through a face to face meeting, I no longer have confidence in what I wrote.

I am very sorry that because of my irresponsibility, in failing to check my facts and to get both sides of the story, I hurt a number of good people whose only intent was to have a wonderful celebration for Rosa Parks and the students of STCC.  I hope they accept this heartfelt apology.

Before the beginning was the ending?

Ever since Einstein's own evidence forced him to abandon the idea of an eternal universe, some people have asked,  What existed before the universe was born?    Once answer might be another universe, which makes some kind of deep sense to me, even if it sparks other questions-- but doesn't it seem impossible for evidence of previous universes to exist, if you think that one entire universe must disappear before another can be born?

Well, guess what?  A hint may actually exist. Wired Magazine has a story about theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and his team of researchers' work.

The researchers base their findings on circular patterns they discovered in the cosmic microwave background, the ubiquitous microwave glow left over from the Big Bang. The circular features indicate that the cosmos itself circles through epochs of endings and beginnings, Penrose and Gurzadyan assert. The researchers describe their controversial findings in an article posted at on November 17.

The circular features are regions where tiny temperature variations in the otherwise uniform microwave background are smaller than average. Those features, Penrose said, cannot be explained by the highly successful inflation theory, which posits that the infant cosmos underwent an enormous growth spurt, ballooning from something on the scale of an atom to the size of a grapefruit during the universe’s first tiny fraction of a second. Inflation would either erase such patterns or could not easily generate them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The good, the bad, the ugly-- and the shining moments

 I like being busy but I must say that the last two weeks have really been over the top. Just to get caught up with my readers, I'm tossing out a mix of personal and political in this post, then I can be back on track..

First, it is quite likely that some time within the week, I''ll be posting an apology to Springfield Technical Community College for any information that I incorrectly portrayed in my post about their Rosa Parks Day event.  That post is no longer on my blog, but I'll probably be putting it back up so there is some context to my apology.  I am waiting for a response to my request for a meeting before I apologize, so that I can be sure of just what I got wrong.  Meanwhile, one STCCer called me up to yell at me, and I've received emails from two different STCCers, one challenging my political integrity and the other blasting me for my lack of professionalism.  Well, I've never said I don't make mistakes, so I'll keep you updated on this one.

Second, I'm pretty sure the feral cat I've been feeding is dead.  I was on my way out of town on Sunday and saw a gray cat dead by the side of the road only about a block from the abandoned house where it hangs out.  I was telling my older daughter about this, and she took that opportunity to reiterate her belief that it's bad to feed ferals, that instead, I should have captured the cat and taken it to some place where it could be humanely euthanized.  Once again, I could be wrong and she could be right, but that wasn't the choice that I made.

So that's the bad stuff.

Good stuff: we had an Open House/Holiday Party at Arise this evening, and I give it a 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Lots of folks came, we had plenty of food, Bill brought a guitar and led kids in a sing-a-long, and we had enough prizes from the dollar store to make just about everyone happy.  One sad thing: almost everyone I talked to tonight had recently lost a job or was looking desperately to find one.  There won't be much under the Christmas tree for most of these kids.  But tonight we were family.

More good stuff: while we were getting ready for the party, Springfield City Councilors Mike Fenton, John Lysak and Melvin Edwards  were holding a press conference with representatives from various neighborhood councils, saying that on Monday, they plan to reconsider Palmer Renewable Energy's permit to build a biomass incinerator in Springfield.  Eighteen months of community organizing may be starting to pay off!  You can read Peter Goonan's story on MassLive.  My favorite quote is Ward Two Mike Fenton saying,
“This is an issue second to none on my agenda.”  I don't know yet if the work of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield is finished, but I know we're giving it our all.  If you don't want to live in a city with air even more polluted than it already is, get yourself down to City Council Monday night and help get some of these councilors off the fence.

To add to the opposition, the presidents of Springfield, American International and Western New England Colleges have come out against the plant and have let Mayor Sarno and Council President Jose Tosado know so in a letter!

I've been a community organizer for a long time, and my main interest has always been the rights-- and the empowerment-- of poor people. I suppose being poor myself  hasn't hurt my allegiance to the cause.  But the most successful campaigns Arise has been involved in are those that affect everybody-- poor people most of all, but ultinately all of us.  Ward representation is the best example.  The poorest areas of Springfield were never successful in electing a city councilor under the at large system.  And yet, no neighborhood was represented under the old system.  Only ward representation could change that, and everyone in the city has benefited.  And now, it's the ward councilors who are leading the way in protecting this community's health.  Win or lose, I'm proud of them .

The ugly: Four doors down from Arise's storefront is a Christian coffeehouse called Holy Grounds.  A church bought the entire building about a year and a half ago, and they've done a wonderful job turning the ground floor into a coffee house with a little stage, books on the wall, a serving bar, round tables and some comfortable chairs. I've stopped in a few times because we like to know our neighbors, and the minister has been down to our office once or twice. Our conversations have been innocuous because we haven't appeared to have much in common, but nothing in our exchanges have rung any warning bells, either.

This weekend, WMA Jobs with Justice posted the following information on the AriseAction listserve.  Check out the links.

In the latest edition of Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Scott Lively lives in Springfield.  Here’s an intro to him:  Abiding Truth Ministries is at 455 State St, Springfield MA 01105; PO Box 2373.Springfield MA 01101; (413) 301-0918; and

Lively claims Hitler and his inner circle were gay and that homosexuals helped mastermind the Holocaust. He’s also linked to the murderous Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  

“In 2008, Lively started the Redemption Gate Mission Society, a church that seeks to ‘re-Christianize’ the city of Springfield, Mass., where he lives.” The specific target is mapped at Redemption Gate Mission Society:  Redemption Gate and its Holy Grounds Coffee House are at 455 State Street too, and (413) 250-0984 and
Take a look at who they have speak:

Shiny moments: my younger daughter and her husband are less than a month away from having a baby.  I'll be a grandmother for the second time in twenty-two years!  They decided not to know the sex of the baby beforehand-- the way it used to be-- so I'm eagerly waiting to know if I have another granddaughter or my first grandson.

My first granddaughter is from my oldest daughter, and I want to take a moment  to say how proud of her.  She does closed captioning for the hearing-impaired, reads non-stop, and is one of the most well-informed and solidly progressive people I know.  This fall, she's given it her best shot to qualify for the Boston women's roller derby team!  She's always loved to skate and had a childhood dream of being on a team that apparently persisted somewhere in the back of her mind.  So when she heard the team was recruiting, she became "fresh meat" and practiced twice a week with other fresh meat and with the "dames."  She made the first cut but not the second, which is almost OK, because she says she's never been so sore and bruised in her life.  (She got a black eye the first week of practice.)  But she's made lots of new friends and will stay involved with the team.  

Talk about going for your dream!  She's inspired me.