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Thursday, 22 February 2007
Local yokels - and a man with a real plan
Topic: urban issues

Maggie Brooks is so shocked, shocked that she’s become a Shock Trooper, trampling the First Amendment as she storms the Central Library and threatens to cut off the latter’s county funding. And her small-town mentality – or political cynicism – has given us a nice likeness of Rudy Giuliani vs. the Brooklyn Museum.


What is Brooks’ beef? Goodness gracious, she says, library patrons are being allowed to access “adult” sites, and it’s possible that kids are looking over the pervs’ shoulders. Such are the obsessions of Church Ladies everywhere. They aren’t bothered about small things like attacks on free speech, and the last thing they’d do is consort with groups like American Library Association, which defends freedom of patron internet access. Of course, the ALA has also opposed Bushie designs to spy on library users, and that might give Brooks another incentive to pull a Giuliani. Is she positioning herself for a race for higher office?)


People like Brooks shoot first… but ask no questions later.


What we have here is not real concern for children and community “values,” but an attempt to impose a kind of cyber-apartheid. If Brooks gets her way, Central Library patrons, a large proportion of whom are low-income people with no other internet access, will see only the material their superiors deem safe; meanwhile, the well-heeled, including many Blue Nose Republicans whose money and power keep Brooks and her clones in business, can surf porn securely at home.


I hope this whole business will blow up in the county executive’s face. She’s had too long a honeymoon, almost an endless one, even though her policies are generally indistinguishable from those of her predecessor, Jack Doyle – i.e., retraction of services, maintenance of elite privilege, and a relentless war on the poor.


News of a more uplifting sort: I usually avoid commenting on anything in City Newspaper, though I love the work of my friend Tim Macaluso, the sole remaining staff writer there, and follow the work of George Grella and Frank DeBlase. (BTW, whatever happened to Krestia DeGeorge? Did the heavy hand of CityNews labor policies shove him down the front steps? Has anyone seen anything in the paper about his leaving? I haven’t. You’d think the publisher would at least acknowledge his contributions and wish him well.) But now Rochesterians should check out an article in the Feb. 21-27 issue by Metro Justice organizer Jon Greenbaum, a man who’s definitely got smart things to say about the local economy.


In the article, the first of two on the subject, Greenbaum casts a skeptical eye on orthodoxies like promiscuous tax breaks, which never to seem to go away. And he looks hopefully toward alternative “path[s] to a better business climate,” including the policies that made Finland’s economy one of the healthiest in the world - several notches above the US, in fact.


But this issue of the paper has a dark side, too. After you read Greenbaum’s piece, turn to “The Mail” on page 2. There you’ll find a prime example of “alternative” hypocrisy and screwy thinking, in the form of an editor’s response to a letter about a recent ad. I’m not so interested in this particular ad debate, which centers on some odd, pseudo-edgy Toronto tourist pitches. What bugs me is how the editor, Mary Anna Towler, buttresses her defense with a discreditable theory about commercial speech that she’s trotted out at least once before. The first time around, she used it to justify her running a recruitment ad from the Ku Klux Klan. (Maybe some of you remember the firestorm that followed.) This time, she’s trying to justify running cigarette ads, regardless of how they contribute to disease and death.


Briefly, Towler bases her justification in “a commitment to freedom of speech” and claims the paper is “in the business of fostering communication, not suppressing it.” How noble. Or rather, noble-sounding.


And how wrong. Commercial speech doesn’t have full freedom. It’s rightly subject to all kinds of limitations (truth in advertising, etc.) that don’t apply to political, artistic and other forms of expression. Moreover, newspapers and magazines routinely turn down ads that fail to meet content guidelines. Compare CityNews’ own guidelines for “adult” material, which have apparently evolved over time but are nonetheless much more restrictive than those of the Village Voice and other alt weeklies – not to mention “mainstream” internet sources like craigslist.


So what’s the story? I can’t help thinking that with CityNews there’s still a lot less than meets the eye. And that Mary Anna Towler and Maggie Brooks have more than a little in common.



Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:29 EST
Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007 12:48 EST
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Friday, 26 January 2007
The war on downtowns
Topic: urban issues

Just got back from the final report to the community by participants in the Downtown Rochester design charrette. The whole process was great, and I was glad to take a small part in it.

I think many of the ideas that were floated - including the development of new residential tracts (with, hopefully, sufficient affordable housing to meet real folks’ needs and prevent ueber-gentrification), the addition of pedestrian-friendly features, and sensible recovery of badly used public spaces like the Inner Loop – will come to fruition, though it might take longer than most of us would like.

But that’s the rub. Though the charrette (see is undeniable evidence of how much local energy is available for reclaiming the area within and adjacent to the Inner Loop, the lack of state and national urban policy, and the funds to back up the latter, will keep holding us down. I hardly have to tell you why. The nation’s most notorious multi-trillion-dollar campaign is directed elsewhere – almost anywhere else, in fact, but America’s cities. We are all New Orleans now. Or in another sense, and to some small degree, Baghdad.

Not to trivialize what’s happening in Iraq. I just saw an AP report about US military servicemembers being kidnapped and shot to death January 20 by so-far-unidentified insurgents wearing American uniforms. This tragedy obviously has its elements of farce – I mean, so much for vaunted “security” arrangements at US installations, and for Iraqi military effectiveness. But there’s some irony, too. How many times have we heard about gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms as they committed some atrocity against soldiers or civilians? Of course, we’ve been expected to believe that these gunmen had stolen the uniforms for a disguise – instead of the more likely conclusion, that they wore Iraqi army uniforms precisely because they were in the Iraqi army.

So what do we think now? Was there some collusion that helped the men posing as US military to gain entry and seize their victims? And just as important, was there some skullduggery that kept the facts of the January 20 kidnapping and murder hidden from the American people till after the Commander-in-Chief gave his State of the Union? (Can’t wait to read tomorrow’s papers.) When we’re trying to sort out the lies, we need to start at the top, with the incumbent Great Prevaricator.

We should all stand for a moment of silence in solidarity with the peace marchers who'll be in Washington tomorrow. As I write this, a half dozen buses are preparing to leave from MCC. I wish all the freedom riders well - and I'd be with them if I weren't committed to the Northeast Organic Farming Association meeting in Syracuse this weekend. Which is a form of peacemaking, too, I guess.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:57 EST
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Sunday, 10 December 2006
Slipping and sliding
Topic: urban issues

As tests of our transportation system go, this week’s snowfall wasn’t even a pop quiz. Yet for pedestrians, the forgotten ones who are assumed to have no place to go, the system still flunked.

I took a stroll up Mt. Hope Ave. the day after the snow, and here’s what I found. The long stretch of sidewalk at the edge of Highland Park was unshoveled – thanks to inattention from the Monroe County parks department, whose administrative offices are in the park a quarter mile east, near South Avenue. By contrast, the sidewalk on the west side of Mt. Hope, under the control of the city-owned cemetery, was nicely cleared, as were some short stretches near The Distillery sports bar and some other businesses. (The Distillery maintains an additional parking lot a few doors down Mt. Hope, so its management has an obvious interest in helping patrons get from their vehicles to the front door.)

Things got chancier south of Elmwood Ave. The University of Rochester presumably is responsible for the sidewalks by the former Towne House, which it has long owned. But the walks there were innocent of shovel or plow. Up by the parking lot where the old Wegmans used to stand (property the UR acquired when Wegmans ditched the neighborhood) I found a couple parallel tracks through the snow that must have been made by a power wheelchair. Maybe this is a sign that the UR - which I cited a few years ago for the wretched job its subdivision, the Memorial Art Gallery, did with sidewalks on University Avenue, Prince St. and Goodman St. – plans to mount blades on wheelchairs from Strong Hospital around the corner and deploy a volunteer plowing service. (N.B.: MAG did clean up its act eventually; I hope they’re still doing the walks in a timely manner.)

People often figure I have a tough time getting around in winter on my bike. Not at all. Especially since studded bike tires came on the market, winter riding has been a breeze, a pleasure, and generally easier on the body than riding in summer heat and blazing sun. (Cf. a favorite website of mine, No, it’s the pedestrians who have a tough time in winter. But that’s not because of the weather. It’s because of the privileged classes' persistent failure to treat pedestrian routes and facilities as important links in the transportation system - a failure which puts an annual freeze on the most vulnerable population’s mobility rights.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:33 EST
Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006 21:39 EST
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Thursday, 30 November 2006
Autumnal thoughts
Topic: urban issues

The other war is almost over.

I mean the little but very dirty War on Deciduousness.

All over town, battalions of fighters have been deployed in defense of the precious American lawn, which for weeks has been under assault by falling leaves.

The leaves, you see, hate everything we stand for – our way of life.

They think nothing of doing violence to all that Chemlawn hath wrought. Every gently tumbling leaf is actually an attempt to smother the pure, deep monocultures that surround our homes, dominate our campuses and office parks, embellish our Big Box shoppotopias, and pour “non-point” pollution into our waterways. And so the leaves, though they're a key feature of varied ecosystems at this latitude, must go.

And in fossil-fool America, they, like everything else, must go with maximum noise. All spring and summer, crews of laborers, long ago pushed out of the factories into this new “green,” low-paid job sector, drove the powermowers and spraying rigs and handled the weed-whackers seemingly to drive you out of your mind. But they, or at least their employers, were on a mission - to the golf-course aesthetic to Everyman and Everywoman. (Not to mention Everychild, who will carry the burden of chemical residues far into his or her medical future.

Then the trucks and payloaders and leaf-blowers, along with the occasional leaf vacuum big as a hay baler, became an occupying force. But now as fall winds down, the machine brigades are almost done – they've removed almost all the maple, linden, oak, and sycamore leaves to a Better Place (dump), where someday a neighbor may retrieve a tiny portion of the compost and truck it back to apply to a lawn or garden.

And thus, with another heaping helping of fuel, the biological material will make another costly trip, this time back to its roots, ultimately to do what should come naturally: decompose and enrich the soil.

The next time you hear somebody say “urban forest” - after you get done laughing - consider how odd is our transformation of a highly localized bio-cycle into a deafening microcosm of global trade. I mean, couldn’t the leaves and twigs be composted where they fall, or pretty close to it?

Which is another way of asking: Couldn’t we ditch our lawns and make our urban environment a lot more like the sustainable woodlands we have largely destroyed?

I know that sounds un-American. But considering the nation's recent accomplishments, maybe that's what we must be. 

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 02:22 EST
Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006 12:21 EST
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Sunday, 15 October 2006
Parkland security
Topic: urban issues

On  and on goes the moralistic crusade against former Congressmember Mark Foley, who admittedly abused his position of authority while pursuing some Congressional pages (young men, not children exactly). For Foley, it’s all over, and the case is stirring up yet more homophobia in Republican ranks. Probably a few more heads will roll. Unfortunately, some of those heads will belong to low-ranking gay staffers who've been quietly pursuing their careers, hoping against hope that the neocon, religio-fascist wave would break and recede. 

True, a greater good may come of this: The crusade might contribute to Republican electoral losses in key districts, notably including that of Tom Reynolds, Western New York’s Bushie Supreme. The Republicans could even lose control of Congress altogether. But the bipartisan pontificating and posing still stink. How many Reps and Senators are in high dudgeon about mass murders by the US military on their watch – and essentially on their orders?

Then there’s a crusade that’s keeping the home fires burning. Friday’s D&C carried another installment about the hapless former head of the Greece Chamber of Commerce, Skip Beaver. He and another middle-aged man were arrested last month in Genesee Valley Park for alleged lewd behavior, an encounter at sundown behind a public bathroom. Beaver, who’s full name has predictably inspired sophomoric comments about sexual orientation, left his position with the Chamber shortly after the arrest. We can wonder whether his straight-laced bosses dumped him, or he left freely, but the fact is he lost his job while still legally presumed innocent. Worse, his name has been splashed all over the front pages. And for what? Fooling around with a 61-year-old in the shadows? There has been no hint that this was anything but consensual. Nor have there been reports of park users harmed, outraged, or even inconvenienced by what went on. Exactly what real offense was committed?

Sounds like another chapter of cops gone wild. A few years ago I spoke to a man who was arrested in GV Park, which has long been known as a gay cruising area. This man had to struggle with the system for months; finally the charges were dropped on a technicality that the higher-ups, at least, must have known about: the two men were playing in a private vehicle and thus not guilty of “public lewdness.” So why did John Law go after them? For the same reason that, time after time, he’s gone after men at Durand Eastman, Genesee Valley, Highland Park, and other locations: the poor dear, defender of a sham morality, is suffering from a horrible persecution complex - in this instance, a complex mixture of psychological flaws that causes him to hound innocent people. He can’t help himself.

And JL’s got lots of company – lots of big pricks on public display throughout the hierarchy. Nor should we fail to note the smaller pricks in the mass media, who ruin lives while pretending to satisfy our right to know.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:33 EDT
Updated: Monday, 16 October 2006 20:11 EDT
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