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Tuesday, 27 September 2005
Walk, don't run (out of gas)
Topic: environment
Gas prices may have focused the collective mind - for a heartbeat, in historical terms - but the transportation picture is as blurred as ever. If ever a nation seemed intent on driving itself crazy, it’s the US.

And Rochester is doing its patriotic part.

I thought of this the other morning as I coasted down the S. Clinton Ave. sidewalk at the edge of downtown, on my way to teach at MCC Damon.

Yes, I feel the need to use this one short stretch of sidewalk, between the I-490 overpass and the intersection of Woodbury Blvd. Normally I won’t bike on any sidewalk; doing so is technically illegal in the downtown business district, and only kids should use the walks elsewhere. But Clinton Ave. is murder during rush hour. Drivers exiting I-490 West hit the gas as they try to make the light at Woodbury, and again at Court, Main, and intersections to the north.

So, like so many others of its kind in the twilight of the Machine Age, Clinton is no longer a thoroughfare open to the full range of traffic (walkers, bikers, horses, skaters, etc.). It serves a specialized group: fuel-injected commuters and truckers trying to beat the time clock. You're well advised to keep out of their path.

The praiseworthy Rochesterians who are fighting the construction of “Renaissance Square” have shown how the terminal will exacerbate bus traffic on Clinton south and north of Main Street. But few people have commented on how bad the avenue is already.

Here experience is a demanding teacher.

The first thing that hits a biker while navigating Clinton through midtown - from Woodbury north to the Amtrak station - is the lack of a decent shoulder. As you keep tabs on overtaking traffic, you pay close attention to your right pedal, which could easily jam on the curb and send you who knows where. You have manage with a slim margin of safety.

Then just before Court St., in the shadow of the Universalist Church, you find yourself - assuming you’ve virtuously kept to the right - in a classic squeeze play. The traffic engineers have facilitated traffic flow by creating a right-turn-only lane onto Court. If you want to go straight, you have to occupy the turning lane to keep traffic from crossing your path. So if you simply exercise your vehicular right to proceed north on Clinton, you get a line of impatient, hard-charging behemoths all but up your wazoo. Fun.

But the fun’s just starting. When you pass Broad Street, you have to contend with curbside bump-outs that limit your maneuvering room significantly. This makes the 45-mph traffic at your left elbow more, well, noticeable. When you arrive safely at the East Main stoplight, you pause and consider kissing the earth. Only the ground here is asphalt contorted by the combination of heat and heavy vehicles - and topped off with a appetizing coat of petro-slime. It’s enough to make you long for the good old days of literal horseshit in the streets.

Renaissance Square will suck down a quarter billion dollars that could have boosted the bus system and provided decently for bicyclists and pedestrians. Amtrak, routinely starved by the feds, won’t get the benefit of an intermodal makeover in downtown. The fast ferry schedule will diminish to the vanishing point.

Even with the best intentions, we'll need decades to nurture a sustainable transportation system. And politically speaking, we're not close to giving our best.

How about stepping back a little? Instead of RenSquare, we need Square One: a comprehensive regional transportation plan that puts people and human-powered vehicles first.

For now, though, I'd settle for implementation of an old proposal: change all of downtown's one-way race courses back to two-way, human-scale urban streets.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:35 EDT
Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005 16:52 EDT
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Sunday, 11 September 2005
A small offering for all the lost
Topic: poetry
Prose fails me today, the 4th anniversary of 9/11. So here's something to commemorate that and also a relevant 60th anniversary.

The war’s over!

August 9, 1945.
My mom’s got the worst
birthday present: her first miscarriage.
If I existed I’d see a faraway look and hear
a dish drop from her soapy hand.

Dad’s begun a childless law practice
in two mother tongues. Some clients
call him Janek, some mister.
There are too many calls.
Past the kitchen door, his office ticks
with deeds and wills rolling
off the typewriter, sings
with Polish over the phone.

My parents, so, so young in wartime,
recent graduates
of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works
and Bell Aircraft, are in no mood
for chestbeating.
Let the nation declare Japan is dead,
long live the rest of us.

Let glasses clink elsewhere,
let others cheer the dancing
downtown, let a hundred million
bowling balls
clean up the last pins.

But today in this house,
show respect.
Mom is getting
that faraway look
down to a science.
Hiroshima is smoke,
Nagasaki a new sister cloud.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:51 EDT
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Monday, 29 August 2005
History of Cattaraugus County
Topic: poetry
Another poem on the farming/working class, this one revived by my recent biking trips in the North Country and Southern Tier:

History of Cattaraugus County

Down the gully lies the cage
of a Plymouth towed there in the Fifties

by some farm kid on a tractor.
And while I’m dreaming I’ll guess

he lived in that house with the roofline
still clipping the horizon.

Don’t knock. The house dropped its guard
when lumber was honest, and now the weather

comes and goes, no questions asked,
through walls reduced to an invitation.

Even the road signs at the corner,
weathered with a soft brush,

hide something under their laurels
of creeper. All visible speaks of a living

or the lack of it. No new pastures
for this kid, he'd had his fill.

He had the wind and rain
from Lake Erie to answer to

and a future anywhere
but under his boots.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:37 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005 06:08 EDT
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Sunday, 21 August 2005
Future in peril?
Topic: economy
The Bush domestic battlefield is littered with burned-out WMDs. Administration officials and assorted flunkies have hurled their most potent ordnance against Social Security, and thankfully most of the stuff fizzled or was defused by sound public opinion. But Social Security continues to suffer oblique attacks, especially from ‘independent” mass media. Fewer and fewer WMDs here - but lots of crapola-filled paintballs.

Look at what Democrat and Chronicle reporter Ben Rand fired off recently in a piece on Americans’ retirement prospects. Economic and demographic changes, said Rand, “are financially straining programs such as Social Security and Medicare.” This, he said, citing “experts,” will eventually “force profound social changes.” In passing, Rand let the business world off the hook, saying that an aging population, etc., will “make it harder for many companies to continue affording traditional pensions, health care, and other retiree benefits.”

Rand went on to cite an analyst at the Washington-based National Center on Policy Analysis, to the effect that “Social Security is clearly on a trajectory for insolvency.” This despite the conclusions from both the Social Security Administration and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the program will be able to pay all scheduled benefits over the full 75-year planning horizon, i.e. longer than the program has been in existence, with only tiny adjustments – maybe a tax increase of 1-2 percent. Many of you remember when the combined employer-employer contribution was around 15 percent of payroll, compared to around 12 percent today. I’m not proposing we go back to that – there are more progressive ways of doing things; I’m merely showing that any necessary change would be neither unimaginable nor unprecedented.

But Rand didn’t stop with underscoring this fib. He quoted an expert who maintained, “If we don’t do anything, Social Security and Medicare together will be taking a third of everything people earn in a few years. By the time today’s college kids retire, it will be taking half of earnings.” The expert added that any solution will “involve some pain in the form of reduced benefits.” But as the Center for Economic and Policy Research says, any “shortfall” in the future will require compensatory funding smaller than what we’re losing through the Bush tax cuts. So to translate from the expertise: we can’t afford history’s most successful and efficient social-welfare program and simultaneously let the rich keep getting endlessly richer at the majority’s expense.

By the way, Rand didn’t bother to inform us that the neutral-sounding National Center on Policy Analysis is a conservative thinktank headed by the ineffable Pete du Pont, hereditary foe of economic fairness. (Remember Grinning Pete's flat-earth, er, flat-tax nonsense from the 1988 presidential race?) A sample of the NCPA’s current offerings: a health policy heads-up from the Wall Street Journal with the redbaiting insinuation that “Canada is the only country other than Cuba and North Korea to ban private insurance and private care.” Why didn’t Rand go to CEPR or some other delightfully progressive source for another view? I wouldn’t even have minded seeing a standard tag, like “a foundation-supported liberal thinktank.”

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:56 EDT
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Friday, 19 August 2005
Democracy - tomorrow?
Topic: media criticism
You’ve probably tuned in to the media tug-of-war: When will WXXI stop digging in its heels and start airing Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now?

For months, local activists led by Metro Justice have been petitioning, demonstrating and demanding that Norm Silverstein and his crew do the right thing. But no go. WXXI insists that Goodman and her radio/TV/webcast weekday news show are beneath its standards. I won’t go into all the details here; just remember real pros like Bill Moyers and Diane Rehm take another view. Rehm has said Goodman’s doing “a first-rate job.” The newly-retired Moyers, in a recent appearance with Goodman, urged people concerned about the decline of media democracy to get local stations to carry DN.

That should be ‘nuff said. But there’s one other angle I think has been overlooked.

When Silverstein, et al., pronounce DN unworthy, they’re actually serving a community consensus stronger than the one that’s formed in favor of the show. I mean the gentlemen’s agreement, particularly strong in a postindustrial company town like Rochester, that left opinions are to be left out. Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzales may interview plenty of right-wingers, middle-of-the-roaders and official sources, but they won’t get absolution from the company men for an original sin: giving airtime to authentic lefties.

Compare what Goodman gives you to what you get from WXXI and other mainliners.

The past week or two, the media have been dealing with Ariel Sharon’s Gaza pullback. The mainliners, including NPR and the PBS NewsHour, follow every word and gesture of the far-right colonists (not that there aren’t innocent victims among the latter who should have their say). This coverage, echoed from network to network and station to parochial station, is so relentless that you’re left with the feeling that the colonists have garnered more interest in a few weeks than have thousands of Palestinian evictees - put on the street, or worse, while their homes were bulldozed - during the full 38 years of occupation.

DN, though, has given voice to the voiceless. Goodman recently interviewed a Palestinian family whose home was destroyed in Rafah, a community beside the Gaza-Egypt border that last year suffered what leading Israeli human-rights activist Jeff Halper calls “collective punishment” and “state terrorism.” (Rafah will also suffer endless occupation by Israeli forces, “withdrawal” or no.) It happens this family’s home was the one that young Rachel Corrie was defending when she was killed by a Caterpillar bulldozer (made in the USA). Goodman also interviewed Corrie's mother. So Goodman provided vital information from two sources - one here, one “over there” - that have largely been muzzled.

In this connection, DN also has carried a studio interview with Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, and gave him a polite hearing. But again, that kind of balance won’t make the pendulum swing toward Goodman. That’s because she consorts with the wrong kind of people. For example, more than once she’s interviewed celebrated - and often wrongly reviled - Israeli journalist Amira Hass, a Gaza-based writer with the highly respected Ha’aretz daily.

Check out Hass’s work online when you’re looking up DN. You’ll find both women get to the real sources on the ground, and that both are unafraid to be of the left.

In Israel, though, being a leftie or courting the near-occasion of sin by talking to lefties doesn’t get you banned from the “major” media. You may get an earful from your opponents, but you do get heard.

Parting shot: I recall a Curt Smith show on XXI a few years back when several guests, including current XXI news chief Michael Caputo, were asked who was their most-admired woman of the 20th Century, or something to that effect. I was rooting for someone to say Emma Goldman, especially given the Rochester connection. One guest did say Eleanor Roosevelt, I believe. But it's Caputo's choice that stuck in my memory: Golda Meir, the Israeli leader who infamously said there was no such thing as the Palestinians. I try hard not to read too much into this. But it's interesting how a guy who must be helping bar the door against Amy Goodman can be so generous to a very troubling historical figure.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:20 EDT
Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005 16:58 EDT
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