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Monday, 28 November 2005
Worldwide community and organics
Topic: environment
[Note: Liz Henderson, who surely deserves to be called a “journeywoman” farmer-activist, traveled to Chile early this month on a special mission: sharing information on two symbiotic movements, community supported agriculture (cf. our own Genesee Valley Organic CSA) and what the Global South calls “agro-ecological” farming. The text below is Liz’s summary of a talk she gave in Santiago. For more information, go to; or contact Peacework Farm directly, 2218 Welcher Rd., Newark, NY 14513, 315.331.9029. - Jack]

“Integrating the Community in Organic Agriculture”
Presentation for the Feria Latinoamericana de Agricultura Organica, Santiago, Chile, 11/03/05
by Elizabeth Henderson

Community Supported Agriculture is a connection between a farmer or group of farmers and the people who eat the food that the farmers produce. The essence of the relationship is mutual commitment: the consumers agree to share the bounty and the risks of organic food production. In the United States, over 1000 farms are involved in community supported agriculture, and Teikei, a similar system, is widespread in Japan.

My farm, Peacework Organic Farm, in central New York State, has been doing community supported agriculture for 17 years. Over 300 households are members of the farm, and all of them participate actively either in administering the project or in helping with farm work. Members have also contributed most of the money to purchase the farmland used by Peacework for the Rochester-based Genesee Land Trust, which will lease the land back to the Peacework farmers for a very long term.

Through their involvement with the farm, community supported agriculture members provide their own organic guarantee by seeing for themselves how their food is produced and knowing the farmers. The fair agreement that governs community supported agriculture demonstrates the Basic Principles of Organic Agriculture of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, in particular the Principle of Fairness.

Based on efforts of this kind, the organic movement worldwide can help create a global policy for economic development which favors small scale agriculture; local food sovereignty; and the right of people to grow their own food, save their own seeds and derive the financial benefits that flow from local germplasm. Chilean organic farmers will find their own way of integrating consumers in their farms and making the principles of organic agriculture become a living reality.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:29 EST
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Thursday, 24 November 2005
It takes more than truth
Topic: antiwar
She doesn’t know when to quit. And unfortunately, she can’t be fired.

Since Mary Anna Towler installed herself as chief foreign affairs commentator for the paper she owns and edits, the insipidity knows no end.

Take the most recent “Urban Journal” entry (City Newspaper, Nov. 23). After needlessly rehashing some very old news from the mainstream press – Bush’s pretexts for invasion and occupation and other material that was in the public domain well before the war started - Towler tells us “the best way, the only way, to support the troops” is “insisting on the truth.”

That’s the kind of talk that makes the neocons shake in their unblemished combat boots. You can imagine the war-room conversations: “Rummy, the liberals are beginning to ASK SERIOUS QUESTIONS about Iraq. I guess we’re toast.”

Only Tom Tomorrow could do that scenario justice - and expose the average liberal's ineptitude.

Here’s a reality check: The White House, with most Congressional Democrats in tow, launched a war of aggression against Iraq. In committing this supreme offense against international law and civilized norms, Bush and his lieutenants became war criminals of the highest order, with the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Americans on their hands. Now they insist on "staying the course," that is, continuing the criminality.

So all we can do is beg for an explanation?

Is it so difficult to demand an immediate withdrawal of US troops? Or to demand prosecution of the war criminals? (Removal from office would be only a start.)

Is it impossible – or too alternative – to help mobilize people against the war? To inspire street protests, boycotts, strikes, monkeywrenching? To support the war resisters and widen the resistance?

Hint: Those are questions I’d love to see on City Newspaper’s letters page. I’m sure the editorial responses would be oddly entertaining.

Back to the Urban Journal: Towler ends her 11/23 column with a list of the war’s effects, here and over there. No arguing with most items on the list, though again there’s nothing you haven’t seen before in the New York Times. But Towler cites these two as negatives: “the exhaustion of our military” (note the promiscuous use of “our”) and “the expansion of terrorism.”

Now, as anyone who takes more than a parochial view will understand, an exhausted imperial army can only be good news for most of the world. In the long run, or maybe not so long, it's also good for the American people.

Yes, it’s tragic that the weakening of US “force projection” capacities has come as a side-effect of carnage and destruction rather than through domestic political change. And there's always the possibility that this weakening of "conventional" forces will move some desperate hand closer to the nuclear button. But let's be grateful this Thanksgiving for what we've got: a depleted military whose potential for future invasions (Iran? North Korea?) is less than it was.

Let’s be careful about the term “terrorism,” too. Mary Anna Towler tumbles into the rat-hole – using the T word as shorthand for whatever the insurgents are doing, and by omission excusing or morally elevating whatever US forces do. But in reality, terrorism is terrorism. And all military forces, regular and irregular, resort to it.

You might even say the US military doesn’t “resort” to it and maybe never did – No, the Pentagon’s preferred first line of offense is a hefty grab-bag of terror tactics, from aerial bombardment to white-phosphorus “shake and bake” attacks to the machine-gunning of vehicles that “ignore signals to stop.”

Most important in this regard, we have to remember that the Pentagon and White House never heed mere political signals to stop. The policymakers are men and women of action (not the kind who take to the field themselves, of course, but chickenhawks who have others do their dirty work). Counteraction is the only thing they understand.

That’s why a hands-on anti-war mobilization is essential now. And why a polite request for information – including for the “truth” we knew long before Day One – is pathetically beside the point.

UPDATE, 12/16: Towler now writes that "it's time to start leaving Iraq," a conclusion she says has taken her "a while to reach." A while, indeed. The war's almost three years old.

How interesting. She's telling us essentially that up till now she believed we must stay - that the US must keep on fighting an illegal, murderous war and maintaining a destructive neo-colonial occupation. That's tantamount to saying the war was justified all along, and additional evidence that there's little functional difference between mainline hawks and doves.

One more point on the "it's time to start leaving" column. After much padding with material from an NPR interview with former NSA bigwig William Odom (hasn't everyone already heard this stuff on the radio?) Towler predictably turns to the New Yorker and some recent comments by reporter Sy Hersh. She draws a fatalistic dual conclusion: first, that we "won't be leaving Iraq" as long as Bush is in office; and second, that any withdrawal of ground troops will be balanced with an increase in US air power and thus an escalation in indiscriminate violence.

Well, yes, either or both will happen if we accept Bush's authority. But we've got other options. Protest. Resistance. Radical education and independent communication. Presidential power is massive, but mass action can neutralize it. There are many examples of this, past and present - as the late, great alternative newsweeklies used to remind us.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:54 EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006 22:35 EST
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Monday, 14 November 2005
You can't get there from here
Topic: environment
All of a sudden, the PR on the fast ferry has gone into slow-pitch mode. This might have something to do with newly-released September ridership figures, which hit local businesspeople – especially those invested in northernmost Charlotte – like a faceful of cold water. Just under 26,000 were taken for a ride that month.

That comes to about 300 per trip, down from 400 in August but up in comparison to July, says the Democrat and Chronicle. Remember that the ship’s capacity is 774 passengers, not to mention the vehicular payload.

So the policy question is moving quickly from how much public subsidy will be required to a more serious one: will the ferry service survive?

I hope sanity will prevail. That won’t necessarily mean pulling the plug on the ferry; it makes sense to use the direct water route to Toronto. But what’s needed is a much smaller boat, one that carries only people and human-powered vehicles. Such a boat would consume far less diesel fuel, produce far less air pollution, leave a gentler wake, and actually get drivers off the road. This less-is-more service could also serve other Lake Ontario ports – maybe stops in Orleans County or Niagara, etc. True, this would still be a ferry in search of subsidies. But it would justify public investment by delivering a few social benefits.

Still, all routes considered, rail is the way to go. (See my earlier enviro/transport blog posts.)

A word about bus service. Now, I know that even political lefties prefer to tackle this subject only in the abstract; it’s taken for granted that buses are for “marginal” populations. But until the day of light rail dawns here again, the RTS system practically defines public transportation in Rochester.

Well, defining is one thing, but getting decent subsidies is quite another. Never mind the $230 million Renaissance Square, the Big Mac of bus terminals. The bus system is chronically underfunded, and its negatives – above all, insufficient service on major and minor routes and lack of amenities at stops – are ever with us.

Once in a while I take the RTS back and forth to Newark, Wayne County. It’s convenient – especially with the bike racks that are mounted on all RTS buses – and the vehicles are pleasant and well-maintained. It’s great to watch the countryside through the seasons, and as rail-and-bus commuters everywhere know, the trip is a time for reading or meditation or napping, not a two-fisted, steering-wheel-gripping slalom through rush hour. The price is right, too: only a bit more than three bucks for a 30-mile trip.

But just a couple months ago, RTS cut its Route 92 service to Newark in half. There are now only two round-trips daily, one early morning and one early evening – and none on weekends. I’m sure RTS officials would rather have kept the old schedule, but I know the underlying (and unspoken) societal excuse for keeping the service to a minimum: “In an era of finite resources, we must make hard choices,” and similar bullshit.

There’s some pseudo-philosophy at work, too. Just as it’s axiomatic that only poor people ride the bus, so it is expected that poor people will adjust their lives and schedules to the bus company’s needs, not vice versa.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:09 EST
Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005 12:17 EST
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Sunday, 6 November 2005
Last-minute electioneering
Topic: urban issues
I remember with pleasure how famed environmentalist Barry Commoner dealt with reporters when he ran for president in 1980. As the Citizens Party’s first presidential nominee, and on general principle, he had little patience for electoral bullshit. (That word had figured audibly in a CitP radio ad, bringing much needed attention to the cause.)

Commoner loved to tell how one reporter asked him the question of questions: “Are you a serious candidate, or are you just running on the issues?” You can imagine what must have gone through Commoner’s mind: Did this guy really say what I think he said? Is this as a teachable moment? Should I give the pipsqueak a lesson he won’t forget?

Now segue to November 2005 - and local journalists who ask their own silly questions and give even sillier answers.

I’m thinking especially of City Newspaper’s recent endorsements. Let me make it clear: I know from experience that these are not consensus choices of the CityNews editorial staff. So don’t blame honest writers like Tim Macaluso and Krestia DeGeorge. And don’t be fooled by the editorial “we.” Nobody but the boss, Mary Anna Towler, is responsible. Politically, at least when it comes to elections, City is a one-horse town.

For the general election, the “alternative” paper’s mayoral pick is Bob Duffy. Same as Gannett’s. Granted, Duffy is worlds better than his most amply funded opponent, Republican John Parrinello, who’s lately distinguished himself by being less of a tough-on-policing demagogue than he was at the start of the campaign.

But once again City, I mean Towler, has passed over the man who’s clearly the best candidate: Tim Mains.

You may remember City/Towler’s endorsement for the September Democratic primary. It amounted to this: Mains is the best candidate. So we choose Wade Norwood.

Now City is telling you: You probably remember we told you Mains is the best candidate. But we're supporting Duffy.

The common thread here is obvious. The leaders in this community, and that includes obsequious editors and publishers, generally go with what the big parties and business pooh-bahs want. They go with the designated candidate in the primary, then with the designated candidate in the general election. What could be simpler?

Or more wrong.

If journalism is going to mean anything, it will have to look for the best – the most progressive, the most honest, the most imaginative – and go with that. It’s the issues that count, not the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure or success, and certainly not any genuflection to entrenched interests and pre-ordained outcomes.

It's about movement-building.

Now the voting booth beckons, and all of City’s and Gannett’s posturing will not prevail against it. What’s a good voter to do? I like Bob Duffy personally, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him as mayor. I think Chris Maj is interesting, but he’s too unfocused to be a serious candidate. (Maybe next time.) And Parrinello, plain and simple, is a bullshitter.

The choice is clear. I’m pulling the Working Families lever for Tim Mains on November 8. And I hope a decent percentage of you will, too. He’s got the experience, the intelligence, the imagination, and the specifics. All he needs is a pile of votes.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 19:11 EST
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Saturday, 22 October 2005
The public squared
Topic: urban issues
If I were a Democrat, I might already have made peace with (sold out to?) Renaissance Square.

The temptations are many, you have to admit. The $230 million plan means downtown investment, something every urban center in the region needs desperately. In the case of RenSquare, most of the funding will come from the feds, so we’re talking free money, right? The logic of capitalism (here I return to e.e. cummings’ quip that in retail, there’s no moral distinction between “lonjewray or shrouds”) trumps every other concern. It’s not really “build it and they will come,” as they say in the movies. If you build it and walk away with a wad of profits, who cares if they come? Or if they rot? Just wait to see how they rebuild New Orleans on the backs of the drowned.

Okay, RenSquare does have a thin silver lining: the project will bring some jobs to a neglected corner or two. I’m not so sure about permanent jobs and businesses, though. Talk a walk through the old Sibley’s any weekday. The MCC Damon campus on the fourth and fifth floors is crowded and vibrant. A good deal of office space is occupied, and the farmers market and other temporary events on the ground floor make the place come alive, at least a few hours at a time. But the food court on the second floor – surely the most direct model for the businesses our leaders hope will come to the RenSquare concourse eventually – doesn’t look well. The pizza joint and an Asian fast-food restaurant, among others, are gone; only a cookie counter is still in operation.

Go over the bridge or cross Main at street level to Midtown Plaza, and things aren’t much livelier. I do like the espresso place on the terrace, and the Bruegger’s bagel takeout is okay. But there’s not much dough, real or symbolic, changing hands here, for one simple reason. Too many people who come through Midtown, and who’ll come through RenSquare, barely have enough disposable income for a leisurely cuppa joe. Forget the power lunch.

Looking over the RenSquare plan - which has wowed the downtown development corps, with Heidi Zimmer-Meyer at their vanguard - I can’t help think how common, how trite the whole thing is. Its got some bells and whistles, but generally it looks like a dozen other cheapo complexes in comparable urban areas. I think immediately of “Rainbow Center” in my hometown, Niagara Falls, a retail and “wintergarden” destination that’s turned into anything but a pot of gold. Chronically starved of operating funds – not least because the rentals don’t materialize – such a glittering temple soon grows dusty and drab. Even the attached parking garage, no jewel to begin with, becomes a howling wilderness.

I’m annoyed that the architect failed to integrate the old buildings into the RenSquare facade. He’s condemned part of Rochester’s history to that contemporary dustbin, the demolition landfill. And by moving the buses off-street and focusing on a concourse and interior park, he’s making sure that the sidewalks at Main and Clinton, and not just those on the northwest corner, will be vacant. But I suppose that’s the idea: keep the inconvenient populations out of public view, with the fiction that you’re providing better service.

The RenSquare elevated park/walkway idea is getting undeserved kudos. I wonder about fumes rising from the bus area below. But even if the mini-park air is breathable, how much foot traffic will go there? For an answer, look at Genesee Crossroads. That riverside reclamation project was another attempt to bring pedestrians to new ground above a vehicular space (the buried municipal parking garage off Andrews St.). Now, experts agree, the whole thing needs to be removed.

Want to know how to spend a quarter billion on transportation? As a bicyclist and pedestrian, I have some thoughts. Go way beyond the recent recommendations from the Urban Land Institute (i.e. tear down Midtown Plaza and re-create a user-friendly mixed-use neighborhood there) in creating a walkable central business district. Slow the traffic down by any means necessary, starting with thorough restoration of two-way streets. Charge people for auto-use in downtown, not just through parking fees but through a congestion tax like the one in Ken Livingstone’s London. And when the drivers flee to the malls and office parks, tax them there, too.

Fix the sidewalks, for Pete’s sake. And shovel them, along with the bus stops, in winter. Soon we’ll be seeing Rochester’s annual answer to the Iditarod: pedestrians struggling through the mush and slush or over the ice, or forced out into the traffic lanes. Why isn’t there more emphasis on basics like snow removal? And on the jobs that such down-to-earth service would generate?

Here’s another suggestion, certainly not original with me. Put more buses on the road, and make them non-polluting. Create more bus routes, both radial and crosstown. And while you’re at it, planners, build us a light-rail system. An entry-level system would cost less than RenSquare.

A pleasant train ride can also lead to meditations on the logic of public service – providing something people actually need, something that builds a community without bulldozing its heart.

The kind of thing a “small ‘d’ democrat” can love.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:21 EDT
Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005 05:34 EDT
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