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Sunday, 8 October 2006
Divine and demonic missions
Topic: antiwar
Recently, on one of the finest of those summery autumn evenings we’ve been having, I attended a wedding at a winery high above Seneca Lake. The scene was magical: under a slate blue sky, we faced the setting sun, and the receding light kept the nearby vineyards crisply in focus as the lake surface darkened into invisibility. All this was stiff aesthetic competition for the ceremony itself – but the wedding party, not to mention a violin duo off to the side, made a pretty picture, too.
But into every postcard image must come a dissonance. And in this case, it was a note of tragedy: a young man who’d been close to the bride and groom had recently been killed in Iraq, and his absence was sorely felt at such a hope-filled event. The pastor who was officiating summed up everyone’s feelings, or tried to. I found my mind wandering among the ironies and contradictions, a kind of half-sleep of the moral consciousness, though I snapped fully awake when I heard the pastor say what most in his profession trot out at such moments – stuff about sacrifice for god and country and the good of people everywhere. I think a let out an audible sigh at that instant. And believe me, it was only a hundredth of what I wanted to express. Yes, the young man was sacrificed – but only for greed and the lust for power and revenge. I mused that the pastoral claptrap might have worked in a church basement, but out in the glories of nature such as the Finger Lakes can illuminate, it seemed like an especially atrocious lie.
So today I picked up the Democrat and Chronicle, and what did I see? An article about a local man, 28 years old, who was killed in (and by) Bush’s war on terrorism. And what language attached to this fresh tragedy from Iraq? Reverend so-and-so contended that for the deceased, "the challenge of Jesus was a call to arms." I’m actually grateful for this holy perspective, since it helpfully compresses the big lie into bumper-sticker dimensions. What was the reverend gentleman thinking? Sure, he had to find words to soothe, not confront, the mourners. And maybe he was masking his feelings and opinions, calibrating his words in the knowledge that the young man actually misunderstood his own mission in life (and death) - that the dead man had taken Jesus’s challenge exactly the wrong way and certainly to the wrong place.
But really, I don’t think the nuances played much of a role here. I think the reverend, in a sin of omission or commission, knowingly perverted the message. He played along with the trend – individual and national – to turn the supreme pacifist into a righteous warrior. And to exalt the nation, its violent ways, and its demonic mission.
I’m glad to be an ex-Christian, but if there’s one thing from my religious upbringing that I hold dear, it’s Jesus’s injunction to love your neighbor, including your "enemy." Are such things said at funeral services - or even weddings - these days?

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:00 EDT
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Monday, 2 October 2006
More troops into the valley of death?
Topic: antiwar

Why do people spend so much time listening to The Brass? I'm not talking about some new ensemble of horns and trombones; I mean the parade of trumpeting generals, including local Marine retiree John Batiste, who are now calling for Don Rumsfeld's head.

If you pay even approximate attention to what these guys are saying, you see there's no cause for joy - just new riffs on the supposed casus belli. The brass are tut-tutting not about US imperialism (of which they are actually the avant garde) nor about mere murder and mayhem (their stock in trade). No, what gets them is Rummy's lack of effectiveness and efficiency, his basic unsuitability for implementing the Powell Doctrine (quick and massive application of force to annihilate the opposition and avoid another "quagmire," i.e. any situation in which the little guy is able to hold out against our high-tech assaults.)

True to form, the generals just want more bodies to finish the job. Take Batiste at his word. This man - perfectly suited to be a corporate executive who gives closed-door, high-priced pep-talks to business types, as he is doing this week at Nazareth College - thinks we need 350,000 US troops on the ground, minimum. At least that's what he told City Newspaper's Tim Macaluso.

The math says it all: Batiste is telling us we're once again fighting with one hand tied behind our back, as right-wingers contended we were in Vietnam. Men like these are constitutionally unable to say a war is wrong and should be stopped, least of all a war that has left blood on their own hands.

I don't care how many times Batiste goes after his former boss. Mr Spit-shine makes me queasy every time he speaks. Besides, Rummy isn't the issue. The issue is the war and occupation, which must be ended with all deliberate speed, primarily on moral and legal grounds. You might even say it's better for the world that Rummy's still in charge. His ineffectiveness might make it harder for US forces to do maximum damage.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:38 EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006 09:39 EDT
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Friday, 15 September 2006
Tasini wins on principle
Topic: politics

This summer more than a few people took a ride with Jonathan Tasini as he bicycled across New York State to galvanize his primary race against Hillary Clinton. Now the totals are in; Tasini got almost 14 percent of the Monroe County vote for the Dem nomination, and he reportedly got around 17 percent statewide. (The state elections board hasn’t yet posted the certified results.) Not too shabby for someone without instant name recognition or the “power of incumbency.” And oh yeah, Clinton outspent him something like a billion to one.

But the media did their usual part in keeping a principled insurgent in his place. Even a New York Times columnist remarked that “some may even believe that his first name is Little-known, given that he is sometimes referred to as Little-known Jonathan Tasini.” Some, indeed. A few weeks after Haberman made his point, the Times itself called Tasini “Mrs. Clinton’s little-known opponent.” And on primary morning, I heard a WXXI newsman call the shots: Clinton, he said, “is expected to trounce little-known candidate Jonathan Tasini.” I wonder how many iterations of this noxious phrase popped out of newsreaders’ and pundits’ mouths over the months as they systematically withheld the coverage that would have made Tasini well-known to the electorate.

Mindless repetition wasn’t the media’s only, or most grievous sin. In the Democrat and Chronicle, Joseph Spector and Jay Gallagher followed up a perfectly reasonable comment (“Tasini was hoping to pull off an upset modeled on Ned Lamont's surprising victory over Sen. Joseph Lieberman in last month's Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut”) with a bunch of crap, to wit: “But [Tasini] never gained any leverage as he attacked Clinton for not vehemently opposing the war in Iraq.” The crap part is the implication that Clinton opposes the war to some slight degree, and that Tasini would have been satisfied only if she made the rafters ring with demands for withdrawal. But the point is: as a senator, Clinton has been a strong supporter of the war, first by voting for the resolution that started the whole mess, and since then by refusing to repudiate her vote or join with actual anti-war people in Congress. (And don’t forget that Clinton was implicated by more than marriage in the sanctions regime that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the 1990s.)

The local “alternative” joined this media race to the bottom, as well. I couldn’t recall anything much about Tasini in City Newspaper, so I checked the paper’s online archive. The search turned up three items, one of which is a letter-to-the-editor, and another of which is a glancing reference to Tasini in a long article by Krestia DeGeorge on Spitzer nemesis Tom Suozzi. City’s only substantive coverage of the Tasini campaign appeared way back in March, when DeGeorge gave Tasini the equivalent of one decent paragraph in a long piece about a Democratic Party rural conference.

Whatever the vote tally – and Tasini’s 117,000-vote statewide total is no drop in the bucket – the New York peace insurgency aimed at taking back the Senate was well worth the effort. Tasini got voters talking and thinking about the war and Hillary Clinton’s hypocrisies. His platform also called for single-payer health insurance, another sane measure that Hillary Clinton has worked hard to derail. He ran to promote action against global warming, too. From top to bottom, in fact, his positions read like a progressive dream. No wonder he lost. He was just too good to lie or carry water for the folks that make a killing on war and misery.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:09 EDT
Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006 18:39 EDT
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Tuesday, 5 September 2006
Small business isn't always beautifying
Topic: urban issues
Every so often something happens to show how "small is beautiful" doesn't necessarily apply to the business sector - that is, to remind us that the fabled Mom and Pop ops have more in common with the WalMarts than we're led to believe.
Consider an act of small-scale "urban removal" that a highly successful downtown Rochester restaurant committed recently, prompting me to send the message below (as yet unanswered):
"Dear 2 Vine management:
"Today, after returning from a few weeks out of town, I saw that the Queen Anne house next to the restaurant has been demolished. I know the house was on the market for several months - after, according to news reports, city officials persuaded you not to tear the building down precipitously - and I assume no buyers stepped forward to rehab it, at least not any buyers who met your conditions.
"Of course, I also assume that your treatment of the house, most significantly your failure to put even a temporary roof or barrier on the structure to keep the weather from doing further damage, made the house that much less attractive to potential buyers. But maybe that was your plan: to let the house deteriorate to the point that demolition was the only option left.
"I don't doubt that the house was seriously damaged before you acquired it (though the exterior looked remarkably good). But many such buildings - indeed, some with much greater damage - have been resurrected. There should be no disagreement that the Queen Anne had architectural significance, and possibly historical significance, for its neighborhood. It deserved preservation efforts well beyond anything you, the city, or other parties saw fit to do.
"The whole episode seems odd, especially in light of the Landmark Society and AIA honors that you trumpet on the your website. Please explain. I know you've done some good things for downtown - but this latest development, or rather anti-development, leaves me disappointed, to say the least." 

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 20:36 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2006 20:58 EDT
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Saturday, 2 September 2006
Hitting the pavement for "fareness"

My August bike trip to the Adirondacks brought no end of pleasures: hearing the loons’ early morning call over a pond near Inlet, NY, as I coasted down a steady grade; watching the shadows gather and shift through the hemlock-beech-maple forest late in the day near Big Moose Lake; feeling an incomparable rush while descending a three-mile hill near Camden, NY; feeling another sort of rush when topping the “last hill” that turns out to be the first of many… But there were other transportation experiences, too, while “sharing the road” with vehicles seemingly designed to express post-adolescent male rage. The muffler-impaired motorcycles were standouts, of course; their riders claim that noise makes for safety, i.e. alerts other motorists of their presence.


Maybe, maybe not. But I can say the high-decibel blasts and farts do nothing for bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ safety. The highly distracting noise-assault makes it much harder for human-powered folks to get the sensory information they need to avoid all sorts of road hazards. But what the hell, the point is that the roads are for the powerful – places for the testosterone-soaked to play out their fantasies of the wolf pack on wheels. (Interesting tidbit: Animal behaviorists now say our inherited ideas about “alpha males” and other aspects of wolf psychology are wrong: the pack is usually a multi-generational family unit, essentially a cooperative, not a “free market” of unrelated individuals ruled by the gnashing of teeth.)


Now I’m back in Rochester for the duration, and one thing on the horizon particularly grabs my attention. The Coalition for Bus Fareness has formed to counter the new fare structure imposed last spring by the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority. On one side the fare structure is a gift: You can ride anywhere on the system, including to far-flung destinations like Lyons and Avon for $1.25. The Rochester-to-Lyons trip, which I frequently took, used to cost $3.10. So RGRTA has been most kind to suburban/rural commuters. But the flip side is not so good: Since the plan has eliminated transfers, which used to cost 15 cents, urban riders that need to make connections often end up paying more. For example, a commuter from northeast Rochester who paid cash (i.e. did not buy a special pass) to get to and from the Marketplace mall area used to pay $2.80 daily (two fares at $1.25 each, plus two 15-cent transfers). Now that same commute costs $5 upfront (four $1.25 fares), unless the commuter buys a so-called Freedom Pass for $3 (which will go up to $3.50 in October).


So what we have here is a minor but not insignificant transfer of wealth: The suburbanite park-and-rider gets a substantial break, while many low-income urbanites pay a bit more essentially to subsidize other riders. Truly a sign of the times – like the ear-shattering motorcycle.


A fightback is brewing, though, with the new coalition in the lead. Check out the notice below, which is making the rounds on local listserves:


Public Forum on Bus Fare Changes

Thursday, September 14

4:30- 6 pm

Gleason Auditorium, Bausch & Lomb Library, downtown


How have these changes affected you?:

·                                 Lift Line increase

·                                 Transfers and routes eliminated

·                                 Fare increase (did you know that the fare is increasing again on October 1st?)

 Forum Sponsors include, Ibero American Action League, 19th Ward Community Association, Spiritus Christi Mental Health Center and Prison Outreach, Rochester Poor People's Coalition, Grace of God Recovery House, Homeless Services Network, Poor People United, GPOMC, Liberty Research Group, Metro Justice


Please contact the Bus Fareness Committee for more info- 325-2560.


Thank you,


-Jon Greenbaum, Metro Justice Organizer


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:19 EDT
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