Monthly Archives: June, 2008

Fogarty to Get Cranston Democratic Endorsement

Elizabeth Seal of The Cranston Herald is reporting that Cindy Fogarty is going to get the Cranston Democratic city committee endorsement.

I don’t know what to say that would sound remotely objective. I supported Cindy’s campaign for Mayor last time, helped her set up her website, walked my neighborhood with her and stood by her as she listened to concerns of neighbors and gave them honest answers. She served diligently as a city council member and did well in her primary battle with Napolitano, despite spending only a fraction of what Napolitano spent.

This is where politics can get good — when someone who doesn’t have the money but has the courage steps up. That’s a good thing. What’s even better is when they get the support they deserve. I wish Cindy the best and will be supporting her campaign as she moves forward.

Andre Araujo: Rhode Island Needs More Trains

Fellow Cranstonite Andre Araujo has a Letter to the Editor in the Projo. Unfortunately, they got his name wrong (called him Andrew), but the letter still stands as a strong call to action for how to develop better mass transit in the Ocean State:

Oil prices are set by supply and demand on the world market. We cannot adjust supply but we can change demand by changing our habits and becoming energy-efficient. A great inefficiency is our commuting habits. Every day, millions of us sit idly and alone in our cars in highway traffic going back and forth to work.

Before this country was an automobile culture, it was a rail one. The rails connected the coasts making America a continental nation and streetcars dominated the cities. The automobile and cheap gas ended that era in America but when one travels to Europe, one is pleasantly surprised by the ease and reach of rail.

What this state needs is a mass-transit system. We have buses but they are impracticable for too many. What is required is a rail service connecting Providence to cities as far as Newport, Narragansett, Woonsocket and Westerly.

The time is now that we should demand from our leaders that we have a solution to our economic and environmental problems caused by oil and one of those solutions is a fast, reliable and efficient statewide mass-transit system.

Pawtuxet Book Sale, Canoeing and Farmer’s Market

School Committee member Steve Stycos alerts us that it’s time again for the annual Big Green Book Sale and the official opening of the Pawtuxet Village Farmer’s Market this Saturday:

This Saturday, the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market officially opens its sixth season in the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet parking lot in Cranston with canoe rides, a wildflower walk and a used book sale, in addition to strawberries, spinach, lettuce, basil and a variety of other early spring vegetables.

The Big Green Book Sale will run from 9 AM to 12 PM to raise money for the market and our environmental projects. The book selection will be better than last year as we have received donations of about 100 cartons of books, with an especially strong collection of fiction from writers ranging from Daniel Steele to Franz Kafka. Most books will be a dollar each. Last minute donations can be brought directly to the sale between 8 and 9 PM.

Starting at 9 AM, Friends of the Pawtuxet will also offer canoe rentals hourly from the lower Rhodes on the Pawtuxet parking lot. Paddling the calm river for an hour, canoeists often see turtles, swans, muskrats and an occasional blue heron. $3/adult and $1/child. Trips leave from the lower parking lot. Reservations are strongly recommended. Please call Hillary at 784-8240.

At 10 AM naturalist Rod Rodrigues will lead a wildflower walk along the river. The free walk leaves from the lower parking lot. Stay as long as you like, but please do not bring your dog.

In addition to spring vegetables, Governor Francis Farm honey, hand made soaps and lotions, free range eggs, locally baked breads and pastries and a variety of plants will also be on sale at the market.

Enhancing Education with Video Games

(Cross-posted from my private practice site.)

This is a wonderfully illuminating discussion about video games and education. The discussion is between David Williamson Shaffer, author of How Computer Games Help Children Learn and James Paul Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Why Video Games are Good for the Soul.

The overriding message from Shaffer and Gee: games can do many important things that traditional education can’t.

1. Games can teach critical thinking. Among the educational advantages of Shaffer’s concept of “epistemic games,” the concept calls for a greater focus on metacognition in education. Metacognition is one of the executive functions that can be learned from interacting with digital technologies, as described by Randy Kulman at Learningworksforkids.com.

2. Games can capture the natural enthusiasm of children for learning. As Shaffer and Gee emphasize in the video, games can make you care in a way that listening to a lecture or memorizing facts for a test really can’t. In another video from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Gee talks about how playing the game “Portal” teaches all sorts of important science concepts. (He also talks about the problem of “the fourth grade slump” in education, another important issue that needs to be addressed.) In addition, Gee points out that many video games come with an online community for support, with other players of the games willing to offer mentoring to newer players. This is a feature of the gaming community that the educational community would do well to mimic.

3. Games can prepare us better for “solving real world problems.” The ability of games to simulate reality — to present students with a problem that more closely resembles a real life situation — is another reason why games can be such powerful educational tools.

Maybe the Bible is Right: Pigs Ain’t Kosher, or Halal

When my sister-in-law was a teenager she explored some of the militant Black Liberation literature and stopped eating pork. This was heresy in Louisville, KY, home of the best barbecue on the planet, and must have caused some suffering to her. But then she could always go with beef. There were no Hindu influences around at the time.

Lately, vegetarianism is looking better. I’ve always felt that if you put some first-rate barbecue sauce on it and grill it, an eggplant will do just fine. But if you want to keep eating pork, and you are worried about food-borne illnesses, here are two studies that point in completely opposite directions to confuse and worry you.

My advice is to do what you’ve probably been doing all along — cook it completely and wash your hands and utensils. Bon appetit.

From the Seattle PI

Federal food safety and public health agencies are being urged to begin checking meat sold across the country for the presence of MRSA, a potentially fatal bacteria. Scientists have found the infection in U.S. pigs and farmworkers.

Members of Congress and public health advocates are demanding that the government determine whether highly infectious MRSA has entered the food supply.

MRSA — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — can be extremely dangerous, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Monina Klevens examined the cases of the disease reported in hospitals, schools and prisons in one year and extrapolated that “94,360 invasive MRSA infections occurred in the United States in 2005; these infections were associated with death in 18,650 cases.”

Are terrorists sneaking around at night injecting pigs with dangerous infections?

Long before MRSA was identified as a potential killer in the early 1960s, public health professionals anguished over the excessive use of antibiotics because they believed it caused bacteria to become resistant to the very medications used to control them.

Farm animals are fed antibiotics by the bucketful. But if you go to that hippy-dippy store, the one that takes your whole paycheck, because you are willing to pay more for antibiotic-free meat, you are a sap — according to a study funded by the National Pork Board. From Yahoo News:

A comparison of pigs raised outdoors without antibiotics and swine reared in conventional pork production settings revealed that antibiotic-free creatures had higher rates of three food-borne pathogens compared with pigs on conventional farms, which remain indoors and receive preventive doses of antimicrobial drugs.

The study cites higher rates of Salmonella, Toxoplasma and roundworms.

Well, that’s why we cook our food. In my utopian dream, we support our local farms, keep it smaller, change regulations so that factory farms have to pay for the damage they do — and eat meat in moderation. Without government subsidies and unwise farming practices it will get more expensive, and needs to be. The bird flu threat is partly fueled by massive poultry farms in Asia, so the American model adopted worldwide is not only unsustainable, it’s imminently dangerous.

But I’m not staying up at night worrying about it. There’s a Farmer’s Market every Saturday at Hope High School. See you there.

Sorry About That — Pass the Grey Poupon

An amazing interview with Rep. Dennis Kucinich by Meg White is at Buzzflash. Kucinich recently introduced articles of impeachment against President Bush for lying us into war. This would have gotten press coverage, except that Angelina Jolie was doing something last week and the press has to prioritize. Luckily, you can go to Buzzflash and read this–

“Where’s our heart here? What is going on that we can’t connect with the suffering of other people?” he asked. “We can’t say, ‘Oh, yeah, we went into a war, they didn’t tell the truth and all these people died. Sorry about that. Pass the Grey Poupon.’ We can’t do that. We cannot become so callous that we don’t care that innocent people are killed. This is what’s driving me.”

Check out the rest of the interview for details of the impeachment, who else signed on, and what the next step will be.

Rhode Island Cuts Funding for Open Space, Clean Water

The Projo reports that $35 million has been cut from the state budget that had been proposed to fund open space and clean water projects. Apparently the house finance committee does not see the logic of funding environmental health, even when that funding is matched 50-50 from the federal government and is slated for an increase this year. From the Projo:

PROVIDENCE — Whenever clean water and open space bond issues go before Rhode Island voters, they generally pass by wide margins. But voters probably won’t get an opportunity to express their opinion on some $35 million in bonds proposed by Governor Carcieri this year, because the House Finance Committee revealed yesterday it cut the bonds from the state budget.

The cuts will cause the loss of millions more dollars for clean water and open space because the state bonds are used to attract funding from the federal government and other sources. The impact will probably be felt most at the municipal level because much of the money was targeted for local pollution-reduction efforts.

Environmental leaders reacted with anger and disappointment, mixed with some appreciation of the state’s financial woes.

“We could be repeating history,� said outgoing Save the Bay executive director Curt Spalding. “This is how the Bay got so polluted in the first place.� [full text]

Nice Guys

I moved to the East Side of Providence in 1977. This was during an economic recession. It was the first time I discovered how cold an apartment could get when you needed to save money on heat. I was young, inexperienced, but learning.

I had to make it on my own in many ways. No college dorm transition to independence. Lived with my parents when I went to Rhode Island Junior College (nickname — ReJeCt) and graduated broke but debt-free.

I was just getting started living in my own rented room on Waterman Street. There were still some fine old businesses on Thayer Street before the chains pushed them out. There was a diner with a guy who wore a paper cap and called everyone ‘Champ’. He was at least 103 years old and way cool. He served greasy coffee in plastic cups.

I was just getting started in my adult life. I had no phone, couldn’t afford one. They still had pay phones on the corner then. I called my Mom and she said –

“I have bad news.�

This is the preamble to the announcement of a death in the family. This time it wasn’t a death. My tough, cigarette-smoking, hard-working widowed grandmother had been raped in her home by a housebreaker.

The spring that was blooming around me, the spring of my life turned dark.

Anyone who has had harm done to someone they love knows what it is like. It’s like a death.

My grandmother survived that awful crime. She didn’t lose her health or her mind, just her house and her place in the neighborhood. My aunt and uncle built her a basement apartment, with everything except a separate entrance. Which she said she didn’t want anymore.

While she was in the hospital, the housebreaker came in and stole the gun that my grandfather carried when he was an officer in the Providence Police. The old neighborhood had changed. Housebreaking and rape were the signature crimes of the decade.

I discovered fear. I had always believed that Jesus would protect his own, but now I was faced with a dilemma. Either there was a god who knows when every sparrow falls, but turns his back on the unsaved sparrows, or my sense of specialness was an illusion. To stay under the wing of Jesus, I would have to conclude that my grandmother was cast to the whims of fate because she clung to her Catholic religion. She wasn’t saved. If she was, Jesus would have raised his hand to protect her.

This was my rough entrance into the reality-based community. Siding with my grandmother — sharp tongued, Irish, always with a cigarette and something to read. If a god will sit up on a cloud in heaven, and watch this happen to her, because she’s not the right religion — that’s not my god.

So now I had to face the world godless.

I read the Providence Journal police report like it was the weather. If I knew where the storm was predicted to strike I might avoid it. Rape, assault, threats, narrow escapes. The Providence Journal kindly refrains these days from publishing the names and addresses of rape victims. If you get roughed up by some bullies on the street, you report it to the police at your own risk. Our one local newspaper will helpfully tell them where you live.

The weather report in 1977 was turbulent social change with an 80% chance of being insulted for being a bra-burning libber and a 40% chance of being frightened by imminent violence and erupting male rage with a 10% chance of violence getting major and physical. These predictions increased in severity as your social status decreased, but affluence did not guarantee safety.

Nearly every woman I know has had some experience of threat, because she’s a woman. Being young, you feel it. Without the sense of social validation you get from being half of a couple, without the knowledge that someone would miss you if you were three hours late getting home, you feel it.

I left the rented room and moved in to another. The house was bought out and everyone was evicted. I moved in with some Brown kids, but couldn’t blend into the household. They lived on assumptions of safety and privilege that astounded me. It was like we spoke a different language. I left that place and moved in with a couple of guys in a place in Fox Point.

Right after I got my stuff into the third bedroom of the apartment lightning struck in the neighborhood. A young couple who had bought a house to fix up were broken in on. The invaders beat and robbed them, and raped the wife in front of the husband.

One of my new roommates knew the accused. “They were nice guys,� he said.

That was one of the enlightening moments of my life. Of course they were nice guys. To him. To the young couple they tortured they were the face of hell.

When a person suffers a serious wound, the power of life being strong means they will probably heal. If they have the love and help of other people to speed their recovery they will heal faster. But a scar is not the same as undamaged skin. It is marked, and more fragile than skin that has not been injured. So trust can grow back, but you can’t undo the past.

Nice guys. To other guys, when it worked for them. Regular guys who always had someone to speak up for them. Who would believe nice guys could do this?

It’s human nature. No one wants to believe that the nice guys have another side. If they are good to you they are good by you. The guys must have been drunk. Maybe the urban homesteaders were flashing their wealth. Any excuse to evade the truth that this is part of human nature, to favor your friends and rip off strangers. It works if you don’t get caught. Those guys got caught pretty fast.

This all happened around the time Roman Polanski fled to France. Now he’s knocking on the door again. A nice guy. Lots of friends. Didn’t hurt anyone important. Just a child. Just a mother. Just a woman.

Roman Polanski, Unwanted and Undesired

Gauguin was a failure in the Paris art world and a lousy provider for his wife and children so he boarded a ship for Tahiti. Leaving behind his debts and his family, taking with him his resentment, his prejudices and his syphilis he preyed on Tahitian women. Mistaking their customs for a lack of morals, mistaking difference for noble savagery, he ‘discovered’ the Tahitians and translated them to the western world. He also created some of the most beautiful paintings, the most sensitive portrayals of the island people that have ever been made. Your image of Tahiti is probably colored in the shades of a Gauguin poster on a classroom wall.

Life isn’t fair.

Recently I heard a lecture by Linda Ledray; director of a sexual assault nurse examiner program. She said, ‘When I walk into a bar I don’t wonder whether there is an offender there, I wonder how many.’

Knowing what is really going on can make you cynical and frightened. Unlike the heroic antiheroes we see on TV and the movies, perps are as common as dirt. (No offense to dirt, which is useful.) Unlike those imposing hypermasculine guys who get carried away by their uncontrollable passions, a perp is likely to be an insecure man who plans ahead and looks for a victim who can’t fight back. Or one who won’t tell.

The recent Catholic church scandals exposed a sorry pattern of men using their authority and position of respect to get access to children. ‘Father McGillicuddy would never do a thing like that,’ you can hear the believers saying. Because to admit that he could and he did would take the roof off the church. Blaming a famous director for raping a child not only invalidates a lot of people’s meal tickets, it scares us. The only way to keep a comfort level is to blame the victim.

Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), thirteen years old, was not protected by any shield law after she was raped by Roman Polanski in 1977. She was instantly branded a nymphet, a Lolita, a temptress. The poor guy couldn’t help himself. The tabloids loved it.

The child who dreamed of being an actress, of finding fame, instead got notoriety. The man who lied to a mother to get access to a child, the man who enticed that child into taking a combination of drugs and alcohol that could have killed her, the man who violated not only that child but her whole family got a plea bargain.

The rape charges were reduced to ‘having sex with a minor’ because the family could no longer bear to see Samantha put on the witness stand again. In her own words in a 2003 interview in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Polanski had asked Geimer’s mother if he could photograph the 13-year-old girl for a French magazine, and her mother allowed a private photo shoot.

“My mom and I thought the photos would help my acting career,” Geimer says, laughing. “I wanted to be a movie star.”

“I had done some commercials, but I didn’t really want to be a model. I thought this would be helpful.”

But soon after her meeting with Polanski, Geimer began to feel uncomfortable around the director 30 years her senior.

“Everything was going fine; then he asked me to change, well, in front of him,” she says. “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to go back to the second shoot. But I didn’t at that time have the self-confidence to tell my mother and everyone, ‘No, I’m not going to go.'”

During that second shoot, Polanski’s motives became apparent.

“We did photos with me drinking champagne,” Geimer says. “Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn’t quite know how to get myself out of there.”
Polanski sexually assaulted her after giving her a combination of champagne and Quaaludes.

Samantha Geimer gave up on acting after the rape. She did her best to put the whole episode behind her and recover her private life. Today she lives with her husband and children. Every so often Roman Polanski is in the news, reporters show up at her door and Samantha Geimer is forced to tell her story again.

Who would want to be defined by a crime committed against her? Samantha Geimer’s recovery is to the credit of her and her family. That she has forgiven Polanski is to her credit. She wants to move on. It’s a shame that he continues to intrude on her life.

After the plea bargain, Polanski fled to France to avoid going to trial. The press replayed the nymphet story. The wording of the reduced charges was taken as proof that this child consented to sex with a 44 year old man.

That’s still how the press plays it. Polanski is a free man in Paris, wealthy, powerful, respected for his creative work. It is supposed to be a terrible injustice that he cannot come to the US without facing the charges he ran from.

Blaming the great man is so disruptive. Recognizing how dirt common it is for an adult to rape a child makes the world a more frightening place. Accepting that someone could be both a pedophile and a person who has done things that are widely admired requires some growing up.

I wish to god that all the film critics who gush over this director would just face it. Polanski might be a creative genius. He raped a little girl. There is no law of nature that ordains that accomplished people can’t do appalling things. Consistency is seldom found in humans. Polanski himself suffered terrible losses in his life. But his rape of Samantha Geimer required convincing lies to her mother, two opportunities to get her alone, and drugs. Hardly an act of uncontrollable passion. More like the MO of someone who had practiced this before and thought he could get away with it. If Polanski didn’t prey on any other children he would be the exception, but I hope that is the case. Samantha Geimer believes he is sorry for what he did. Perhaps some day he will apologize.

We have two choices in a situation when a powerful man is found doing something indefensible. We can be grownups, and face the truth. Human nature allows for good and bad in the same person. A crime is not less because it was committed by dear old Father McGillicuddy, or the great director.

Or we can invent a fantasy world where conniving children seduce innocent adults. We can portray Roman Polanski as a poor lonely guy, who ‘had sex with’ a girl and now suffers a terrible exile in the film world of Paris. That’s how most of the critics frame it. That’s the message we give our children, that no one will believe their story. That’s a perp’s best refuge.

Cranston Comprehensive Plan Draft: Now Available Online

As promised by the Planning Department, the drafts from sections of the Comprehensive Plan Update are now online for residents to download and review. The drafts of the following sections are posted online: Historic Preservation, Housing, Natural/Cultural Resources, Open Space, and Services & Facilities. The Introduction to the Comp Plan is also there. The PDF’s can be found at the city’s website here.

At the first workshop, Peter Lapolla announced that the department would create a forum for residents to post feedback about the various elements of the update. That is not there yet, but hopefully it will be soon. No date has been set for the next workshop, but once it is, I will be sure to share it. From what I have heard, the goal is to have the final draft of the Comp Plan Update done by September.

The Cranston Herald will be doing ongoing coverage of the Comp Plan Update process and the first article was in Thursday’s edition and can be found here.

Until the forum is live, I recommend sending any feedback you have to the Planning Department. Peter Lapolla asked that the subject of any messages regarding the Comp Plan be: FEEDBACK COMP PLAN. In addition to the Planning Department, I sent mine to the administration, City Council and some department heads.

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