Monthly Archives: July, 2010


That’s what I say every time I read a ProJo op-ed by Felicia Nimue Ackerman. It’s not only jealousy because I have had one letter published in the New York Times, and she’s had about 30,000. It’s that she spends so much time beating up straw men…

Eighteen years ago, I tripped, stumbled, stuck out an arm to break my fall, and broke my elbow instead. Barely able to use my arm or even my fingers, I desperately wished to get back to normal. After an operation and six months of physical therapy, my wish came true.

Would you believe that this tale is politically incorrect in certain circles?

Well, actually, no, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that Prof. Ackerman was confronted by radicals who told her how sorry they were for her recovery. There may be circles of rabidly politically-correct disabled people out there frothing to persecute innocent philosophy professors for ‘just askin’ a few harmless questions–Prof. Ackerman should invite them to debate her so they can be enlightened. She should show them how sorry they should be about their condition.

Prof. Ackerman bravely takes on the critics who say that it’s a good thing to be blind, or deaf, or unable to walk. She doesn’t name those critics, so I have no idea who they are, or how they became so powerful that she had to do battle with them.

Even before I went into health care, I had co-workers who had disabilities, and I wouldn’t grudge them their pride in finding ways to get the job done even when they had to work twice as hard to do it. Prof. Ackerman argues against that kind of pride in overcoming obstacles physical or social, ignoring the history behind it…

Moreover, what is so terrible about the idea that, if you are black (or any other color), you might want to change the color of your skin? Such a desire does not necessarily merit the popular accusation of self-hatred. Maybe you want to escape discrimination.

Incredibly, this has already been tried. It’s called, ‘passing’. (There was a band in the 80′s called Tragic Mulatto – don’t know what made me think of that.) I wonder if Winona Horowitz would have been as popular as Winona Ryder? I wonder if it would make more sense to fight discrimination than to accept the prejudice that tempts people to hide their full identity. The history of these minority ‘pride’ movements is one of individuals who battled in isolation until they discovered that it wasn’t their own personal failings that created ‘whites only’ entrances to the court house, or a flight of stairs that only the able-bodied could manage. Maybe Prof. Ackerman remembers when female students were tolerated as ‘co-eds’ and hung out at Pembroke, in the good old days before feminism had some political power.

Anyway, like Flannery O’ Connor said, everything that rises must converge. I’m not going to rag on some alleged ‘politically correct’ disability activists, especially on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, but I do have issues with some of the feel-good, sentimental portrayal of disability.

We can send a young man or woman to war, and treat their injuries, and cheer them on at wheelchair basketball, but this is not all happy and heartwarming. Max Cleland is a great American, who served his country in Vietnam, and then in Congress. He has been a tireless advocate for injured veterans, and he continues to advance their cause. Still his injuries are grievous– he lost three limbs in a grenade explosion and he deals with that every day of his life. We have to be able to recognize that sometimes it doesn’t all come out okay, especially as we send our ‘volunteer troops’ to more foreign wars.

When we sentimentalize disability, or make it an abstraction, we can buy into arguments against ‘political correctness’ or the ‘nanny state’ or ‘government interference’, because without some pressure of law and public opinion, it’s just easier to leave some people out. If they’re not shamed into silence we can accuse them of demanding special privileges. Or we can listen to them.

Dr.Deborah Peters Goessling, a professor at Providence College, speaks from direct experience…

In the U.S. there are more than 1 million wheelchair users. Although today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility is still a big issue. And often it comes down to just one inch.

In the past few years, one inch has prevented me from using a friend’s bathroom and from socializing on a beachfront deck because the entrance was too narrow for my wheelchair. At the post office counter, one inch lower means I can pay for my stamps. When we cannot get my beach wheelchair deep enough into the water, there is no relief from the heat. While my family is swimming and splashing, I must remain on the sidelines. With just one inch too much to the left or right, I’m unable to place my wheelchair into my van’s “lock-in” system to be able to use hand controls to drive. For me, one inch can make the difference between attending a friend’s 50th birthday party or staying home and mailing a gift. It limits my ability to attend family gatherings, work celebrations and bridal showers and makes me feel excluded from friends and family.

I hope the Journal will give some editorial space to people who live with disabilities, because you can’t know what it’s like unless you experience it. We can keep on with the work of making public places accessible. We can afford to give an inch. It’s not cheap or convenient, but we’ll all get older if we don’t die young, and the world we live in then will be the one we’re making today.

Downtown Diary–Pawtucket

Pawtucket Armory


The Pawtucket Armory is now a center for the arts, following the migration of artists from Providence to the more affordable Pawtucket.

I saw a huge hawk wheeling above the Stop and Shop on Cottage Street.

Lorraine Mills is a remnent of the New England textile industry, and fabric heaven for people who know how to sew. You can get into an altered state looking at the colors and patterns. There’s silk and satin and Chinese brocade with dragons and dragonflies.

On the left of the parking lot is the old mill stream, a reminder that all these mills used natural hydropower.

Vacant lots along Mineral Spring Avenue are full of Queen Ann’s Lace, which is carrots gone wild. A small yard contains a couple of elderly apple trees, perhaps the survivors of an orchard. Yacht Club Soda gets its water from a real mineral spring. Nature in the city, if you look for it.

Downtown Diary

Monday, July 26–seeing home care clients and the nurse’s aides who do the hands-on work.

First visit is off Plainfield Street, I’m coming in from across town. From Rt. 10 I can see the new building made from salvaged shipping containers. It’s all painted now, and I’d love to see it from the street side, or even from the inside if I can get on a tour. A quick turn off the bottom of the ramp reveals a neighborhood where the houses weren’t razed by the highway or urban renewal– it’s kind of a street that time forgot, near the corner of Pilsudski and Magnolia.

The route back to N. Providence takes me behind Olneyville, a stretch of road in a pure industrial landscape. There’s something so clean about it, maybe just that there’s more brick and stone than plastic. I’m not the only one, Lord knows, who sees beauty in the old mills. The Plant, on Valley Street, has a steel vine sculpture wrapped around the smokestack and is a rehabbed, green tech center. The Cuban Revolution serves soup on the ground floor.

My GPS guides me through Wanskuck, with its regal mill dominating Branch Avenue and a little cluster of mill worker’s houses off Veazie Street. They’re all built on the same plan, some brick, some shingle, some vinyl sided. They still retain an air of humility and industry.

The humidity has eased up, my tempermental car radio is working and I’m listening to the BBC analyze today‘s crises.

So much beauty all around, a half hour for solitude and things to think about. I don’t get paid for mileage, but the job has its compensations.

They Should’ve Talked to Sheldon Whitehouse

Bob Herbert in today’s NYT on USDA official Shirley Sherrod– an op-ed called, ‘Thrown to the Wolves’.

Ms. Sherrod was not even called into an office to be fired face to face. She got the shocking news in her car. “They called me twice,” she told The Associated Press. “The last time, they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and submit my resignation on my BlackBerry, and that’s what I did.”

This is brutal, and reflects badly on the Obama administration.

Someone should have talked to our Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. When he met with constituents at the Butcher Block Deli several months ago he was asked about defunding ACORN. This was at the height of the hysteria. He said that his time as an attorney general had given him a great regard for the principle of innocent until proved guilty. ACORN had its problems, but was hanged on trumped up evidence, it turned out.

You can’t keep your principles when you react to every news cycle. The more that comes out about Shirley Sherrod the more disgraceful this episode becomes.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a news story that some right-wing journalist was looking for examples of rich white people who died in that disaster. There were no such cases. At the time I was going to the ‘No Time to be Silent’ vigil on North Main Street in Providence, and took the microphone to sing a song I had been inspired to write–
‘Looking for Corpses in All the Wrong Places’.

Some people are desperately trolling for examples of black racism oppressing white people.

My minister gave me a good take on that. He said that the real harm comes from prejudice plus power. When prejudice can shut doors and systematically exclude millions of Americans from equal opportunity we need systemic reform.

Shirley Sherrod was probably collateral damage in a political game aimed at discrediting the NAACP and black people generally. Sadly, the point she was making when her words were taken out of context is that we need to look beyond our differences and recognize our common need for justice.

It will be our loss if she leaves public life. And Sheldon Whitehouse had it right, that everyone deserves a hearing.

Then and Now

I spent a melancholy evening watching ‘Iris’, a movie about the last years of the writer, Iris Murdoch, as she slowly perished of Alzheimer’s disease.

The last time I got all weepy about the brevity of life I was watching, ‘Longtime Companion’, a movie about the epidemic that was taking a bite out of my generation. Life gets you coming and going.

There’s been some good news lately in the fight against HIV, and it’s not just about pills. Today’s NYT says that a miracle cure may be on the horizon that will save untold suffering in laboratory mice prone to Alzheimer’s. Maybe it will eventually help people, or we can train the mice to remind us where we left our glasses.

Keep cool, friends.

Steve Stycos: Corn, Cool Soup, and CVS


Sweet corn arrived at the market last Saturday from Barden Family Orchards. The Bardens will have more this Saturday and raspberries, peaches, apples and squash in the weeks to come.
Saturday will also feature a cooking demonstration by Kany Xiong of Pak Express starting at 10 AM. Kany will prepare free samples of her mother’s Hmong cool squash soup and eggplant, peapod and carrot stirfry using local ingredients. The cooking demonstrations are funded by grants from the Rhode Island Rural Development Council and the farmers market.


Thanks to David Schillinger and members of Boy Scout Troop 22 Cranston, the Pawtuxet River trail (from Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, to Warwick Avenue and back on the other side of the river to the cemetery on Post Road) is walkable on the Warwick side. To fulfill his requirements for Eagle Scout, David built a footbridge on the trail across the river from Rhodes on the Pawtuxet to replace one that washed away in the April flood. The new bridge is stable and ready to accommodate hikers who have not been able to complete the loop trail since April.

Friends of the Pawtuxet would like to have a trail maintenance day to pick up trash and clear the trail where it wraps around behind Shaw’s. We have tentatively scheduled our work party for Sunday August 8 at 10 AM. If you would like to help, please respond to this email.

Friends of the Pawtuxet’s July 10 canoeing day, which was part of ExploreCranston, attracted 29 families to paddle the river.


During this week’s site plan review committee meeting, CVS made some concessions in the design of a new store planned the corner of Broad and Norwood Avenues. The Woonsocket based drug store chain agreed to install a bike rack at the store and sections of wrought iron fence around some parts of the parking lot. The design, although improved, is still a big box with high solid walls. Knowing the city has no power to block its design, CVS representatives became defensive saying the design is better than the Resevoir Avenue store. They are also insisting on ten more parking spaces than required by city ordinance.

Cranston planner Peter Lapolla commented that if Edgewood had historic zoning, the city would have more control over the store design. He also noted that historic zoning is often opposed by homeowners who do not want to be told how to maintain their homes. That opposition then makes it impossible for the city to force corporations like CVS to build attractive buildings that blend with the neighborhood.

Traffic, the ten extra parking spaces and residents suggestion to move more of the parking behind the building remain major areas of disagreement.

Respect4Edgewood asks interested residents to attend the next site plan review committee meeting August 4 at 4:30PM in the City Council Chambers.


July 29th, 6 PM: The “premier rock & roll oldies show” performs during the summer concert series. Sh-Bop, featuring Vini Ames, combines music, comedy and audience participation in a performance that will entertain people of all ages.

August 5th, 6 PM: The Mayor’s “Music all around the town” series continues with a first time appearance for The Black and White Band. Since 1990 this band has performed with a unrique blend of high energy swing-blues and roots rock. Bring a chair and enjoy this great band.

The concerts are generously funded by the Washington Trust Company.

See you Saturday at the market.

Serial Obstructor

Today’s ProJo says that mayoral candidate Chris Young held up a debate for one hour, forcing about 200 citizens to wait in a stuffy hall until the police escorted him out of the building. Full story here.

There is a pattern here, or maybe a passion.

The first time I met him was several years ago. He was collecting signatures outside of East Side Market. I had been canvassing for my neighbor, Rhoda Perry, so I felt softhearted and kindly to everyone waving a clipboard. I signed for him, but even then knew he would not get my vote.

I next saw him at a State House hearing for marriage equality. I was signed up to testify, and like a couple of hundred others had to stand in the hall for hours. It was stifling and crowded, and it appeared to me that the first to sign were the last to testify. When Chris Young took his turn he spent about ten minutes fumbling with a Bible searching for some footnote. He said something about religion and took a long time saying it.

Later he appeared at a health care Town Hall at Warwick City Hall. He and his companion made so much noise you could hardly hear James Langevin speak, and that seemed to be deliberate. He was ejected by the police, but returned and resumed bellowing. There was good reason to believe that organized groups had come to fill the hall and shut down debate. One Rhode Island Republican said as much. I think Chris Young is a freelancer, though, marching to his own drummer. He’s a Democrat, though not exactly in the mainstream.

Last December he expressed himself again at a forum sponsored by Patrick Kennedy, and was photographed by the Journal with his shirt riding up and a police officer on each arm.

Today’s ProJo article has a photo of him clutching a statue of the Virgin Mary. I’m probably just imagining that the Blessed Mother looks embarrassed. I know my mother would be if I acted that way. I think that being hauled away is Young’s passion and transcendent experience, with police and news photographers playing the role of the Romans. It would be better if he had these moments in church, but he wouldn’t be so special there.

The sad thing about the hijacking of Faith by Politics is that the most politically connected and media-smart churches are the first to jump in front of the cameras claiming they are the true and pure expression of their religion.

But when someone breaks the rules, disrupts a public event, and acts really weird it shouldn’t take an hour to escort him out. Humility is a virtue too, and Jesus kind of liked it. Civility is a good thing to bring to a civic occasion. Maybe a little too pagan a concept for some, though. Especially those who live by the Biblical exhortation to be urgent in season and out of season.

I, The People

Salon’s David Sirota gives the Tea Party credit where it’s due…

“I Want My Country Back” — this ubiquitous Tea Party mantra belongs next to Nike’s “Just Do It” on Ad Age’s list of the most transcendent idioms. In just five words, it perfectly captures the era’s conservative backlash. Take a moment to ponder the slogan’s phrase-by-phrase etymology:

The whole article is here, it’s short and sweet.

Conservative activists have made brilliant use of such slogans as ‘family values’ and ‘faith’. We are supposed to assume that the families are just like ours, or maybe even better, and the faith is Christian, or Judeochristian, not Hindu or Jehovah’s Witness or something minority.

‘I want my country back’ is not as provocative as some of the signs I saw from opponents of health reform. ‘B.O. stinks’, ‘Obama Lies, Grandma Dies’, Obama as the Joker, Obama as Hitler– that’s in Warwick, RI, at the Health Care Town Hall. Who took the country? The majority of voters who elected our president and congress?

Unless you are Narragansett, you’d better ask who can claim that un-named parties took away ‘my country’. And ask what happened to ‘We, the People’.

Space Alien News Update

Some fascinating ideas about where SETI should look for signals. These long-distance calls being expensive, advanced civilizations are likely to keep it short and to the point…

One possibility of an extraterrestrial beacon is a puzzling transient radio source some 26,000 light-years from Earth that was discovered in 2002 in the direction of the galactic center. It sends out radio waves in bursts lasting up to 10 minutes in a 77-minute cycle.

Fun ideas. Read the whole story at


Moving at half-speed these days. I don’t remember the heat ever lasting this long.

A heatwave in Russia is causing distress and crop failure. Have we ever seen the like? Climatologists know the answer to that, down to the last statistic.

I went to David Segal’s fund-raiser at Firehouse 13, heard a little of Low Anthem playing some kind of bluegrass, and saw a very enthused and supportive crowd that filled the club and spilled out on to the street. I heard on WRNI that Segal wants to counter the influence of corporate money in campaigns.

I have not made a decision in the Congressional race, and I’ll be voting in this district, so I’m listening to all the candidates and waiting for the humidity to clear so I can think straight.


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