Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Best Way to Learn: Help Others Learn & Do

To volunteer or for more info
Contact:  Janet Spingath, Volunteer Coordinator   503-581-3855 x311

Gardens Program Volunteer Opportunities

1.       Community Garden Coordinator: Coordinate operations at a particular community garden. Duties include handling plot rental applications, assigning garden plots, setting garden guidelines, organizing work days, supervising work day volunteers. 5 hour/week commitment. Commitment of one growing season preferred.

2.       Garden Instructor: Host a weekly afterschool garden program for students from a local school. Collaborate with other staff and instructors from the School-Garden Alliance, a garden education program provided by Marion-Polk Food Share and the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation. One day week per commitment. Approx. 3 hours per day.  Commitment of one growing season preferred.

3.       Edible Landscaper: Assist with upkeep, expansion and design of Marion-Polk Food Share’s Edible Landscape Demonstration Project. 2 to 3 hours per week commitment, on an ongoing basis.

4.       Work Party Captain: Lead large workdays at various community gardens throughout the year. Supervise groups of volunteers, assign volunteers to appropriate garden tasks. As available, opportunities primarily on Saturdays in Spring, Summer and Fall.

5.       Garden Educator: Share your gardening expertise through workshops, free and open to the public, on various gardening topics. AND/OR: Be available as a resource to beginning gardeners in community gardens. As available.

6.       Garden Booth Attendant: Represent the gardens program at public events. Manage informational table, be able to talk about our program with the public and distribute print materials. As available, primarily weekends.

7.       Gardens Resource Assistant: Assist Garden Resource Coordinator with pick up and drop off of garden supplies. Must be able to drive a truck. As available.

8.       Specialized Skill Volunteer: Offer volunteer services with a special skill, such as use of a tractor or rototiller, irrigation installation, carpentry, small engine repair, etc… As available.

9.       Garden Consultant: Utilize gardening expertise to assist in design of community gardens. Troubleshoot gardening challenges at community gardens, such as pest infestation or low soil quality. As available.

10.   All Purpose Gardener: Help harvest, water, weed, or whatever odd jobs need done at a community garden. May be assigned to any garden(s). As available.

11.   Garden-to-Kitchen Volunteer: Work with Community Gardens and Community Kitchen programs to provide seasonal cooking or preservation classes and/or seasonal recipes and food preparation resources for the public. As available.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Very Cool: Free "Rosetta Stone" type language program at Salem Public Library

Learn a Language 24/7
The Salem Public Library has a great online resource for learning a new language.  Powerspeak is a language-learning program that provides numerous lessons and interactive activities.

Powerspeak includes instruction for ten languages
  • French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish
  • English for Spanish speakers
  • English for Mandarin speakers.
You can use Powerspeak 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, through the Library’s website ( by clicking on the Books & Information link and then on “Learn a Language.”  The reference staff can help you with Powerspeak questions at 503-588-6052 or

Monday, August 29, 2011


Well said.
According to a report issued this week by the Guttmacher Institute, the unintended pregnancy rate has jumped 50 percent since 1994, yet a July report from the institute points out that politicians are setting records passing laws to restrict abortion. It said: “The 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005 — and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010.” Add to this the assault by conservatives on Planned Parenthood, and what are we saying?

This is what we’re saying: actions have consequences. If you didn’t want a child, you shouldn’t have had sex. You must be punished by becoming a parent even if you know that you are not willing or able to be one.

This is insane.

Even if you follow a primitive religious concept of punishment for sex, as many on the right seem to do, you must at some point acknowledge that it is the child, not the parent, who will be punished most by our current policies that increasingly advocate for “unborn children” but fall silent for those outside the womb.

This is not how a rational society operates.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Obliviousness in the face of peak oil, Salem airport style

Celebrate KMUZ's arrival with fine music and food fundraiser today

Hello Friends:

As many of you know,  a number of hard-working people have been working to bring community radio to the mid-Valley.  We did it! 
We are broadcasting over 88.5 FM right now (Friday) for the next 7 days.  Please tune in on your car radio, as well as at home and let us know if and how well you are getting our signal.  You can respond to me at this address or make a comment on our FaceBook page.

If you want to celebrate this victory w/us this Sunday, Marc Nassar of Salem House Concerts is having a KMUZ fund raiser in his back yard.  4 pm for some of the best food you've  ever eaten and 5:30-ish for music.  Local acts are Bill Hughes w/Karen Dumont and Nathan Olson.  Headliner is Brian Cutean, trippy troubador guitar wonder.  $25 for dinner and show / $20 for show only.  Come anytime to 468 21st St. NE. For more information, contact Marc at:  You can learn more at:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Childhood's End

     Even as a childraising expert (read: childless person), I can see that we are heading down a terribly misdirected path with regard to what we're doing to kids as a whole.

     If I were to try to sum it up in as few words as possible, it would be this: 

     We lost our economic mojo starting around 1970, when the long post-war expansion that seemed so effortless became impossible to maintain (because the basis of our fantastic and unprecedented expansion, limitless cheap energy, particularly oil, stopped being cheap or limitless).

    By 1980, Roger Ailes and the other con men atop the Republic wing of the Corporate Party got rid of a decent, intelligent president who had committed the unforgivable sin of talking about limits to growth; they replaced him with a kindred con man whose biggest acting feat was in persuading people that he didn't have any guile in him.  But despite his warm smile and avuncular manner, Ronald Wilson Reagan, floating above policy and enjoying the role of a lifetime, was a mean bastard who had himself bought into the myth of America (which is that, if you work hard and keep your nose clean, you will get ahead --- which is then taken to mean that anyone who hasn't gotten ahead hasn't worked hard or kept his or her nose clear, which is then taken all the way back to our founding days when we knew whom God favored because God's favor was evident in their wealth).

   Since 1980, America has been almost completely reorganized along the lines of a third-world country, with ever-rising inequality, and a meaner, more selfish nature, and a constant media drumbeat of "individualism."  Only we don't take individualism to mean toleration of people who think differently anymore, or who question dogma, or who insist things can be better.  No, what we mean now is simply "You're On Your Own" or YOYO.

   Many books can and have been written about this third-worlding process, where the rich are essentially seceding in place, supporting cuts to social and human services that they think they will never need, supporting cuts to public education and public services that they think they don't require.

   What people don't seem to get is how much of what is wrong with public education today is the result of letting these corporate ideas dominate our schools.  As America gets meaner and more officially and unofficially YOYO, the stress that adults feel is being passed straight through to kids.  Parents are well aware that they are having to work harder and harder just to stay in place -- and, without meaning to, they are buying into the idea that there is something that schools and teachers can do to equip their kids to do OK in this meaner YOYO country we're building.  So even parents who should know better start buying into the absurd ideas that we should be testing the crap out of little kids "to help them."

   The paradigmatic quote of the US disaster in Vietnam was the Lieutenant who said that "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."  That's what we're doing to kids in schools:  testing them and regimenting them "so they'll be able to compete in a global economy."  Only what we're doing is destroying their chances to prosper in the times to come, which are going to require a lot of very different, lateral thinking, the kind that you learn through imaginative play and being able to make connections between wildly different "subjects" (which are arbitrary distinctions imposed to make life easier for sorting and testing, and are damaging to learning and intelligence).

  In a nutshell, instead of equipping kids to actually practice creative intelligence and individualism, we're training them to be standardized testing drones, all for the benefit of the corporations who have sold us down the river on the virtues of testing and the "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it" approach to all things.

  Some discouraging signs seen around:

But researchers say they are finding exactly that. In a 2010 study of about 300,000 creativity tests going back to the 1970s, Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, found creativity has decreased among American children in recent years. Since 1990, children have become less able to produce unique and unusual ideas. They are also less humorous, less imaginative and less able to elaborate on ideas, Kim said.
Has modern society really extinguished the creative spark among our youth?
Experts say creativity is innate, so it can't really be lost. But it needs to be nurtured.
"It's not that creativity can necessarily disappear," said Ron Beghetto, an education psychologist at the University of Oregon. "But it can be suppressed in particular contexts."
The current focus on testing in schools, and the idea that there is only one right answer to a question, may be hampering development of creativity among kids, Beghetto said. "There's not much room for unexpected, novel, divergent thought," he said.
But the situation is not hopeless, Beghetto said. In fact, there's evidence to suggest that, worldwide, youngsters are very creative, particularly with their use of digital media, Beghetto said. And a recent study found that, at least in their playtime, kids are becoming more imaginative.
Experts agree changes can be made in the classroom to cultivate creativity.
No child gets ahead
In her study, Kim analyzed results from the Torrance test, an exam that measures an aspect of creativity called divergent thinking. In this test, kids might be shown two circles and asked to draw something out of these shapes.
Interestingly, scores on the Torrance test have been decreasing while SAT scores are increasing. However, better test scores do not necessarly translate to improved creativity, Kim said. You can do well on a test by studying a lot, but it won't encourage original thinking.
Kim said No Child Left Behind, an act of Congress passed in 2001 that requires schools to administer annual standardized tests as a way to assess whether they are meeting state education standards, may be partly responsible for the drop in creativity scores.
"I believe No Child Left Behind … really hurt creativity," Kim said. "If we just focus on just No Child Left Behind — testing, testing, testing — then how can creative students survive?" Kim said. Other culprits may be the rise in TV watching, a passive activity that doesn't require interactions with others, Kim said.
Kim's work has also shown creativity declines in adulthood as we become more aware of the notions of right and wrong answers, she said.

And this

Up to 40 percent of U.S. schools cutting back on recess

Researchers say that cuts in play time affect children's health and development process.

 Children participate in playground games HAVING FUN: Children participate in playground games under the supervision of a coach from Playworks, a non-profit that teaches kids classic games and conflict-resolution strategies. (Photo: Carrie Richards)
When Deborah Gilboa's second-oldest son Nadav started coming home from first grade with discipline warnings from his teacher, Gilboa and her husband were perplexed. Nadav, who had just turned 6, had the same teacher in kindergarten and had rarely gotten into trouble.
So Gilboa, a family medicine doctor in Pittsburgh who consults at, and her husband sat down to ask their son what was going on. He had the answer right away.
"He said, 'In kindergarten we had recess twice a day and we went to gym twice a week,'" Gilboa told LiveScience.  Now, as a first-grader, Nadav's class only went to gym once every six days. They had one recess period a day, split with lunch, so that Nadav had only about 15 minutes a day to run around.
"He said, 'I get this feeling in my legs when they want to run and that feeling moves up to my belly and when that feeling moves up to my head I can't remember what the rules are,'" Gilboa said. "So he had really noticed a big change in his own behavior and self-control."
For kids like Nadav, the transition from summer freedom to the grindstone of the classroom may be tough. With schools under pressure to meet standardized testing goals, recess has been cut back and even eliminated in some school districts. The irony, experts say, is that schools may be shooting themselves in the foot by taking away playtime that's crucial to a child's growth. [The Top 5 Benefits of Play]
An overall decrease in playtime in even young children is resulting in kids who don't have a "culture of play," said Jill Vialet, the founder of Playworks, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the climate of play in schools, teaching kids the kinds of games they would have once learned from older peers.
And Nadav isn't the only kid who finds that a school day without playtime makes sitting still tough: Kids who don't play much also tend to struggle with self-control and learning, experts say, which can haunt them throughout their lives.
"Play is really a developmentally significant experience," Vialet told LiveScience. "It helps kids become high-functioning citizens and grown-ups."
Goodbye, playtime
Children's free playtime has dropped over the years, replaced by structured activities and screen time, including television and computer use, studies suggest. A 2003 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that a quarter of kids under age 6 watched TV for at least two hours a day; these same kids spent 30 minutes less per day playing outside than kids who didn't spend so much time in front of a screen.
At the same time, unstructured childhood time is vanishing. A pair of University of Maryland studies of children's time use found that in 1981, kids ages 6 to 12 had about 57 hours of free time per week. By 2003, kids had only 48 hours in which to choose their own activities. Time spent outdoors was especially hard-hit.
Early schooling often exacerbates play's demise. A 2009 report by the Alliance for Childhood surveyed kindergartens in New York City and Los Angeles and found that children had less than 30 minutes a day, on average, of "choice" time, in which kids could do whatever they wanted. Kids in L.A. had only about 19 minutes of free time each day. The rest of the kindergarten day was filled with academics and standardized test preparation, the study found.
According to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, as many as 40 percent of school districts in the United States have reduced recess in the aftermath of the No Child Left Behind act, which emphasizes testing scores.
These reductions tend to hit lower-income kids harder, experts say. In her practice, Gilboa sees children who get very little physical playtime during the day because of long school days and after-school programs that find it easier to keep an eye on kids who are watching movies rather than running around.
"Sixty minutes of vigorous physical activity a day prevents obesity in kids, and it used to be that between recess and gym you were getting that," Gilboa said. "This generation's kids would take that, but they're just not getting the opportunity."
Reclaiming recess
The result, experts say, is children who come into school without good play skills. Used to regimented activities, these kids may struggle with the give-and-take of playground games, said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University. That's not a natural state, she told LiveScience.
"If kids were left to have some time on their own, they would in fact develop play," Hirsh-Pasek said. "Now what we do is, we endanger the species by taking play opportunities away from them."
Despite the increasing amount of academics schools are trying to cram into their day (a 2008 study published in The Elementary School Journal reported that up to a quarter of elementary schools don't even schedule recess regularly for all grade levels), some advocates are jumping in to improve kids' playground experiences. [Read: For Health, Recess as Good as Gym Class]
  Thank goodness there is still a resistance to the Testing Stormtroopers:

Dear Parents,
Your kids are our kids.
Your kids — our kids — are not “stakeholders,” “clients,” or “customers.”  They are our kids, our charges, our collaborators.

They are not “raw material” or “human capital.”

Our kids are not barcodes. They are not cogs. They are not slides on a PowerPoint or points on a graph. They have names. They have hopes and fears and dreams.

They have crushes and heartaches and disappointments and jubilations.

Sometimes they have all of these in a single class period.

They have stories. They came from somewhere, and they are going somewhere. We want our classrooms to be an important part of that story, not just an obstacle or a detour.

They are people. They are young people, people who, in certain moments and in the right light, are at their very best.  They are people who make mistakes because they are still learning, and because we all do.

And they are watching. They see our mouths, “You must think about the world around you, question what you see on TV, and always seek new solutions.”

They see that ultimately, all their learning boils down to this test, this data point. They understand hypocrisy more than you know. They deserve better.  They deserve to have a reason to feel good about coming to school. They deserve to know that there are adults who believe in them and want the best for them.

They deserve an education that treats them not as outcomes to be produced, but as producers and discoverers themselves. The United States is known for its inventors and discoverers, yet we discourage critical thinking when we tell kids they deserve nothing better than a bubble.  Our kids deserve better than NCLB, AYP, and RttT.

We want our kids to have the ability to design a new way of doing things. We want them to explain why language is important, to read a ballot proposition, and to locate Afghanistan on a map.

We want them to be funny. We want them to laugh. We want them to examine philosophy, discuss the economy without parroting sound bites, and recognize the reality of credit card rates.

We want them to come up with the answer on their own —  maybe an answer we haven’t thought of — rather than select the “right” answer from a list. We respect them more than that.

We want our kids to think for themselves. We want them to enjoy discussing a book whether or not it will appear on an end-of-course test.  We want them to see the classroom not as a place to pass time but as a place to begin to figure out who they are.

We want them to learn the strength of their own voices, that one person can make a difference and that several people can cause a revolution.  When they leave our classrooms, we hope our kids can – and will want to — articulate their ideas: to know their ideas count.

Fear not. They will be counted. They will be measured. They will be tested; all of us, in one way or another, will be tested. PowerPoints will be made, and graphs will be presented. According to some formulations, value will be added.

But we want our kids to know they already have value, they already count, and the most important tests are the ones we all face every day:

Think it through. Play fair. Question always. Do your best. This is what we want for our kids, your kids. We won’t surrender our expectations, our integrity, or our belief in every child’s access to the finest free and public education in the world.

We won’t give up on them.  Our kids are who we fight for every single day.  We won’t give up, parents. Neither should you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lest we forget

Citizens registered as an Independent, Democra...Image via Wikipedia 71% of national debt happened during GOP presidencies; 28% under Dem presidents
By John Aravosis

GOP Presidents Dem Presidents
$9.5 trillion $3.8 trillion

Total debt is $14.3 trillion.

$1 trillion of debt comes from before Reagan; $13.3 trillion accumulated from Reagan to Obama.

71% of the $13.3 trillion was under GOP presidents; 28% of the $13.3 trillion was under Dem presidents.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Surprise! Mitt Romney's favorite kinds of "people" are winning over the real ones

Any surprise that, with corporate owned media dominating nearly all avenues of public information, this is almost entirely unknown in America?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What the press's obsession with Sarah Palin drives into obscurity

A for-profit media made up of corporate chains is not without a terrible cost. Salem suffers from a growing gang problem, and it's only likely to get worse, as the police and citizens adopt the same "war fighting" strategies that keep failing elsewhere. The Long Emergency now underway (an explosive sum of economic contraction + peak oil + climate disruption + zero-sum politics) means that all problems unwisely managed will become ever more frightening and expensive.

Imagine if the press cared more about helping the country -- meaning the ordinary people in it -- than it did about currying favor and lavishing attention on phonies like Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann. We'd probably know lots more about things like this:
Alternative ways to deal with juvenile offenders (h/t Reason, via Sam Smith)

Irene Sullivan, Reason - While researching a book about my nine years of service as a juvenile judge in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area of Florida, I met dedicated people all over the country who have had success deterring juveniles from crime. I reviewed the data. I found that diverting kids from criminal careers could save billions of dollars a year in prison costs while helping to create law-abiding, productive citizens, thus enhancing public safety. Here are a few evidence-based programs that work:

Civil citations for first-time offenders. - Wansley Walters earned worldwide recognition as director of Miami-Dade County’s juvenile services division by working with law enforcement and social service agencies to help nonviolent first-time juvenile offenders avoid arrest. Instead they are given a civil citation and assigned to a program that matches their needs, such as drug counseling or shoplifting prevention. Without an arrest record, it is much easier to get a job, obtain a scholarship, or enter military service. Walters diverted thousands of kids in Miami, saving taxpayers millions of dollars that otherwise would have been spent on prosecuting and detaining them. From 1998 to 2008, arrests fell by 46 percent, re-arrests by 80 percent.

Redirection - Administered by Evidence-Based Associates, a project management company in Summerville, South Carolina, Redirection focuses on more serious juvenile offenders, those who are not eligible for civil citations. By providing in-home family therapy tailored to the needs of the youth and his family, Redirection seeks to prevent institutional commitment. In four years of operation in Florida, Redirection saved the state $36.4 million in juvenile commitment costs while “significantly” lowering recidivism, according to the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. Why spend $45,000 a year committing a kid, sometimes just to give the family a much-needed break, when we can order the youth and family to cooperate with much less expensive in-home therapy that produces results?

Parenting with Love and Limits. - This nationwide re-entry program, designed by Scott P. Sells, an associate professor of social work at Savannah State University, is aimed at preparing juvenile offenders and their families for the transition from a residential commitment program back to home. In Florida, where Parenting with Love and Limits began as a re-entry program in the Tampa Bay area, PLL counselors engage the family in weekly “wound-healing” sessions while the youth is in a secure, locked-down, highly structured setting. PLL counselors continue to work with the family for weeks after the youth’s return home to ease the transition.

While early results with PLL in Florida are promising, Indiana’s PLL statistics, compiled by the Justice Research Center in Tallahassee under contract with PLL, are compelling. The one-year recidivism rate for the 189 Indiana youth served by PLL was just 16 percent, less than half the rate reported by the U.S. Justice Department based on data from eight states.

Monday, August 22, 2011

More wisdom from Sam Smith

A way under-appreciated national resource who ponders and comments from Casco Bay, Maine, but often delivers truths needed in Salem too -- like this great skewering of the corporate hack appointed to run the US Department of Education, the one federal cabinet department that really should be abolished entirely.

Yes, abolished. Not because education isn't important, but because it is, and the feds not only have no constitutional mandate to run it, but they also have no particular expertise and an abysmal record of accomplishment. The US Department of Education is doing to education what the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been doing to the first Americans for a hundred years or more, and what the US Department of Forestry does to forests.

What we need for education is not a cabinet department where gladhandlers and cheese merchants like Duncan can roost and find jobs for their buttkissing friends but an agency modeled on the National Institutes of Health or the National Academy of Sciences --- a non-partisan, non-political body with actual expertise, created to develop, test, and promote techniques that work and to debunk nonsense ... the kind of nonsense that underlays nearly every federal initiative in education, which have been pretty uniformly bad.
Eternal fundamentals of leadership (Rev. 8/14/11)

Sam Smith

I have been trying to understand the new eternal fundamentals of leadership according to the likes of Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and others who see government and non-profits as badly in need of corporate principles. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Please copy it promptly as I may be laid off later today with this post removed.
  • Fire, don't inspire

  • Test, don’t teach

  • Statistics are just another form of adjective. Use them at will

  • Treat everyone – including citizens, patients, students, teachers, and volunteers – as corporate employees.

  • With enough public relations, personal relations aren’t necessary.

  • Internal organization is far more important than external programs

  • Statistical margins of error don’t apply when numbers improve. Acceptable progress need only be a decimal point away.

  • Dismantle, don’t build

  • Civility reflects inability

  • Reserve all creativity for budgets and annual reports.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Best bet for today: Move to Amend Open House, 3 pm

The national campaign to Abolish Corporate Personhood and Defend Democracy.
Sign the Petition

* * *

Sunday, August 21, 2011 from 3:00pm-5:00pm

1285 Waller St SE, SALEM, OR 97302
See map: Google Maps

Come out to see our accomplishments and plans! We have completed language for a ballot
initiative and are ready to involve others in helping to spread the word about ending
corporate personhood.

Please feel free to bring a bring a friend!

Kerry Topel


Move to Amend

P.O. Box 260217, Madison, WI 53726-0217

End Corporate Rule. Legalize Democracy. Move to Amend.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sandra Steingraber speaks in Portland, October 20

Overview of main health effects on humans from...Image via WikipediaSandra Steingraber is a true hero, a fearless voice on a terribly fearsome topic.

If you missed the great documentary about her work, "Living Downstream," as part of the Salem Film Festival 2010 at Salem Cinema, make sure to find it on Netflix, and you might want to go see her in October in Portland. There are only a tiny few speakers I'd post a notice about two months early, that's how good she is. Mark your calendars now.

Sandra Steingraber Speaks on Toxic Pollution

Press Release

August 3, 2011 -- The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) is hosting a free public lecture with renowned ecologist, writer and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, PhD. The event will be held from 7 - 9 pm on Thursday, October 20 at The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Avenue in Portland. This event is free and open to the public.

As an authority on the interplay between pollution and human health, Steingraber will address the link connecting toxic pollution to illnesses like cancer.

Her seminal book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment compared data on toxic pollution and data from U.S. cancer registries to demonstrate a correlation. The book won praise from The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The Lancet, and The London Times, and was recently adapted as a documentary film by The People’s Picture Company of Toronto.

Steingraber’s other works, including the recent, Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis have won considerable acclaim for their exploration of the challenges and responsibilities communities face in a world that is increasingly polluted.

She’s won numerous awards, including Chatham College’s biennial Rachel Carson Leadership Award, the Hero Award from the Breast Cancer Fund, and the Environmental Health Champion Award from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles. She has served as an advisor to the California Breast Cancer Research Program, provided Congressional briefings, and lectured on many college campuses.

A columnist for Orion magazine, Steingraber is a scholar in residence at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.

NCAP is a non-profit organization that works to protect community health and the environment through research, organizing and advocacy to promote alternatives to pesticides. They are based in the Northwest and have been active in pesticide reform efforts for over 30 years.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On the information superhighway, City of Salem is badly lost

This icon, known as the "feed icon" ...Image via WikipediaAt the neighborhood meeting tonight, a neighbor --- a woman who has been a stalwart volunteer for Salem for decades --- complained that the city had revised the historic district review process to streamline approvals for "non-significant projects" to such a point that very significant projects were being sent through the process intended for the kinds of things where you can't even tell which of two pictures is the "before" and which is the "after."

The troubling issue is that this woman, who has worked really hard on behalf of the historic districts and for Salem's valuable but threatened identity as a city that has preserved important pieces of its past, was learning of these fast-track applications only after it was too late to raise a red flag about them, to warn the bureaucrat reviewing the application that the applicant was maybe trying to get a major change through in the guise of a non-significant application.

The underlying issue is how well Salem's public involvement and information machinery works.
And that is easy to summarize:

It sucks.


After much prodding, Salem finally put out a lame RSS (real simple syndication) feed that is so rarely updated that it might as well not exist. Not only is it only rarely updated, but it appears to be almost entirely unknown by city staff and certainly by city council. Anyone relying on the City's RSS feed to stay up on what's going on with Salem would be lost without a map.

Nor does Salem provide a nice menu of listservs for citizens who want to track certain issues, or committees, or property development or historic district changes, nor for those who want to keep track of things like chicken-keeping ordinances and rules, or even planning committee functioning.

Despite the wealth of absolutely free or very low-cost information sharing tools, Salem is about as open to its residents as The Forbidden Temple was to the average person in China in 1600.

There are two key tools for helping tackle this sorry state of affairs: RSS and listservs. Not fancy. But cheap and effective.

1) If you don't know what an RSS reader is, you should -- it's a tool that can make it possible for you to follow a number of websites efficiently and effectively. Even more important, it could make true transparency in government easy and, most important, very, very cheap.

In a nutshell, RSS is a tool that lets you keep an eye on websites at all times so that, if something new is posted on a site you are following (that you have "subscribed" to), you see the update in your reader. It's the difference between having to drive all over town to visit different newsstands to find the things you're interested in and having a butler offer you a fresh copy of the things you might be interested in the second they become available.

So instead of having to bookmark and laboriously visit those sites to see what is new (or, in Salem's case, to see how long it has been since the darn thing was updated, and how long the incorrect information will hang around) you just open your reader and browse your subscriptions, like browsing a table of contents in a magazine. You can aggregate various subscriptions into folders so that sites that all relate to the same general topics show up together. The screenshot above is the LOVESalem HQ Salem feed on my RSS reader -- it lets me know at a glance when there is a new post I might be interested in concerning Salem, so I can open that headline, click on the link, and be taken to the target website immediately, without having to even know where the site is these days.

Salem is not using this valuable tool to notify even the most interested people of things, such as the Boards and Commissions vacancies (Did you know that there is a planning commission spot open right now?)

2) Likewise, just as Salem has failed to use the vast power of the web to make it easy for people to stay up to date on the goings-on in city government, they have also failed to make it easy for people to use email to stay informed.

As a rule, every single distinct office at the lowest level in Salem city government (and every one above them) should offer one or more email subscription options so that residents who want to stay on top of a subject automatically get all the emails that the office sends out intended for the public. Instead of "broadcasting" using citywide newsletters, we should be using the great power of the net to let people selectively sign up for narrowcasts that are perfectly suited to their own particular interests.

For example, LOVESalem HQ is in the Northeast Neighborhood (NEN). When we started our little urban homestead here, I should have been able to go to the City of Salem website and see a lengthy menu of listserv options that I could have signed up for, as a way to start learning what's going on and staying informed efficiently. I should have had the choice of subscription to get an email on NEN, Salem water and sewer, planning commission meetings and agendas, city council meetings and agendas, zoning codes, ordinance changes, Parks and Rec, bicycling, solid waste management, etc. etc. etc. (I know, I'm weird -- but the point is that what interests me isn't what interests you, and sometimes our interests change over time.)

Every time a land use application or zoning change goes into the city for an area that I'm interested in, boom, it should show up in my email because I subscribed to the listserv for that neighborhood. Every time the city thinks about buying something that I sell, I should get an email, because I subscribed to the listserv for that product group with the city procurement department. And so on. It's not about doing more work for city staff, it's about getting the maximum of transparency and public information benefit from the work the city staff is already doing.


Salem spends a lot of money on public information right now . . . while, basically, failing to communicate very effectively. So it needs to change. The city needs to completely overhaul its whole public information and involvement strategy by starting with some basic first principles:

1) Everything is to be released to the public -- except for those few things that are exempt from the Public Records Act disclosure requirements.

That is, instead of operating the way it does today (like the Kremlin, only disclosing information when requested and when it feels like it), the basic rule would be that ALL city information is disseminated to the public as quickly as possible, except what needs to be protected.

What this means is that all staff reports, audits, research, etc. would all automatically be sent to the public information division, whose job would be to figure out how many ways to usefully provide that information to anyone who might want it for whatever reason, whether to run their business or for idle curiosity.

2) Duplicate channels when communicating with the public -- a bunch of listservs could be thought of as redundant to the city website. After all, why send out a bunch of emails when you can just post things on the website? Answer: Because the city needs to stop thinking of giving information as a chore or a burden and start thinking of it as the essence of democracy --- which means giving people as many options for getting the information as make sense from a cost and ease of use perspective. A city that really wanted to communicate with its residents would always be sure to overcommunicate, using the web, listservs, regular mail, CCTV and UTube, and, yes, posters on kiosks in neighborhood and city centers. Yes, the law requires posted signs when there is a land-use application -- but there should also be a PHOTO of the sign posted on the city website AND an automatic email that goes to anyone who has signed up to get the land-use application notices for that area.

3) Management must let go of the illusion of control -- The job of a manager in an enlightened information sharing regime is to make sure that only those things that should not be disclosed are not disclosed. That means private personnel files, information about litigation, etc.

Other than that, it should be a regular part of all departments and sections to share information with the public, without the filtering and massaging of management trying to CYA. Staff should NOT have to send public information items up a chain of command for approval, which causes delay and creates information filters.

Instead, staff should be trained in a very simple rule: If the public paid for it or their government used it or looked at it, it's a public record, and should be provided to the public as quickly as possible, in whatever formats (plural) make the most sense.

That is, all information that is created or used by any part of city government should be presumptively made available to the public immediately, as part of the ongoing transparency. Only those few things that would not be released in response to a public records request (because of a valid exception) should be exempt from this proactive, unprompted disclosure.

Bottom line: there should never be a need for a public records request, because the public should never have to ask a city staffer for information that they are entitled to have. If we're entitled to it and the city has it, there shouldn't be a delay of more than a day or so to get it distributed (posted on the web, sent to the various listservs, etc.). All releasable records that the city holds should be organized and made available to anyone with a web browser automatically, as soon as possible.

This will require that city council direct staff to reverse the assumption of today, which is that it's OK if staff operates behind a curtain of secrecy, only emitting whatever information they are forced to (meanwhile wasting money gathering and reviewing record requests).

Thus, city managers need to train staff on how to be as transparent as possible, show them how to recognize what things should NOT be shared, and reward them for sharing everything else (and organizing it in a way that helps residents find it).
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Ashland carsharing co-op folds

Logo MobilityImage via WikipediaAlas, a great idea is not enough.
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Noticing the Naked Emperor: Traffic Projections are BS

Harry Truman used to say that "A statistician is someone who can draw a straight line from a prior assumption to a foregone conclusion." Nowhere is this more true than in the hocus-pocus field of traffic forecasting to justify new construction projects, which is to real statistics what homeopathy is to medicine (you can get whatever result you want just by wishing!)

Here in Salem, the Highway Lobby and its pet politicians have been pushing to waste millions to see if they can push through a third auto bridge at the cost of hundreds of millions ($600 million and up), even as usage is declining on the existing bridges and peak oil means that vehicle travel is on a permanent downward trend.

Luckily, we are so broke in Oregon that Portland area folks are starting to choke on the absurd proposal to spend $10 - $15 billion (with interest and completely predictable overruns included) on a monstrous highway megabridge, the big brother of the same kind of absurd thinking here in Salem.

Best of all, there are enough people appalled by this fantasy that they are starting to notice reality before it's too late. Like the reality that the numbers being used to justify all this spending are total bunk.

Even more important, it absolutely wouldn't even matter if they were using honest numbers, because the end of the auto era is upon us. The only thing building a few last highway megaprojects would do is speed us up right at the moment of impact at the other end. In other words, spending more money trying to deny that the auto era is ending is like, as Bill Cosby put it, "leaning into a left hook."

For a great primer on where we are, the estimable Gail ("Gail the Actuary") Tverberg's "Our Finite World" blog can't be beat. All her stuff is worthwhile, but see especially her posts here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Locally, the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog has started to do a good job on the whole insane disconnect between what Salem says it wants for itself and what we actually plan to spend money on (money we're not going to have anyway). I stole the photo above from Breakfast on Bikes blog.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Drunk on Ethanol

Boxcar loop & alternative energy facilities in...Image by Sam Beebe / Ecotrust via FlickrScientific American piece summarizing the awful truth: ethanol is an ineffective way to use land. Oregon is continuing to prop up this immoral, inefficient, counter-productive scheme, lavishing money on ethanol boondoggles in Eastern Oregon year after year. They're now pretending that they're going to turn the stands of cottonwood trees along I-84 into ethanol, but that will stop the instant the subsidies run out. Funny how folks like Congressman Walden in Oregon's 2d Congressional District hate taxes and pork, except for all the taxes wasted on pork in their district.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

WORD: A beacon of common sense from a LOVESalem foreign correspondent

White Shoal Light on Lake Michigan in August, ...Image via WikipediaOne of the legion of LOVESalem foreign correspondents corps sends this from the shores of Lake Michigan, with a message clear enough to be seen from sea to shining sea:
I have been following the childish behavior of the elected representatives in federal government for the past several weeks (months?). I am continually amazed at the partisanship displayed by allegedly mature adults who should have the welfare of THE ENTIRE COUNTRY uppermost in their minds.

I have to assume you were all raised in environments which stressed honesty, fairness, compassion and a concern for those among us who are less fortunate. You all know what the right thing to do regarding the current financial situation is. Why is it so hard to get to an equitable conclusion? To paraphrase General Schwarzkopf: everyone knows what is right, the hard part is doing what is right.

In our government, with its huge range of ideology, the goal should be consensus rather than partisanship and compromise. I believe there are some stumbling blocks in trying to reach this goal. First is thinking that consensus is a win-lose situation, rather than the win-win outcome it really is. Second, is that many of you (Congress) appear to say or do ANYTHING you think will assure your re-election. Third, and most important, in my view, is that a large number of members of the House and Senate have been stupid enough to sign tax, marriage, abortion and etc. pledges, proposed by a non-elected, outside party, who has no stake in the potential results of those pledges. It is VERY difficult to back away from the challenge of a pledge, which leaves no room for extenuating circumstances, and still save face.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the United States Congress, you are now up to your eyeballs in extenuating circumstances. It is time to pull up your big-boy, and big-girl, pants, put aside your plans for future employment, realize that YOU are "Washington," stop name calling and come to consensus. Who knows . . . maybe if you ALL opened your minds there might be a third solution out there that is better than the Republican or Democratic plans that have already been proposed. If you can't do this, I think there might be a third choice for representation in the foreseeable future.

Bob Eichelberger
Norton Shores, MI
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Get going early tomorrow morning

LadybugImage by dbzer0 via FlickrAnother great free gardening class from Marion-Polk Food Share:
Garden Friends and Foes:
Managing Pests and Encouraging Beneficials in Your Garden

Saturday, August 13th, 10am – 12pm
Hammond Community Garden
4900 Bayne St. NE, Salem, OR
Located behind Hammond Elementary School
Drop in – No RSVP required.

About the event:
Many “critters” inhabit our gardens. Some are helpful to us and some just want to eat our plants. Come and learn about which is which, how to encourage the helpful visitors and how to manage the pests using environmentally friendly techniques.

About the host:
Gail Gredler teaches horticulture and pest management at Chemeketa Community College. She is also an avid home gardener, where she uses environmentally friendly techniques to keep pests from spoiling the harvest.

Upcoming for September:

Season Extension with Cold Frames
With local winter gardening enthusiast and small business owner Michael Taylor

Seed Saving: Continuing an Ancient Tradition, Host TBD.

For more information contact Ian Dixon-McDonald, Community Gardens Program Director
(503) 581-3855 x329,

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Worthwhile OSPIRG Effort

L├ęgumesImage via WikipediaIt's bad enough that we so often fail to do what needs to be done. What's even worse is when we subsidize things that absolutely should NOT be done, such as the conversion of corn into a diluted, lower-energy form of motor fuel (ethanol), which robs the land of productivity and people of food, while helping prop up a high-input, destructive, highly-petrochemical-dependent and polluting form of industrial agribusiness. The capture of the US Department of Agriculture by Big Agribusiness is one of the travesties of our time, and we're all paying the price. OSPIRG has joined a good campaign to turn the "Farm Bill" back into a slightly less horrific thing, and it's worth your support.

Oregon is blessedly free of the worst of this, but there are definitely pressures to keep pushing small farms off the land and consolidate more and more. By helping make the Farm Bill into more of a "Food Bill," you are helping preserve our single most important asset, our fertile land and soil.
When Jack Hedin, a Minnesota farmer, rented a few acres of land from neighboring corn farms to grow watermelons, tomatoes and other vegetables for a local health food store, he learned first-hand how unhelpful farm subsidies can be.

Jack ended up paying $8,771 in fines for one growing season [1] because, as he learned, it’s illegal to use land marked for corn to grow anything that isn’t subsidized. Corn or soy — often the main ingredients in processed junk food? Good to go. Fresh fruit and vegetables? Not so fast.

At a time when nearly one in three kids in the United States is overweight or obese, we can't let our farm policies continue to underwrite cheap junk food.

Thanks to a historic opportunity, now's our chance to end these handouts. We're hoping to get another 40 supporters to give $40 to expand our campaign.

Can you chip in to help us demonstrate the public support it will take to deliver a win?

In anticipation of a larger Farm Bill next year, the House has introduced a bill that would reform the worst of these subsidies, cutting $28 billion over the next 10 years from the program that is responsible for making unhealthy processed food so cheap and ubiquitous. This bill is an important first step and an unprecedented opportunity.

The opportunity exists because the public is increasingly aware that agribusiness subsidies are misdirected.

Agribusinesses, to prevent farmers like Jack from competing, have carved out a convenient system for themselves. Of course, they are doing everything they can to keep these handouts.

Consider this:

  • The richest 4% of agribusinesses — which includes giants Cargill and Monsanto — receive almost three-quarters of the subsidies.
  • 87% Oregon farmers receive no subsidy payments at all. [2]
  • In the last presidential election year alone, these big agribusinesses spent more than $200 million on lobbying and campaign contributions.
  • Cargill, one such giant agribusiness, is receiving government assistance even though it’s is the largest privately owned corporation in America and recently reported quarterly profits of $1.49 billion.
I’m still confident that we can win, because when I talk to people about this campaign, they’re just outraged. We’ve talked to thousands of Oregonians who now know how the government is underwriting the childhood obesity epidemic — and many of them won’t stand for it either.

It will take that public outrage to push past the junk food lobby and convince Congress to act. That’s why we’re:

Organizing grassroots support to put pressure on our representatives;

Building a strong coalition of children’s advocacy, public health and taxpayer groups to join us; and

Publishing research and getting our message out in the media. And to do all that, we're hoping to get another 40 supporters to give $40 in next two weeks to expand our campaign. Can you help with a donation right now?

Thanks for all you do.

David Rosenfeld, OSPIRG Executive Director

[1]. New York Times, "My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables)".
[2]. Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Free Fall Seed-Starting Class from Marion-Polk Food Share

Oregon School for the DeafImage via Wikipedia
Summer Educational Series
Marion-Polk Food Share Community Gardens Program

Fall Seed Starting with Soil Blocks

Tuesday, August 9
4pm – 6pm
Oregon School for the Deaf Greenhouse
999 Locust St. NE
Salem, OR
Enter of Maple St. NE.
Drop in – No RSVP required.

Learn about the “soil block” method of seed starting (no plastic needed!) with local expert, educator and Marion-Polk Food Share volunteer Pete Nagy. Lend a hand and help start seeds for the Oregon School for the Deaf Urban Farm. All produce from the project is donated to Marion-Polk Food Share.

About the host:
Pete Nagy has been a dedicated community garden organizer for the past three years, working at the Oregon School for the Deaf Urban Farm, the Northgate Forgiveness and Peace Garden and many others. Pete pioneered the soil block seed starting method in Salem, and is a skilled speaker and teacher.

Upcoming for September:

Season Extension with Cold Frames
With local winter gardening enthusiast and small business owner Michael Taylor

Seed Saving: Continuing an Ancient Tradition. Host TBD.

For more information contact Ian Dixon-McDonald, Community Gardens Program Director
(503) 581-3855 x329,
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Low-cost community leadership training

Like the man said,
Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky.

They are people who say: This is my community, and it’s my responsibility to make it better. (Gov. Tom McCall)
Introduction to Community Leadership
Part I - August 15th,
Part II - August 16th, 4-7 pm (six hours total)

Where? Northgate Center, 2nd Floor, 3850 Portland Rd NE, Salem, OR 97301

Cost? $10 suggested minimum donation for the entire workshop (scholarships available). To register send email or call Maria at 503.363.1895

Introduction to Community Leadership will provide learners with a fundamental working knowledge of the varied aspects which go into crafting a successful community-led engagement campaign.

Community engagement campaigns are those which have a clear end in mind, whether that is something as local as new street lighting, or something more broad such as expanded health coverage for working families. This course prepares learners for advanced and hands-on learning in more specialized topics within Leadership Development and Community Organizing.

This course is especially effective for those new to community organizing, or those looking to sharpen their skills. It is not required to come with an issue already in mind! This workshop will teach you how to choose an issue that makes sense for your community. By the end of this course, you should be able to:
  • Understand the basic components of community engagement/organizing campaigns.

  • Understand and articulate the difference between an Issue and a Problem

  • Describe the basic steps required to develop a community engagement/organizing campaign.

  • Understand the concept of the Social Determinants of Health.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Meanwhile, as the world burns . . .

A Dust Bowl storm approaches Stratford, Texas ...Image via Wikipedia(Tip of the hat to Sam Smith for this.)
Climate change update

Dahr Jamail, Aljazeera - The rate of ice loss in two of Greenland's largest glaciers has increased so much in the last 10 years that the amount of melted water would be enough to completely fill Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes in North America.

West Texas is currently undergoing its worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, leaving wheat and cotton crops in the state in an extremely dire situation due to lack of soil moisture, as wildfires continue to burn.

Central China recently experienced its worst drought in more than 50 years. Regional authorities have declared more than 1,300 lakes "dead", meaning they are out of use for both irrigation and drinking water supply.

Floods have struck Eastern and Southern China, killing at least 52 and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands, followed by severe flooding that again hit Eastern China, displacing or otherwise affecting five million people.

Meanwhile in Europe, crops in the northwest are suffering the driest weather in decades….

Professor Cindy Parker co-directs the Programme on Global Environmental Sustainability and Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health . . .

"Everything that affects our environment affects our health," Parker said, "As fancy as our technology is, we still cannot live without clean water, air, and food, and we rely on our environment for these.". . .

"People think technology is going to save us from climate change, but there is no technology on the horizon that will allow us to adapt ourselves out of this mess," Parker said, "We can physiologically adapt to higher temperatures, but all that adaptation is not going to save us unless we also get the climate stabilized."

"If this continues unabated this planet will not be habitable by the species that are on it, including humans," she concluded, "It will be a very different planet. One that is not very conducive to human life."

The world's population is growing by roughly 80 million people per year, and at the current rates of birth and death, the world's population is on a trajectory to double in 49 years.

William Ryerson is the president of the Population Institute, a non-profit organisation that works to educate policymakers and the public about population, and the need to achieve a world population that is in balance with a healthy global environment and resource base. . .

"We have 225,000 people at the dinner table tonight who weren't there last night, so to maintain our current population we're already over-pumping underground aquifers," [said]Ryerson, "India is over-pumping, and we have over 100 million people in India dependent on over-pumping, so this can't be sustained. “

Unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency recently revealed that greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year to the highest carbon output in history, despite the most serious economic recession in 80 years.

This means that the aim of holding global temperatures to safe levels are now all but out of reach. The goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius, which scientists say is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change" is now most likely just "a nice Utopia", according to Fatih Birol, a chief economist of the IEA.

"Population is the multiplier of everything else," explained Ryerson, who believes climate change cannot adequately be addressed until the overpopulation problem is solved.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Let's use our heads for a change

A bar graph of the incidence of post-traumatic...Image via WikipediaThe endless wars we are waging against EastAsia and EurAsia, with their long-forgotten rationales, are at least having their one usual benefit: we're learning lots about the way the human body works, as we pile up casualties.

One area that our concussive wars are educating us about is head injuries and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). And one thing we're learning as a result is that high-school sports head injuries are much more serious than we thought. Anyone who has seen Ali or other "punch drunk" boxers staggering around has seen the evidence of what shocks to the head do.
“Two studies, one of veterans and the other of former professional football players, provide new evidence that head injuries such as concussions are linked to dementia later in life and may make the brain more vulnerable to the development of symptoms characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.”
We need to start applying this knowledge here, in Salem, right now. Every single sport, starting with football and soccer, needs to be examined for its concussion rates, and those sports with above-average concussion rates need to be critically assessed with an eye to answering this one question:
Can the concussions in this sport be eliminated entirely or drastically reduced, or shall the sport be dropped?
There is no middle ground. With the mounting evidence all pointing the same way (that concussions are far more serious than we used to think), we are now on notice that we are causing kids ages 13-18, kids who cannot give informed consent, lifelong injuries, all in the name of entertainment. We have a duty to respond to these studies and to act to limit concussions to the maximum extent that is reasonably possible. Given that there are plenty of team and individual sports that teach all the same life lessons, there is no excuse for allowing kids to be exposed to high risks of suffering lifelong injuries as part of their education.

If you pay taxes here, you need to tell the S-K School Board that you want to know what they are doing to prevent concussions right now, and how they are going to avoid the huge legal bills down the road, the kinds of bills that accrue whenever institutions try to ignore evidence that what they are doing harms kids.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A critical look at "Teach for America"

Locations of Ivy League Conference full member...Image via WikipediaSome charities have a good rap far beyond their true worth, which is quite modest. But, run by Masters of the PR game, they do provide great careers for their founders and staffs, who become skilled at pleasing foundation funders, even as the problems they formed to address worsen (which only redoubles their fundraising). Hat tip to Sam Smith for leading me to this post:

Why one professor won’t let Teach for America recruit students in his classes . . .
. . . Since that time, the percentage of Fordham students accepted has marginally increased, but the organization has done little to win my confidence that it is seriously committed to recruiting people willing to make a lifetime commitment to teaching and administering schools in high poverty areas.

Never, in its recruiting literature, has Teach for America described teaching as the most valuable professional choice that an idealistic, socially conscious person can make, and encourage the brightest students to make teaching their permanent career. Indeed, the organization does everything in its power to make joining Teach for America seem a like a great pathway to success in other, higher paying professions. Three years ago, the TFA recruiter plastered the Fordham campus with flyers that said "Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School." To me, the message of that flyer was "use teaching in high poverty areas a stepping stone to a career in business." It was not only profoundly disrespectful of every person who chooses to commit their life to the teaching profession, it advocated using students in high poverty areas as guinea pigs for an experiment in "resume padding" for ambitious young people. . . .
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Open Letter to the American Red Cross


I am writing as someone who has donated over 144 pints of O- blood to others via the Red Cross in the PNW and Great Lakes Red Cross Regions. So I am a huge Red Cross supporter, and am a registered bone marrow donor.

However, I wince whenever I see the Red Cross mobile blood draw van parked outside the Oregon State Capitol building conducting onsite blood drives using a huge diesel bus that sits with its motor idling for hours and hours at a time -- when the Capitol is just a few steps away from a fully-staffed and nicely appointed Red Cross blood donation center! [0.4 miles, 8 min. on foot at most.]

Diesel exhaust is a public health hazard. The particulate emissions are a serious problem for any person who breathes. Moreover, the NOx and SOx emissions are health threats in their own right.

I am writing to ask that you consider the harm that you are causing, reflect on how it affects your mission, and devise a policy to eliminate diesel idling as part of your operations. If that means using utility grade extension cables to bring power to your mobile collection buses, so be it. Or move the collection into the building.

See for more on the health problems caused by diesel exhaust.

Thank you. I am posting this on my blog,, and I will be happy to give you an opportunity to respond.

UPDATE 2:  Much better:
Thanks for taking time to provide feedback on the American Red Cross.  First of all, thank you for your commitment to the cause of blood donation.  Donating over 144 units of blood demonstrates an incredible commitment and an understanding that the need for blood is constant.  I have asked members of my organization to look into the concerns you have raised about an idling bus motor.

It is not our standard practice to idle the motor on buses during blood drives.  In most settings we do have to rely on generators to power the buses.  I expect that it was the generator you have heard outside the Oregon State Capitol building and not the motor. 

As to your point that the capitol is a few steps away from one of our donor centers, we value having a center so close to the capitol and that center sees a great many employees and visitors from the capitol.  But, it is our experience that the convenience of having an established blood drive on capitol grounds attracts people to donate who may feel they are too busy or otherwise unable to get over to our donor center.  The capitol blood drives are generally very successful.  Given that the need for blood is constant, we attempt to accommodate donors in the best and most convenient ways possible.

We have conducted blood drives inside the capitol building in the past.  Unfortunately, those inside blood drives were subject to cancellation on short notice when senate or house business took priority for the space. 

As a result of your feedback, our Salem representatives are investigating the possibility of plugging in to electrical power at the capitol.  And, as we replace buses and generators, we will have particulate traps installed to mitigate the effects of the generators on the environment.  Thanks again for your feedback and past support.

Steve Stegeman | Chief Executive Officer
Pacific Northwest Blood Services Region - American Red Cross
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