Flower of the Week

A lovely and abundant Bougainvillea vine, one of the many decorative marks of southern Sicily. A characteristic plant, it captures all of the color and richness of sicilian culture, proudly representing some of the very best of what the island has to offer: its picturesque flora. The Bougainvillea flower has a smell so sweet, and a depth of color so intense, that it is almost impossible to resist snipping off one or two as a gift for yourself (as I did... shamelessly). I carried the flowers in my hair, and for the rest of the day I was enchanted by their charms as they tickled my cheeks and delighted my nose. A true joy of a flower.


Got Food? Thank A Farmworker!

So this week just happens to be National Farmworker Awareness Week. And considering what little awareness we normally have in regard to those who provide us with our food, the attention that such a campaign should draw towards issues of farmworkers' rights seems necessary. Every day in the United States, farmworkers face grueling physical conditions, insufficient wages and a lower standard of living, all to perform one of the
simplest and most sacred tasks of humanity: to sow and to harvest the glorious fruits and vegetables that feed us all. Yet still, we take this precious work for granted too often. So this week, and every day, take some time to pay attention to where your food comes from, and try to consider the rights of the workers who provide that great gift to you.

factsheets provided by the NC Farmworkers Insitute


The Fracking Shale

The Catskill-Delaware Watershed, from which New York City gets its water supply, is made up of 1900 miles of fresh, clear water nestled within the Catskill mountain region of upstate New York. It delivers nearly 1.4 billion gallons of water every day to 9 million residents, and has been praised as being a part of one of the most efficient, high quality water systems in the country, delivering safe, clean drinking water to the city. It is also a part of one of the mostsustainably-run systems, as 95% of the water supply is delivered via gravity alone, and as the watershed itself is used as a natural filtration mechanism, saving New York the cost of building and maintaining excessive water filtration plants.

By investing over $600 million in the conservation and pollution-prevention efforts in and around the NYC Watershed, and by buying up some of the surrounding land, the city and state have safeguarded a precious resource by maintaining its purity at the source, rather than managing water filtration efforts farther down the line, and reducing the amount of added chemicals necessary for purification. New York city has always had clean drinking water: pure and simple.

Still, New York State has put this enormous economic investment, as well as the safety of New York City residents at risk for the sake of supplying contracts to energy companies who wish to use the Watershed for natural gas drilling- namely, hydraulic fracturing, a process which has proven to be disastrous for water supplies in countless regions around the country. Conveniently exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and protected with by trade secrets, companies such as Halliburton continue to receive permits to drill in and around what should be protected areas

The Chesapeake Energy Corp., which had received the first contract to drill on NYC Watershed land, has rescinded on its ambitions, bowing to public pressure and announcing publicly that they have no further plans to drill in the area. But many opponents to hydraulic fracturing believe that this action is not enough, that the compromising extraction technique should be completely banned within the confines of the watershed. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has spoken out in favor of a ban, citing that the company's decision not to drill is in no way legally binding, and that the Department of Environmental Conservation should discontinue its issuance of permits to any potential drillers in the area.

After all, the energy companies are gaga over an enormous subterranean supply of natural gas which extends far beyond the New York City watershed, and offers the opportunity for drilling elsewhere but next to our clean water supply. The Marcellus Shale is the geological mass in question, and it stretches from Ohio and West Virginia eastward to Pennsylvania and New York, and contains up to 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout its entirety. So, why the watershed?

After public outcry and calls for environmental review, the DEC released a document on the safety and regulation of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and the wells associated with extraction, and extended the period for public comment to the end of 2009. Currently, the DEC is still considering the many arguments heard from these series of hearings, and will be making a decision about the watershed in the upcoming months. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?

Below is a map, generated by the DEC, of the large scope of the Marcellus Shale in New York State, featuring several existing drill sites. Surely there must be some other drilling sites within this mammoth area that do not compromise drinking water supplies...


A Lesson in Creative Writing

...from one of my absolute heroes. An inspirational, intelligent, funny, and extremely sensitive soul, on the lessons of creativity and expression:

First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.

And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I'm kidding.

For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I'm kidding.

We are about to be attacked by al-Qaida. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I'm kidding.

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

~Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. From A Man Without A Country


In the Shadow of Power

When most Americans think of Washington, D.C., they may visualize the grand monuments that stand as testaments to our country's noble character, or the immaculate lawn that stretches back to that famous house on Pennsylvania Ave, or the various likenesses of our nation's most honorable leaders punctuating the column-lined mall that seems to denote all of the greatness and grandeur of the U.S.A. They may think of the capitol building with pride; that this is where our elected officials come with meritorious intent to draft the policies that shape our great nation. In movies and on television shows, images of our nation's capitol are confined to those same white-washed edifices, and what we really learn about this arcane city is limited to a view that lacks the social realities that define Washington D.C. as it truly is: a city of dual-existence, where the most powerful individuals in the world are operating amidst a city of poverty, hunger, and desperation that are not typically associated with American life.

But despite the manicured nature of the D.C. that most tourists see, there are undoubtedly parts of the city in which the reality is quite grim, as thirty-two percent of D.C. children live in poverty, an unacceptable rate which is nearly twice the national average. Washington, D.C. is also the city with the highest AIDS mortality rate in the country. And there are more than 10,000 homeless individuals and families surrounding those sparkling downtown streets where the world's most powerful individuals converge to set their agendas. All around the city, residents suffer from such insecurities as poor health, lack of access to fresh food, low performance in schools, low graduation rates, and violent crime. And these issues are largely confined to the poorest neighborhoods of the city, which are intensely segregated according to race, giving the city it's notorious designation as "the south's northernmost metropolis."

Photojournalist Kike Arnal has done an amazing job in exposing these circumstances that face many of D.C.'s residents in his new collection, In the Shadow of Power. He began with a project in 2003 to document the city's library system, and was shocked by the unjust politics and the radical, unashamed separation that lies between the city's elite and those who live in poverty. It is an honest account of human life, and a bold exposure of its often brutal nature. It is a very powerful collection, and should be viewed with much thought and reflection. The startling black and white photos put into perspective our notion of this seemingly forthright city, and give us symbolic insight into the structures that define not only D.C., but our entire country.

Check out the photos, and read the artist's message here: http://www.intheshadowofpower.com/photos.html


300 Smiles

Congratulations to Sinjoyla Townsend and her partner Angelisa Young! They were the first of 150 same-sex couples to become legally wed in Washington, D.C. today. It was a monumental day for love, as people drove in from all around the region to have their marriage licenses given to them in the nation's Capitol. Upon arrival, they were greeted by a gender-neutral marriage bureau, which merely asked for the name of each "spouse," rather than for the names of the bride and the groom. Needless to say, there were smiles abound in Washington, D.C. today.

The District council made a historic decision back in December, when it voted to legally recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, granting same-sex couples their inherent civil right to benefit from all of those convenient marriage bonuses, which are given without question to heterosexual couples across the country. And Mayor Adrian Fenty signed off on the law in December, keeping in step with his promise that gay marriage would be on the horizon for Washington, D.C. This action provides not only tax benefits and financial co-dependency rights, but a symbolic movement in the capitol of the country which boasts itself as the most free; finally allowing all of its citizens the basic freedom to love without judgement or deprivation. It means that their relationships will be respected, and that their commitment to each other will be recognized in the eyes of the law.

And today was the day that it went into effect. And although their is some worry about the revocation of marriage rights, given the tragic outcome of California's Proposition 8 vote during the 2008 elections, and the unsuccessful opposition to the council's decision, today was a day reserved for celebration, not fear. Washington, D.C. now joins the ranks of 5 other love-friendly locales in the nation: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Hurray! These are the kinds of freedom-giving, difference-accepting places that I'd want to live in. What about you?


Flower of the Week

Hurray for March! The air is becoming warmer, the days are getting [slightly] longer, and Spring is so close I can practically taste it. Can you?

To celebrate, here is a firey tulip to remind us of the blaze of springtime coming our way! How could we possibly let snow monsters get to us when we've got such a dazzling, bright horizon in store?