Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Public Produce Markets as an Economic Catalyst and Job Generator?

The Project for Public Spaces published an article this month calling for a national study on the economic impact of public markets, with one of the goals being to find out just how many jobs are and might be created by the development and presence of a public market in a community. This would be a valuable reference for both market advocates and political types with job-creation on their minds to have.

Personally, I have always loved the cry of vendors hawking their wares. It varies by location and in intensity and pitch, but inevitably exudes such a natural, yet practiced and practical, enthusiasm.

History also supports my romanticized vision, having shown that markets have been gathering places throughout the world for people of all walks of life. It has only been in industrialized, technology-centered societies that the natural appeal and applicability of public markets waned (or was suppressed). Now, in an era where jobs are scarce, trendy trappings are more a luxury than a given, and "fresh" + "sustainable" + "community" is to food as "vintage" is to clothes, it makes sense that public markets are making a comeback.

My personal bias aside, such a study would certainly provide welcome data about the economic potential of public markets in communities of varying sizes, from an urban metropolis to a small town. Our nation is in need of any project that has economic viability, on top of the social and environmental benefits offered – perhaps a study on social potential should be called for? – so this type of collaboration would be ideal.

Some of the other topics and goals of the study are as follows:

• The number of jobs created by a public market - directly and indirectly. These could include farmers, seasonal farm workers, market stall employees, market managers, and even seed salespeople.

• The economic impact on the businesses around the market.

• The economic benefit of participation in a public market for the farmer/producer’s business, including an understanding of their cost of production and the cost of their market operation.

• The economic impact on the participating farmers’ rural communities.

• What else needs be evaluated? And how can this study take shape?

Browse the PPS's article for more about the background of public markets and the logistics and collaboration that such an impact study would entail. The nonprofit is also soliciting reader feedback and ideas on their "Markets Economic Impact Study" at info@pps.org.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Not Just TV: CW's Potentially Deadly Faux-Pas

With spring comes green-light new TV pilots season. I mostly don't give a hoot about this unless one of them features an admired actor/actress or is tackling an issue of interest to me. But I do read EW.com (Entertainment Weekly). And this announcement caught my eye:

After emitting a pleased cackle at the fact that the idiocy known as 'Melrose Place' 2.0 might go under, I noticed the thing about this item about something called "Nomads." Then my mind just hit the floor (not literally, of course). Here is my problem with it.

"Nomads" is basically about backpackers performing odd jobs for the CIA abroad in the hopes that they'll get formally recruited and trained. Problem is, assuming the show does well and gets high visibility, it will alter a sizable portion of the public's perception about (1) backpackers and (2) the ulterior motives of young idealists. This public will probably include at least some people abroad. So this is totally going to put actual real-life backpackers - most of whom are not in fact working for the CIA as spies and minimally trained covert operatives - in danger. We already have teens and 20-somethings being kidnapped and held abroad for months and years on end. Seriously, I know this is "just TV," but you know, most of the time, it really isn't.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Health Care Hoopla: A Primer from the AP

The AP published a pretty good breakdown yesterday of how the proposed health care reform bill in its current incarnation would affect Americans.

It looks to me like the main problems/areas of instability or unease would lie in:
(1) the Employers section, where large employers would be fined if they don't figure out a way to monitor whether employees receive federal assistance -- monitor without violating privacy laws.
(2) the fact that it's going to take three to four years for the exchange and insurers not being allowed to kick people to the curb.
(3) the changes to how medicine is practiced, as PCPs and other general practitioners and surgeons will all have to shift how they treat patients (bc while doctors should already be working to keep patients healthy, the system really is a pay-as-you-go, non-holistic setup). I think this would be viewed as a good change, but a rocky one.

Lost in Translation: The Line Between Journalism and Espionage

NY Times article: "Contracts Tied To Efforts to Kill Militants"

Let me get this straight. So the "benign gov't info-gathering program" was a website known as Afpak, proposed by a former CIA guy and a former TV exec., set up to operate as what looks like a local news service focusing on cultural conflict issues in the context of wartime. And the intermediary - the accused Mr. Furlong - between the military and Afpak told Afpak that the military wasn't interested while also telling the military that Afpak was worthwhile? And when the rug got solidly pulled out from under Afpak, Furlong reallocated some of the leftover funding into one military program while shoving the rest - $15 mill. - into thin air?

Out of all this, aside from the outrageousness of his actions, if verified, it strikes me how apparently this Afpak endeavor was never clearly defined as either news-gathering versus covert intelligence gathering. If the boundary between the two is not recognized by the editors, not to mention our own military, contractors and the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan - two countries where the USA has unstable relations, to say the least - then it's no wonder why journalism is regarded with suspicion and contempt by leaders on both sides (despite what they may say in public about the importance of a free press) and why the work journalists produce – and risk their lives for – are regarded as little more than spying.

It’s no wonder why what we do is lost in translation in countries where there is no free press. It’s no wonder why our own gov’t leaders make such pitiful efforts to defend our work and our lives when it comes to that.

Quotes about Rapes in Haiti

Below are some choice quotes and excerpts from an AP article on the dramatic increase in rapes of women and children in the tent camps in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The words and stories speak for themselves.

"The toddler is taking antibiotics for a gonorrhea infection of the mouth."

"Rape was a big problem in Haiti even before the earthquake and frequently was used as a political weapon in times of upheaval...

"The 21-year-old said her family has received no food aid because THE HAITIAN MEN HANDING OUT COUPONS FOR FOOD [and shelter] DISTRIBUTION DEMAND SEXUAL FAVORS."

"Eventually she found the patrol car but THAT OFFICER "TOLD US TO GO AND GET THE ATTACKER AND BRING HIM TO THEM.""

"Few rapes are reported... women often face humiliating scrutiny... police officers who suggest they invited the attacks... nurses who contend young girls were "too hot" in their dress style."

"WE ARE AWARE OF PROBLEM... BUT IT'S NOT A PRIORITY," Information Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said last month."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Legal Bites: "Chelsea's Law" Wants GPS Tracking of Sex Offenders in California

The state of California is facing public support for a potential "Chelsea's Law," legislation that would require convicted sex offenders returning to society to wear GPS monitors that would track their movements to ensure that they stay away from the places - schools, playgrounds, child care centers - where children and youth congregate. The proposed law is named after 17-year-old Chelsea King, who disappeared in late February and was found raped and murdered a week later. Convicted sex-offender, John Robert Gardner III is charged with the crime, as well as the murder of a 14-year-old girl in a neighboring community. He was on parole at the time of the crime and his arrest.

I'm for such a new law and policy. 'Twould be nice if it were adopted by more states, too. As for this excerpt, I'm glad it's been noted now, but why it existed, what the hell:

"On Tuesday it was revealed that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation last year destroyed records pertaining to Gardner's 2005 to 2008 parole as part of a routine annual documents dump.
The Associated Press and Fletcher's office both requested the documents, prompting the department to reveal that they had been destroyed.
Upon learning of the department's policy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered all parole records for convicted sex offenders held indefinitely."

What Irony: PepsiCo Funds Yale Nutritional Science Fellowship

As announced in a press release from Yale Medical School, PepsiCo is funding a new fellowship in Nutritional Science.

Okay, what kind of Orwellian world has Yale Med decided to create in the name of a little wad of green inked paper? Taking funds from the corporate giant that stands to lose good PR, if not millions of dollars, as a result of your Rudd Center and other med, health and nutrition program's research into childhood obesity, diabetes, and the negative health effects of sugared soft drinks - and the positive preventative results of soda taxes?
And having this whole thing guided at least in part by the former WHO tobacco control guru?
I'm with Michele Simon (of AppetiteForProfit.blogspot.com) on this one. This instance of industry influence and selling out really hurts. And yes, it truly is shocking.

Revenge: Child Health Group Evicted By Harvard After Alleged Disney Interference


After successfully publicizing the dangers and lack of educational benefits to babies from Disney's Baby Einstein brand of TV videos, the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has been evicted from its offices in the Harvard-affiliated Judge Baker Children's Health Center. This, after Disney representatives repeatedly called health center officials and allegedly threatened to sue unless the Campaign ended all communications with the press and advocacy work against Disney products.

Conflict of interest should apply.

That Judge Baker and Harvard even thought that this would be acceptable is surprising, but also not so, since as the NY Times article notes, Baker is run with a corporate board of directors, not a community one. So it is subject to a more corporate management than many in the public might expect.

But in the end, I still say this:
Shame on Disney. Shame on Harvard. And shame on us, the American people, for allowing ourselves to create and nurture and continue to stand by and nurture corporations and their ruthless, immoral, careless, evil mindset - which has permeated our own - that operate outside ethics and the law.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Buy the Book?: Texas Conservatives Seek to Rewrite History Textbooks

And the battle continues, both over what points-of-view get play in history textbooks and over whether a handful of people in one state with a large student population - Texas - should be allowed to decide the textbook foundation for the majority of public school curricula throughout the country.

It's a fascinating debate and conflict with valid points on all sides. But education really should not be at the whim of changing political tides, as idealistic as that may sound to some. This is a goal and point that really should be reached for as much as possible.

As for the debate going on in Texas right now, it's one thing to advocate a certain measure of balance to textbook curriculum (i.e. the quoted proposal to add info on conservative organizations and public figures, or even comparing Jefferson Davis' ideas with those of Lincoln's, for context), but it's quite another to eliminate and replace existing historical events and context (i.e. American imperialism in its early and middle development, the neutral description of the different political and economic systems at play, and the goals, however idealistic, of minorities during the Civil Rights Movement).

(photo credit: Darren Heater - http://morguefile.com/archive/display/625322)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rubbing Salt in the Wound: NYC Assemblyman Proposes Ban on Salt in Restaurants

With rising public interest and awareness in the relationship between food and health, city officials across the country have jumped aboard the grassroots bandwagons with enthusiasm, proposing and then passing laws to eliminate trans-fats from restaurant foods, require restaurants to prominently display calorie and other nutritional information on their menus, grade food establishments on a letter-grade scale, and tax soda/soft drinks sold in stores. The debate that has resulted has been heated, but mostly civil and sparking genuine opinions about the pros and cons of such government involvement in public dietary guidelines and eating choices. Even if one disagrees with the proposed legislation, and whether the laws work or not, at least leaders are making points based on informed research, right?

Apparently not always.

According to recent news reports, NYC Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has proposed a bill to ELIMINATE ALL SALT in all restaurant kitchens. That's right, ALL SALT. The idea apparently being that salt (1) is bad for you, (2) is not essential to the cooking process, (3) is simply a condiment that can be added at the end, (4) is not naturally occurring in food ingredients. Choice is good, but like salt, it is best used in moderation.

That's not a proposal based on sound health or scientific reasoning. That's insanity. You need salt to preserve foods and ward off bacteria. Salt helps give bread flavor and texture. Salt is a natural part of many foods, just as sugar is naturally essential to fruits and many vegetables, too. The notion that salt is somehow unhealthy even in trace amounts is absurd, so much so that I cannot take Assemblyman Ortiz's proposal seriously in any way. This is a good thing because if I even thought his proposed bill had a chance in heck to pass, I'd be feeling panic and outrage instead of stunned sadness as I sit here shaking my head at his folly.

This is a particular shame because it is coming from Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of southwest Brooklyn, of NYC's 51st District which includes Red Hook, Boerum Hill, Sunset Park, Borough Park, South Park Slope and Windsor Terrace. A local political and community leader who, until now, has had a pretty good record on pushing relatively popular health and community-centered issues such as farm-to-school advocacy, funding for eating disorder clinics and domestic violence. This issue, however, is likely going to weaken any prospect he had for higher office.

Fortunately, salt will in all likelihood not get wiped off our plates. Unfortunately, until the bill is officially rejected, talk on blogs, news shows and in pundit-land will continue.

photo credit: Earl53 at Morguefile.com - http://mrg.bz/kNUZB6