It’s times like these that NY needs a vibrant GOP


Rob Astorino (center) wants to replace Andrew Cuomo as New York’s governor. But a lot of New York voters aren’t even giving him, or his Republican Party, a serious look. Photo: Astorino campaign

The last couple of years, the Democratic Party in New York has been hammered with ethics and corruption scandals. It’s not a new phenomenon, but the drum beat of allegations, prosecutions and convictions is so steady that Governor Andrew Cuomo found himself joking about it in an interview with public radio’s Susan Arbetter.

“Seems like every week there’s another open seat, given the travails of our friends in the legislature,” Cuomo laughed. The joke boomeranged this summer when the New York Times’ three-month investigation found that Cuomo’s own staff had intervened directly in the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, with the newspaper concluding that Cuomo’s office “deeply compromised the panel’s work.”

Federal investigations are now underway, but one curious phenomenon is becoming more and more clear: Despite the Democratic Party’s shoddy track record for self-policing and purging its own miscreants — including those politicians accused of severe sexual harassment — Republicans have failed to make gains in the polls.

After weeks of brutal press and his own clumsy responses to the scandal, Governor Cuomo is still beating Republican challenger Rob Astorino by nearly 30 points. “Is the governor’s race all over? Did it ever start?” Quinnipiac pollster Mickey Carroll said in a statement.

The bottom line is that the GOP has become almost completely marginalized in statewide politics. The party doesn’t hold a single statewide office and seems incapable of mounting a serious challenge for those positions.

Aggressive gerrymandering and some skillful political maneuvering in Albany has allowed Republicans to cling to a fragile quasi-majority in the state Senate, staving off complete irrelevance, but even in those races voters statewide prefer Democratic politicians by wide margins. (When you add up all the votes cast in state Senate races, Democrats garner significantly more support.)

This is deeply problematic, and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. There is no reason that the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Alphonse D’Amato and George Pataki shouldn’t be able to provide a credible, coherent alternative for voters, particularly when Democrats are busily shaming themselves in Albany.

Unfortunately, the GOP has steadily eroded its own popularity with average New Yorkers while falling into a deadly cycle of feuds and embraces with the Conservative Party and the Tea Party. Rather than producing a sound, detailed plan that would attract a wider base of support, Republicans continue to be wooed by national red-button issues that just don’t play well in the Empire state, from gun rights to opposition to gay marriage to hostility to Obamacare.

Republicans have also failed to embrace the reality of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic New York. Instead of recruiting candidates of color, bringing blacks, Hispanics and Asians into leadership posts, and developing issues and ideas that address the problems of minority voters, too many GOP leaders have continued to rely on old narratives about “Upstate vs. Downstate” and “New York state versus New York City.” Everyone understands what those code-phrases mean. We get how the battle lines are drawn.

But the demographic imperative for abandoning that fight is clear. Only 70% of New Yorkers are white. That’s ten percent fewer than in the nation as a whole and the numbers of whites are certain to dwindle rapidly census by census. If Republicans hope to compete, and provide a viable choice to voters, they need to end their reliance on one demographic group as a base of support.

The alternative is what we’re seeing now. Even when significant questions are being raised about the Democratic leadership, their ideas, their ethics, a majority of New York voters simply don’t see the GOP as an option. It may be that scandals and outrages will grow serious enough by November to change that in 2014, but I’m skeptical.

Rob Astorino has proved himself to be an able campaigner. He’s a veteran politician with some interesting ideas. Voters should be giving him a serious look. But right now, the burden of his party’s brand is just too heavy. Forced to choose between a candidate like Cuomo, now viewed by many as flawed, and a Republican Party viewed by many New Yorkers as flatly unacceptable, a lot of voters don’t see any choice at all.

One candidate can’t change that dynamic. But the GOP’s leadership needs to go to the mountaintop and think hard about its values, its message, its demographic appeal. It’s not enough to wait around and hope that the Democrats will continue blowing themselves up. Republicans need to once again become a credible, familiar, viable choice for all New Yorkers, from the Bronx and Brooklyn to Buffalo and Plattsburgh.


Progressives gather in Ottawa for “Peoples Social Forum”

Happening now in Ottawa.

Happening now in Ottawa.

A progressive I know steadfastly maintains mainstream media is enslaved by tiresome voices from the right and the left. Just so much Tweedledum and Tweedledee, no real choice at all.

There’s lots of room to debate the state of choice in political life. But it is a fact of life that voices outside the mainstream have a harder time getting equal attention within our usual circles of news.

So, in the spirit of the marketplace of ideas, let it be known that many, many progressive products are being hawked in Ottawa this weekend.

Here’s how event organizers bill the next few days:

Peoples Social Forum: Ottawa, August 21-24, 2014 Build together, win together! The Future is Ours!

I was in grade school in the heady 60s, not at any free speech sit-ins at Berkeley. But the sound of this reminds me of the “teach in” movement, sort of. There are at least 17 formal themes (climate, communication, knowledge, work, etc.)

According to the Ottawa Citizen, organizers are predicting “…the largest gathering of social movements in Canadian history.”

More than 3,000 people have registered for the forum, so far, and hundreds of people are volunteering for the event, organizers say.

“House an activist” posters have been up throughout Ottawa, and many people have offered lodging for participants who can’t afford it, said organizer Darius Mirshahi. About 1,000 rooms are booked at the University of Ottawa dormitories.

A fair number of street marches are planned as well, with the potential to tie up traffic.

So, something to avoid, if you prefer life as usual. Something to consider if the flame of progressive action speaks to your inner activist.

Definitely a menu with more choices than tired old political Party A or equally-frayed political Party B.

Does democracy work if your politician is a no-show?

vacant districtThis morning we’re airing a special report from WNYC, our sister station in New York City, about the remarkable number of empty legislative seats in Albany.  Thirteen seats, in theory representing roughly 2 million New Yorkers — many of them black, Hispanic or Asian — sit unfilled.  In many cases they’ve been empty for more than half of the last elected term.

The causes vary:  scandals, people taking higher-paying jobs, and so on.  But the outcomes are the same:  citizens without clear representation.  “It’s the kind of situation where they have no voice at all, and that is something that should be unacceptable,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute on Latino Policy, in an interview with WNYC’s Karen Rouse.

As I listened to Karen’s story, I kept thinking about all the ways that our Assembly members and state Senators fill niches in North Country life, the connections they make in Albany, the problems they sort out.  What would we do without them?

I also found myself wondering why I haven’t heard more about this.  We hear all the time about “voter fraud,” despite the fact that studies show it to be, factually speaking, a non-issue.  The most recent report found that approximately 31 false ballots had been cast in a pool of votes that topped 1 billion.  (That’s billion with a B.)

It’s puzzling right?  We obsess about a statistical irrelevance and we don’t talk at all about millions of our neighbors and fellow citizens who have no voice at all, or only a limited voice, in the state capital.  Check out WNYC’s report, if you missed it, by clicking here.  And then chime in.  How important is your representation in Albany?  And would you be mad if you got a “we’re closed for business” answering machine message next time you called your lawmaker?

The Souls of White Folk

soulsofwhitefolokA little more than a hundred years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a book of essays that strove to examine “the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.” It strikes me, watching the violence and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, that it is long past time for an equally great author to write a similar text about the souls of white folks.

I’m not that writer, but I think I can point to some of the questions that he or she might pose to the rest of us who live in an America where whites will soon become one minority among many, one racial tribe among a family of tribes.

First, I would ask how it is that so many of us who are white have been encouraged and trained to forget the agony and burden of our own history?

We are a nation that often describes itself as “Christian” and “European,” meaning that we are comfortable thinking of a man who lived 2,000 years ago as a present and inspirational figure in our moral lives. We talk about the long chain of ideas that stretch back through the Puritans of England, the Enlightenment philosophers of France and Italy, even as far back as the thinkers of ancient Rome and Greece.

Yet we rush eagerly to pretend that events that occurred on our own soil a century ago, or a decade ago, or last year are somehow old news–dead history. We stand proudly on the shoulders of giants when talking about our national greatness, yet we insist cravenly that the crimes of our forefathers have no bearing on present circumstances.

This kind of deliberate ignorance is not a sign of strength or courage, but a symptom of deep, abiding shame.

Racism grows from many seeds in America. But the most robust and the most poisonous, surely, is this kernel of sad and secret guilt, which we hide away behind euphemisms and sly bigotry and code words and unexamined privilege. This is the strange meaning of being white in 21st century America.

We know the facts–or at least anyone does who has not chosen to embrace the intoxicating bigotry of TV networks and websites that peddle deception and propaganda. We know that we have inherited the vast prosperity of a nation built on stolen labor and stolen soil, our foundations laid in the suffering and the evil malignancy of slavery and land-theft. Not just in the South, but across the United States, the seed corn of our present wealth was planted not with a fish to nurture its growth, but side-by-side with the ruined and used-up bodies of human beings.

The liberties that we cherished in our documents and in our bold words grew, unsound and untested, around the canker of peoples shackled and peoples thrown violently from their ancestral territories. In the 1860s we conducted a Civil War in an effort to purge this sickness, hoping to buy in fresh blood some redemption from the old stain. But the surgery was crude and primitive and from the damaged body of our nation grew new deformities, new diseases.

The last 150 years of American history have been a study in secret white rage, savage violence and race-hatred.

After the Civil War, America’s whites launched a war of oppression and slaughter against the Native tribes of the West, a siege that lasted at least until 1907, when the US Cavalry was still skirmishing with Navajo tribesmen.

We erected a government-sanctioned system of white privilege and opportunity known broadly as “Jim Crow,” that insured well into the 1960s that blacks would be denied the freedoms guaranteed under our Constitution.

Decade by decade, whites showered insults and brutalities on African Americans; and at every turn we pretended, in our sickly shame, that blacks were themselves at fault for our own shattering falseness. We allowed a system of terror and oppression to exist across the United States — not just in the South — that decorated our land with the “strange fruit” of black men and boys dangling dead from trees. They were tortured and murdered not by thugs and hooligans, but by the upstanding citizens and officers of the peace of our sacred small towns.

While the rest of America grew and prospered and saw its seed corn grow up into great cities and suburbs and 21st century industries, blacks were again and again denied the ability to buy homes in our best, safest neighborhoods.

They were deliberately excluded from the businesses and the clubs and the schools and the churches — often, from whole communities — where our growing bounty was nurtured and shared.

Meanwhile, along that terrible journey, whites kept telling themselves pernicious lies about blacks. Blacks were to blame for their own poverty. Blacks were to blame for their lack of wealth, for their lack of opportunity. We invented and nurtured the comfortable fiction that black men are criminals and drug addicts and “thugs.” We used them as bugbears in our political campaigns, as symbols of disorder and chaos.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when we saw black communities foundering in a wave of poverty, joblessness, addiction and lack of education we responded, not with a Marshall Plan to help raise up their communities, but instead we created a vast and growing network of militarized police, and public and private prisons. We reinvented our criminal justice system so that it began, almost overnight, to funnel tens of millions of black men into jail cells.

Whites committing the same crimes were, in the vast majority of cases, sent for drug rehabilitation, for job retraining, parole, or for military service. Blacks, by contrast, were made into an army of felons, and permanently denied many of the basic dignities and rights of citizenship.

Along the way, we watched as the growing army of overwhelmingly white police failed to perform the basic and fundamental public service of making black communities safe. Instead, blacks found themselves “stopped and frisked” without cause. They found themselves being watched and stopped and harassed with a frequency that no white American would tolerate. They found their young men, even those who were unarmed, guilty of no crime or only minor infractions, lying dead in police shootings.

It is time and long past time for a great American scribe to take up the challenge of examining the strange souls of white folks who live in this great nation and who bear the great burden of this racial legacy. It is time to demand a new chapter in our history, one of remembrance, one of accountability, one of courage, and one of penance.

W.E.B. Du Bois talked in his book about the halls of Jubilee, with its bricks “red with the blood and dust of toil.” That is undeniably the foundation of our great America. We are a remarkable nation, but we sank a great part of our taproot into shame and villainy and hatred.

But it is in our spirit, as white Americans and black Americans and Americans generally, to be courageous and to speak plain truths and to pay our debts. The rage in Ferguson, Missouri, gives us one more chance to begin writing this new chapter, one more day on which to wake up and rise up and make ourselves accountable to the vision and idealism and, yes, the higher moral burden laid upon us by citizenship in our Republic.

This great book about the souls of white folks, laying out the steps required for redemption, has yet to be written. In the meantime, there is something that we can all do to begin the healing. Tonight when you see African American men raging on your television screen, don’t waste your time thinking about what those images say about blackness. If you are a white man or woman, that is not your burden, not now, not at this juncture in our history.

Your burden–and it is a grave burden–is to think about what those images say about you and us and whiteness and the long, terrible road that brought us all to Ferguson, Missouri.

Possible evictions from Montréal tribal land for “marrying out”

Bilingual Stop sign in Kahnawake. Image by Peter Van den Bossche, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Bilingual Stop sign in Kahnawake. Image by Peter Van den Bossche, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

What rules are reasonable to protect limited tribal resources? How does who one marries affect cultural integrity?

Like many other specific groups, the Kahnawake Mohawk community on Montréal’s south shore is struggling with those issues.

The main council website includes details on the rules, rights and responsibilities of membership. Membership Law is set forth in a 35 page .pdf that can be found on this webpage.

Here’s the source of on-going struggle and pain:

20.1      A member who:

  1. a)  married, or marries, a non-Indigenous person after May 22, 1981, or

  2. b)  commenced, or commences, after May 22, 1981, a common-law relationship with a person who has no Kanien’kehá:ka or Indigenous lineage, will have their entitlement to receive any of the benefits and services to which they would otherwise be entitled as a member of the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawá:ke, suspended for so long as they remain married or in a common- law relationship with the non-Indigenous person.

(Note: There are exceptions, including permission for relationships established before that date to stay on. )

Enforcement has been intermittent but that may soon change. According to the Montréal Gazette, as many as 200 people could face eviction for being in violation of that rule, including Kahente Horn-Miller.

“What’s going on here isn’t making us a viable community,” she said. “It’s tearing our people apart. It’s tearing our families apart.”

Kahente, a visiting professor of aboriginal studies at Carleton University, explained that, in Mohawk history, membership wasn’t focused on race. “This whole idea of measuring how much blood we have is so foreign to us,” she said. “Our ancestors brought people to replenish the community, not the blood. They brought people into our communities and we’re all descendants of them.”

The issue would perhaps be less fractious if it didn’t involve competition for limited resources. CBC news cited Michael Delisle, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake as saying:

 …Kahnawake’s limited real estate means the 6,500-person community’s ability to grow is stunted, and allowing non-natives onto the reservation takes space away from Mohawks.

Delisle also made the case that non-native people living in Kahnawake largely benefit from the same perks Mohawks are entitled to, notably tax exemption.

This 2010 letter to the editor of the Kahnawake News says the issue needs more thought:

Dear editor,

It seems to me the problems with membership are: 1. it seems it can be taken and given on a whim. One’s membership (citizenship?) should not change depending on your current or past marital status. All non-Natives should have neither status nor be citizens; but spouses should be able to reside (though not own). Children can own and be citizen/members etc… At some point we have to recognize that keeping people out who should be members/citizens in fact weakens the “blood quantum” or Mohawk-ness (if you’ll allow), this becomes a mixed Native community, not Mohawk as the so-called law and council suggest.

2. Demanding that people prove their worth, especially women who were taken off the roll. is both insulting and very “un-Mohawk.” Women should be asked to come back, celebrated in fact, having once been a matriarchal culture, this seems obvious, and the ultimate resistance to the Indian Act. Their children and grandchildren are a lost generation of Mohawks.

So much more to say… but shouldn’t these points be discussed? Are they being discussed? This story doesn’t become about one woman it has to be about all those people who have lost membership for getting married or living with someone. It has to ask how does it create a prolonged culture when those who have been ostracized can never come home….

Someone needs to ask these questions, no?

Christopher Fragnito

A difficult challenge, to be sure. One that is exacerbated by modern pressures, like taxes and competition for limited space.

Amish and “English” come together in response to abduction

Amish buggies. Archive Photo of the Day: Judy Andrus Toporcer

Amish buggies. Archive Photo of the Day: Judy Andrus Toporcer

Here in the North Country, the Amish and English live side by side, neighbor next door to neighbor. Lives intersecting mostly superficially—you stop at the display of baskets set up in a village parking lot, you see the sign “Eggs” on a back road and pick up a dozen, or you just barely avoid a collision with a buggy on a narrow road late at night.

The barriers were crossed yesterday as we English mustered everything we have—cars, phones, helicopters, internet, law enforcement records on sex offenders, search teams—to find the two Amish girls abducted from the vegetable stand in front of their Heuvelton farm.

I live in Amish country. On my road and on every road in the old DeKalb/Depeyster/Heuvelton area, Amish people are our neighbors and, in some cases, our friends. English and Amish were consumed by the abduction. On Route 812 and the side roads off of it, searchers on foot combed the ditches and corn fields. Police and emergency vehicles lined the shoulders; helicopters hovered around Mt. Alone across from the  farm where the girls live. We were all worried and imagining the worst.

My first instinct yesterday was to visit my closest Amish friends who are neighbors and friends with the family whose girls were abducted. Actually, I stopped by their place twice and later met them on the road as they were headed over to lend their support to the family.

My conversation with my Amish friends was the same as my conversation with everyone else I talked with yesterday. We were all sick at heart, worried, horrified. We all agreed that this was a terrible “first” for our community, something shocking that had never happened before.

Because we are friends, I could take it a little deeper: talk about the impact this would have on so many Amish families whose children run the vegetable stands. It’s part of their farm economy. I could mention my horror that people would take advantage of the Amish vulnerability –no phones or cars to use in response to an event like this.

I felt ashamed and somehow responsible—our “sick” English society, you know—for this terrible event.

We shared many of the same feelings. But their perspective is a bit different: they do not feel like “special” or “other” victims. This could happen to anyone. And, they pointed out firmly that as soon as the girls were taken, the family raced to an English neighbor’s home and the police were called within minutes of the abduction.

My Amish friends see the person or persons who abducted the girls as “sick” or even wicked. It was a good vs. bad person or behavior thing. I was trying to lend my Amish friends support through a sharing of the anguish. In fact, they lent me support by making this a human, a family, a parental story rather than an Amish vs. English thing. They made me feel a little better, in the midst of the worry we all shared.

This event may lead to some changes in how Amish families run their vegetable stands, at least in the near future. But I think it has also changed, perhaps in a small way, how our two cultures intersect. This was our collective disaster. We came together from our hearts. Later today, when I see my friends we will share our relief. Isn’t that what everyone across the county is feeling today? Not so Amish vs. English. Just all of us relieved and thankful.

Craft beer festival highlights local brews and foods in Ottawa

Just two of many craft beers featured at this weekend's festival. Photo: Lucy Martin

Just two of many craft beers featured at this weekend’s festival. Photo: Lucy Martin

On paper at least, mid-August probably charts as a brilliant time to hold a beer festival, like the National Capital Craft Beer Festival, taking place in Ottawa this weekend – like, right now!

Regrettably, as I wrote this the projected high for Friday was no higher than 15C/69F. (Ugh!)

OK, that’s not the greatest beer-drinking weather ever. Although the weekend looks warmer still and summer is not dead yet. Besides, beer works year-round, right?

I was about to throw in the famous line attributed to Benjamin Franklin (“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”) except that’s a mis-mash. According to Bryce Eddings at About, Franklin said no such thing, though he wrote something really close:

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

Wine, beer, even rain. It’s all good.

The Ottawa beer event will, of course, spotlight local craft brews. And food. But the Ottawa Citizen says the third annual event includes a “solid musical line up”, as detailed in this schedule. It’s happening at City Hall’s Marion Dewer Plaza, 110 Laurier Ave, West. (Admission charges apply, must be 19 or older for entry.)

The new book by Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John

The new book by Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John.

While on the topic of regional brewing, I wanted to mention that Kingston beer blogger (and long-time friend of the station) Alan McLeod has a new book out, co-written by Jordan St. John, Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay.

Truth be told, after a sip or two, I don’t even like beer. But it’s such a common part of life, and seems like such an exciting aspect of the local food movement, that I often wish I did! See what I mean by way of the book’s summary:

Ontario boasts a potent mix of brewing traditions. Wherever Europeans explored, battled, and settled, beer was not far behind, which brought the simple magic of brewing to Ontario in the 1670s. Early Hudson’s Bay Company traders brewed in Canada’s Arctic, and Loyalist refugees brought the craft north in the 1780s. Early 1900s temperance activists drove the industry largely underground but couldn’t dry up the quest to quench Ontarians’ thirst. The heavy regulation that replaced prohibition centralized surviving breweries. Today, independent breweries are booming and writing their own chapters in the Ontario beer story.

Sample sections expounding on that blend of hops and history can be previewed online too.

It’s a similar tale on both sides of the border, of course. As Brian Mann reported last September, craft beers are exploding across the North Country, creating jobs and recognition of the area.

Responsible drinkers can therefore hoist a few frothy mugs while taking satisfaction in stimulating local economic diversity.

The long-running issue of “car culture”

Traffic jams are a normal feature of modern life. Should they be? (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Traffic jams – a norm of modern life. Should they be?   (Image source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Sometimes we’re just fish in water, oblivious to our own surroundings.

That was part of the message two tourists from Europe shared recently, in an “Open letter to the people who hold power and responsibility in Canada.” In it, they found fault with pretty much the whole way people use cars in that country.

According to various media reports, English-born Holly Chabowski, 30, toured parts of Canada with a friend from Denmark, Nanna Sorensen, 23. The two spent time in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, and Halifax. They also rented a car and saw various parks, including Algonquin, as part of their 5-week visit.

Apparently, on the whole, they encountered an unhappy shock. It stands to reason they found lots of cars, highways and congestion in those major urban centers. But they were equally appalled by a sense of active bias against anything that wasn’t car-oriented:

As we explored more of the country we tried to console ourselves that at least a few cities were making an effort to make life liveable for humans – small local businesses, cycle infrastructure and pedestrianised streets. However, it felt like a token gesture rather than a genuine effort to make Canada a healthy, happy and sustainable country. Pedestrians were squeezed onto narrow pavements and forced to stop every 100m to cross the road, bike lanes were little more than paint on the ground for the cyclists to help protect the parked cars lining every street. We heard that the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is actually tearing up bicycle lanes to make way for more cars!

Walking and cycling are human activities that bring great life, health and economy to communities. Streets that prioritize cars over humans are bad for business, bad for health (mental, social and physical), unsafe and break down communities.

Rebuttals flew. Hey, ladies! Get real! Canada is big, OK? ”Need-a-car-just-to-get-around” big. And Canadian winters are no walk in the park either. There’s simply no comparison between here and what works in smaller, milder places like Denmark.

According to a follow-up article by Michael Woods in the Ottawa Citizen, Mayor Jim Watson distances his city from any “car culture” rap, insisting that Ottawa takes great pride in being clean and green. Watson also thinks the two tourists gave scant account to the question of scale:

“Copenhagen is about 88 square kilometres and Ottawa is about 2,800 square kilometres,” he said. “We have 32 times the land mass, so we don’t have the luxury of everything crammed together in a small European city. We have people that live a hundred kilometres from our downtown core. There is a need for streets and there’s a need for places for people to park.”

Still, it’s not too hard to find voices in support of the “car culture” complaint. The Citizen quoted urban planning expert Barry Wellar, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Ottawa:

“Ottawa has itself an immense hole. When you do things wrong year after year, decade after decade, instant solutions don’t happen.”

Wellar said he wrote a paper nearly 40 years ago, in 1975, titled Taking Steps Toward the End of the Automobile Era. He said much of the advice in that paper, such as giving buses the ability to control traffic lights, has not been followed.

“I wrote 39 years ago what these ladies are writing about now,” he said. “My guess it these ladies from Europe could come back in 40 years and it’ll be déjà vu all over again. … We have a car-centric society.”

The list of problems facing car-centric transportation models is pretty obvious: sprawl, expense, pollution, more carbon emissions, less-pleasant surroundings and a diminished sense of community, plus significant numbers killed or injured in highway accidents, and higher rates of obesity, with all the health issues that carries.

One could counter that it was highways and mobility that gave rise to our current economic development and high standard of living. But does anyone still think we can simply build our way out of the problems individual car use has also created?

I should add the travelers found a great deal they liked about Canada too. They just think the whole car thing needs work.

Chabowski furthered the pair’s initial letter with this: “Why I wrote about Canada’s car culture“. In which she responds to the responses, included an assertion that she’s not asking for cars to go away. She’s asking for more choices that doesn’t put cars first and people second.

Which does seem like a reasonable topic for conscious consideration.

Ebola crisis prompts readiness responses

Infographic on Ebola from the CDC

Infographic on Ebola from the CDC, which has more information here.

As anyone following the headlines knows, there’s a serious outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The World Health Organization is calling Ebola hemorrhagic fever an “extraordinary event” serious enough to be an International health emergency. According to a WHO statement:

“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus”

Countries around the world, including the U.S. and Canada, are reassuring their populations that experts are on alert and stand ready to contain the danger.

Here’s one such recent article from the CBC titled: Ebola outbreak: How Canada’s prep has ‘lead the world’:

“I’m not concerned. I already know that Canada is prepared,” said Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Code, who recently penned the blog entry Canada, Don’t Worry About Ebola in the Huffington Post.

The assurances are even coming out on local levels, as with this response plan for Ottawa.

As a believer in Murphy’s Law, I sort of wish those assurances came with greater caution and humility. (As the skit from Monty Python puts it: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!“) But, inappropriate levity aside, I do worry about the trap of hubris.

Yes, yes. Canada and the U.S. typically have far better resources to prevent outbreaks and improve the outcome against these challenges. Canada feels it gained regrettably-useful experience in 2003′s severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak – better ways to identify, isolate and treat contagion. No deaths were attributed to SARS in the U.S. during that outbreak. There were over 40 SARS deaths in Canada, primarily in Toronto. (Some sources say 43, others 44.)

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has this FAQ on safe management procedures for potential Ebola cases that sounds pretty straightforward. (Small aside: Ebola is named for the Ebola River and as such should be capitalized.)

But there is such a thing as underestimating the so-called enemy. Consider: for all the supposedly superior standard procedures in Canada and the U.S., hospitals here have had enormous difficulty in containing other stubbornly persistent problems, such as C. difficile.

Still, there is a valid question of proper perspective. Ebola is a serious, frightening disease, and real people are dying of it right now. But it’s also getting lots of media hype, according to this hysteria-debunking essay by Michael Fumento, who has made something of a career as a de-bunker:

This is only the deadliest outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease because past ones were so tiny. At this writing, there have been 1,711 reported cases in Africa and 932 deaths. That’s too many. Still no suspected cases that didn’t originate in those four countries and mortality rate remains 55 percent.

But every day about 600 sub-Saharan Africans die of tuberculosis, and contagious diarrhea claims the lives of 2,195 children, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills twice as many people each day as Ebola has been killing.

Toss in syphilis, AIDS and lots of other diseases that routinely kill more people than Ebola is right now.

And, should Ebola come to America, it’s vanishingly unlikely to “break out.” Ebola is a lazy spreader. Even a cough or sneeze or sweat from an “active” case is harmless. Spreading the virus requires contact with large doses of bodily secretions such as blood or vomit.

Maybe there’s just a collective fear that the black death of medieval times wasn’t a one-off. That humans are periodically visited by diseases they can’t initially control, like the terrible flu pandemic of 1918-19. We carry the boogie-man of sudden, mass death in our subconscious. A primal dread that’s easily ignited.

Still, do you think we’re getting better at facing new threats, fully prepared? Or are we usually fighting the last medical war, fully ripe for new lessons?

Lac-Mégantic locomotive pulled from auction

Lac-Megantic burning on the first day after the rail car derailment sent fireballs and streams of burning oil coursing through the Quebec village. Photo: Surete du Quebec

Lac-Megantic burning on the first day after the rail car derailment sent fireballs and streams of burning oil coursing through the Quebec village. Photo: Surete du Quebec

Slightly over a year after the July 6, 2013 inferno which claimed 47 lives in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, the Canadian Press reported the locomotive from that rail disaster was up for auction.

It was to have been included in an sale of 25 locomotives from Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Company, which declared bankruptcy in the aftermath of that tragedy.

According to the CP’s Andy Blatchford (7/23) the opening bid had been set at $10,000 USD:

“The MMA 5017 unit was the lead locomotive in a derailment and fire incident in Canada,” reads the ad on the website for Adam’s Auction & Real Estate Services, Inc.

It notes that due to that crash, “the number 4, 5 & 6 power assemblies were removed.” The ad also states that MMA 5017 has a “defective piston.”

On July 30, the Canadian Press reports that particular locomotive was pulled out of the auction at the request of Quebec Provincial Police.

A senior executive at the bank said the counsel for the U.S. bankruptcy trustee gave them the go-ahead to sell the locomotive.

“It was indeed our understanding… that there was no legal impediment being imposed by the authorities to including 5017 in the auction,” Yellow Light Breen wrote in an email.

“However…the (Surete du Quebec) made it clear that to the contrary they needed to maintain control of the locomotive during the criminal proceedings. Both the bankruptcy trustee and the bank readily acceded to that demand.”

Here’s more background on the assets of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. The Associated Press reports the company was sold in May to  “…a subsidiary of New York-based Fortress Investment Group,[which] is changing the railroad’s name to Central Maine and Quebec Railway. It has no plans to resume oil train shipments.”

To date, three ground-level rail employees have been charged in the case, after being arrested in May. As reported by the Toronto Star:

Little could be heard as they emerged before the gaze of townsfolk, aside from the clicks of news cameras — and a few whispers.

“It’s not them we want,” said one soft murmur as officers led the shackled men out of a police van.

Railway employees Thomas Harding, Jean Demaître and Richard Labrie were each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death — one for every person killed last summer when rail cars carrying volatile crude oil exploded in the heart of town.

The three men were released on bail after entering pleas of not guilty. Proceedings on those charges are set for Sept 11.

One of the five locomotives of the train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013 is guarded by a Sûreté du Québec police cruiser. Locomotives were somehow detached from the train and stopped 1 kilometre (0.6 mile) from the scene of the explosion that killed 47 people. Photo: Bouchecl, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

One of the five locomotives of the train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013 is guarded by a Sûreté du Québec police cruiser. Locomotives were somehow detached from the train and stopped 1 kilometre (0.6 mile) from the scene of the explosion that killed 47 people. Photo: Bouchecl, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.