Archive for June, 2011

A Story of Domestic Violence

Monday, June 13th, 2011

By Gretchen Gibbs
He looks like the batterer that he is. Most of them don’t; they’re skinny and anxious to please, or short and worried, or anything but my stereotype. This one – we’ll call him Juan, though I’ve altered his name and anything that could identify him – approaches my stereotype. He’s big, both tall and heavy set. He answers my questions briefly and without inflection. His face shows nothing, his body never moves in the chair. He is a dark man – dark skin and eyes, black and navy clothes, a dark expression. He wears his worn black leather jacket throughout the interview in spite of the warmth of the small room. I’m not afraid of him, but I don’t like him. Maybe I’m a little afraid of him.

We start off with the incident that led to the court order for counseling. Not his fault at all, of course, all he did was push his wife after lots of provocation.

He’s from a Central American country, coming to the United States in 1996. “Your English is good.” A small smile. “Is there anything that you might have done wrong with your wife?” “I yell a lot.” (His English is not perfect.) I am glad to hear an acknowledgment of a little responsibility. We talk about his wife, the conflicts between them, his work.

“Tell me about your childhood.”

“What do you want to know?”

“What was it like for you growing up?”

“It was hard to live.”

The story comes out in short spurts. His father was the teacher of the local school, an alcoholic man who never acknowledged Juan and refused to help the family in any way. Juan was raised by his grandmother. The grandmother, her six children, and four grandchildren all lived in a single room. The grandmother ironed and cooked and cleaned for other people, supporting them all as well as she could. She would do anything for money. They were always hungry.

“There were no toys, no Christmas or birthday presents. Once in a while my grandmother would buy a towel, or a cloth for the table, for all of us and we would all be excited – that was the biggest present we ever had.” He couldn’t understand why they had to live as they did, why they were hungry, and he rebelled. He disobeyed his grandmother, ran away, and stole things. “My grandmother would beat me like an animal, hitting me with a stick across my back many times, maybe 50 times,” he says matter-of-factly. “But her love weighed more. I was a black sheep that had to be disciplined.”

When he was an adolescent, Juan could not continue in school without shoes or a uniform, and there was no way to obtain these. He decided to go into the Army as a way out of poverty and a way to help his grandmother. It was not what he thought it would be. As the memory returns, he gives a short snort of disbelieving laughter, his first sign of emotion.

He was still almost always hungry, and now he was exposed to terrible death and killing. Even today he has nightmares about the experience, he says impassively. At one point his unit, with losses due to fighting, disease and desertion, had only seven men left. They were in an isolated portion of the country, with no more food and no more ammunition. They were starving. They made a joint suicide pact, to shoot each other with the remaining bullets. Finally the Army helicopters came.

After four years in the Army, he returned to his village. He wanted desperately to emigrate, and eventually a relative in the U.S. sent him the money to make it possible.

Now, because of the domestic violence, he lives separately from his wife and children. How does he feel? “Sad. It is hard when you are used to coming home and have children to ask you how you are, to come home to a single room, where you are sharing a bath with other not-very-clean people.” He is having bad dreams. “What are they about?” He pauses and looks at the floor. “I dream of my grandmother almost every night. I do not ever go back to my country, and I do not see her for 15 years. My sister and I, we saved our money. We planned to go back to see her at Christmas, to give her things. She died right before we were going to leave.”

He looks up at me and begins to weep, silently, his body still motionless, the tears streaming down his face. I find I can’t speak the next question through my own tears.

Staycations Can be Fun

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Instead of making pricey travel plans this year that damage the environment as well as your bank account, consider a local vacation, or “staycation.” This is a chance to rediscover the beauty of your home region by taking the time to visit cultural attractions and natural places that you may be too busy to see in your daily routine.

A staycation does not mean staying home and doing yard work, or the list of jobs you’ve been putting off for the past year. “Instead,” suggests Pauline Frommer of Frommer’s Travel Guides, “become a tourist in your own hometown.” Plan to see tourist attractions and historic sites, take an art class, learn to swim. Or try small adventures you always wanted to do if you had the time.

A fringe benefit of staycations is that you develop a deeper connection to your community and hometown. People feel more connected to a place when they experience its history and natural beauty firsthand. Try to see something different each day; a different spectacular view, a different museum, a new restaurant. At the same time, you benefit your local community by pumping vacation money into the local economy.

Some staycationers go so far as to camp in a nearby campground to get away from the daily routine. If you are addicted to technology, and can’t imagine a day without email or internet, then consider leaving the house and staycationing in a local campground or bed and breakfast. You’ll still save gas money and travel expenses, but you’ll feel refreshed after being away from the computer for a few days.

Here are a few tips for a successful staycation:

  • Explore the rail trails in your area by bicycle. Most communities have rail trail projects connecting larger cities by walking and biking paths. Explore your area by riding in five-mile sections each day.
  • Go to the local tourism office or website for a list of historic sites and museums to visit.
  • Spend a Saturday touring farms and farm markets in your region to find out what is grown locally, and get a fresh delicious taste of the local flavors.
  • Pick a nearby town on the map, and spend the day walking through the whole town, antiquing, eating in local restaurants, and getting a real sense of the history and culture of the place.
  • Take an art, music, or acting class. Do something you always said you would do if only you had the time.

If you really must go out of town, make your vacation as green as possible:

  • Stay in a green hotel when possible. If you strive to be green at home, why not on vacation as well? ,
  • Travel with friends, and share the costs and carbon of each car trip. If you carpool andd share a vacation rental including meals, you form tighter friendship bonds, use less gas, and eat out less.
  • Consider a working vacation and volunteer to work on an organic farm located in a place you wish to visit. Many countries also have programs for whole families to spend a vacation working as part of a relief effort.,
  • Offset the carbon emissions from your air travel by purchasing carbon offsets through the airline.

Over the Hudson at Last

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

By Jeffrey Page
No one ever accused New York of hurrying. For example, it took the state 35 years to do something with the ruins of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, which fell into disuse in a 1974 fire after about a century’s use.

From the charred remains, the state converted the bridge into an exquisitely situated path with a clumsy name: “The Walkway over the Hudson State Historic Park,” which no one can say three times fast.

I didn’t hurry either. It took me almost two years to finally visit the bridge, and what a pleasure. It connects Highland in the Town of Lloyd to the city of Poughkeepsie. When you get right down to it, the bridge is just a place to take a pleasant walk, but one that happens to be 212 feet over the surface of the great Hudson. And then you realize what might have happened. The span could have been ingloriously torn down and forgotten, or just left to rust itself into collapse.

But activists saved it. Once, the bridge carried a lot of trains. Now it carries a lot of baby carriages and people out for a walk. It’s a place of wonder. But first, a little history.

The crossing was a marvel of late 19th-century engineering and construction, an active rail span for 86 years through much of the 20th (carrying as many as 3,500 freight cars a day), a brooding hulk from the time of the fire to its opening in 2009 as a path for pedestrians.

Advocates of saving the burnt bridge and converting it to public use had a winning argument: Transforming it would cost about $38 million while tearing it down would cost about $50 million. Is there a politician or bureaucrat who can’t do such easy math – even in the state Legislature.?

The bridge is a 1.28-mile saunter. It is 24 feet wide, thus making it a curiously shaped state park of 3.7 long, very skinny acres. The guardrails are four and a half feet high.

The view is sensational. For a minute or an hour, turn your back on Poughkeepsie just downstream from the walkway. Face north and you get an idea of what the river looked like to the Mohawks and Iroquois who lived along it, and to Henry Hudson and the crew of the Half Moon as they sailed up to what is now Albany in 1609.

To the north, the Hudson is quiet, forested, unremittingly green and generally undeveloped. Upstream it bends slightly to the northwest through the northern Catskills and then disappears from view.

Another of the walkway’s attributes is its quiet. There’s nothing on the bridge that makes a mechanical sound except for the occasional passing of a police car. Just about all you hear are people’s voices, usually calling out to their children. You’re high enough that even when some people pass beneath the bridge on Jet Skis, you hear only a slight, distant stir.

There are plenty of people on the bridge – 750,000 since the official opening in late 2009 – but it never seems crowded. You hear snippets of conversation, an occasional dog bark, the far-off noise of a lawn mower as a guy cuts his lawn on the Highland side.

Forget the cop car. Forget the Jet Skis. On the bridge, people move in more primitive ways. They walk. They skate. They run. They bike. One guy even crosses on a unicycle. One little girl, about 4, gets off her bike to explain to her mother, on her own bike, how the brakes work. “OK, and now let’s go,” Mom says.

Logistics: I drove to Highland and parked in the walkway’s small lot. The fee is $5 for four hours, but free street parking is available as well. There are bathrooms, a food stand and an information tent on the Highland side, and bathrooms at the Poughkeepsie end.

I used to think the view of the Hudson from the walkway of the George Washington Bridge couldn’t be topped. Then I went to Highland.

Oh and by the way, the GWB shakes. Like a leaf in a storm.

Jeff can be reached at

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, Beloved Belindy, Rags

Raggedy Ann is a fictional character created by American writer Johnny Gruelle (1880–1938) in a series of books he wrote and illustrated for young children. Raggedy Ann is a rag doll with red yarn for hair and has a triangle nose. The character was created in 1915 as a doll, and was introduced to the public in the 1918 book Raggedy Ann Stories. A doll was also marketed along with the book to great success. A sequel, Raggedy Andy Stories (1920) introduced the character of her brother, Raggedy Andy, dressed in sailor suit and hat. Beloved Belindy (1926) was added to the stories along with Rags the dog. (Wikipedia)  – Dolls hand crafted by Carole Anne Gigli

Weiner is Sorry

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

By Jeffrey Page
Of course he should resign.

Anthony Weiner has rendered himself useless, a distraction, a joke, even worse, a punch line. If he were to remain in Congress for the next 10 years, there is little he could hope to accomplish because to get things done you have to be taken seriously.

If the Democrats are smart, they’ll get behind Weiner – and push him as hard as they can to get him out of the House as fast as they can. They’ve got more important business, such as the start of the 2012 presidential season. And Weiner, it turns out, is an early Christmas present for the Republicans, a distraction from the GOP’s own miserable lot of possible presidential candidates.

Pretend you are John Boehner, the speaker of the house, and you just heard Sarah Palin declare from the bottom of her idiotic heart “I haven’t heard the president state that we’re at war. That’s why I too am not knowing – do we use the term intervention? Do we use war? Do we use squeamish? What is it?”

Or you’re Boehner and you have one guy who used to make pizzas wanting to be president. You’ve got Rick Santorum, who was voted out of office as the senator from the Great State of Uterus. You’ve got Michelle Bachman who scares everyone and is loved by the Tea Party, which doesn’t love you. You have Romney and his early version of Obama-like medical care. And you have, as Bob Gaydos so artfully puts it, the guy who used to be ambassador to China.

You’re Boehner.

And then, along comes Anthony Weiner, the man who singlehandedly gave the tabloids in New York the opportunity to use the words “putz” and “schmuck” in 72 point type on Page 1. You turn to heaven and say, “Thank you, God.”

Weiner the schmuck claims he has broken no laws and therefore doesn’t wish to resign from the House.

Not since Bill Clinton declared to a grand jury “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” has anyone in political danger parsed as well as Weiner. He is deeply ashamed, he said. But not mortified enough to do the gentlemanly thing. He wept at his news conference. He’s sorry for what he has caused his wife of one year. “She told me we are going to get through this,” he said. We’ll see when it all calms down a little. His behavior amounted to “a deep personal failing,” he said. We knew that, right?

But resign? Never – a word that sounds like it carries a sense of finality. Except in politics, of course, it doesn’t.

One of Weiner’s more telling quotes: “I have not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friends, my supporters and the media.” Aside from his dog, if he has a dog, who else is there? He has lied to everyone as in e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. And he won’t resign? What is he waiting for, the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

One reporter asked about the ages of the women who received the artwork of Weiner in skivvies. A very dangerous question.

And this response, more than any other, is reason for Weiner to quit the House and find himself a job, preferably in the former Yugoslavia.

“I don’t know the exact ages of the women,” he said. But he sent the pictures anyway, knowing that to send them to a kid can get you tossed in a lockup with some strange characters who might find you cute?

“But they’re all adults,” he said. How did he know?

“At least to the best of my knowledge they were all adults,” he said. Ah ha, a step back. He didn’t know for sure.

“And they were engaging in these conversations consensually,” he said. Well if he doesn’t know whether they’re adults, and if he has otherwise lied to us, how can we be sure that their looking at him in his boxers was consensual?

And now, the line of the, uh, explanation that should get Weiner a one-way ticket out of Washington: “Someone could theoretically have been fibbing about [their age] and that’s a risk,” he said.

Fibbing about their age? And that’s a chance he was willing to take? He would risk his marriage, his reputation, his career, his good name, his place in history, his political future on the possibility that a woman is too young to see him in his underwear? And he’s not resigning?

Goodbye Weiner.

Jeff can be reached at

Our So-called “Distracted Society”

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

By Jason Poggioli
I am fed up with, tired of, and even a bit angry over all the various opinions being strewn about how today’s technology and gadgets are diminishing the quality of human interactions in the Western World. Opinion pieces such as this one all imply that because we’re constantly connected to the Internet, posting on Facebook, reading tweets, or talking on our cell phones, we’re somehow missing the kind of personal relationships that we had thirty years ago.

Not only is this baloney, but it’s the kind of BS reminiscing in the style of “things were better when I was a kid” nonsense you heard from your grandparents when you were a kid. First off, for everything you can point to and label as “worse” I can point to something else and label it “better”. Secondly, though, I would go beyond just that and say the quality of life in the world is better, not worse, with the Internet and all the gadgets in our lives. Even with all the distractions.

Disputes with this viewpoint are boundless, so instead I’ll focus on how much better technology and the Internet are making our lives. I would gladly accept an embarrassing, rude, and inconvenient cell phone ring during a funeral wake in exchange for the unimaginable and staggering interconnectedness modern technology has brought to our lives.

Twenty years ago if I wanted to raise money to help cure a disease I could have held a bake sale on my block while today I can put together a website that, with a single click, can be accessed by two billion people in the blink of an eye. Not to mention the disparity between what the bake sale could raise compared with a website to the entire world.

Twenty years ago I could have opened the morning newspaper and read about some horrible genocide that occurred in some distant country while today I can turn on my computer and have a conversation with people experiencing it first hand.

Twenty years ago my circle of friends may have consisted of whatever group of people I happened to cross paths with in my nearby geographic area while today I can join online groups that consist of people from all six continents who have different perspectives about the world.

Twenty years ago if I had a chronic illness I depended on my doctor to diagnose and treat it correctly with perhaps a second opinion from a colleague while today I have the resources of the entire Internet to help with the treatment and I can turn to countless support groups in situations nearly identical to mine.

Along with the argument that our human-to-human interactions aren’t as deep and meaningful as they were before all this gadgetry there also tends to be an expression of fear that today’s kids aren’t learning key skills that are necessary for well adapted living. The possibility that children today might not learn cursive writing or multiplication tables doesn’t bother me in the least. I never learned how to shoe a horse or slaughter a chicken, but the world I grew up in didn’t require those skills of me. Will tomorrow’s children need to even know how to write legibly by hand? Have I somehow lost out on what life has to offer because I never learned how to skin a cow and cure leather?

Neither will tomorrow’s children.

Sarah vs. Michele: Let ’em Rumble

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, Tea Party divas, and possible presidential candidates.

By Bob Gaydos

There’s a movement afoot, apparently started by conscientious, well-meaning citizens of the liberal political persuasion to convince the mainstream media to stop covering Sarah Palin as if she is a serious political candidate. They want people to write to major network news shows to stop their “wall-to-wall coverage” of Palin and “report on issues that actually effect(sic) us.”*

Sorry friends, I couldn’t disagree more. Ignoring Palin in favor of reporting on the debt ceiling and the relative merits of Tim Pawlenty and that guy who used to be ambassador to China would not only put America to sleep, it would deprive Americans of what promises to be the top reality TV show of the summer: Female Mud Wrestling, starring the two divas of the Tea Party/Republican Party, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. This hope alone makes the whole GOP primary mess worthwhile.

Some people would pay big money to see and hear these darlings of conservative ideology (sorry Mr. Will and Mr. Krauthammer, but I didn’t pick them) go mujer a mujer in a series of debates on “the issues.” But if they’re both candidates, we won’t have to pay a dime. It will be free and in living color, with great hair and enough great quotes to spawn a hundred more web sites.

And on a practical note, as long as Palin and Bachmann are treated as serious candidates, by the media as well as followers within the Republican Party, they will generate headlines and TV coverage and make it harder for any other Republican candidate to get his views more widely known. All of which will make it more difficult for Republicans to continue to blame President Obama for the Bush recession and the two Bush wars and easier for Obama to organize his re-election campaign under the “I Got Osama” banners. And isn’t re-electing Obama what the “serious issues” people really want?

Bottom line here is that the Republicans either hate the few serious candidates they have or won’t let them venture anywhere near the truth on the budget, health care, taxes, etc. That leaves Michele and Sarah as easily the best show in town. Even Republican commentators are speculating on the showdown. Who will prevail?

Will it be the Iowa congresswoman who proclaimed that the shot heard ‘round the world was fired in Concord, New Hampshire, not Concord, Massachusetts? Or will it be the half-term Alaska governor who volunteered that Paul Revere went riding through Boston firing warning shots and ringin’ bells, warning the British that the Americans were not about to give up their guns?

Folks, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Palin, 47, and Bachmann, 55, are both attractive, family values, Christian conservatives, whose free-wheeling verbal styles resonate with Tea Party faithful. Of course, there have already been the usual charges of sexism for anyone even suggesting a GOP catfight and denials among aides in both women’s camps that there is any rivalry here. The web site Politico reported that “Publicly, Palin, Bachmann, and their top staffers have nothing but praise for one another. Palin campaigned for Bachmann last spring in Minnesota, where Palin said the women were “buddies” and Bachmann called Palin “so much one of us” and “absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.”

But this is politics, after all, and Bachmann can’t be happy that Palin launched a bus tour on the eve of Bachmann’s anticipated entrance into the campaign. And “friendship” notwithstanding, Bachmann has told an interviewer she is reading the political gossip book, “Game Change,” an insider’s look at the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign.

“Game Change’ is a book that is very difficult to put down,” Bachmann said. “At least I found it difficult to put down, and it gives a person pause. But the other thing that it does, I think, is it informed me of what I don’t want to do.”

In case you’re curious, “Game Change,” which relied heavily on interviews with McCain’s campaign manager, portrayed Palin as ignorant of world events, including World Wars I and II, the Cold War, the history of Iraq and Saddam Hussein and prone to wild mood swings.

It was so friendly of Bachmann to point out that she doesn’t want to follow in those Palin footsteps. And so nice of her supporters to note that Bachman is a three-term member of Congress, former Minnesota state legislator, a trained tax law attorney and foster mother to 23 children, and Palin is not.

What Palin is is a savvy self-promoter and fund-raiser, who will have a say in Republican politics, as a candidate or not, as long as other, more knowledgeable, more qualified potential candidates allow her to parade around as if she speaks for them or their party. And so long as she does that, Bachmann, her semi-clone, will also be afforded the same, undeserved status. You want to talk abut issues? Ask them about issues. After all, their party says they are serious candidates. Or at least it doesn’t say they aren’t serious candidates. Same difference in politics.

Which is why I’m salivating at the thought of a Palin/Bachmann oratorical mud-wrestling match. Will we get more of the quotable Bachmann:

  • ”I think there is a point where you say enough is enough to government intrusion. … Does the federal government really need to know our phone numbers?”
  • “I don’t know where they’re going to get all this money because we’re running out of rich people in this country.”
  • “There is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact … hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design.”

Or more of the incomparable Sarah:

  • “Well, let’s see. There’s of course in the great history of America there have been rulings that there’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American, and there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So, you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but ?” — Sarah Palin, unable to name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with other than Roe vs. Wade, interview with Katie Couric, CBS News, Oct. 1, 2008.
  • “I haven’t heard the president state that we’re at war. That’s why I too am not knowing — do we use the term intervention? Do we use war? Do we use squirmish? What is it?” — On the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya, March 29, 2011.
  • “It may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: ‘Sit down and shut up,’ but that’s the worthless, easy path; that’s a quitter’s way out.” — Announcing her resignation as governor, July 3, 2009, midway through her term.

I strongly suspect that none of the people who want the press to ignore Sarah Palin as a serious candidate, has much respect for the opinions of other Republican candidates on “serious” issues either. And network news executives gave up covering news in favor of entertainment years ago. Better to use your energy listening to Obama and trying to influence his opinions, if you wish, and praying like the dickens that Sarah and Michele wind up on the same stage in the same debate over and over again.

Which one do you think looks better in red?

(* OK, major gripe: If you want to rally smart liberals to your cause, use the right words. It should be issues that “affect” us, not “effect.” Look it up. Even network news execs might catch the error.)

Is Your Lawn Toxic?

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Susan Soons of Soons Orchards pointed out to me recently that homeowners in our community use more chemicals on their lawns than most farmers use on their crops. Sure enough, a little research turned up some really startling statistics behind the American obsession for the perfect lawn.

Pesticide application rates for farmers are 2.7 pounds per acre, while homeowners (and lawn care companies) slather on 3.2 to 9.8 pounds per acre. According to a recent Virginia Tech study, homeowners commonly use up to ten times as much chemicals as farmers.

Each year, homeowners apply at least 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns and gardens, according to the Boston-based Toxics Action Center. Homeowners represent the only growth sector of the U.S. pesticide market, as agricultural uses of these chemicals are declining. This market trend was started by the pesticide industry in an attempt to establish new markets for old products. Most lawn pesticides were registered before 1972, and were never tested for many human health hazards like carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, and environmental dangers.

Lawn chemical companies are not required to list all the ingredients on their containers. Many toxins are hidden on the product label by being classified as “inert.” Inert does not mean “inactive” and in the case of benzene and xylene, can be even more toxic than the listed chemicals.  Some of the listed chemicals include components of defoliants like Agent Orange, nerve-gas type insecticides, and artificial hormones.

The blue meanies of lawn chemicals are 2,4-D, Captan, Diazinon, Dursban, Dacthal, Dicamba, and Mecocrop. These chemicals were registered without a full safety screening. A combination of several of these toxins is usually found in on store shelves. 2,4-D is a hormone disruptor, Dursban concentrates in the environment, and Diazinon is an organophosphate which damages the nervous system. Some of these chemicals have been banned for use on golf courses and sod farms due to massive water bird deaths, but are still widely used on lawns and gardens.

Pesticides applied on lawns are harmful to humans who inhale them, ingest them, or absorb them through skin contact. These chemicals also get tracked into our houses on our shoes and pets. An Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) study found outdoor pesticides loads build up in carpets, and can remain there for years, where they do not degrade from exposure to sunlight or rain.

This leaves our pets and children most vulnerable, as they most frequently play on lawns and carpets, and breathe in toxins. The Toxic Action Center report notes that “children’s internal organs are still developing and maturing and their enzymatic, metabolic, and immune systems provide less natural protection than those of an adult.” Researchers caution that children are most vulnerable in the fetal and adolescent stages when “chemical exposures can permanently alter future development.”

The EPA’s risk assessments indicate that home lawn care products account for 96% of the risk associated with using this chemical for women of childbearing age, and that anticipated doses are “very close to the level of concern.” EPA’s studies found that rats exposed to the most common lawn chemical; 2,4-D in utero showed an increased incidence of skeletal abnormalities such as extra ribs and malformed ribcages. In rabbits, 2,4-D and its diethanolamine salt caused abortion, skeletal abnormalities, as well as developmental neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption. Even though many lawn chemicals are legal, and widely available, that doesn’t equal “safe.”

Even though some lawn chemicals may advertise “safe” on the label, that is not often the case. The EPA fined Dow Elanco for “failing to report to the Agency information on adverse health effects (to humans) over the past decade involving a number of pesticides,” including Dursban. This information was kept hidden from the EPA until a number of personal injury claims against Dow Elanco exposed the connection.

One couple; Barry and Jackie Veysey told Family Circle Magazine that they believe lawn chemicals were responsible for the death of their infant son in 1991. Barry was a professional lawn care specialist and may have had mutated sperm thanks to some of the chemicals he worked with. When his wife Jackie washed his uniforms, and may have absorbed some of those chemicals through her skin which permeated the placenta. Jackie held her newborn son only once before he died due to massive failure of his underdeveloped organs.

The concern that certain widely used lawn chemicals can cause birth defects has prompted California to require that consumers are informed about these risks. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced its intention to list the herbicide 2,4-D and related compounds as developmental toxicants under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Ontario and other Canadian governments have moved to similarly ban toxic lawn chemicals. 

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Florida

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Ponce Inlet, Florida.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light! – The Lighthouse
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Virtual Currencies

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

By Jason Poggioli

Most purchases today are made using electronic transfers of money that are fast, convenient, and easily tracked transactions.  Imagine a scenario instead where people all over the world could buy and sell goods or services electronically in a completely anonymous and untraceable way.  It would resemble the simplicity of a cash transaction, but with the convenience of an electronic transmission.  A completely anonymous transaction means no taxes, no record of the sale, and perhaps most importantly, no way for any government body to regulate it in any way.  The enormity of the possibilities takes a while to sink in.

This possibility has been evolving as the Internet gained in popularity and is somewhat a marriage of two seemingly unrelated phenomena on the Internet: The first being peer-to-peer file sharing and the second being massive multi-player online games.

You’ve probably heard of peer-to-peer file sharing since it’s in the news a lot as recording studios, movie producers, and all other manner of entertainment companies struggle to prevent the public from wholesale copying and distributing what previously could only be purchased in a store like Tower Records.  That chain of stores and many others like it have gone belly up owing their demise in some part to P2P file sharing.  Laws already exist making copyright violations illegal, but those laws have been proven to be extremely difficult to enforce especially when they are disregarded by so many people.

Essentially, peer-to-peer file sharing allows people to share files anonymously with millions of others simultaneously.  The ease of copying and downloading is so simple that you could have a copy of virtually any song you want before you finish reading this article.  Legalities and ethics aside, the fact is that intellectual property of any kind is in the midst of the largest transformation since the invention of the printing press.

The second, and lesser known, phenomenon is the rise of virtual currencies in online games.  Things only have value if there are people willing to buy them and purchasing power is dictated by an abstract concept called currency.  Money isn’t often thought of this way, but the value of the dollar is only what it is because everyone on the planet agrees to its value.  Throughout history currency has always been an abstract value that people could use to represent some tangible production.  I make you a pair of shoes and you pay me in some form that I can use to buy a shirt.  As long as we all agree on a common currency the economy works.

In a virtual gaming world, known as massive multi-player online role playing games, millions of people place real value on goods that can be obtained within the game. Often these virtual goods (like armor, swords, potions, and other items you’d typically find in an online fantasy game) are so coveted, people are willing to spend real-world currency to purchase them from other players.  As soon as you have a regular exchange of real-world dollars with a virtual currency in an online game you have created an exchange rate between the two currencies and an entire economy is born.

As fantastical as it may seem, economists have studied these virtual economies and even ranked them against real countries’ economies.  While it may seem bizarre it’s no joke.  In some countries it’s even led to the creation of sweatshops where workers are paid very low real-world wages to “create” wealth within the online games.  The sweatshop owners then go on to profit from this virtual wealth by selling it to online gamers willing to pay.

Which leads us to the new Internet phenomenon this article is about – the creation of a virtual currency that is specifically designed for use in the real world and is used via untraceable peer-to-peer sharing technology.

Currency is an abstract concept that assigns value to a given object for the purpose of driving an economy.  The U.S. dollar is already essentially virtual, but the supply is regulated and taxed by the government.  In addition, nearly all transactions are tracked by institutions such as banks or credit card companies.  That all could change, though, as more and more people start using new virtual currencies that are issued by no government, controlled by no banks, and can be used in completely anonymous and untraceable ways.

One such currency is called Bitcoin, and was created in 2009.  It’s still very new and this may not be the currency that catches on, but the genie is out of the bottle now and it will be near impossible to put it back.  All it requires is a certain critical mass of acceptance – enough merchants and customers need to be willing to pay and accept the currency in question.  And once that happens – once a growing portion of the world economy is occurring outside the control of existing governments and institutions – what then?