Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Environmental Christmas Trees!

We think of Ithaca as a place concerned, if not obsessed, with the environmental aspects of many facets of life.

(GreenStar Co-op, for instance, sells Organic Salt. It's tough to figure what the opposite is.

Of course, there are worse obsessions, and furthermore, it's not just Ithaca. One of the most e-mailed stories from the New York Times right now is "Free or Farmed, When Is a Fish Really Organic?".)

So it goes without saying that there are environmental issues about Christmas trees. Is there such thing as an organic Christmas tree? Are Christmas trees ecologically good, bad, or neutral? Which is more ecological, artificial or real?

There certainly is such thing as an organic Christmas tree. Christmas trees, like any agricultural product, can be grown with chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, or without.

The Department of Agriculture does not currently have a certification program for trees. Mike Ludgate of Ludgate Produce Farms says that is a bit of a problem for conscientious sellers, as it prevents them from promoting organic trees as such. But the trees at Ludgates would qualify for such designation, if it existed. Theirs are 100% naturally raised, no chemicals of any kind, and they come from local farms, so their environmental footprint is light, indeed. (The origin of trees from the mega-stores is harder to determine, and they may well come from mega-farms far away, thus involving a lot of fossil fuel in transport.)

Best of all is the fact that the locally-raised tree is not just neutrally benign for the earth, but actively positive. Trees are grown on farms, rather than taken from forests. An acre of trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people. They provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. And because of their hardiness, they grow where other things won't, increasing soil stability.

Fake Christmas trees, on the other hand, seem to be actively bad. Most are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and have ingredients like lead, thus carry warnings to avoid ingesting any dust from them. Quite a contrast from the heady smell of a fresh evergreen. No warning labels attached to that.

Mike Ludgate reports that trees are ready and waiting. Ludgates also sells wreaths handcrafted from their own farm.

Ithaca Blog will follow up this piece with more jolly news and offerings from other suppliers around town.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Johnny Cash Conte$t Winner

We try to make sure you don't have to be too far above normal to win our weekly contest. Although we assume most of our readers are that.

Anyhow, you probably didn't have to be a Johnny Cash expert to reckon out that it is False that Mr. Cash was born in Hawaii, as we posited.

Our randomly-selected winner was Mo, who also happened to know that J.R. was born in Arkansas.

Mo receives a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music (see our ad in Ithaca Blog sidebar).

Thanks to all who entered. New contest every Friday!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Weekend Conte$t: Johnny Cash

In tribute to the Johnny Cash Tribute Show in Ithaca this weekend, our weekend contest is about the Man in Black.

True or false: Johnny Cash was born in Hawaii?

The winner receives a $10 gift certificate to Small World Muisc (see ad in Ithaca Blog sidebar). Send your answer directly to Small World Music at

Thanks, and good luck!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Weekend Shows

On Thanksgiving the colleges clear out for Grandmother's house, so the entertainment tends to be of, by, and for the year-round people of Ithaca.

Friday 24 Nov. : The biggest show of the weekend, in terms of both publicity and performers, is the Johnny Cash Tribute Show. The show is all-Johnny, so lots of boom-chugga-boom and redemption, though actually J.R. had a long career with a lot of surprises and turns, and there should plenty of those on stage from the many, many musicians participating, such as the host band for the night, the Don Bazley Projectiles; Sean Kobuk; Missing Marcus; Juge Greenspun; Pat Burke; Richie Stearns; and Ithaca Journal music critic, Jim Catalano. The show is a benefit for Books Thru Bars, an organization that provides books for prisoners. Castaways, 10 p.m.

Saturday 25 Nov. : Blue Sky Mission Club brings a taste of GrassRoots-style cajun, country, and zydeco to Trumansburg in November, at the venerable Rongovian Embassy, 9 p.m.

Sunday 26 Nov. : Crow Greenspun returns to the Shuck 'n' Jive series at Maxie's. No cover. 8 p.m.

Happy holiday weekend!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Harpo Marx Conte$t Answers

M.Z. of Trumansburg was the randomly-selected winner of last weekend's trivia quiz about Harpo Marx, who was born 118 years ago this Thanksgiving.

Contestants only needed to know one of three answers, but M.Z. knew them all:

Harpo's birth name was Adolph. He actually changed it legally to Arthur, for reasons that seem obvious, but were actually prescient. He thought Adolph sounded "too German". But he changed it decades before the emergence of Adolph Hitler.

As Chico's character was supposed to be Italian, Harpo was supposed to be Irish: conniving and fey. The connection fell away once Harpo began performing entirely in pantomime. His namesake instrument, however, is a national symbol of Ireland.

Harpo did actually play the harp, although he was initially self-taught and for years played it in a tuning of his own invention.

Congratulations to M.Z. for her prize, a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music (see our ad in the Ithaca Blog sidebar). New contest every Friday!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Yodeling Ithacans - Man and Dog - on Letterman

Ithaca lovers of the yodel will find a couple of familiar locals on the David Letterman Show on Wednesday.

The tall one, at about 5'4", is Johnny Brown . The short one, at about eleven inches, is Teddy Bear, Johnny's 18-month old puppy dog.

Johnny and Teddy are scheduled to make their national singing debut on a show segment called "Stupid Pet Tricks."

Johnny taught Teddy the art of sing-along yodeling so Teddy would have something to do at Johnny's music performances. Johnny is a jug band musician who specializes in staples such as washtub bass, washboard, spoons, kazoo, and birdcalls, in addition to yodeling. When Johnny hits a falsetto in G, Teddy lifts his head and delivers a prolonged and impressive canine equivalent. He will keep on doing it, too.

It is an old bromide in show business not to perform with animals, well-known show-stealers. But Johnny is not an insecure performer. He and his friend JoMo, an accomplished 12-string guitarist and vocalist, play classic blues and rags in the great tradition of "givin' 'em what they want." The combo frequently play at street fairs and festivals where anything that draws in the crowd is bona fide. This is where Teddy comes in.

Of course, JoMo and Johnnycake, as the act is billed, do fine on their own. They have played for decades and have played with musical legends such as Son House and the Rev. Gary Davis. In recent years they have benefitted from a boom in old-timey music. In addition to street fairs and festivals, they play a gamut of clubs and bars, but also play for organizations that value their upbeat showmanship. Among Johnny's favorite gigs are shows at senior centers.

Showmanship might not be the right word when one half of the act is a dog. Together, the act is anything but. Check them out Wednesday night on Letterman. And check to see if sometime soon the band will come back to play at Small World Music, as they have done (free shows!) in the past.

Good luck, John and Teddy!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, November 17, 2006

Conte$t: Thanksgiving Harpo Marx Quiz

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and would make a fitting subject for our weekly trivia contest, so we won't use it, of course. Instead we'll have a quiz about another great American institution, Harpo Marx, who was born on November 23, the date of Thanksgiving this year.

Answer any one of the following questions to be in the running for a $10 gift certificate from Small World Music.

- What was Harpo's real name?

- In the Marx Brothers act, as Chico was supposed to be Italian, Harpo was also supposed to be a particular nationality. What was it?

- Did Harpo really play the harp, or was it dubbed?

Answer any one of these questions for a chance to win. You can even win with a WRONG answer, as we select one winner at random from correct entries, and one from incorrect, if there are any. We reward not just expertise, but effort.

Enjoy Thanksgiving, enjoy the Marx Brothers, and send your contest entry directly to Small World Music at

Thanks, & good luck !

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Weekend Activities, Nov. 17 - 19

Friday: If you've never seen the Hogwarshers, nor been to Felicia's Atomic Cafe, tonight's the chance to do both. Because they're playing there, you see. The Hogwarshers are a new combo playing old-time music, which Ithaca loves so well. Felicia's is a new bar on the West End which is smaller inside than it looks from outside, but is comfortable and friendly. In fact, the bar was voted Friendliest Business in Ithaca in the 2006 Ithaca Times poll. (Felicia's neighbor a block away, Small World Music, feels it might have been a photo finish between them and us, if we only had alcohol here.) 508 West State St., 5:30 p.m.

Saturday: The best show around tonight is not in Ithaca, but in Homer, a few miles up Rt. 13. Richard Shindell is a singer-songwriter from New Jersey, now living in Argentina, who might be the best songwriter anywhere betweem those places, or any places. 8 p.m. at the Center for the Arts in Homer, 72 S. Main St., 749-4900.

Sunday: It's a different kind of old-timey: Malcolm Bilson plays music from the 1790's to the 1830's on fortepiano, an instrument of the period. It's not something you hear every day, but Bilson is known around the world for his playing, and for his role in the period-instrument movement. Even to the untrained ear, it is beautiful and delightful, and the setting is beautiful Barnes Hall, and admission is free. When Bilson plays in NYC, at venues such as Lincoln Center, music lovers line up for blocks for tickets, and pay whatever it takes to get in. Bilson is taking this show to Europe soon, so by all means, take this opportunity now. 8 p.m.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Local Food Movement

What the organic food movement was in the 1960's and '70's, the local food movement is today.

The organic movement promoted chemical-free farming as better for health and the environment, and small, independent farms as a more diverse and beneficial food system than huge, corporate agribusinesses.

Today, after decades of development and success, organic food is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry. But its success has attracted some growers and manufacturers who seem more interested in the potential profits of organic food than its philosophy or goals.

Wal-Mart is selling organic produce, but buys it wherever it is cheapest, including China. Earthbound Farms, a grower included in the recall of bagged spinach this year for E. coli contamination, began as a small grower of organic produce in 1984, but now is part of a conglomerate with over 24,000 acres in 3 countries.

Today, the local food movement says that organic is no longer a guarantee of the highest quality or practices. The movement encourages consumers to buy from farms within a certain radius of where they live, or from sellers they know.

What's the point, the movement asks, of buying organic apples or broccoli to protect the environment, if the produce is shipped thousands of miles by plane and truck? If the "farm" is actually a monoculture plot of thousands of acres in New Zealand or Mexico? If the distributor is a mass marketer like Wal-Mart that undercuts smaller businesses and family farms?

Alternative, independent forms of marketing, such as farmer's markets, food co-ops, and specialty retailers, are emerging as small farmers look to keep control of their products and profits, and customers look for greater connection to their food and communities.

In Ithaca, the Farmer's Market started with the organic movement of the 1970's. For years it was a no-frills operation where farmers came to town on Saturday mornings and sold out of the backs of their trucks in a parking lot that is now Center Ithaca. With the development of Center Ithaca, the market moved to a parking area on Taughannock Boulevard. The dream at that time was to someday have a permanent building.

By the 1990's, the dream was achieved with the Farmer's Market pavilion, on the Cayuga Inlet off Third Street and Route 13. On Saturdays and Sundays, from April through December, the Farmer's Market is home to scores of farmers and food producers, who must grow or make what they sell, and come from within 30 miles.

Retailers such as GreenStar Co-op, Ludgate Farms, and others are responding to the local food movement with increased dedication to buying and promoting local foods, and foods sold by independent and principled distributors. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County has taken leadership in the educational aspect of the movement, promoting the environmental and economic benefits of local foods.

Beyond addressing issues of pollution, nutrition, urban sprawl, saving family farms, and aiding local economies, locally-grown foods provide a simple benefit in the opinion of many consumers: better taste.

At the Ithaca Farmers Market recently, Pat, age 70, was buying organic sweet potatoes. "When I first came to the Farmer's Market, I didn't know what organic was. Now I do. It's vegetables grown without pesticides, like we used to grow in our gardens when I was a kid. People don't do that anymore like we used to. When I eat one of these sweet potatoes, it's like the ones I used to eat that were so good but I forgot."

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

NY Economy Quiz Answer, & Winner

J.S. is the winner of last weekend's quiz question. He knew that Tompkins County is perennially the county with the lowest rate of unemployment in New York.

The county with the highest is the Bronx.

J.S. wins a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music, down the driveway of winning at 614 w. State St.

A new contest every weekend!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, November 10, 2006

Weekend Conte$t of Knowledge (No Actual Knowledge Needed to Win)

This weekend's quiz is about the economy in New York.

Name either: the county in NY with the lowest rate of unemployment; or the county with the highest. Each one holds its respective title year after year, pretty much.

Remember, you don't actually have to know to win. We have two prizes, one randomly selected from the correct answers, and one from the incorrect. We reward not just expertise, but effort.

Don't worry, when we announce the winners next Tuesday, we don't say which was which.

Take a shot, and win a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music. Send entries directly to Small World at

Good luck !

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Weekend (Starting Thursday) Hot List

Last weekend was a big one for big names, with John Gorka and Kathy Mattea - both Grassroots Fest caliber performers - in town on Saturday, and comic Lewis Black selling out the State Theater on Sunday. This weekend is a little less luminary, but still satisfying.

Thursday starts it off, with a free jazz concert by the Cornell Jazz Ensemble, with guest pianist and conductor Toshiko Akiyoshi, who performed with Lew Tabackin at Cornell last week. Ms. Akiyoshi's first claim to fame in a long and distinguished career was a 1974 recording, "Kogun", which became the biggest selling jazz album ever in Japan. Tonight's concert is in beautiful Barnes Hall on the Cornell campus, for the beautiful price of free (so nice we say it twice). 8 p.m.

Friday: Reggae old-schoolers, Rastafrica, at Micawber's, 10 p.m.

For a quick and easy road trip, the excellent Rooster Fish Brewpub in Watkins Glen has Gerard Burke playing fine acoustic blues. Don't know what time - but their phone is 535-9797.

Saturday: At the State Theater, the only place befitting such a piece, "Wonderful Town", the classic Broadway musical by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. The show is a production of Columbia Artists Theatricals, a major Broadway touring company, and features an 18-piece orchestra. 7:30 p.m.

Film screening and discussion: "Sir, No Sir", an award-winning documentary about G.I. efforts to end the war in Vietnam. Co-sponsored by the Unitarian Church and the Durland Alternatives Library. At the Unitarian Church, Buffalo and Aurora Streets. Free. 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: Jennie Stearns at Felicia's Atomic Lounge. 508 W. State St., 7 p.m.

Go out and enjoy Ithaca!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Dave Makar, Electoral Activist

Congratulations to our own Dave Makar, who was elected last night to the Dryden Town Board. It was a resounding win, 60 percent, for a first-time political candidate in the minority party against an incumbent in the majority party.

Dave ran an energetic and well-planned campaign. It was a triumph not just for him, but for the town, whose voter turnout increased by 40 percent over the last Town Board election.

We congratulate Dave for his victory and applaud him for his hard work, sincerity, and purposefulness. We see good things in store for Dryden with his energetic leadership.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Election Day: The Road Turns

It's a long road that don't turn, my Irish grandmother used to say, meaning everything changes eventually.

Typically Irish, it is a sentiment both fatalistic and optimistic. Today it reflects good fortune, as the long road of bad governance in this country turns toward hope and a chance for recovery.

Republican control of the presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives since 2000 has shown the potential for bad policy, dereliction, and corruption when checks and balances don't exist.

Of course, Democrats could have demonstrated at least moral leadership in their vacuum of power. With a very few exceptions - our congressman, Maurice Hinchey, was among them; our senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, were not - they didn't. Most notably, the Democrats rolled over on the invasion of Iraq, to tragic results for our soldiers, Iraqi civilians, our democracy, our security, and the future of the Middle East.

We have a chance to do better now. But we need to think strategically about a political system that can go so far wrong so easily as our democracy has in the past few years.

As citizens, we need to become more active in our electoral processes. We need better people in government than supposed progressives who will vote for illegal wars when it is the easiest thing to do. We need to demand, or better yet create, more responsive and less entrenched media, to expose and correct bad leadership.

Yesterday was a good start, as we see how important simply voting can be. Imagine what we can achieve from here, with energy, hope, and effort.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"On the Road" Quiz - Answer and Winner

Our last weekly quiz had to do with U.S. geography, asking which is the only state that borders only one other state?

The answer is Maine. It borders New Hampshire only. New Hampshire goes on to border Vermont and Massachusetts. After that, it gets crazy.

The winner, randomly selected, is Randy, who gets a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music.

New contest next Friday!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ineptitude of War

Perhaps because, very simply, war is wrong, it is difficult or impossible to do right. We are seeing that now in Iraq, as the violence and waste grow more and more grotesque, and goals of peace and order seem less and less attainable.

We are also seeing that the operations of war themselves are unmanageable. This week it was revealed that a large percentage of weapons brought to Iraq by the U.S. are inexplicably missing. Today the New York Times reported that deaths among U.S. soldiers are going unexplained and uninvestigated by military authorities, and protocols are shattered as authorities lie to families of victims about what they do and don't know about their deaths.

This is why declaration of war is such a serious undertaking. There is no real winning involved in war, any time, except for profiteers who bring death and evade responsibility in the midst of war's chaos.

This war, brought on by lies, is not simply a mistake, but a crime. As a nation of laws, we need to bring an end to the crime, and punish the criminals.

Many of our leaders - in fact, most of them - are complicit, in having voted for this war. Full justice might never be attained, but the path of justice is open, in votes against these leaders. Here in New York, Senator Clinton was among them.

We need a political party in this country that will stand for peace, even when inexpedient. The time to start building it, rhetorically, was yesterday. The time for greater, uncompromising effort is this election day, and beyond.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, November 03, 2006

Martin Luther King

There was an unfortunate tumult in Ithaca between advocates and opponents of renaming State Street for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Maybe now, since the city has decided to create a municipal tribute for Dr. King before his holiday next January, Ithacans can unite in the cause of honoring him.

Dr. King worked for civil rights, and more. As his leadership developed, Dr. King began to work for a range of fundamental, if radical, changes in America. He began to speak about "a better distribution of wealth." He said, "A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth." He began to speak forcefully against war.

Dr. King's words against the Vietnam War seem prophetic today. Just as, today, the invasion of Iraq creates more terrorists than it eradicates, Dr. King said that North Vietnam "did not begin to send in any large numbers of supplies or men until American forces had arrived in the tens of thousands." He said that the U.S. was in Vietnam for no purpose other than "to occupy it as an American colony." He asked if the U.S. government was not "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

The speech quoted here, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence", was given by Dr. King on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination. Time magazine called it "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington Post scolded that Dr. King had "diminshed his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

Each year, at the time of Dr. King's holiday, we see corporate and media messages extolling Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. They ignore his calls for economic justice and against war. They eliminate his message as surely as he himself was eliminated.

Today, as then, the citizens of this country are far ahead of their government and media. Dr. King taught us to believe in ourselves and each other. Let's keep this in mind as we move forward in Ithaca to honor this great man in the fullness of his legacy.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Weekend Conte$t: On the Road

We're looking forward to the performances in Ithaca this weekend of folk music's John Gorka, and country music's Kathy Mattea, and thinking about that troubador life style - you know, the bus, the endless road, here today & gone today - all that.

So the trivia contest from Small World Music is about the U.S. map.

There are two states that share the record for bordering the fewest other states. But they are too easy to name. They don't border ANY other states. You know? They are far away. They are uncontinental. They are new. (They are Alaska and Hawaii.)

We're looking for the only state, of all the states, that borders only ONE other state.

Name it and win our weekly prize of a $10 gift certificate to your garage of winning, Small World Music, stalwart of Ithaca's wild west end, 400 feet from Gimme Coffee, which I just visited for a Midnight Rider, which is why I'm going on like this, I am revivified by an excellent coffee beverage.

Send your entry directly to Small World Music at

Thanks and good luck !

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Activities, first November Weekend

There is a range of good music and entertainment in Ithaca this weekend.

Saturday: John Gorka. Maybe the third-best living songwriter from New Jersey (after Bruce Stringbean, and Richard Shindell). But the only one playing Ithaca this weekend. He has a pleasing and moving baritone voice, and is funny, as Jersey guys tend to be. A Cornell Folk Song Society Show. Kennedy Hall, Cornell, 8 p.m. Tickets $17 at the door, $15 at Small World Music.

Kathy Mattea. A country singer of the could-play-at-Grassroots type. Mattea draws from many traditions in her music: folk, bluegrass, gospel, and Celtic. At the State Theater, 8 p.m.

Sunday: Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin Quartet. Jazz at its finest and most exciting, from two great, veteran practicioners. Statler Auditorium, Cornell, 4 p.m. Tickets $25 and $20.

Lewis Black. From the Jon Stewart Show, the Screaming Jay Hawkins of comedic commentary on contemporary America. At the State Theater, 8 p.m. Tickets $38.50.

Hammell On Trial. Ed Hammell's label, Ani Difranco's Righteous Babe Records, describes him as "a one-man punk band - and by punk we mean (mostly) loud, fast music informed by politics, passion, energy and intelligence, played by a guy with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humor." At Castaways, 8 p.m.

Have fun -

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

George Dentes

Ithaca is shocked and saddened by the death of George Dentes, 52, of a heart attack on Tuesday, 31 October.

Mr. Dentes served as district attorney for Tompkins County for 16 years. He graduated from Ithaca High School, the Cornell College of Engineering, and the Cornell Law School. He and his wife, Elsie, met as students at Ithaca High School. Their three children also attended Ithaca High School and Cornell.

Flags on county buildings were ordered flown at half-mast in honor of Mr. Dentes.

Calling hours will be from 4 - 7 p.m. Friday at Bangs Funeral Home, 209 W. Green Street.

Services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church, 120 W. Seneca St.

Our deepest condolences go to his wife and children and the extended Dentes family.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog