Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Meaning of Halloween

Halloween is the day to wear macabre outfits, decorate the house with trappings of decay, and mock our mortal fears. Bully for that, although the day's triumph amounts to winning one inning of the World Series, or less.

The futility is good reason to forget dental health, and calories, and Snicker up while we still can. We will lose weight in the grave, and our tooth stubs outlast us, so in the long run what are we so worried about?

As a child, I had an exaggerated cosmic idea of trick-or-treating: that the reason for Halloween was to find out the kind of people who would give out bad candy, or even worse, wholesome snacks, and they would die first, before generous people who gave out delicious, unnutritious name-brand candy. That's why you were supposed to paper their houses, not just to punish but warn them.

A new family moved into my neighborhood in Brooklyn one year and had the audacity to give out little cans of juice. We thought it was a comment on our juvenile desires, and considered rocketing the cans through their windows, but felt better we didn't when we found out they owned a diner, and had a lot of these little cans from their business, and had run out of candy by the late shift we were working that night. That was a practical reason that we didn't mind, although we would have preferred some coinage. We certainly didn't want any juice, which we threw down the sewer for the weight.

It was a tough neighborhood and your main goal on Halloween was to not get your ass kicked and candy stolen by bigger kids. That called for numerous trips home to drop off one's earnings, to minimize the potential losses that might literally be right around the corner. Between that and your other goal, to get enough candy to last until Easter, when you would get more, it was a long day.

Kids today are generally chaperoned by adults, which cuts down on the ass-kickings but also the intrigue, I imagine. Life is full of trade-offs, which is a drag, but death doesn't have any, so take your pick.

Enjoy your Halloween -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, October 26, 2007

Weekend Activities, Oct. 26 - 28

Friday, 10/26: Close to home, Richie Stearns and Friends are at Felicia's Atomic Lounge for Happy Hour, starting around 5:30. Further afield, Eire natives and Ithaca favorites Solas appear at the Night Eagle Cafe in Binghamton.

Sat. 10/27: Ellis is a young female singer-songwriter on the verge of a big career breakout. She was voted Most Wanted to Return at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Last night she was at the Town Hall in Westchester for $30. Tonight she's at McGraw Hall at Cornell at 8 pm, courtesy of the Folk Song Club, for $17 at the door, or $15 in advance at Small World Music.

Ventiloquist Jay Johnson comes to the State Theater, 8 pm. Jay was mentor for Comedy Central ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, who sold out the State last year. Jay first came to prominence on the television series "Soap". More recently, he won a Tony award for the act he brings to the State tonight.

Sun. 10/28: Musafir, who came from way far away to be the surprise hit of the 2006 GrassRoots festival, return to Ithaca for a 4 pm show at the Statler Auditorium at Cornell.

With a tip o' the hat philosophically and sonically to Mssrs. Zappa and Beefheart, We Are the Arm ask the musical question, What Makes a Plaza?, at an early show (5 pm) at Castaways.

Crow Greenspun appears at Maxie's, 6 pm.

Have fun -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ithaca School Board Drops Fight Against Human Rights Compliance

The Ithaca School District's board last night voted to overturn a decision to challenge the legality of a state investigation of racial inequities and harassment in the city's schools. (See yesterday's Ithaca Blog for details.)

The vote was unanimous, and comes after months of controversy and protest that have gained national attention.

The vote was preceded by two hours of public comments from among 200 people in attendance. The decision was announced to applause and cheers.

Re-scheduling of hearings by the state's Human Rights Commission will now begin.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Racial Unrest at Ithaca Schools Draws National Attention

Ithaca got some unwanted publicity in the New York Times today, for the racial unrest in our public schools.

Unwanted, but not unwarranted.

The article first mentions some of Ithaca's enduring positive features: its "cultural diversity," renowned namesake college and Ivy League university, designation in 1997 by Utne Reader as "America's Most Enlightened Town," innovative "local currency intended to support city merchants," and jokey popular reputation as "10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality."

But, the article relates, harsh realities of racial tension are encroaching in the city's schools.

And it seems that enlightenment has eluded the school leadership.

At the center of the unrest are incidents of harassment of a female African-American student, who was physically and verbally attacked by white male students on her school bus. The incidents were numerous and took place over a protracted span of time. The school took five months to investigate the incidents - which ultimately lead to criminal charges.

Upset with the district's slowness to act, the girls' mother filed a complaint with the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission. The commission found the district in violation of human rights laws.

The school district responded with a claim of legal exemption from state human rights laws due to its status as a municipal, rather than private, entity. It claimed that federal privacy laws shielded its students, and precluded its compliance with the human rights laws.

Critics see a pattern of negligence and insensitivity by the district leadership. City Council member Michelle Berry is among those who have called for the resignation of Dr. Judith Pastel, the school district superintendent.

There have been demonstrations by students and parents. Last week, many students stayed home both as a protest, and in response to rumors of threatened violence against students of color.

Tonight, the school board is scheduled to meet and discuss these issues. The hope among aggrieved students and parents, and their sympathizers, is that the board will drop the claims of exemption from human rights law compliance, as a first step to re-establishing trust and security in Ithaca's schools.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Monday, October 22, 2007

Comparative Religion 101: Jesus 1, Buddha 0 ?

Today the Ithaca Journal published an interesting letter about the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Ithaca: the Journal's "excessive" coverage of it, and its failure to promote good religious choices by its readers. It reads, in full:

The inches of newspaper space spent on the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism these last two weeks was [sic] excessive. I question whether the Pope would have received the same uncritical journalism should he ever come to Ithaca [sic]. Certainly the Billy Graham crusade in Binghamton last spring didn't receive coverage at all, although many in Ithaca were involved.

It was disheartening to "Christian" minister sharing the same platform as the Dalai [sic]. The truth is that Christianity and Buddhism are not compatible. They are poles apart. At the very least it is illogical to consider Buddhism. If you're a Christian and you die but find out Buddhism was true, then you have another chance to be enlightened in the next life. But if you're a Buddhist and you die but find out you needed to submit to Jesus Christ you don't get another chance.

So, Ithacans (and Buddhists everywhere), don't blow it! Jesus trumps Buddha big-time with a hard-line stance. Bet with your head, not your heart! You gotta know when to hold 'em!

It is interesting to see the vagaries of logic. Personally, we admire the application of passion put to it here.

The comic, Don Novello, made a good living writing fake letters like this as Lazlo Toth in the 1980's. Check out his books to see what we mean.

We would love to see the Dalai Lama's reaction to this letter. They say he has a good sense of humor. We wouldn't mind seeing the Pope's, as well.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, October 19, 2007

An Ithacan Reminiscence of Lucky Dube's Music

Lucky Dube, who was shot to death in a carjacking attempt in his native South Africa on 18 October, was one of the premier reggae stars in the world.

Mr. Dube played at the GrassRoots Festival in 1994. At the time, he was little-known in America. In turn, at the time, his band was unfamiliar with America. They came to Trumansburg at the beginning of their tour. They expressed confusion about their whereabouts.

"We thought we were playing in New York," one of them said outside their tour bus. They were assured that they were in New York.

"See, I told you, " one bandmember said to another. "On the bus, he said he saw a cow!"

He was assured that, in upstate New York, this was possible.

The band's confusion was understandable. They were unused to playing such a small locale. In Africa and Europe, they generally played major cities, in sold-out soccer stadiums.

They were scheduled for a Thursday night performance at GrassRoots. In 1994, this meant an audience of less than 1,000.

But they played a tremendous show, and enjoyed what for them was a homey setting.

For us, it was a lesson about the international status of reggae. Until then, like many people,we thought of reggae as Jamiaican music.

Lucky Dube began his musical career playing music native to South Africa. But he adopted reggae as a music of spirituality and community. He became the biggest musical star in the history of South Africa. His releases there outsold not only all other South Africans, but also sales by Madonna, Michael Jackson, and other international pop stars.

He opened the ears of Africa to reggae, in effect bringing home one strain of music from the African diaspora. One of his bandmembers said at GrassRoots, in a post-concert conversation, that there are dozens of distinguishable strains of African reggae now flourishing.

For his musical message of peace and social justice, Lucky Dube was banned by the South African apartheid regime. His gunshot death is a tragic parallel to that of John Lennon, another celebrated musician who sang of peace only to be met by government persecution and, ultimately, unfathomable violence.

We remember Lucky Dube with gratitude and admiration.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Weekend Music, Oct. 19 - 21

It is difficult to think of musical fun right now, with the news of the criminal, violent death of Lucky Dube yesterday in South Africa. But we will write about it.

Fri. 10/19: Richie Stearns and Friends brave the summery storms for a Happy Hour show at Felicia's Atomic Lounge. 508 W. State St., 5:30 pm.

The New Deal, Toronto's well-regarded trio of bass, drums and keyboards, comes to Castaways. The Passage Project opens the 9 pm show.

Perennial local favorites Sim Redmond Band play the Haunt. Malang Jobatheh opens the 9 pm show.

Sat. 10/20: Yuri Yunakov comes to the Pancho Villa restaurant's upstairs space for a Crossing Borders show. His Romani Wedding Band plays gypsy music, with Balkan, Turkish, and Indian strains. $15 tickets available in advance at Small World Music. Showtime is 8 pm.

Mary Lorson hosts a show with her singing/songwriting friends Jennie Stearns and Steve Golnick at the Lost Dog Lounge, 9 p.m.

Sunday 10/21: Christine Lavin has had a fine career in folk music writing catchy and honestly funny songs. A big-name show for the venerable Bound For Glory program at Anabel Taylor Hall at Cornell. First set is 8:30, but you will need to get there early for this one.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Lucky Dube Killed by Gunmen in South Africa

Lucky Dube, the reggae musician from South Africa and one of its biggest stars, was shot to death yesterday in a suburb of Johannesburg in an attempted carjacking.

Dube's shooting occurred in front of two of his children. He is survived by his wife and seven children.

Dube appeared locally at the GrassRoots Festival a decade ago. Many of his songs have themes of social justice.

In the 1980's, his music was banned by South Africa's apartheid regime.

South Africa's crime rate is among the highest in the world. United Nations statistics say that one in three Johannesburg residents has been robbed.

President Thabo Mbeki called upon the nation to "act together as a people to confront this terrible scourge of crime."

A spokesperson for the opposition Democratic Alliance party said, "the government's remedies to address this scourge have failed."

Stephen Burke
Ithaca Blog

Library Sale Ending, Small World Music Sale Amplifies

The Friends of the Library Sale ends this weekend, but Small World Music is extending and amplifying its sale on all our music - used and new.

Mention this posting and take 50% off any LP, and 15% anything else in the store. See last weekend's initial public offering on Ithaca Blog, and Small World's pdf ad here on IBlog, for details about what we've got.

Small World Music is down the driveway at 614 W. State St., across the street from Kinko's, about 4 blocks from the Library Sale. Hours are 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Steve Burke
for SWMusic and IBlog

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Morning Newswatch" on WHCU Radio: Conscientious News on the Dial

Knowledge is good, as they say at Faber College, and it's important to stay informed about politics and world events, so listening to public radio is good.

Except when it's bad.

There's a certain tepidness to much of public radio, and a dearth of tough analysis. There's a lot of repetition - not necessarily per broadcast, but over the days. This bombing in Iraq. That lying statement by a government person. Again, generally unfettered by much questioning.

And, while news of a train crash that left dozens dead somewhere halfway around the world is sad, isn't it really just a high-brow version of the "if it bleeds, it leads" philosophy of regular schlock broadcasting?

Where's the news we can use?

In Ithaca, we get an earnest shot at useful local news broadcasting every morning on WHCU, 870 on the AM dial. The program is "Morning Newswatch", hosted by Dave Vieser and Geoff Dunn, broadcasting from 5:30 - 10 a.m., Monday through Saturday.

The program covers substantive issues. Yesterday, Morning Newswatch interviewed Judith Pastel, Ithaca's school superintendent, about recent racial problems in the schools. Tim Joseph, chair of the county legislature, was interviewed about county issues. A separate segment featured Herb Engman, who will be the new Town Supervisor in November.

How much opinion from peace activists do you hear on the news? Even public radio news? Yesterday, Morning Newswatch began with an interview with Danny Burns, of the St. Patrick's Four, who was arrested again recently as part of a group refusing to leave the office of Congressman Randy Kuhl without a discussion of Kuhl's continued support for Iraq war funding.

Morning Newswatch is a valuable promotional medium for community causes. Their coverage was instrumental to the success of last week's Walk and Run for the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance. Today they featured a local 4H Club effort to promote exercise and good nutrition to reduce obesity among young people.

It's not all serious stuff on the show. There are sports (maybe a little too much, with a few minutes each hour given to local school soccer scores, etc.), birthday announcements, giveaways, and banter. Vieser and Dunn seem to genuinely like one another and their work.

There is an unfortunate Rush Limbaugh commentary each day. WHCU is ostensibly a conservative talk radio station. For much of the day, it is. But in the morning, it is conscientious, community-oriented, and worthwhile.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Prominent Criminal Cases Closed

Two of the most publicized criminal cases in Ithaca this year ended this week with guilty pleas and sentencing.

Yesterday, a driver for the Green Hornet livery service was sentenced to a year in prison and a year's probation for selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer posing as a passenger.

Today, Alexander Atkind, who was living in Ithaca as a Cornell undergraduate, pled guilty to abuse of a dog that was in his care. Atkind was sentenced to six months in prison, five years probation, psychiatric evaluation, and a $5,000 fine.

Initial community outrage in the Green Hornet case, focused on a cab driver selling drugs, was mollified by the Ithaca Blog report that Green Hornet is not a cab company, but a livery company.

Cab companies in Ithaca are regulated and licensed by the police, and drivers receive background checks. Livery services receive no police licensing. They are considered by state regulation to be in the category of delivery services rather than cab services.

A livery service in Ithaca is allowed to transport passengers from inside the city limits to outside the city limits, but not to a destination within the city, a privilege that is reserved for regulated cab companies.

The Green Hornet case revealed that this prohibition is easily ignored. But Ithaca Blog made note of the difference, and alerted other local media to it, so that Ithacans would know they should avoid livery services if the reputation and criminal status of the business owners and drivers are important to them.

Accordingly, the Ithaca Journal has ceased referring to Green Hornet as a cab company.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, October 12, 2007

Weekend Activities, Oct. 12 - 14

Fri. 10/12: We've probably said it before, and surely will again: Chad Crumm is one of the great, unknown exponents of Ithaca music. He appears with friends at Felicia's Lounge, 508 W. State St., 7 pm.

Sat. 10/13: Feel good early by participating in this morning's annual Walk to support the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance. See previous Ithaca Blog postings for details.

Wingnut hasn't played in town for a while, have they? Tonight they play their urbane jazz in the loft-like Lost Dog Lounge, 105 S. Cayuga St., 10 pm.

Sun. 10/14: Burke and Bone play the Shuck'n'Jive series at Maxie's, 6 pm. Johnny Dowd and Kim Caso are also slated to appear.

Godspeed -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tompkins Weekly's Excellent Coverage on School Harassment Case

For detailed coverage of the recent charges of racial harassment at Ithaca High School, see this week's edition of Tompkins Weekly, the new weekly paper which publishes each Monday.

The paper tells the story in gritty detail. It will affect the way you think about the racial issues at the school, and the role of the school officials.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Library Sale Jones? Come to Small World Music

This promotional word for Ithaca Blog's brick-and-mortar home, Small World Music, is directed at Library Sale music fans who might be interested in another place in town with (year-round) big bargains, without the big crowds of peak times at the Sale, or the depleted selection afterwards.

Small World Music has over 1,000 LPs at $1.00 each. Right now the selection includes "Introducing the Beatles", "Layla", "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack, the Silver Convention, Abba, Freddie King, David "Fathead" Newman, the Kinks, David Bowie, Genesis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Heart, Laura Nyro, the Rolling Stones, Blind Faith, Phil Ochs, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Joel, Jackie Wilson, the Shirelles, Elvis Presley - and, you know, some Tijuana Brass, let's be candid.

Small World also has another 1,000 or so competitively-priced LPs, not only in rock and pop, but blues, jazz, reggae, African, Celtic, New Orleans, folk, country, and bluegrass.

Mention this posting and take 50% off dollar LPs, 20% off all other LPs, and 10% off everything else in the store. Small World sells used and new CDs, including (always) the very newest: this week, the new ones by Annie Lennox, Bruce Springsteen, KT Tunstall, and others.

Small World Music is at 614 W. State St., down the driveway. See our ad in pdf form in the sidebar here at Ithaca Blog.

Steve Burke
for IB and SWM

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Seeing the Dalai Lama, On Screen

Ithaca welcomes the Dalai Lama for an historic three-day visit.

His three public appearances are sold out, but they are available for viewing live on-line.

Check for today's appearance at Barton Hall. See www. for information on tomorrow's events at the State Theater and Ithaca College.

The events will also be taped and and broadcast on local television channel 16.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Weekend Activities, Oct. 5 & 6

Fri., 10/5: In an earlier posting this week, we previewed tonight's performance by Yuengchen Lhamo at the State Theater. We have heard that Yuengchen has been in town, meeting with her Tibetan community in anticipation of the Dalai Lama's visit next week, and rehearsing with her guest performers, Richie Stearns and Hank Roberts.

Sat., 10/6: Ky-Mani Marley, whom we hear has been opening at stadium venues for Van Halen (better than following them, we suppose), appears at the Haunt. The show is listed as 7 p.m., but it is a crowded bill, with Mbusi, Citizens Rockers, and Kiwi the Child also listed.

Babik play that Django-inspired, swinging jazz for the Crossing Borders series, upstairs at Pancho Villa restaurant, on the corner of W. State St. and Meadow. 8 p.m.

Have a good weekend -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Questions for the IBCA

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Ithaca Blog contacted Bob Riter, Associate Director of the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance, with some questions about IBCA's efforts.

Ithaca Blog: Please tell us about ICBA's fundraising effort for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

IBCA: October 13 is our 14th annual walk. It's become our signature event and many people first became aware of our organization because of it.
Two exciting changes are taking place this year. We've changed the venue to the beautiful Cornell Plantations, and we've added a run - the Strength in Numbers 5K.

IB: Can you tell us about ICBA's "First Tuesdays" program?

IBCA: First Tuesdays is an education program that meets the first Tuesday of every month in the Bonnie Howell Conference Room at Cayuga Medical Center, from 4:30 - 6:00. We usually speak informally for the first half-hour, then have a speaker to address some topic of interest to people affected by cancer. Men and women with all types of cancer attend, as do their loved ones. The next session is November 6. The speaker will be from Cornell's Comparative Cancer Program.
An important component of First Tuesdays is connecting with other people who have your specific type of cancer. It's common for everyone to linger after the formal program to meet with others who know exactly what you're dealing with.

IB: IBCA recently moved to a new location. What does the move mean for the organization?

IBCA: IBCA recently moved to its first permanent home, at 612 W. State Street. The entire first floor is designed to offer a warm and comforting environment for our clients when they stop by to use our library, meet with staff, and engage in programs. Compared to our previous office, this building has a lot of space and a more functional layout for staff and volunteers.
We're especially pleased with the new office because it gives us a real physical presence in our community. It's on a busy street and in Ithaca's emerging West End.

IB: Do you think as a society we have reached a new level of cancer awareness? What are the most important issues now?

IBCA: People are more aware of cancer than in the past. The numbers are really staggering. One in three women will develop cancer in her lifetime, as will one in two men. It affects all of us in one way or another.
I think one critical issue is the need for a greater focus on cancer prevention. We've made considerable progress in better detection and treatment, but research money for prevention is woefully lagging.
Another issue is access to care. People without insurance delay seeking care because they can't afford it. As a result, their cancers are diagnosed at a later and more lethal stage.


For more information on IBCA, including its Walk and Run event, see the IBCA website,

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Kerouac and Ginsberg: Voices Beyond Time

There's a lot been made in the media recently of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." 2007 also marks the 50th anniversary of the court ruling that the poem "Howl", by Kerouac's friend Allen Ginsberg, had "redeeming social importance" and thus was not obscene.

In his 1957 opinion, San Francisco Municipal Judge Clayton W. Horn wrote, "Would there be any freedom of the press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemism?"

Of all the changes in socety and literature since the publication of these two landmark books, maybe the most significant is the shifting importance of the book, itself.

It's hard to imagine a book with adult literary aspirations changing the world today, or even much catching its notice.

Today we're busy. We're busy in general, and we're busy with computers.

This week a third of a million people (so far) logged on to the YouTube video by Saturday Night Live about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a gay man. It's funny, it's probably not important, and no one will remember it 5 years from now, forget 50.

A book, on the other hand, can be important.

A book can conquer time. It demands your time as you read it. It conquers time in its place on a bookshelf, unchangeable. You come back to a good book repeatedly over time.

A book can be important because it is a work of art. It's not a subscription service. You only buy it once. It doesn't try to sell you anything else. It doesn't have sponsors or links.

A book can be important because it can be subversive. You get it anonymously. It's cheap. It's portable. It's durable.

A book can be important because it requires something of you.

Kerouac and Ginsberg require a lot of us as readers, and as human beings. They reward the effort conscientiously - and immeasurably, though for the moment the world is measuring the achievement in years. After 50 years, Kerouac and Ginsberg still have an audience, thus voices beyond time.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance: Benefit Walk and Run, 13 Oct.

"Because no one should face cancer alone" is the motto of the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance. Since 1994, the ICBA has provided information and personal support to local people living with cancer.

There is a great opportunity to support ICBA's work on Saturday 13 October, at their Strength in Numbers Run and Walk at the Cornell Plantations.

Pre-registration is $10 for the 2-mile walk, and $20 for the 5K run.

Pre-register online at

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Monday, October 01, 2007

Don't-Miss Music, First Days of October

It can be easy to miss great shows that arrive early in a month, when you have a general idea of their impendingness, but maybe not a firm and determined grasp, til it's too late.

So let us mention two noteworthy shows that arrive even before the first full weekend in October: Michael Franti and Spearhead, on Thursday 4 October, and Yungchen Lhamo, on Friday 5 October, both at the State Theater.

The shows are alike in presenting very current, political, world-influenced music.

Franti is a hip-hop singer with reggae influences, or vice versa. He comes from the Bay Area in California and has been making important music for over a decade, slowly but surely expanding his audience across geography and demographics . In 2006 he was a headliner at GrassRoots Festival.

Yungchen Llaho is known as the Voice of Tibet, for bringing Tibetan music to the world in a politically imperiled time. The New York Times has noted her "prisitne, gliding vocal lines." Ms. Llaho has sung with Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed and Natalie Merchant, and at the State will perform with Hank Roberts and Richie Stearns.

Music by all the artists performing at the State is available at Small World Music.

Details on ticket prices and availability are at the State Theater's website,