Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stealing Copper

Last night I was driving through the city with a newcomer to the Youngstown area. She asked me how long the homes in the area had been in such a state of destruction and demise. I think she was expecting the answer to be ten years or longer. It may often seem that the landscape of our neighborhoods has remained the same for a very long time, however for the most part; the damage has been relatively recent, most in the last five years.

A recent article at My Hometown Ohio. discusses the value of older buildings, their ability to convey a sense of place and a connection to the past, their link to economic development, and also their quality of construction. The article also points that that there is a downside to this value - the market prices of certain commodities are going through the roof. As the value of commodities such as copper and bronze have increased there has been a corresponding rise in theft and stripping of abandoned houses.

The problem has become so wide spread nationally that the US News and World Report wrote an article about it. The article doesn't reveal much that those of us from Youngstown don't know. In Youngstown, street after street of houses has been systematically stripped of not only copper and metal but of fireplace mantels, doors, windows, you name it, and as the U.S. News & World Report points out, the opportunities seem to be everywhere.

It seems that several home robberies across the country have even resulted in death. In Iowa someone stealing copper pipes from a farmhouse accidentally cut the propane line, filling the house with gas. When the owner tried to plug in a fan, the building exploded and killed him. The problem must be pretty widespread. I recently heard a public service announcement that warns against stealing copper wires because it is dangerous and can kill you.

The cost of the thefts to businesses, homeowners, and neighborhoods is astronomical. Last year 26 state legislatures and several cities toughened penalties for metal theft or increased reporting requirements for scrap dealers to record identification information or a thumbprint of sellers so that stolen goods can be traced.

I would like to say that Youngstown was one of the cities that toughened penalties but I couldn't find evidence of this. My perusal of the Youngstown Municipal Ordinances was very frustrating in this regards. However, as I was reading, several ideas about making the code more effective came to mind. For example, in addition to the steps mentioned above, we could institute a three or four day waiting period on the issuance of checks to scrappers. That would provide lead time to check out the origin of the scrap. It would also either provide a good address for the scrapper because they are going to want to receive the check, or it would provide another potentially useful contact with the scrapper should the origin of the materials be suspect. But alas, all of my good ideas and suggestions will remain just that - ideas. Why? Because the State of Ohio has put a cabash on the passage of any new laws regarding such thefts.

In March the Ohio Senate approved a plan that on its surface appeared to be an excellent piece of legislation. The bill would require scrap metal sellers to provide photo identification and says that dealers must keep an inventory of what is purchased so it can be provided to the police. Senate Bill 171 also requires proof of ownership if a person is selling items such as grave markers, utility wires, beer kegs or guardrails. It also prohibits people who do not run an auto-related business from selling more than one catalytic converter per day.

All was well for a short while and Columbus officials and the Ohio Municipal League had no problem with the bill. That was until the majority approved an amendment to the bill. An amendment that says, "city scrap-metal laws cannot go further than the Senate Bill Provisions." This amendment will in effect wipe out a stricter law previously enacted in Columbus that requires the city's 19 scrap metal dealers to be licensed, forces people to give thumbprint ID and requires electronic communication between dealers and police. The new Ohio law essentially takes away tools from police officers who are trying to deal with scrap metal theft.

This amendment is just downright ludicrous not to mention stupid. I can't think of a nicer way to say it. Ohio is essentially saying that they are preempting, or displacing, local ordinances enacted by municipalities. Preemption generally refers to the effect that federal law will have on a conflicting or inconsistent state law. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution states that the laws of the U.S. will be the supreme law of the land, and that when there is a conflict between state and federal laws the Federal law trumps. The same principal applies between states and municipalities.

There are two situations where preemption claims arise. Express preemption is where it is stated within the statute that the law is preempting. This is what the Ohio amendment does here.

There is also something called implied preemption. Implied preemption often comes into play when looking at laws in terms of whether or not the law is going to be the minimum requirement or the maximum. It is generally acknowledged that it is appropriate to have two laws, one federal - one state, or as we have here, a state law and local ordinances. It is not uncommon for the federal government to make a law and then for a state to make a law that is stricter. When that happens, more often than not the state law will not be preempted because the federal law is the minimum standard and it is fine for the state to set higher standards. The Ohio law regarding theft of metal is stating that it is the maximum standard not the minimum standard. For some reason the Ohio legislature has concluded that its law will occupy the field.

So why do you suppose the Ohio Senate would chose to pass this amendment? Well, according to the Columbus Dispatch, Senator Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, stated the amendment is good because, "Too much local control will move Ohio toward a medieval kingdom, urban centers with castles and walls." He goes on to say, "That, my friends, does not promote the kind of global interaction we have in our marketplaces.”

Let me reiterate, this is stupid! I believe that I have a very comprehensive understanding of globalization, trade, and the impact it has on the mid-west. For example, I am in favor of regionalism as a way for the Mid-west to compete in the global economy. However, I am not in favor of making it easy to sell the copper plumbing from our houses to India and China. I realize that the salvage price of copper has gone from 83 cents a pound to $2.60 because India and China have a tremendous demand. But I'm sorry I think my neighborhood has an even greater demand. We need to keep our plumbing and wiring and preserve our history.

The creation of a law that doesn't take into account the differences between communities in the state and address their unique problems with pirating is certainly not going to help us compete in the global economy. For example perhaps there are cities that have a problem with catalytic converters, but in Youngstown in addition to metals we have a problem with theft of architectural elements. Nor do I think that the creation of strict local ordinances will lead to urban centers with castles and walls, or mini-fiefdoms. I would like to invite Mr. Amstrutz from Wooster, to come and visit Youngstown. I'd like to give him a tour; then again I probably couldn't get him to come here unless I could assure him he'd have a few knights around to protect him.

The bill is making its way through the state house and on to the governor's desk. I suggest that you write letters to the governor and to our State Representative expressing your opposition to the bill as it currently reads.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Widening - A novel by Carol Moldaw - Published by Etruscan Press

Friday evening I was having dinner with friends at the Rosetta Stone in downtown Youngstown when local poet, Phil Brady, joined us. Phil Brady is a professor of English at Youngstown State University and executive director of Etruscan Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared in over fifty journals in the United States and Ireland. This evening he was in an exceptionally jovial mood. He revealed the source of his mirth when he removed from his bag several copies of a new release from Etruscan Press.

The new release is a short work of fiction titled The Widening. It is written by Carol Moldaw. Phil gave me a copy of the book and many years of habit lead me to immediately give the book the first line test: I read, “At the crucial moment she said yes. His hand in the back pocket of her jeans had made her wet – but nothing and no one had prepared her.” In that instant I understood Phil’s excitement about the book and was drawn in by the bold first line.

By Saturday afternoon I closed the book on the last page. Later in the afternoon as I ran errands and visited with several people, lines and images from the book would float to the surface of my mind. The book was not only haunting me, but I couldn't’ seem to escape an underlying feeling of anger; directed at what I couldn't immediately say. It was anger as low-grade fever, symptomatic but undiagnosed.

A blurb on the back of the book by Robert Olen Butler, states, “I dare say that women readers of Carol Moldaw’s The Widening, will be thrilled at the recognition of self that art can bring - the shared experience given articulate voice.” I dare say Butler is correct about the recognition of self. However, I would not say that I was “thrilled” at this recognition. Rather, I felt jarred as if hit by an unexpected blow. Hence, my unexplained feeling of anger.

Carol Moldaw, lays bare that which I believe most women hide even from themselves. Her divulgatory prose unveils her unnamed protagonist’s vulnerability and strength, while peeling back layers of universal female consciousness and exposing “the widening” of feminine experience. The following is but one passage that exemplifies this;

“She had vowed once never to feel shame, shame was too shameful to let one feel, too fraught with unexamined mores, but there it was, along with an unaccountable fear, cordoning her off. The past, she thought, was like malaria inside you, always able without warning to reduce your entire self to shivers and shakes, to delirium.”

The protagonist,as a psychiatrist surmises after one session with her, is promiscuous and privileged. Promiscuity and privilege are major themes throughout the book. Even the subject’s father broaches the subject of promiscuity with her. He reveals a conviction that promiscuous people are unhappy people.

“The only thing he wondered was whether they were promiscuous because they were unhappy or unhappy because they were promiscuous? Never considering, she thought to herself, that perhaps they weren’t unhappy at all.”

Moldaw leads us through an intricate labyrinth of sexual discovery in this work. The reader exits this labyrinth with new questions.

Carol Moldaw is the author of four books of poetry and is the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Marfa Writer’s Residency, a Pushcart Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. The YSU Poetry Center is bringing Carol Moldaw and Allison Funk, to the Debartolo Club in Stambaugh Auditorium on April 15, 2008,at 7:00 for a reading of their work. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Economy and Food

Lately, the number one concern of Americans has been the economy. Between the housing crisis, the student loan crisis,the credit crisis and the deficit, it appears certain that we are either in a recession or about to go into one. Often terms are bandied about as if they are common knowledge. Most of us have heard the words for years so believe we know what they mean at least in some abstract sense. However, for the purposes of clarification; the difference between a recession and a depression is time. A recession is when the gross domestic product falls for two consecutive quarters. GDP quantifies goods and services produced by workers and capital during a year. A depression on the other hand is when there is a period during which business, employment and stock market values decline severely or remain low for longer than two quarters. I agree with the old timers who say the difference between a recession and a depression is that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you do.

I occasionally find it interesting to listen to the economic "pundits" discuss the markets, and often wonder what beach they are hiding their heads under. They may look at charts and whether the stock market is lower today than yesterday, and I'm quite certain that their technique for making predictions can be found in some economic text book somewhere. Personally, I think an individual's level of optimism about the markets is directly related to how much money they have invested and what they stand to lose. I think the optimists harbor hope that if they repeat over and over again, "No, we aren't in a recession", and then click their heels together three times,this will somehow convince the rest of us to invest in the markets so they don't lose their shirts.

What they fail to realize is that investment requires money in the first place, and right now most people don't have any. You can bet this is the case when billboards of piggy banks and reminders to save pop up around town. President Bush encouraged us to go shopping after 9/11 as if retail therapy could fix the world. This,of course, was just one more path that lead us to where we are today, a credit crunch. President Bush and our politicians have agreed that we need a stimulus package. They seem to think that we're going to take our check and immediately go buy a new toy of some kind. Surely, they think, more retail therapy will do the trick. What they don't realize is that most people will use that check to pay on their winter fuel bill.

We live in difficult times there is no doubt. For a glimpse of what people are going through elsewhere in the country, check out this video from the BBC. You might ask yourself while watching, "Why is it that the BBC is carrying this story but I've not seen it the 6 O'clock news in the U.S.?"

So let the economic pundits talk their talk. I,for one, see a serious disconnect between the GDP, the markets, and the world I live in. In my world, it isn't about the stock markets because no one I know owns any, or few, or only via their 401(k) which is generally minimal because they have cashed it out every ten years or so because they needed to survive yet another period of unemployment. They will usually express regret about this decision because they had to pay the 10% penalty for early withdrawal and all, but they will ask you, what other choice can they make when the kids at home are waiting with open mouths and, expectations that were created by that talking box in the middle of the room? They'll be the first to tell you how awful the whining of youngsters can become when they want something.
They will also tell you, that no, they can't turn off the damn thing, because what would they do for relaxation then? Entertainment is expensive,and they don't have the money for such luxuries.

What I can tell you is that here in Youngstown we are fighters and survivors. We get knocked down and we just keep getting up. We all know that we have certain basic needs: food, water,and heat. So in this time of economic downturn I suggest that we start planning how we are going to get those needs met while simultaneously dealing with the global climate and energy crisis' we all face. Let's be proactive rather than reactive, let's turn grey to green.

For starters, I suggest that we start growing our own food. Grow Youngstown is an organization created to promote local growth of food, forage, forests, and fuel sources within sixty miles of Youngstown by creating Community Supported Agriculture, sponsoring urban gardens, food forests, and nurturing young gardeners. We have plenty of green space to cultivate gardens. Not only does the process provide bounty for our tables, it is healthy bounty. It is going to be spring soon, gardens provide a great excuse for turning off that talking box in the middle of the room. Let's go outside, have fun, grow food, and green Youngstown. While we're at it, let's stop filling up at the pumps and get on bikes. For further understanding of the food issues that we face please see the video below:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Youngstown Blight to Hope

Let's do it folks! If you're interested in urban gardening, and greening Youngstown let me know - I'll hook you up with the folks to do it! It's Happening Here- Youngstown!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pop-Up Cities

Thomas Mulready recently interviewed Terry Schwartz. The video can be viewed at . Mulready reported that Terry Schwartz is leading an urban revolution. She is from Kent State's Urban Design Team. (Yes, that would be the same Terry Schwartz that collaborated on the Wick Park Revitalization Plan) Rather than bemoan our post-industrial landscape she is taking her cue from the Europeans and creating Pop-Up Cities to enliven unused and overlooked urban sites for one day events. She was involved in a Pop-Up retail shop called Bazaar Bizarre, and more recently, Friday Febuary 29, 2008, she was involved in presenting Leap Night which featured a snow and ice installation, snowboarding, and a snowsuit fashion show in Cleveland. Although Art Youngstown has been creating pop-up art galleries, just imagine what else could pop-up in downtown Youngstown!

"The Cure for Boredom is Curiosity" Dorothy Parker

I have sometimes heard people in the Youngstown area complain about the lack of things to do. I've even heard people say they are bored. Well, as Dorothy Parker said, "The cure for boredom is curiosity..." Obviously, the bored folks around here merely need a good dose of it. I recommend they begin by reading the local blogs where they will undoubtedly find any number of events and happenings to peak their curiosity.(see sidebar for links). I then recommend they have an adventure. "But where?" you say.
"Downtown Youngstown," of course.

I,for one, have nary a moment to spare because there is so much to do. I won't begin to tell you about my hectic schedule for the week coming up. However, let me offer a suggestion or two for an adventure in Youngstown next Friday night, March 14th. Let's start the evening at 5:00 PM:

First Stop: The Core - Located at 35 Federal Plaza West, Youngstown, OH Ryan is the best martini shaker I know of; I recommend a martini called "the Core", or if you really want to be adventurous tell him what you're hankering for in terms of flavor and he'll give you a personal martini drink.
Second Stop: Dinner at the Rosetta Stone
Third Stop:
Art Youngstown Exhibition - You don't want to miss it this time. As you can see from the photo of the last exhibition everyone was there:
Exhibition in the Great Room
Friday, March 14, 2008
7:00 pm to 10:30 pm
Great Room at 25 E. Boardman Street, Downtown Youngstown
Courtesy of Ohio One Corporation
The public is invited free of charge and refreshments will be served.
Street parking is available. The gallery exhibition will be open
from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm from March 17 thru 20, 2008.
Please email or call 330-788-5678 for further details.
Fourth Stop: The Oakland Theater: You absolutely must make it to the theater Friday or Saturday night to see Dog Sees God :Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead It should not to be missed! The show runs March 14,15,20,21,22,28 and 29 at 8:00 PM. This is an "unauthorized parody" that features the Peanuts gang - all grown up! Written by Bert V. Royal, this dark comedy takes place ten years after the events in the fifty- year-running comic strip. The Oakland is located at 220 West Boardman Street, in downtown Youngstown. Reservations can be made by calling (330)746-0404.
Fifth Stop: Top the night off rockin' out at the Cedars Lounge The Region's Home for Independent Music since 1981. Located on Hazel Street in downtown Youngstown.

Snowbound Sunday Morning

This morning, I received an e-mail listing many interesting people from Youngstown, OH. Some of them I knew about, some I didn't. So, on this lazy, snowbound Sunday, I set out to find links to all of the people on the list to see what I could learn. I focused on only those in the Arts and Entertainment section of the list. All others will have to wait until another day. I had a great time reading and listening to all of these folks, I hope you enjoy it as well. The list of course is not all inclusive, so if you know of others who should be added, let me know.


Arts and Entertainment

Stiv Bators - Singer and musician, best known for work with the punk
rock band The Dead Boys,Lords of the New Church,and for a short while Rocket from the Tombs. He was also connected to the band Pere Ubu,. He was born and raised in Youngstown.

Robert and Ronald Bell (Kool & the Gang) - Musicians, originally from Youngstown's South Side.

John Steven Bloom - Master illusionist & magician who has toured with performers including Alice Cooper, Billy Bob Thornton, and Weird Al Yankovic, raised in Liberty Twp.

Chris Columbus - Writer, best known for Goonies and Rent and the director of the first two installments of the Harry Potter movies, raised in Youngstown-Warren area.

Jim Cummings - Voice actor, best known for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger originally from Youngstown's North Side.

Jerry DePizzo - Saxophone player and member of the band OAR,
originally from Liberty Township and Youngstown's North Side.

Joe Flynn - Comedic actor, co-star of 1960s television series
McHale's Navy, originally from Youngstown's North Side.

Brian Gage - Contemporary author of satire and fiction. I recommend one called Snark Inc. Born in Youngstown and grew up in Poland, Ohio and Canfield, Ohio.

William Gass - (new addition thanks to Keith Sikora)Gass was a foremost post-war novelist and experimental prose writer. Famous for The Tunnel.

Elizabeth Hartman - Actress, best known for performance in A Patch of Blue, originally from Boardman.

Sean Jones - Jazz Trumpeter and a member of Wynton Marsalis' band, raised in Warren and schooled at YSU's Dana School of Music. (Don't forget to go to the sidebar to let Sean know we'd like to have a performance in Youngstown)

Phil Keaggy - Guitarist, best known for work with Glass Harp, originally from Hubbard.

Maureen McGovern - Singer, best known for 1970s hit "The Morning After" originally from Boardman.

Michael McGovern - Poet, a product of Youngstown's 19th-century steel mills who became nationally known as "the Puddler Poet."

Jerri Nielsen - Author, best known for Ice Bound, the New York Times bestseller on the medical crisis she endured while trapped at a South
Pole research station; born and raised in the Youngstown area.

Ed O'Neill - Actor, best known for playing Al Bundy on Married with Children, originally from Youngstown's North Side.

Kenneth Patchen - Poet, best known for Beat-era work, born and raised in Youngstown-Warren area.

Jennifer Walcott - Actress, limited film appearances, best known for work as Playboy centerfold model, raised in Youngstown.

The Warner Brothers - Show-business entrepreneurs, immigrated from Poland to New Castle, PA, then to Youngstown, resided on the city's North Side during their early career. For an interesting history of the Warner Brothers' campaign against Nazism read The Celluloid Soldiers

Saturday, March 8, 2008