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Happy to have the help: Karla Digirolamo, chief operating officer of Unity House.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

V-Day Gift

Students and community activists use popular play to raise money for local charities

 

‘Vagina time is my favorite time of the year,” said the bubbly and super-enthusiastic Brianna Bailey, co-organizer of this year’s performance of The Vagina Monologues at the University at Albany. Bailey also works as the grants and policy coordinator at Unity House of Troy, and nearly jumped out of her co-director’s chair in anticipation of the show’s opening tonight (Thursday).

She isn’t the only woman excited about the opportunity to talk, rant, scream, and cry about vaginas on stage. In the upcoming four weeks, more than a dozen universities, colleges, and community organizations in the Capital Region will perform Eve Ensler’s award-winning play in order to support and raise awareness about bringing an end to domestic violence.

“It’s really energizing to see that so many people are dedicated to a cause such as eradicating violence,” Bailey said. According to her, the performances by separate organizations are certainly not competitive, but rather supportive of each other, which is just what sets The Vagina Monologues apart from other theatrical shows.

The shows will simultaneously take place as part of V-Day, “a global movement to stop violence against women and girls” first established in 1996. Officially celebrated on Feb. 14 each year, V-Day represents an effort to curb the high number of sexual assault incidences on Valentine’s Day.

Proceeds earned from V-Day fund- raising and ticket sales for the local upcoming shows will go primarily to area domestic-violence campaigns and shelters, such as Holding Our Own, the YWCA of Schenectady, Equinox, Inc., Unity House of Troy, Albany Rape Crisis Center, and others. A portion of the local proceeds also will go to the international 2007 V-Day Spotlight Campaign: Women in Conflict Zones.

In 2006, more than $20,000 was donated to beneficiaries by local ticket sales and V-Day-oriented fund-raising events. Meghan Slutsky, co-director of The Vagina Monologues at Albany Law, said, “Last year, I believe, we raised in the neighborhood of $2,000. This year, we are hoping to at least double that amount.”

Carmen Rau, the executive director of Holding Our Own, a foundation that has given more than half a million dollars in grants to women’s and girl’s organizations since its establishment, said that donations from groups like The Vagina Monologues at UAlbany and St. Rose help fund programs centered around domestic violence. Recently grants have been awarded to the Restorative Community Justice Program, Counting Our Lives (a nonprofit documentary made to educate policy makers), the Albany Free School, and the Albany Social Justice Center.

Unity House of Troy pours proceeds from fund-raisers like The Vagina Monologues directly into its domestic-violence program. Because funding from the state does not sufficiently cover the emergency, residential, and nonresidential services Unity House provides, the domestic- violence program banks on sources like local V-Day fund-raising to “keep it together,” said Karla Digirolamo, the chief operating officer of Unity House.

“Domestic violence runs at a loss because it is such an extensive program,” she added. Adults and children can seek emergency shelter at Unity House, stay in its housing residences, and receive support from its 24-hour staff, legal and personal counseling services, and advocacy programs un- til they become self- sufficient.

The Vagina Monologues was first written and performed by Ensler in 1996. From the basement of a street café in New York City, she told what she considered the most striking vagina-related stories gleaned from the more than 200 women she interviewed in the previous years. Retelling the stories of sex, rape, violence, abuse, and empowerment became an effective form of social justice and feminist activism.

This year, performances will take place in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and in nearly every American state. There will be more than 100 shows in New York alone.

—Alexandra Hoefinger


What a Week

Can’t Take a Joke

Apparently they scare easily in Boston. Last week, a few dozen LED-lit signs depicting cartoon characters (“Mooninites”) from Aqua Teen Hunger Force flipping the bird were mistaken as bombs planted by terrorists. Major parts of the city were shut down as bomb squads flew into action. A few hours after they were first reported, the city realized the “threats” were neither bombs nor signs of an impending terrorist attack but instead a marketing campaign for an upcoming movie. Turner Broadcasting, the media corporation responsible, has agreed to pay the city of Boston $2 million to offset damages from the advertising stunt. The campaign included similar displays in nine other U.S. cities that went off without incident.

Flexing Her Muscle

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) came down hard on Iran in her address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this week, placing Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “in the company of the most despicable bigots” for his denial of the Holocaust. Clinton, a frontrunner in the 2008 presidential election, stated that “no option should be left off the table” in dealing with Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. Pledging her full support of Israel, Clinton, who pocketed more than $83,000 from pro-Israel groups in 2006, is seen as attempting to secure Jewish support for her upcoming presidential bid.

Read a Book

Albany residents on Tuesday approved a measure to renovate or build five library branches with a vote of about 3,300 in favor and about 1,700 against. Those who opposed the proposition argued that maintaining the library system wasn’t worth the increased tax burden. Also, the voters passed a $19 million school-renovation measure. Those renovations will rely upon state funds and will not increase taxes.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Earlier this week, NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak was charged with several crimes, including attempted murder and kidnapping. According to police, Nowak drove from Houston to Orlando (while wearing diapers, in order to avoid the need for restroom breaks) with the intent to kidnap a woman who Nowak believed was a rival for the affections of another male astronaut. Nowak, who dressed in disguise, reportedly was armed with a BB gun and pepper spray when she confronted the other woman in the apparent astronaut love triangle.



Dying for Coverage

A 2002 plan for cell-phone towers in the Adirondacks could have saved a motorist’s life

Last month, a Brooklyn couple traveling the Northway after midnight ran their car off the road in the Adirondack Park and were stranded. Their cell phone didn’t work. After a 36-hour ordeal in freezing temperatures, the husband, Abraham Langner, was dead. “And I was really angry when the Adirondack Park Agency and us dirty hippies in the environmental movement got tarred with the blame for this accidental death,” said John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council. The blame, he said, was being doled out by the same politicians who have stood in the way of actual advancement in cell coverage along the Northway.

Since 2002, there has been a plan in place, approved by the APA (the state agency that oversees regulation of the park), that could provide seamless cell-phone coverage from exits 26 to 35 of the Northway. Had this network been in place, Sheehan said, the Langners might have been able to call for help.

In 2000, after the Northway’s emergency roadside phones suffered a Y2K meltdown, the state police and the New York State Department of Transportation both proposed that a plan be put in place to bring coverage to the Adirondacks. The agencies worked together, along with the Adirondack Council, for a year, commissioning a $3.5 million engineering study, to come up with a plan that would pass through the APA’s permitting process.

The plan involves placing 38-foot towers, 33 in all, in the treeline along the Northway at a cost of $5 to 10 million. The network would piggyback the fiber-optics cable running along the corridor, insuring uninterrupted coverage.

“The towers would be small enough to fit into the woods on the roadside without being seen, and therefore would not run afoul of the Adirondack Park Agency’s requirements regarding substantial invisibility of communications equipment or other towers,” Sheehan said. The towers would be installed by the phone companies who then would in turn rent space from the state on the poles.

The proposal won a permit from the APA in a matter of months. But, with the short-tower network approved, the cell-phone companies pulled out. They didn’t want to foot the cost, Sheehan said, for towers that would do little than extend their coverage to the roadway corridor.

Assemblywoman Theresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) said that Sheehan is right: The companies did reject the proposal due to its narrow extension of coverage.

“We had come up with a proposal that the environmentalists could agree to,” she said, referring to the short-tower network, “but we couldn’t get any carriers to come in because obviously the only place you could be able to get coverage was on the highway.”

“What is wrong with a company making money?” Sayward asked. “What is wrong with free enterprise?”

Not only would the short-tower plan not extend coverage much beyond the corridor, Sayward said, the network wouldn’t even provide adequate coverage for the corridor itself.

Together with Sen. Elizabeth Little (R-Queensbury), Sayward began working aggressively to push through an alternate plan of placing three 100-foot towers, and four 75-foot towers into rest areas.

“When we met with the state office of technology,” she continued, “they told us that if a car went off the road, down an embankment, that they would not be able to use their cell phones cause the coverage went from tower to tower, in a straight line. And we thought, what good is that?”

She pointed to the incident with the Langners specifically. Had the short-tower network been in place, she argued, it still would not have assisted the couple. The coverage would have been too limited. Cars that leave the interstate, she said that she has been told, are not guaranteed coverage.

Confronted with Little’s remark, Sheehan pulled out one of the dozens of maps prepared for the 2002 permtting process. He located the map of the area where the Langners went off the road. Had the plan been put in place, he said, according to the map’s schematic, the Langners’ car would have sat comfortably within the radius of cell coverage.

“It was awesome,” said APA spokesman Keith McKeever, when describing the the 2002 short-tower proposal. “It would provide seamless coverage from exits 26 to 35. The 33 cell towers would accommodate three independent, private cell-phone companies. It would have had seamless coverage for the corridor. It was a project designed with the priority on public safety. And it was done in a way that was consistent with local, state and federal law.”

McKeever also pointed out that during earlier discussions about possibly implementing the tall-tower proposal of Sayward and Little—which exists only in concept—it was essentially nixed by the federal agencies and the DOT.

“The other side of Little and Sayward is acting like they have an equivalent plan to the short-tower network in front of them,” Sheehan said, “and they don’t.”

If anyone wants cell towers in the Adirondacks for next winter, he added, they are going to have to go with the short-tower plan.

“If they go with the tall-towers thing,” he said, “then they have got to get an engineering study done, they have got to apply for permits with the Adirondack Park Agency, or they have got to do this ridiculous grandstanding, drag-everyone-from-the-funeral-to-the-Legislature emergency legislation. And that is what they are trying to do right now.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


Got RBST?

As debate about the safety of artificial-growth hormones continues, more dairy companies are providing hormone-free alternatives

When compared to the price of the average gallon of milk, an equal quantity of a hormone-free alternative may ring up a few cents higher at the register. The latter, however, is significantly better for your health—at least that’s the claim made by those who oppose injecting America’s dairy cows with the artificial-growth hormones that boost milk production.

 

For several years, and especially since this past fall, some dairies in the Northeast have pledged to offer only milk that is hormone-free. Others have decided to provide consumers with a hormone-free alternative.

“The reason we offer the choices is because consumers asked for them,” said Marguerite Copel, vice president of corporate communications for Dean Foods. Dean Foods supplies grocery-store dairy cases with several varieties of milk, including conventional, hormone-free and organic. The company owns several other brand names, including Garelick Farms, which purchases from dairy farmers throughout upstate New York.

Sometime around October, Garelick decided to begin converting its entire milk supply to hormone-free.

To date, only one artificial-growth hormone has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The hormone is manufactured by the agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto and sold under the brand name Posilac. It is the synthetic version of a naturally occurring protein hormone called bovine somatropin, or bST, which is found in all cows.

Posilac, a form of recombinant bST, can boost milk production by as much as 10 to 15 percent, according to Monsanto. While Monsanto maintains that milk produced from cows that have been injected with rbST is safe for human consumption, the artificial hormone is not currently approved for use in nearly all other industrialized countries: Japan, Canada, and European Union member nations, to name a few examples.

HP Hood, which owns the locally distributed Crowley brand, has been purchasing milk from farmers who pledged not to use rbST for its plants in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire for several years. During the fall, the company chose to expand this promise to plants in Massachusetts and upstate New York.

“We’re converting based on supply,” said Lynne Bohan, spokeswoman for Hood. “Supply is limited, but we’re continuing to monitor both consumer demand for milk free of artificial-growth hormones and the supply, and we’ll make changes accordingly.”

Northeast Dairy Producers Association is one of several agricultural organizations that have expressed concern about the potential income loss associated with the abandonment of artificial-growth hormones.

“RbST offers the opportunity to increase profitability,” explained Caroline Potter, executive director of NEDPA. “It allows the cow to use nutrients more effectively and make more milk, so essentially it lowers the farm’s costs.”

To counter lost income, many companies pay a premium for milk from cows not injected with rbST. Hood is among these, said Bohan, although she wouldn’t disclose the amount. Since it may cost more for a retailer to purchase the raw materials needed for hormone-free products, this inflated price is then often passed on to consumers.

“Some consumers can’t necessarily afford to purchase the higher-priced organic milk or rbST-free milk,” Potter said, “and if a consumer can’t afford to do that, they need to know that the milk that they buy is safe, healthy and wholesome. That is absolutely our No. 1 concern.”

That’s why NEDPA is one of several organizations and companies that have expressed concern—some in the form of lawsuits—about the labeling of milk.

“Our concern is just that milk is labeled accurately,” Potter said. “What we don’t want to happen is that by labeling milk rbST-free that there is an implication that other milk is then not as safe or as healthy.”

Despite the FDA’s continuing approval for Posilac, several companies have responded to consumer demand for hormone-free dairy products. Last month, Starbucks announced it would switch to hormone-free dairy products: milk, half-and-half, whipped cream and eggnog. Chipotle is doing the same with its sour cream. The retailer Safeway has also opted to ban rbST in dairy products at its processing plants in Oregon and Washington.

—Nicole Klaas

nklaas@metroland.net



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