Meet the Involuntary Workers of the Little League World Series

Some unpublished work from the 2015 Little League World Series. Reporting from South Williamsport, Pennsylvania:

Little League takes great pride in the thousands of volunteers that coach, umpire, sell nachos, and otherwise make its youth baseball programs happen worldwide. So much so that they named the secondary, 5,000-seat stadium at the South Williamsport grounds “Volunteer Stadium” when it opened in 2001.

During the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, though, one can find a crew of unpaid laborers who are not there for their children or love of the game. These folks are performing a Community Service, like the volunteers helping to instill the timeless American values of friendly competition and baseballing in the youth. But you won’t see them cheering on ESPN; they’re only here because the county probation office said so.

The probationers are easy to spot around the Series grounds. They wear faded yellow T-shirts that say simply “Little League World Series” and walk in zigs and zags with a broom and dustpan around the concourses, brushing up a bit of dust here, a Coke cup there. They are in the parking lots, waving their arms vaguely at incoming vehicles. And they line up near the end of games in the stadium entranceways or up the steps, waiting for the fans to leave so they can do a clean sweep of trash left behind. Between the games, the trash crews of 10 or 12 saunter about emptying cans and throwing the bags onto four-wheel Gators that are driven to out-of-sight dumpsters.

Workers take breaks in a fenced-in area under the stands shielded from easy viewing by green plastic. There are a few picnic tables, some leaf blowers, rolls of trash bags, and a pile of folded yellow T-shirts awaiting new recruits. Maybe 30 people are working at any one time during the day, with the numbers going up in the evening after people get off work and when clean-up is most needed.

Community Service workers relax at the Little League World Series. Photo: Josh Brokaw

Listen in as they work or wander and you catch snippets of regretful conversation: “So I got leaving the scene of an accident.” “They said my taillight was out. And then I blew a .09.”

A man with long stringy hair and gray stubble sweeping up had figured out how he will knock out his 68 hours of service time.

“If I work five doubles at 13, 14 hours a day, I can get it done.” Shifts start at 8 a.m. and go until 3, then the second shift works until 11 or so, depending on when the games end.

Assigned sweeping duty on a Friday night, a machine shop worker named C.J. was not shy about sharing his feeling on his assignment.

“This is all bullshit,” he said in a loud rasping voice, his scraggly beard titled toward the ground as he looked for more debris. “I punched a truck because they did fucking burnouts in front of my house and were throwing rocks at my nieces and nephews.”

A bypassing Little League staffer in a red shirt heard C.J. cursing and took him aside for a minute’s conversation.

“No, you didn’t get me in trouble,” he said, as he returned to his sweeping. “I got here at 7 after a 10-hour day. At my job, I sweep and pick up trash all day long. I mean, it’s my career. They said ‘You can come in at 7 and stay till its done. It might be 4 in the morning.’ I said you can keep fucking smoking what you’re smoking. That’s not happening.”

A lady in pink sweatpants who was waving pedestrians out of the buses’ way Friday afternoon said she found herself here after passing out at the wheel during an allergic reaction to her Ambien scrip. She was slapped with an under-the-influence charge.

“Here I am, 50 years old, and I don’t even drink,” Pink Sweats said. “There are people here who I guess have DUIs, and theft charges and stuff. Everyone who goes in front of a judge gets community service.”

Pink Sweats is right on a number of counts. Drunk driving charges provide plenty of labor for Little League. On last check, in early 2013, DUI charges were 40 percent of court filings, according to the local district attorney. In 2012 Lycoming County had more DUI charges than Philly, with a population of roughly 120,000 and a land area larger than Rhode Island. “Theft by unlawful taking” — i.e. shoplifting — at the local K-Mart or mall is another popular misdemeanor, along with plenty of drug charges in this heroin-hit region.

Everyone charged in Lycoming County gets community service hours – 50 hours is the standard, given with everything from six months probation to 20 year state sentences – and the unemployed can use service time to work off fines and costs. In 2011, the most recent numbers easily available in the “Best Jail Practices” report, 1,232 people did 130,604 hours of service – worth $946,879 in savings to government and nonprofits if paid at minimum wage.

However many of those hours go to Little League is unclear, but it’s a fair chunk. At 30 people for 15 hours a day, a conservative estimate, that’s 450 hours a day in people power for the two weeks of the World Series. Sit in the Lycoming County probation office every week for an hour, and the first offer you hear PO’s always make is “You can work at Little League.” It’s the easiest to schedule for both sides, with so much work available there during the Series and also during 9-5 business hours six days a week for most of the remaining year. It’s also got a bus stop — important if your driver’s license is suspended or taken away.

None of this is illegal, of course; nonprofits have always benefited from community service programs and Little League is a nonprofit, albeit one with a newly inked, eight-year, $60 million TV deal, and a CEO who takes down over $450,000 a year in total compensation. And according to (another) C.J., who was parking cars off Route 15 on Saturday, working in small crews of four or five during the offseason isn’t awful: they can drive the carts, then, and they get a lunch made in the dormitory kitchen “which isn’t too bad.”

Would you volunteer for this gig, though?

“Well, no.” C.J. laughed. “I guess we’re the volun-TOLDS.”

A lone man named Rod drinking at Riepstine’s brewery on the rained-out first day of this year’s World Series was less kind. His first and only DUI in 2011 led to him getting assigned World Series work. “They tell you you have to go to Little League. It’s a scam.”

The yellow T-shirt was presented him upon arrival.

“I went in and said I’m not wearing that yellow shirt, like a work release convict. I went home.”

The next spring, he was given extra time, 75 hours, and was sent to work it off at the World Series grounds in May.

“I power-washed the whole damn stadium myself,” Rod said. He got up and grabbed his growler to go.

“Volun-teer Stadium, my ass.”

Josh Brokaw is a writer currently based in Ithaca, N.Y. Direct critiques, communiques, and cash to jaydbrokaw at gmail.com

On the ‘Jon Stewart Rescues a Bull’ Story

I wrote a feature on Farm Sanctuary’s 30th anniversary for the June 1 Ithaca Times. This portion on the ‘Jon Stewart rescues a bull’ story and the Stewarts’ and other celebrities’ relationship to the organization was cut for space. 

Stories featuring public figures as beloved as Jon Stewart, animals, and crazy happenings in New York City are destined for internet attention. All three of those came together on April 1, when a one-year-old white-faced bull on his way to a livestock market in Queens escaped and took a ramble through the campus of York College.
The bull, later named Frank Lee after the Alcatraz escapee, was tied up and tranquilized by NYPD officers, then sent to the Animal Care Center of Brooklyn. Numerous videos from onlookers of that “arrest” are online, with incredulous, incisive commentary like “It take the whole NYPD for some damn cow?” and “He about to buck the shit out of them.”
That story in itself would be enough to garner some pageviews, but it gained real notoriety when outlets found out that former Daily Show host Jon Stewart came to New York in a van with trailer, along with his wife Tracey to feed Frank some hay and drive him to Cornell’s veterinary hospital for a check-up before relocating to the Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary.
A short video shot by Tracey of her husband, in ball cap and retirement beard, feeding Frank hay made the rounds, and the “Holy Cow!” and “No Bull” headlines proliferated across the web.
“Everyone Wants Jon Stewart to Return, But He’s Just Saving Escaped Cows,” was the Esquire headline. At New York magazine, “Queens Bull Escapes to College, Gets Rescued by Jon Stewart,” and the New York Times, always nuanced, led with the more accurate “Bull in Queens Is Captured, and Jon Stewart Chauffeurs It to Freedom.”
After Farm Sanctuary national shelter director Susie Coston got the call from New York a bull needed a home, calling Tracey Stewart, the nonprofit’s newest board member, to pick up Frank was a practical decision.
“I called the Stewarts because they’re an hour away, with a truck and trailer,” Coston said. “By the time I get there, he’d be all stressed out. Of course, it turned into ‘Jon Stewart rescues a bull.’”
Taking in a large farm animal who made a break for it in New York City isn’t a new happening for Coston. At any one time, somewhere between 50 to 100 of the approximately 500 animals at Watkins Glen are rescues from the city’s live markets. Queenie, another resident cow, also made her escape in Queens.
“Most people don’t realize there are thousands of farm animals in New York City,” Coston said. “They’re herd and flock animals that don’t do well alone, and they go crazy.I know people who go into a coma when they get there, saying ‘Oh my god, why am I here?’”
As a practical matter, when Frank first arrived at Farm Sanctuary, “no one was hanging out with him,” Coston said – a bull can inseminate a cow for up to four weeks after castration. Now, Frank the steer is integrating himself into the herd; he’s easily recognizable in the pasture, with his white face and bantamweight stature compared to most of the other bovines.
The Stewarts will be opening a fourth Farm Sanctuary location in 2017 on their 12-acre farm in Monmouth County, N.J. Animals will be provided from Watkins Glen, according to Coston, with the property housing about a half-dozen cows, a few pigs, sheep, goats, a couple horses, and up to 50 chickens.
Tracey was already an animal advocate and discovered Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur’s first book at a beach house in New Jersey, which led to their association. Stewart has written a book, Do Unto Animals, and has related merchandise like notebook sets, fine art prints, and tote bags.
“Everyone has transformative moments,” Tracey said in an interview reprinted in Sanctuary magazine. “For some, it’s discovering CrossFit; for others, it’s finding religion. For me, it was cows.”
Help from celebrities is nothing new for Farm Sanctuary. Tom Scholz, of the band Boston, has his name on the sheep barn in Watkins Glen; comedian Kevin Nealon sponsored the visitor’s center; and celebrities as varied as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, and Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage have supported the sanctuary over its 30 years.

Photo by Lyndsey Hewitt. Frank the Bull is at left, with Farm Sanctuary shelter director Susie Coston at right.

Hunting for Intelligence in the New Planets News

My grandfather turned 87 last week, and being the considerate grandson that I am, I waited a few days to call  – to let the holiday linger, you know.

The report from Indiana included the news that he  enjoyed his birthday dinner of broasted chicken and a can of beans from the Pay Less grocery; that Mr. Trump was likely not spanked enough as a child, since he turned out to be such a brat; and that there were some new planets discovered that might support life though “their sun ain’t as hot as ours.”

Despite the provincial nature of my job as a local newsman, I sometimes like to know what’s going on out there in the worlds. So after exchanging weather notes with Grandpa and saying goodbye, I plugged “new planets” into the search machine.

The Fox News headline above was Number Two on the results list; given the bear-blinding flashlight advertised, it seems they have targeted what their readers want to know about life.

New aliens to hunt? Martha, pack your bags. We got a new place to go on safari!

And we wonder why the aliens don’t want to say hello.

The National Geographic headline reminds us of the paradoxes inherent in this thing we call life:

New Earth-Size Planets Would Be Nothing Like Earth

The three dimensions are so passe when we’re talking about outer space.

Listed as our “in-depth” option on p.1 of Google News results, the NatGeo lead is about as purple as the infrared light put off newly discovered ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1  might appear to our eyes:

A tantalizing trio of Earth-size worlds circles a tiny, dim star relatively close to us, and each planet is within or near the region where the star’s light could support the whispers and sighs of extraterrestrial life.

Don’t worry about the aesthetic life of any potential life on this planet, though; as astrophysicist Michaël Gillon goes on to explain in the NatGeo article, “for local creatures with infrared vision, plants would have some colors and would look much nicer.”

Several of the articles, like that from CNN – which, oddly, nests the news under its “health” directory – and that from his home school of MIT make sure to quote postdoc Julien de Wit’s line that it was a “risk” to bet on looking into the infrared spectrum. Such a risk that, as the MIT article notes, it was funded in part by the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research, the European Research Council, and NASA.

The Reuters lead is a simple example of the basic issue in reporting on Outer Space news: The only thing we care about is “Can we go there?” and that’s the only way science gets funded.

So you have this:

The discovery of three planets that circle a small, dim star could bolster the chances of finding life beyond Earth, astronomers said on May 2.

Which, rewritten for more pedestrian topics, comes out something like this:

The discovery of a fact could bolster the chances of having something we want to be true, be true, authorities said.

Oh, that’s how we write the news anyway, from official handouts and assertions? I’ll shut up now.

Start reading the letter in Nature which broke the research and it becomes clear why all these sources are fine with repeating whatever the scientists tell them: even the intelligent layman can’t be expected to decode the stuff in these journals.

But I can read good enough to know that I like these two sentences of “it depends”:

The planets’ atmospheric properties, and thus their habitability, will depend on several unknown factors. These include the planets’ compositions; their formation and dynamical history (their migration and tides); the past evolution and present level of the extreme-ultraviolet stellar flux (probably strong enough in the past, and perhaps even now, to significantly alter the planets’ atmospheric compositions); and the past and present amplitudes of atmospheric replenishmenmechanisms (impacts and volcanism).

Unfortunately, a Tbilisi, Georgia-based psy-trance duo has beat you and me to the band name “Stellar Flux.” 

I do have to give the Google ‘rithm credit for its selection on one count. At the bottom of the page one results for “new planets” was this science column from Tim Philp of the Brantford (Canada) Expositor: the opening and closing ‘graphs are generically “gee-whiz, things have got crazy since I was a kid,” but in the core five paragraphs, he does some fine expository writing on how astronomers have been finding so many more planets in recent years. It’s a two minute read that’ll leave you more intelligent. 

 

 

Inpatient Detox Not So Much In The Ithaca Drug Plan

Another story on the Ithaca drug policy. This was all reported in two days after the plan rolled out, but the story ran another week later. The not-for-profit heads quoted below were a bit offput by the plan’s rollout: the short of their complaint was “We’re working on more solutions … but we don’t go around announcing projects until the funding is worked out.” Photo is of the Dick Van Dyke Center in Seneca County, which, from what I hear, has no connection to the actor Dick Van Dyke. 

A lack of places to go for people to get off addictive substances is a common complaint around Ithaca. Tompkins County has neither an inpatient detox facility nor a crisis walk-in detox. The perception, at least, is that one must be court-mandated or fail out of an outpatient program like those at the Alcohol & Drug Council (ADC) or Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) to get a spot in an inpatient detox – the closest of which are in Syracuse, Binghamton, Elmira, and the state-run Dick Van Dyke facility in Seneca County.

Take this quote from someone in the “business” focus group convened to give input to the new Ithaca drug policy for an example of this frustration: “Most people addicted to heroin are going to be on Medicaid. In order to get into in-patient, you have to fail out of outpatient … They need to have three or four dirty drugs screens before they can qualify to get into inpatient, which is where they needed to be initially, which can take 3-4 months.” Or read our June 2014 feature on the heroin epidemic “No Question It’s Gotten Worse” on ithaca.com, which features the frustrations of several people in recovery.

“Insurance is probably our biggest struggle with the inpatient (facility),” said Monika Taylor, director of chemical dependency services at Crouse Hospital, Syracuse, which hosts a 40-bed unit. “There’s supposed to be parity with behavioral health and primary health, but I don’t know if that’s fully happening quite yet.”

Once a patient does get into treatment, sometimes the insurance company might only end up covering a few days of treatment, Taylor said.

“You hardly ever see 28 days (of treatment) anymore,” said Rich Bennett, director of the Ithaca Rescue Mission. “You have to ask if it’s worth it to go into treatment for a week, and then whatever jobs and relationships are there might go away.”

Nevertheless, when someone walks into the Rescue Mission and says “I can’t take it anymore, get me into treatment,” Bennett said they do their best to get someone help because their attitude might “drastically change in three days.”

ADC has been in talks “for a while” with New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to bring an inpatient detox to Ithaca, according to executive director Angela Sullivan. For now, ADC offers what they call “intensive outpatient” programming, which includes three three-hour meetings a week along with medically-assisted treatment for most of its clients trying to get off opiates – a number which has increased from about 5 percent of people calling them their primary drug in 2011 to about a third of the approximately 500 people ADC served last year.

As a state-certified provider of addiction services, ADC does have to reveal a positive drug test to probation or social services, whoever the referring partner might be.

“We do not automatically discharge someone for a positive test,” Russell said. “That is an old school myth that I don’t even think was true 10 years ago. When someone tests positive there’s always a conversation.”

Bill Rusen, CEO of CARS, found the lack of detox options in the Ithaca Plan to be its most objectionable omission.

“Imagine (Cayuga Medical Center) without an ER,” Rusen said. “When CMC was being built, they might have said we’re going to have shamans in there, it’s going to be fantastic. We’re going to have aromatherapy, an ICU, cancer care, cardiac care, but we’re not putting an emergency room in. If you’re having a heart attack you’re really not too interested if the shaman shows up. In this unfair, fallen universe we live in where there’s not enough time, energy, or resources for everything I think the first choice has to be a detox.”

CMC did host a detox until 2009, but “it’s a loser” financially, Rusen said. “You have to have a nurse and a medical person on duty all the time, even if they never saw a patient that day. Even insurance which pays better than Medicaid doesn’t pay enough to cover the costs.”

Rusen said he’s had a proposal “sitting around for about two years” to cover a walk-in outpatient detox, which would cost about $150,000 a year to cover staffing.

Though there’s no inpatient detox for Ithaca in the new plan, one of the recommendations is a 24-hour crisis center, which would serve as a place for law enforcement to bring intoxicated people without going to the CMC ER, a place with short-term temporary beds for people waiting an inpatient bed, and a safe “chill out” spot for people to go rather than being inebriated in public.

At the moment of crisis, the idea for the 24-hour center is to replace trips to the CMC ER, which cost the hospital, Bangs Ambulance, and Ithaca police $413,526.91 in 2015, according to the plan – one of the very few hard numbers included in the report, and one that CMC has made clear is not sustainable.

There is money available for this kind of diversion right now, according to Rusen and Russell, in the form of the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP). The idea of DSRIP is to reduce avoidable hospital trips by people on Medicaid 25 percent in the next five years, with up to $6.42 billion available statewide.

“I assume this center is going to piggyback on (DSRIP) a little bit,” Rusen said.

Trump Is Unafraid and Unashamed

From the press release bin, last fall. I gotta give this guy a call. The choppy copy & paste is unintentional, but seems to fit the material. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, 27th, 2015

November 1st, 2015, from 4-6 PM at Elmira’s First Arena in

Elmira, New York.

‘NEW YORK’S INSPIRATIONAL

‘UNAFRAID AND UNASHAMED’ RALLY

Unveiling Of The huge 7×15 Foot

Presidential TRUMP Painting

By Artist Julian Raven

Why Vote TRUMP?

Why vote MANDELL for Mayor of Elmira?

COMPELLING REASONS TO VOTE!

This is an INVITATION for the press to get a ‘sneak

preview’ of the dramatic and inspirational 7 x 15 foot

‘Unafraid & Unashamed’ at the Artist’s studio

(www.julianraven.com) in downtown Elmira.

To set up an appointment please call Media Barker’s

Trump acrylic portrait/painting on canvas

Mr. Tom Brown @ 607- 331 – 7933

www.Unafraid-And-Unashamed.com

info@mediabarker.com

The Deadline Cometh

Wrote this column on a Tuesday morning because I thought we had some opinion page space to fill in the Times. We did not. It might run sometime. It might not.

This column is written on deadline. It must be written very soon, or it will not exist.

Newspapers, like the one you hold in your hands, still have deadlines. On Tuesday here at the Times and Finger Lakes Community Newspapers office, the work reaches a focused pitch as 5 p.m. comes closer and our 10 papers must be sent to the printer in Williamsport, Pa.

How sharp my editor’s words for my late copy will be today, I don’t yet know. It will depend on the other writers, freelancers mostly, all of whom have talent and knowledge in their field. Most of whom are prone to sometimes turn in stories that are too long or too short, missing a photo, that need a fact-check on some arcane reference or Latin phrase.

Or the question will come: “Do you have anything else laying around?” A fresh half-page has opened up, demanding fresh copy, and we have no wire service to provide filler. Rewriting a press release is a last resort. So an offhand meeting remark by some official on an in-progress project gets a follow-up call, or at least a close interpretation of its supporting documents, and 400 words on the subject appear in the paper.

The reporter must be grateful for deadlines, for without them, none of his work might exist. What us clock-driven moderns call procrastination is a specialty of his. An idea, a phrase, stored in the dark closet of his mind is safe in there. Exposed to light via print, it becomes everyone’s possession. Better for the idea to rot in obscurity than be found banal or skipped over by the reader. Better to leave it on the shelf than to open the door one night and find the hoard empty, with only canned conventional wisdom left over to heat up for the readers. Only hacks of the Murdoch or Sulzberger line can stomach serving that cancerous stuff for long.

Anyway, some procrastination is good for creativity, says one of those recent studies that confirm our vices which the American press is so good at disseminating. Sometimes procrastination even pushes one to clean the house, or take a look at bills going unpaid, an activity which quickly puts one back to real work. And whether procrastination, “time-wasting,” is a vice depends on whether the feeling behind it is one of contemplation or acedia – apathy, to be “without care.” The difference is between the olive-munching Greeks speculating on the nature of existence, and that modern cry “I’m bored – give me something, anything, to do.”

Our service agencies at their best can only honestly answer modern longing with things to do. The progressive ones go beyond suggesting “get a job, any job,” but their mandate to keep everyone safe and healthy, perfectly normalized, does not include an instruction manual to make active, engaged, reaching minds. Trained to go to work and then be entertained for generations now, it’s no wonder that the American has no idea what to do with off hours. There are so many hours, with only a few lucky ones still getting 40 hours of repetitive tasks to do for decent pay these days.

The deadline is a holdout from more industrial days, when one’s work might have been hard and exploitable, but at least you knew when you had to work. Most of my colleagues’ deadline pressures have dissipated into the 24/7 news cycle, that terrible rolling deadline, when any happening, anywhere, needs written up immediately to capture web traffic that no one has yet figured out how to make pay.

There’s more to say, but this column must end. Two more stories to write today.

WATCH: Caps Creep in GANNETT HEADLINES

Our local daily is the Ithaca Journal, Frank Gannett’s second newspaper; purchased by the grand old man of newspaper consolidation in 1912, the Journal just had its 200th birthday. That fact went unnoticed by the paper, given that the folks over there are down to three reporters.

Last weekend, while doing my usual round of online check-ins with Ithaca’s other media outlets, I noticed this doozy of a headline in the story carousel:

Teacher viewed SEX VIDEOS with students, polic…

It occurred to me that there had been lots of headlines popping up on the Journal‘s site recently with some variation of the RANDOMLY CAPITALIZED format. The New York tabloids freely use ALL CAPS in headlines, but they almost always use them before a colon, in a “HEAD: Here’s the subhead” format.

So, to indulge my idle and irresponsible speculation that perhaps Gannett is gearing up for another purchase — the Daily News, last I heard, is still on the block with a price of $1 attached – I took a swing around the internet to see if CAPS LOCK was taking over other Gannett properties.

The answer gleaned from this highly scientific anecdotal survey, in short, is that if Gannett’s NEWSROOM OF THE FUTURE will be featuring lots of random caps to INCREASE ENGAGEMENT, its Southern Tier papers are serving as the incubator for the program.

I skimmed pages as far down as clicking “more news” twice will let you. 27 stories are shown on most of the Gannett pages, before you can’t click anymore and run into the video and FEATURED CONTENT bars, because the “8 biggest moments in Apple history” and “Why this grocery store unisex bathroom sign went viral” is essential local reporting …

There weren’t any random caps at the Detroit Free Press, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Asheville Citizen-Times. Nothing in Reno or the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. Shreveport, Pensacola, Tallahassee, all have yet to start serving the capitalization lords. Nothing in Indy or Phoenix.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader missed an opportunity to write THUNE: GAPS EXIST in Sioux Falls airport security. Burlington missed a chance to put CLEAN TOILET BOWL on their sidebar. A Green Bay columnist remarking on a Lysistrata-inspired movement to stop Trump got the relatively tame header “Trump or sex?” rather than

TRUMP OR SEX? 

Look at that – how can you resist?

There certainly are some Gannett sites using some caps.

Gannett’s lone Montana paper, the Great Falls Tribune, had several GALLERY and UPDATE headers. Delaware’s News Journal featured a RECAP and a TGIT! – which I presume to stand for Thank Goodness/God It’s Thursday, as it was a link to the entertainment section.

Bruce Springsteen’s hometown rag had some WATCH on its homepage, while centraljersey.com used STUDENT NEWS.  Morristown was using WATCH and LETTER and PHOTOS, though a video of “True Islam” program in Mountain Lakes got a lower-case “Watch.” “History:” and “Police:” got no caps treatment along with “WATCH” in Vineland, but “FISHING” did.

Gannett has six papers in New York. Poughkeepsie had a SPEAK UP to encourage commenters to speak up. Rochester and Westchester’s Journal News (lohud.com) seem to have avoided the bug, even while using identical headlines on Albany bureau generated items like “How they fared in the state budget.”

Ithaca, Binghamton’s Press & Sun Bulletin and the Elmira Star-Gazette, old Mr. Gannett’s very first newspaper, share a lot of editing and content. And here is where the CAPS seem to be given their greatest freedom. All of these headlines were up at the same time one early morning late last week. The CAPS are original; the colors are my innovation. If you’re reading Gannett executives, I’m available for consulting gigs.

From Binghamton:

SETTLE IN: Fourth Cal Harris trial

TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY  (a N.Y. cigarette tax story)

TROUT OPENER: mixed results for anglers.

UPDATED: Who’s the best? 34 years of all-star hoops

ZERO FATALITIES: DEC says 2015 safest season in decades

MAKING A MURDER TRIAL: Harris case needs resolution

And then there was “SUMMER PLANNER: Send us your event listing” and “How much for THAT house? Look it up here,” “HOW MUCH? NY educator pay, pensions a click away … those are promoting a database site Gannett’s been building that might or might not be more navigable than plucking things like salaries and government contracts straight from state sites.

A couple favorites that were up on Ithaca:

NAME CHECK: See if you’re owed unclaimed money

ORANGE PRIMER: What you need to know about Syracuse

PARTICIPATE: Election 2016 coverage

And this, on Facebook.

SAD STORY: Suffocated while asleep. Mom rolls on child

Fortunately, DEATH NOTICES is not yet part of the style guide.

See the above image for Elmira’s current idea of how to get people “engaged.”

OH, %$@#*&. DID YOU MISS SOME NEWS?

While compiling this piece, I stumbled across an item printed in the May 11, 1977 Washington, Pa. Observer-Reporter regarding a recent purchase Gannett had made of a western chain.

Al Neuharth told the stockholders there has been some recent criticism of newspaper groups or chains, the story said, and then closed like so:

“The infusion of professionalism that Gannett and its subsidiaries bring to these newspapers will convince even the critics or cynics that it matters little whether newspapers are owned by individuals, or families, or partners, or chains,” he said. “What really matters to the readers is what those owners do with them.”

The Medical Treatment Options for Opiate Addicts

Here’s the original story I wrote on medically-assisted treatment recommendations in Ithaca’s much-written-about drug policy; it was cut down a bit on the end for print, since Vivitrol wasn’t mentioned in the mundanely-named “Ithaca Plan.”  I thought it worth fleshing out what exactly the issues with these treatments are right now, since no one else was doing it, and especially since in a lot of places recommending something like a methadone clinic would raise hell all on its own (hello, Williamsport!). This story ran as part of our March 2 cover package, a week after the plan’s official release. Photo is mine, of Nicole Pagano, who has an honest-to-goodness soda counter in her pharmacy. 

Beyond the potential “supervised injection facility” for heroin addicts not yet taking steps to recovery, there are many more recommendations in the new city drug policy for new and increased services to help those who want to get and stay off dope. A large part of building the comprehensive “recovery-oriented treatment continuum” the plan proposes is getting people access to what’s called “medically-assisted treatment” – that is, drug treatment that help dull cravings for the dangerous street stuff.

Mayor Svante Myrick said last week that one of the plan’s “low hanging fruit” could be convincing more physicians to prescribe Suboxone – the brand name for a combination of buprenorphine, an opioid, and naloxone, which deters use by injection. Under federal regulations, a doctor can only prescribe the drug to 100 patients at a time.

“If the mayor has a special relationship with the president and he would like to sign an executive order to lift the cap, that would help,” said Dr. John Bezirganian, one of four doctors in Tompkins County currently certified to prescribe Suboxone.

Bezirganian has a private psychiatry practice and is medical director for county mental health and the Alcohol and Drug Council (ADC). Since he started prescribing Suboxone about 15 years ago, he’s treated 520 people with the drug – about 20 of his initial patients are still with him today.

In earlier days, if someone came to him off the street and asked for Suboxone, he told them to go to the ADC, and then he could generally promise to get them onto the drug once they graduated from treatment. Because of the limit on prescriptions, now he has to make choices about his patients.

“To some extent I’m playing God a little bit, but I have to pick the best available people,” Bezirganian said. “If I have to make a choice of a single mother who’s sober and working against someone dabbling in other drugs. A young single guy might say that’s not fair. And it’s not fair. But that’s the way it goes.”

The original limit was 30 Suboxone patients per practice, “but they raised it to 100 because no one was signing up,” Bezirganian said.

A special Drug Enforcement Agency number must be issued for a Suboxone provider. There is a seven-hour course to get certified on the drug, some of which is mere “hoop-jumping training,” Bezirganian said. More so than the training itself, he thinks that more doctors don’t participate because of the effect they think prescribing Suboxone might have on their private practice.

“I think many primary care doctors would be fine if they have five people they like and can do it for them, but they don’t want 30, 50, 100 people coming in the door saying ‘Hi, I want Suboxone,’” Bezirganian said. He gets four or five calls a week, and keeps a few spots open in case someone in special circumstances, like pregnancy, needs the drug.

“If I had the spigot open it’d be limitless,” Bezirganian said. “If all doctors could prescribe it, I don’t know how big it would be.”

Nicole Pagano of the Green Street Pharmacy said she has developed a “good working relationship” with ADC and Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) since she opened her shop in 2010.

“I can spend hours and hours and hours on the phone to figure out insurance,” Pagano said. “We try to work out insurance ahead of time. Sometimes we can use coupons for the medication to help someone cover the cost for the first few days … If we can’t treat someone today, they might be lost tomorrow.”

Pagano strives to foster a “judgment-free zone” at GSP; she said many people going on Suboxone are in a situation where they’re afraid of losing their children.

“With no other disease do you have the pharmacist look at you like, ‘Oh, another one of those,’” Pagano said. “Everyone who comes in here is dealing with something … One day of heroin use is more dangerous than a lifetime of Suboxone.”

People in recovery dealing with the aide of methadone right now have to leave Tompkins County to get their treatment. The Ithaca Plan recommends adding a methadone clinic here or even, as Myrick has floated, a mobile unit to distribute the drug.

Monika Taylor, director of chemical dependency at Crouse Hospital, Syracuse, said that there are currently seven patients commuting from Tompkins County on a daily basis to the Crouse methadone clinic. Her clinic can serve up to 650 people at any one time under state regulations, with a waitlist about nine to 12 months long and about 350 people deep right now. The program admitted 265 people in 2015, its most in a year since opening in 1975, and is serving about 550 people at the moment.

The only issues that can move someone up the wait list are either pregnancy or being HIV positive.

“It’s challenging for people to understand we can have a wait list with capacity,” Taylor said. “The problem is when you admit someone into treatment a lot goes into that – methadone is a controlled substance and it requires pretty close monitoring. For the first three weeks or so there’s daily assessment of somebody in that induction phase to get to that therapeutic dose where they’re neither sedated nor going through withdrawal.”

Most people in treatment of opioid addiction do receive some kind of medically-assisted treatment, according to Angela Sullivan, executive director, of ADC. About 33 percent of ADC’s approximately 500 patients last year were admitted for opiates as their primary drug – up from about 5 percent in her first year, 2011. Of that 33 percent, about 27 percent of their total patients received some form of medical assistance.

Heroin-assisted treatment is also mentioned in the plan as something to be explored – providing addicts who don’t respond to Suboxone or methadone with synthetic heroin is a “last resort,” though, according to Peter Schafer of the New York Academy of Health.

One medical treatment unmentioned in the plan is Vivitrol, the brand-name for naltrexone, an opiate blocker that also treats alcohol dependency, which can be prescribed by any doctor and requires a monthly injection.

Alkermes, Vivitrol’s parent company, is “going to every county and pushing it in jails,” Bezirganian said. Because of serious interactions with opiate use, “they tell you only to prescribe it to people who are highly motivated, like an anesthesiologist with a drug problem or people on state parole,” the doctor said.

In an ideal world, Bezirganian said that Suboxone would be widely available for people no matter what other recovery steps they’re taking.

“Some people aren’t that interested in the whole recovery thing, going to groups, which is part and parcel of coming to an agency,” Bezirganian said. “For people coming in using lots of heroin, you could start them on a good dose and lower it over time. You can let people detox themselves.”

Police Not So Pleased With Shooting Heroin, Legally

Here’s the law enforcement angle story about the “Ithaca Plan,” the drug policy rolled out by Mayor Svante Myrick in late February 2016. This story ran as part of our March 2 cover package, a week after the plan’s official release. Image is that week’s cover illustration, representing the “four-pillar” plan, by Marshall Hopkins. The sheriff’s quotes were contributed by my colleague Jaime Cone, who also did a fantastic interview for the issue with the fantastically named Herebeorht Howland-Bolton.  My portion, with IPD Chief Barber, was completed in-person at Island Fitness, a gleaming palace of ellipticals and weights on the Ithaca waterfront; the chief saw me walking outside along the Inlet while working out and he gave me a call. We’d been playing phone tag, and he was leaving for vacation the next day. Score one more in favor of aimless walks. 

The supervised injection facility for heroin users proposed as part of Ithaca’s new municipal drug policy garnered lots of media attention, but not much in the way of praise from local law enforcement leaders.

Tompkins County Sheriff Kenneth Lansing said his department was not consulted in the development of the drug plan.

“We all know that people that are doing things they shouldn’t be doing are paranoid, and I’m just not sure how safe they’re going to feel going to a facility that’s going to allow them to do this,” Lansing said about the injection facility. “There are hurdles with the legality to look at. Nothing against the mayor; I think he’s doing a hell of a job, no doubt about it, and the plan has some great ideas. I just can’t accept [the injection facility], and I can’t support it.”

Ithaca police Chief John Barber said that as “an officer of the law, I have to uphold the law.”

“I applaud Mayor Myrick for coming up with a plan that’s not business as usual,” Barber said. “I don’t agree with all aspects, but [the plan] could do a lot of good and ultimately save lives.”

Even if the injection facility comes to be at all, it’s certainly not happening immediately. The facility does have the backing of Gwen Wilkinson, the Tompkins County district attorney, but as Myrick said at the Feb. 24 press conference the city has “no interest putting time and resources into something that will be shut down a couple days later.” Getting the power to open such a facility will likely take a legal change or at least the governor’s support, the mayor said.

One major recommendation in the “Ithaca Plan” does not face any legal hurdles: starting a“law enforcement assisted diversion” (LEAD) program. The LEAD concept was pioneered in Seattle in 2011.

The “diversion” in LEAD means that police can use their discretion to “reroute people into the intake process, rather than court,” Barber said. One of the findings in the Ithaca Plan is that drug courts “are not a sufficient solution” because of the strict requirements like total abstinence from substances.

The gist of the LEAD idea is to get people struggling with addiction some help, rather than adding to their complications by further entangling them in the criminal justice system or taking them back to the emergency room for one more night that doesn’t solve any of their underlying problems.

“We can’t, and neither can the hospitals, take these frequent fliers—the people who are constantly taking up the professional facilities,” Lansing said. “The hospital doesn’t have the time or the staff to deal with that, and other than putting them in a cell by themselves there’s not much that we at the jail can do. It’s a very difficult thing, withdrawal.”

In July 2015 Albany became the first New York city to approve the concept, and it has since received at least one grant of $70,000 from a private foundation to hire a staffer.

The memorandum of understanding passed by Albany’s Common Council to start their LEAD program calls for a protocol-making committee made up of representatives from law enforcement and relevant county and city departments, like mental health. Non-profit service providers and the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City nonprofit that played a large role in writing the Ithaca Plan, serve at will on the committee in an advisory role.

In July 2015 Barber attended meetings on the LEAD concept hosted by the White House. He said at the Feb. 24 press conference that he came back “renewed” after seeing how a plan could be “put together for a specific person, and then it’s working.”

Barber couldn’t provide numbers offhand, but said that people with drug problems are responsible for well over half of property crimes in Ithaca.

“People who are addicted are stealing to support their habit,” Barber said. “There are a small number of people in the community who are in and out on a regular basis, and the way we approach it now is not working.”

“Police officers are in the field every day building a rapport with people,” Barber continued. “[LEAD] is really another form of community policing.” •

Learning the Back-to-the-Landers

This interview originally ran in the Feb. 17 Ithaca Times. I thought the story near the end about Cornell brass submarining a grant proposal was pretty fascinating. My photo – these Q&A “speakeasy” interviews appear with the subject as a cutout, so we’ve been doing our best to avoid the person-standing-against-wall shot. Green and I foraged in the Agway on a zero degree day to find a prop that worked and we ended up with a wagon. My production guy didn’t like me, because there was no brick wall background. Alas.

The Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming is going through the first leadership change in its history this month, with the retirement of founding director Joanna Green. Elizabeth Gabriel, who operates Wellspring Forest Farm with her husband Steve in Mecklenburg and was the founding director of Common Good City Farm in Washington, D.C., will replace Green as executive director of Groundswell, which focuses on educating potential farmers in sustainable agriculture practices.

After Green took an early retirement from Cornell Cooperative Extension in 2008, where she worked with the farming alternatives program, she put in lots of unpaid time to help launch Groundswell. The center started offering classes in 2010 after receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) beginner rancher and farmer development program. Groundswell, which is part of Cornell’s Center for Transformative Action, now offers numerous courses on everything from pasture management to marketing, and has an incubator farm where aspiring farmers without land can get a start.

The Ithaca Times sat down with Green to talk about her work with Groundswell.

Ithaca Times: How did Groundswell come about?

Joanna Green: It grew out of EcoVillage, where I used to live. We had always done a lot of sustainability education—West Haven is a beautiful farm, a really well run organic CSA, and they did a lot of great educational work. There was more demand than they could fulfill and still farm, so we started about making a non-profit institute for sustainable agriculture. The farmers weren’t going to build a non-profit, and EcoVillage had its own education agenda. In 2008, EcoVillage held a fundraising dinner and raised a few thousand dollars, and in 2010 we started programming.

IT: In your view, what’s been the overall mission of the Groundswell Center since it began?

JG: Increasing diversity in agriculture. And one of the challenges is we are a predominantly white region. There’s a matter of expectations on both sides: people in the agriculture world aren’t used to thinking about [diversity] or might not realize there’s interest from people of color in farming. In communities of color, in some cases, there’s a stigma attached, especially with African-Americans, where their historical role in agriculture is one of being exploited.

There is a growing movement to farming. It’s an honorable occupation that has a lot to do with sovereignty today. People don’t want to be dependent on a food system that’s poisoning them. If you’re not involved in producing food, you’re subject to a system that’s just feeding you junk and contributing to massive health problems.

IT: How do you go about increasing interest in farming from a diverse group of people, then?

JG: The challenge of those of us who are white and in institutions primarily led by white people is how do you actually do the work that engages and eventually turns power and resources over to people of color. The most basic thing is building relationships. In working for 20-some years in Cornell in agriculture, almost all of my colleagues and farmers—the whole world—was white. If we take on the mission of changing the face of agriculture and don’t have personal relationships, we can’t get very far. The organization has to build credibility and trust based on personal relationships. All the setbacks are learning opportunities for us. Coming to understand power we have as white individuals, the learning curve is painful sometimes.

IT: What places in life are those taking classes at Groundswell coming from?

JG: We’ve had anyone from their late teens and early 20s from any number of places, some really impoverished and some affluent college graduates. At the other end of the spectrum there are people in their 50s or 60s wanting to do something totally different in retirement or as a second career. We have a lot of midcareer people thinking, ‘I can’t keep doing what I’m doing.’ At least one couple with adult children who have started farming in T-burg moved to the Finger Lakes from Tennessee to do this. It’s people who want to farm but need to learn.

IT: And what do the prospective farmers who come through your doors learn?

JG: One of our most intensive courses is farm business planning, which we give every winter. There are 80 or 100 people who have taken it, and a substantial portion of them go into business. A lot of them come into this endeavor with little financial management skills, so we provide a much greater chance of succeeding by giving a realistic picture of what they’re up against.

For the same reason farming is super challenging, it’s super rewarding with those for which it’s a good fit. It’s a small segment of the population who’s really cut out to succeed in farming. It’s not a failure on anybody’s part or on Groundswell’s part to expose people to farming and our programs and they decide it’s not for them. And we have people who say what I really want to do is homestead, have a big garden, a little bit of livestock, but I’m not going to try and make a business of it.

IT: How have you seen support for sustainable agriculture education change over the years?

JG: The demand’s been increasing over the past 10 or 20 years. The USDA has supported development of all these different variations in farmer education nationwide. We have to reinvent a training system that fell apart over the last 60 or 70 years. It used to be farmers grew up on farms, and there was a natural organic learning process they went through. Then the [agricultural] colleges started taking on a lot of that—but all the practical how-to-farm stuff was gutted. It became all biotech, aimed at the large industrial model of farming.

The following questions are online exclusives! (There’s no limit to space on the Internet.) 

IT: Do you have any personal experience with institutions orienting themselves more toward that industrial farming model?

JG: At Cornell, we had a civic agriculture program under the direction of Thomas Lyson [a professor of sociology]. The Kellogg Foundation was pushing in the ’90s for sustainable agriculture to get a foothold in the land grant universities, and we had a grant written for three years and $750,000. Kellogg sent a team to meet with us to see if we had the support of the institution, if it was a wise investment. And a dean came into the meeting and said Kellogg shouldn’t bother putting their money here. They should invest the money into dairy manure management research. The Kellogg people were shocked. That was a low point in my career.

IT: What do you plan on doing with your increased free time in retirement?

JG: I’m going to play in my garden. Do more music. I’m going to step back from a lot of stuff and reinvent myself. I’m a good grant writer, but Elizabeth is someone who can put Groundswell on a footing where its not so dependent on the federal grants. I’m really confident in all the younger energy coming into the field and I’m going to embrace my role as an elder now. I’ve tried to model to staff and coworkers that being a human being is really important. There’s more to life than a job.