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News briefs 7.2.03

The treasure that lies buried

"We're all looking for that big treasure," says John Howard. "It's the thrill of the hunt. You don't know what you're going to find."

            Howard is president of the Genesee Valley Treasure Seekers, a group of about 50 people that gets together on a regular basis to metal detect. They roam beaches, parks, and old properties, looking for treasure, adding to their home collections of coins and novelties. They will also help people find things they've lost.

            "There was a girl who accidentally threw her engagement ring out the window," Howard says. They found it for her.

            Old coins, some from the 1700s, are the most common finds of value. Howard once found a 1776 half real (Portuguese currency) that he considers a treasure. It is more rare to find jewelry, but some people seem to have a knack for it.

            "We have one fella who seems to find a lot of rings," Howard says. "Wherever we go he'll find a ring."

            If the weekly, local hunts are the tortoise's dogged pursuit of the prize, treasure-seeking competitions (members of the GVTS are competing in Ohio during the first week in July) are when a treasure seeker needs speed. At competitions, fields are seeded with thousands of dimes. Participants try to bring in as many coins as they can as quickly as they can, vying for prizes like televisions, gold coins, or new metal detectors.

            "You work up a heck of a sweat in a half an hour," Howard says.

            He has three metal detectors he only uses in competitions. "You need a lightweight machine that recovers quick. Something that's going to take the abuse."

            It sounds addictive. "What isn't?" Howard says. "It is. It's fun."

            For more information on the Genesee Valley Treasure Seekers, visit

--- Erica Curtis

Fall from GRACE

The Downstate-based Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) got its wish June 26: The state Court of Appeals agreed that New York City public schools aren't getting the support necessary to fulfill the state constitution's guarantee of a "sound, basic education." Rejecting Albany's case that state responsibility extends only through the eighth grade, the court supplied another phrase that's sure to resonate: a "meaningful high school education."

            But the same court dealt our own locality a different hand: It ruled against the Greater Rochester Area Coalition for Education (GRACE), which sought state action against the effects of concentrated poverty and racial isolation on the City School District. So the GRACE lawsuit is over. But the issues remain.

            Debate over the lawsuit has often centered on the consolidation of school systems. GRACE, however, didn't seek any particular remedy. Instead, the group attacked state policies that have contributed to the concentration of poverty --- for example, a historical failure to build low-income housing in the suburbs. Like CFE, GRACE basically wanted the state to make good on the constitution. But the court fell back on "local control and participation" as a basis for rejecting the lawsuit --- and in effect upheld the current municipal and district boundaries which enforce a latter-day segregation.

            "We're very disappointed," says local attorney James Gocker, a key member of the GRACE legal team. "This concept of local control is not found in the [state] constitution," he says.

            In fact, says Gocker, "local control is a myth." How so? The state enforces standards and distributes funds, of course. But Gocker gives a Rochester-area example that really shows where the power lies: When Fairport school officials recently said they'd hold up their budget process until state officials completed their own budget, Albany intervened immediately, threatening to remove the Fairport superintendent and school board.

            Still, Gocker spots some hopeful signs. "Clearly the court recognizes the plight of city schoolchildren," he says. Indeed, the written decision expresses sympathy for urban parents who are trying to do the best for their kids.

            The words may ring hollow for many Rochesterians, though.

Fuel futures

Just as Honeoye Falls is now a global center for hydrogen fuel-cell R&D (see City Newspaper, June 4-10, 2003), Rochester Institute of Technology is a focal point for similar technologies.

            One example: RIT professor James Winebrake, the school's chair of public policy, recently published a study for the Electric Power Research Institute on "The Future Impacts of Electric Drive Vehicles."

            In the study, according to advance publicity from RIT, Winebrake looks forward to 2025, when 50 percent of all vehicles on the road will be powered by electricity --- that is, by hybrid engines, pure electric motors, or fuel cells. He anticipates a switch from oil imports to domestically produced electricity that will increase annual GDP by around $40 billion.

            Winebrake gave more details last October in a related presentation to a "New York City Electric Bus Workshop" on electric and hybrid vehicles. Electric-drive vehicles, he said, would produce 440,000 jobs per year, and they'd save more than $9 billion in environmental costs and $7 billion in military costs. He concluded, with scientific understatement, that "government programs and policies to support electric drive vehicles are justified."

            (The federal government is already active through initiatives like the "Freedom CAR," or Cooperative Automotive Research program, which aims to get alternatives like electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells in gear.)

Two for the record books

The good gay news keeps rolling in.

            First, the Province of Ontario's highest court recently legalized same-sex marriages --- and Ottawa announced moves toward legal recognition throughout Canada --- which set hearts aflutter on this side of the lake.

            Then on June 26, the US Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in Texas and a dozen other states, affirming a right to private, consensual sex between adults. "This decision," said the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, "marks the end of the government's authority to knock down bedroom doors anywhere in this nation." (In the Texas case, the police, responding to a fake emergency call, actually broke into a dwelling and arrested two men having anal sex. The fact that this was an interracial couple undoubtedly played no role in the arrest.)

            Rochesterians gathered the same day at the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley office on Atlantic Avenue to celebrate. The event focused on a US map. To great applause, activists put rainbow stickers over the states that almost until that moment had outlawed gay sex. GAGV board member Pamela Barres played on dissenting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's suggestion (in a solemn court opinion, no less!) that his colleagues had caved to a "so-called homosexual agenda." Said Barres: "I checked my own copy of the Homosexual Agenda --- I have the paperback edition --- and I hope the Supreme Court will embrace it."

            The decision, said local attorney Jennifer Gravitz, means "no more 'Don't Kiss, Don't Tell.'" But everyone, she said, will have to keep working on the issues --- and hope for more celebrations ahead.

            GAGV director Chuck Bowen happily put a rainbow sticker over his home state, South Carolina. He also made a local appeal. "If there's ever been a time when [the Alliance] needed support," he said, "it's now."