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News briefs 8.28.02

News recycling

Calling all connoisseurs of "merger mania" and its analogies. As time goes on, there's more evidence of cooperation than of competition between some local media operations.

            Recently, for example, WOKR Channel 13's 11 p.m. newscast began offering a peek at the Democrat and Chronicle's headlines for the following morning. It may be a natural progression from the station's longstanding partnership with the D&C (and with WXXI public broadcasting), as highlighted by the Voice of the Voter project. Still, purists may wonder why competitors work so hand-in-glove.

            WOKR-TV news director Chuck Samuels doesn't think there's anything amiss, however. There's not much natural competition, he says, between broadcast and print anyway. "All three mediums [TV, radio, and print] serve different purposes," he says.

            But the dynamic between broadcasters is different, says Samuels. "I don't think you'll see the TV stations cooperating anytime soon," he says.

            There are limits to cooperation, in any case. "If we have a scoop, we might break it first" before the D&C can publish, says Samuels. But Channel 13 would notify the D&C before the story broke, he says.

Starless and Bible Black

The universe will become a smaller, more alien place for as many as 45,000 area schoolchildren if the $600,000 budget cut Monroe County Executive Jack Doyle has proposed for the Rochester Museum and Science Center next year becomes a reality.

            According to RMSC President Kate Bennett, the proposed cut would force the museum to discontinue all public and school star shows at its Strasenburgh Planetarium in 2003. Cumming Nature Center in Naples, which RMSC also runs, would be closed, and RMSC staff reduced by a third.

            The non-profit museum is one of many cultural and educational institutions slated to lose funds under Doyle's plan to balance the county budget without raising taxes. However, coupled with last year's county funding cut of $300,000, the elimination of staff and programming at RMSC threatens to make it the most dramatic example of the damage the county's budget crisis will do to the community.

            According to the Rochester Business Journal's Book of Lists, RMSC is the biggest cultural tourist attraction in Rochester. It draws an average of 400,000 visitors a year. In a press release protesting the proposed cut, the Greater Rochester Visitors Association estimates those tourists pump between $4 million and $10 million into the local economy each year.

            But upon reflection, the loss of the planetarium's and nature center's potential to inform and inspire young people may be the most tragic consequence of the cuts.

            As presented in textbooks or the small screens of televisions and computers, the story of the cosmos is a snoozer compared to the experience of sitting in Strasenburgh Planetarium and watching the universe bloom a few feet from your upturned head. It's the kind of quasi-religious experience adults try to replicate by getting stoned and attending the planetarium's Dave Matthews laser shows (which, as revenue-producers, are safe from the budget ax).

            A star show can also help kids indoctrinated to believe in the bland Christian cosmology --- in which an amorphous deity toils for six days in darkness and, poof, the universe is complete --- question such hokey, yet horrifying, myths as the physical existence of Hell.

            Coupled with the proposed closure of county parks on weekdays, the nature center's loss compounds the problem, particularly for city kids. Growing up in a place where light pollution obscures the stars, air pollution coats the lungs, and setting foot on grass is trespassing, they could be forgiven for believing the Bible was wrong: Hell is right here on earth.

Fast times in New York

Rochester Catholic Worker activist Tom Malthaner called August 23, and from the background noise we knew he was in the thick of something. Turns out he was calling from lower Manhattan about a vigil he and three other Rochesterians --- Pax Christi member Jan Bezila and Brockport residents Chris Powers and Maxsim Privorotsky --- were taking part in outside the United Nations headquarters.

            The vigil actually was the centerpiece of a 40-day fast organized by the Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness to protest US economic sanctions against Iraq. VITW not only opposes the sanctions on moral and humanitarian grounds but has "violated" them by repeatedly taking humanitarian aid directly to Iraqi civilians. The aid is much needed, since the sanctions, according to the UN, cause thousands of Iraqis, especially children, to die prematurely or suffer disease from contaminated water, lack of medical supplies, malnutrition, and so forth.

            Malthaner said the Rochester group would take part in the fast/vigil for four days then return home. "We're getting a good reception, and there's some real excitement," he said, adding the group was engaging the public and passing out educational brochures. He also mentioned that Denis Halliday, a former UN humanitarian program coordinator who now teaches at Dublin's Trinity College, had stopped by. Halliday, recently on record as strenuously opposing any US military action against Iraq, has called the sanctions "genocidal."