It’s easy to find simple facts about Middlefield, New York. The Census Bureau estimates the town’s population in 2009 is 2,451, an increase of 2.31% since 2000. The estimated median household income in 2007 was $49,296, compared with $39,625 in 2000 (but still below the New York State figure of $53,514). The median age is 45.1 — older than the state and national figure — but for young people still in school Middlefield spends more per pupil than do most places. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-877455.mp3
But to know how Middlefield is doing today it is good to understand where it has been.
Economic cycles have been observed since Biblical times (“Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten…” Gen. 41). Then and now, people would try to adjust and figure out what happened. Since the economy is complex and not everyone thrives or suffers at the same time it’s difficult to know whether the down- or upturn is more than just a passing phase. In fact, it takes study and an official declaration from the National Bureau of Economic Research to know if we are in or out of a recession.
Artist Eric Maruscak of Binghamton is known for his huge chalk murals of superheroes and comic book characters. He travels the country spending 20+ hours on a piece with an audience present and sometimes only to see it washed away (if it’s done on a sidewalk). Find out what motivates him. Also meet 16 year-old Sarah Flenders of Sayre, PA, a high school student and musician with unique initiative. Responding to a teachers challenge to change the world, she’s organized three concerts to raise funds for music programs in schools.
Meet puppeteer Robert Rogers who established the Robert Rogers Puppet Company in 1980. International audiences have enjoyed his delightful puppetry. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look as Rogers performs in the WSKG studio and with a visit to the puppet workshop in Castle Creek. http://youtu.be/1DyFf0uylX4
A few doors had small holiday wreaths up, or cut out paper turkeys. There were pairs of boots slumped out in the hallway, but the carpet looked new. There was a distinctive Binghamton smell — old wood, cooked onions and cabbage, cedar chips, lemon furniture polish. “At least it’s clean,” Mrs. Dunrea said. — from “Home Repair”
An aroma of Binghamton permeates the novel “Home Repair”. It’s not simply the precision of the setting at Rec Park or Jack Sherman Toyota. Binghamton plays itself as a corner of the world with a bleak climate, moody old neighborhoods and a large university peopled by its share of eccentrics. The action begins at dawn before a garage sale — what could be a more Binghamtonian event? — with a family roused by early bargain hunters. The garage sale has been organized by Eve, who is constantly straining to balance her work as a secretary in the university art department with a domestic life as a wife and mother of two.
The first Africans to come to the New World were not slaves, but were probably crewmen aboard Columbus’s ships. From the 15th till the early 19th century, however, most of the human traffic across the Atlantic from Africa was 12 million men and women taken into captivity to be sold like livestock. Severed from their roots (despite idealistic projects to send freed slaves back to a semi-colonial life in Africa) people by force settled in North America and the Caribbean created a thriving culture and a powerful sense of survival. Over the past few generations the end of colonialism in Africa, the civil rights movement in the United States and other historic developments have signified a new reality. Africa is no longer the “dark continent”. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-880873.mp3
One of the signs of the emergence of African people and the primacy of African institutions is that traffic out of Africa is heavier than ever. In the past twenty years the number of people who have come to North America from Africa of their own free will outnumbers those who were forced to make the voyage during four centuries of slave trade. In part this is because there is simply more population today, but it also reflects people’s quest for a better life and full exercise of their human talents. The result is an African diaspora of a kind that hardly existed before: often prosperous, well-educated and linked to the “old country” in a pattern typical of emigrant communities but abetted by modern technology. One of the most through studies of this social, economic, political and cultural phenomenon is “The New African Diaspora”, a 530-page anthology of more than two dozen scholarly papers presented at a 2006 symposium by the Africana Studies Department of Binghamton University. It is an exhaustive look at what is gained and what is lost when a diverse population becomes even more dispersed. A principal theme is the political instability and underdevelopment that drives many of the best educated people from their homelands. There are now more African engineers in the United States than in all of Africa. At the same time, as sociologist John A. Arthur writes, “Coming from countries where their blackness was not considered a major issue, some of the immigrants are faced with the denigration and marginalization of peoples of black African ancestry in the U.S.” “The New African Diaspora” was edited by Isidore Okpewho, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Binghamton University and Nkiru Nzegwu, professor and chair of Africana Studies at BU. Dr. Okpewho is an authority on the oral literature of Africa and author of three novels, most recently “Call Me By My Rightful Name”, in which a young African-American man is drawn by seemingly supernatural forces to return to the Yoruba territory of his ancestors. Dr. Nzegwu is one of the founders of the website www.africaresource.com whose goals include “allowing a new wave of scholars and knowledge activists to give and gain a deeper sense of histories, cultures and societies.”
Hear from two area Native American artists on Expressions. Award-winning poet and fiction writer Susan Deer Cloud grew up in the Catskills but spent the majority of her life in Binghamton. She’s taught creative writing at her alma mater, Binghamton University. In addition to her many publications, she’s made strides in preserving and publicizing the work of other native writers. Among her many awards and honors, Susan received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, one of the highest honors in her field.
Broome Community College professor Richard Barons called him “Binghamton’s VanGogh.” Armondo Dellasanta is over 90 now and still painting. For years, people have been fascinated with his takes on life in Binghamton (among other places). WSKG’s Jen Matoney was granted an interview with this quiet gentleman, who won a lifetime achievement award at the 2007 Broome County Arts Council’s “Heart of the Arts Awards”. Dellasanta died on December 21, 2010 at the age of 94.
During our national debate on health care the comment was made that “just being alive is a pre-existing condition”. Though we like to believe that every child born is nature’s latest attempt at a perfect human being, we have to accept that we all come into the world and go through life with physical limitations and human weaknesses. Generally these imperfections are not debilitating, and humans have an inspiring ability to overcome handicaps. But when those faults appear in a young person and are mental, emotional or even social in nature it can be more difficult to settle on a diagnosis. Does an overactive child have autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or even signs of pediatric bipolar disorder? Many modes of treatment have been developed, but sometimes it may be wisest to be cautious — chalk it all up to “growing pains” — and try to reassure parents, teachers and health professionals that concerns can be addressed without medication. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-879118.mp3
A recent report revealed that children receiving mental health treatment through Medicaid are four times as likely to be treated with antipsychotic drugs as those with private insurance, in part due to the drug regimen being cheaper and easier than counseling and therapy. In her career as a licensed clinical social worker in upstate New York, Elizabeth E. Root of Trumansburg has dealt with many cases of children examined, labelled, medicated and ultimately treated, motivated by “good intentions” gone awry through the use of psychoactive medications. In many instances, the drugs were not approved for use by children. Some years ago it was not unusual to receive calls from the schools pressing aggressively for psychiatric assessments for the purpose of putting a child on stimulant medication. Sometimes it took weeks for a child to get an appointment with the staff psychiatrist, and I would take heat for the wait from impatient teachers who believed their classroom would benefit from my client being drugged. It was even possible to report parents to social services for medical neglect if parents did not follow a recommendation to have their children evaluated by a psychiatrist or to refuse to give psychotropic medication to their children. Some states, including New York, have passed laws prohibiting school personnel from coercing parents in this manner, or from suggesting diagnoses such as ADHD or recommending medication. School staff I encountered subsequently took care to heed the letter of the law but found alternative language that still accomplished the objective of getting students on medication. Now they recommend “medical solutions”, a euphemism for psychoactive drugs.
Reading a biography, autobiography or personal memoir allows us to add someone else’s life to our own. We can follow them through the pages and share their struggles and pleasures, victories and defeats. Through autobiography we can get to know someone well, even strike up an intimate relationship with a great person, a Helen Keller, Ulysses Grant or Charlie Chaplin. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-837065.mp3
Sometimes their cautionary tales will be so good that we learn to avoid similar mistakes. In her new memoir, “The Mighty Queens of Freeville”, Amy Dickinson recounts the stresses and analyzes the forces that took her through marriage, divorce and raising a daughter as a single mother — all experiences common in our society. During her marriage she lived in London, later moved to Washington, DC with daughter Emily. She also worked her way through several jobs (including, at one point, receptionist and then a commentator at National Public Radio) and periods of unemployment. But Amy emerges steady and victorious. Today she writes a nationally-syndicated advice column. She’s now a regular on NPR’s news quiz “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” (heard on WSKG Saturdays at 11:00 AM) and on “Talk of the Nation” (WSQX weekdays from 2:00 to 4:00 PM). But it’s clear that she might not have landed with her feet on the ground if that ground hadn’t been in the village of Freeville, NY, about fifteen minutes up the road from Ithaca.