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Marching for the dead 

More than 100 people gathered at the Federal Building in downtown Rochester late last Friday afternoon, October 29, to mourn the death toll in Iraq.

The mock funeral procession came just one day after The Lancet, a British medical journal, released a study estimating 100,000 "excess" civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the US occupation. The somewhat controversial cluster sample survey, which can be downloaded at image.thelancet.com/extras/04art10342web.pdf, estimated that the risk of death for Iraqi civilians is 2.5 times greater since the start of the war.

Demonstrators dressed in all black and wore white armbands as a show of solidarity. Two women in funeral garb wore black veils over white masks, and students from Fairport High School carried coffins. Activist-organizer Jan Bezila addressed passersby with a megaphone. Minutes after 4 p.m., several protestors gathered around the Federal Building's flag pole and with the words, "We're mourning this very devastating war," they fell to the ground, imitating death.

"We're hoping this non-political protest will touch people's hearts," Bezila said. "I am really quite disappointed that both [presidential] candidates are talking about killing people; they're talking about killing terrorists. I don't think the way to peace is through killing."

High school students made up nearly half the group. Seventeen-year-old Michael Freeman said this war will become, "the next Vietnam." First-time protestor Ishita Ferdous expressed her concerns over the Bush Administration's approach to foreign policy.

"If you take the literal meaning of a terrorist, it's a person who inflicts fear upon others, and [the US is] kind of like that too, we're inflicting fear upon the Iraqi people," Ferdous said. "It's disgusting how we say they're the terrorists. They're just mad that we're in their country. I would be too."

--- Rebecca Shore


Squaring off

Before the request for proposals in the preliminary design phase of Renaissance Square was even officially announced, the web page of the RFP (www.rensquare.org/rfp.aspx) was getting hits.

That's what County Executive Maggie Brooks told reporters when she formally publicized the opening of the bidding process.

"This is truly when the public phase of this process begins," said Brooks. Sharing a stage with Mayor Bill Johnson, RGRTA Chief Executive Mark Aesch, and MCC President Tom Flynn, she lauded the project as a way to "help us create a new sense of place in downtown."

Johnson, meanwhile, acknowledged that despite the sense of excitement in the air "there's also a certain amount of anxiety." The Renaissance Square project has been criticized for lacking any substantial public input. Johnson's statements were aimed at soothing that anxiety, and more than once he argued that the process would truly be open. "There is no one model that's conceived that will be jammed down people's throats," he said.

"The bottom line is we want to get it right; we want there to be a lot of community involvement," Brooks said.

Whether that assuages the fears of Renaissance Square's critics remains to be seen.

From Johnson's perspective though, one important hurdle has already been cleared. "For the first time we have real cooperation with the county" and with the transit authority, he said. The challenge now is to see if this newfound cooperation translates into results for a chronically troubled stretch of East Main Street.

"This [area] has really stymied us," Johnson said.


Fantastic disaster

Reinforcing the suspicions of many US citizens, a Cornell University professor has just issued a study stating that the approval ratings for President George W. Bush jump slightly each time the federal government issues a terrorist warning.

Robb Willer, the assistant director of Cornell's Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory, tracked all terrorist warnings made from February 2001 and May 2004 along with the 131 Gallup Polls conducted during the same period.

"Results showed that terror warnings increased presidential approval ratings consistently," Willer says. "They also increased support for Bush's handling of the economy. The findings, however, were inconclusive as to how long this halo effect lasts."

The boost to Bush's economy ratings is particularly odd, since his handling of the economy is largely irrelevant to terrorism. Willer attributes this phenomenon to "social identity theory." The theory, in this application, basically says that threats of attacks from foreigners cause Americans to feel greater solidarity with their leadership.

Willer's findings also are consistent with terror management theory, which indicates that threats involving mortality increase nationalism. "This research suggests that individuals may respond to reminders of their mortality, like terror warnings, by supporting their current leaders," he says.

A PDF of Willer's study can be found here: www.uiowa.edu/%7Egrpproc/crisp/crisp10_1.pdf

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