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Ten ideas about the next 30 years

Rather than inflict these thoughts on my non-political Facebook friends, I have dumped there here on the old blog (so that they might be bookmarked and laughed at when they fail to come true… if there still IS an Internet in 30 years, bwa ha ha hah).

These are some very general observations. I wouldn’t call them “predictions” so much as possibilities, or symptoms we may see develop over time. They aren’t really based on a close reading of any one line of thinking, although I admit that among other articles I’ve read lately, the “How Stable Are Democracies?” piece in the New York Times was a good read.

My only guiding principle for items such as these, is simply that “The future will not resemble the present.” I have roughly organized them in order of “more likely” to “less likely.”

Internal cultural and historical faultlines, previously ignored or minimized, will come to the fore as democracies destabilize, including in the U.S.

Some tools previously used to reliably effect internal and external power moves by Western democracies, will be suddenly discovered to have grown rusty and useless. This will temporarily produce shock, panic and impulsive reactions by those who are used to using these tools.

Regional government figures, particularly those governing regions that lie along internal fault lines, will test their local powers under more political cover than they previously might have enjoyed. (There will be less focus on running for president and more focus on adding power and authority to their own offices.)

Lands, waters, railways, highways, ports, border frontiers, military and police bases and other civilian and on-the-ground military infrastructure will regain a more pressing domestic political importance in U.S. politics than in the past. (U.S. international strategies for controlling territory will be increasingly turned toward its domestic issues.)

As big business figures are named to high government posts, the possibility of explicit assassination attempts will increase against members of the government previously not subjected to such attempts, and violent overtures against much lower-ranking government figures and business/banking figures will generally increase. If these attempts are (let’s hope not) successful, a downward spiral of violent incidents along a “class war” front may temporarily develop in at-risk Western democracies.

At-risk Western democracies, including the U.S., may fluctuate wildly between rightwing autocracy and radical socialism, before things settle out again for most of these democracies, probably with foreign assistance.

At the end of the wider international crisis period, some national capitals may have effectively or actually physically moved, possibly including that of the U.S.

One new mainstream American political party will come into existence, born from either the Republican or Democratic parties (one of these parties will cease to exist).

America will likely retain a two-party system throughout the next century, but not necessarily a one-national-government system. (The combatants will remain the same, but the political prizes may change.)

At some point in the next thirty years, some parts of the U.S. could possibly be physically, politically or economically occupied/controlled by one or more foreign powers (as a democratically restored client state or states) although how long this might continue is unclear. (It could be very brief, or it could last decades.)

A quick primer on the New York State seal

Many years ago on Daily Kos, there once erupted a long and rip-roaring free-association thread on state symbolism. A good chunk of it was taken up with wondering just what the heck the symbolism in New York’s flag means. The only flag I feel like flying right now is my home flag, so here’s a quick gloss on the symbolism (actually, New York’s coat of arms):

According to Joseph Gavit in New York History, Volume XXXI, the seal symbolizes the following:
In the center, a shield reveals the sun rising behind Mount Beacon over the Hudson River. “The shield symbolizes in the full sun the name and idea of Old York and the old world; the mountains, river and meadow, with the ships, convey the name and idea of New York in the new world.”
To the right, Justice is ready to fight tyranny with her sword held high.
Liberty on the left, holds her foot on the overthrown English Crown. “This New York is supported by Justice and Liberty, and discards monarchy.”
The world globe is displayed above the shield. “By exhibiting the eastern and western continents on the globe, the old and new are brought together;”
Above the world globe soars the eagle. “while the eagle on the crest proclaims,” Westward the course of empire takes its way.”
The bottom ribbon exclaims “Excelsior,” which means “still higher” or “ever upward.”

Fun fact: This is considered by vexillologists to be only the 19th-ugliest heraldic design in North America. Me, I personally like the “women with poles and sharp edges” thing going on, although I’d prefer a big pine tree in place of the globe.

NYT visits Erie Canal

Is this thing on? Testing, 1, 2, 3…

Just a quick note that the New York Times has a nice article in its Sunday magazine about canoeing through the ruins of the Erie Canal in the Mohawk Valley. I don’t consider the Beech-Nut factory in Canajoharie a “ruin” – it’s still too recently the workplace of a bunch of people – but the article is respectful and appreciative of the area.

I was on the Thruway passing next to the Beech-Nut factory just yesterday, after a quick trip downstate. I keep forgetting how “real” the I-90 portion of the Thruway is compared to many other interstates in New York, which have been carved through convenient corridors of nothing. Lots of trees and rocky outcrops with drill bit traces to look at — evidence of human habitation, not so much. But as the NYT article notes, the I-90 Thruway is just another overlay on two centuries’ worth of travel. As dead as it may be economically, at least you can be sure there are still some people around.

First draft finished

The first draft of NYCO’s Blog is now completed.

What does “indigenous” mean?

I have blogged a lot here in the past about our local indigenous people, the Haudenosaunee. But I’ve also been interested in considering “indigenousness” as it relates to other peoples living in the same space – Central New York, or upstate New York as a whole – and how people see or don’t see that concept applying to themselves or to other people. Many native peoples around the world who are called “indigenous” have not actually “always” been there (have migrated from other regions in the distant past, and so on). So, when and how do people become part of the land (indigenous) — with the implication that there are “other people” who are not?

This article about a fight between a local landowner and the Adirondack Park Agency caught my eye because the landowner used the term “indigenous” to refer to himself and his own interests. The first impulse may be to scoff at the guy for cynically co-opting the term. But while he may not be willing to go even further and identify himself as a member of an “indigenous group” living among other indigenous groups who have been here longer, I feel he is probably applying the term to himself sincerely, albeit unthinkingly.

During the NYRI controversy a couple years ago, I saw the proposed power line represented a sort of land grab directed against the land and its people, who were a different people than the downstate people who needed the power line. (Or at least, the corporate types who stood to profit from it). The people living along the proposed line – in my view – were discovering what other indigenous people discovered 200 years ago: that they were now invisible people, part of the landscape to be exploited.

People who self-identify as “indigenous” typically have difficulty communicating to the “non-indigenous” that indeed they do consider themselves part of the landscape in a way that most Americans probably don’t really grasp. Whereas Americans, particularly those living within the dominant culture, tend to see the land as being something they own or deal in. It is something that can be traded away without it affecting their sense of self. This is the tension that causes so many problems when eminent domain is invoked. Eminent domain assumes that land has no meaning or value beyond its economic value. You should be able to exchange it for fair market value without suffering any real loss. Why should you want to save that sad little house or Main Street along the power line? Just take the money, move away and place yourself and your values in some other congenial but interchangeable landscape…

I actually don’t know if the gentleman up in the Adirondack Park really feels on a gut-level that he is “indigenous” to the land beyond all conventional economic consideration. Still, the unprompted use of the word by a white man is intriguing; especially in a time when many people feel economically and socially that they have their backs up against a wall. Our portable American values are supposed to overcome any squeamishness we may have about moving elsewhere, even if coerced to move elsewhere by eminent domain. In America, you’re not supposed to have values, or a state of being, that is not portable.

So, what is an indigenous state of being, and can you become that way? Or, if you can’t “become” indigenous, can new indigenous peoples be born from older, colonizing ones? We’re used to hearing the term applied to native American tribes, but can it be plausibly applied to other groups of people as well? And is the growth of new senses of “peoplehood” (or a return to old senses) a good or bad thing?

As for my own opinion, I’m not sure that such an evolution in personal identification in America, necessarily means strife and bigotry. It could also mean the formation of new and mutually beneficial alliances between peoples who are newly realizing that they are not who they used to think they were.

A Fair day…

The State Fair has been taking its share of lumps in recent weeks — from investigations of both how Peter Cappuccilli and Dan O’Hara have been running things, to an infestation of Justin Bieber fans. My Fairgoing has become spotty over the last few years, mainly because there always seems to be something crazy happening around this time lately. But I made it there today (and what a beautiful day it was) and thoroughly enjoyed myself, and also got to finally see some of the recent changes in action.

The good:

-It seems as if purveyors of tacky goods and services have been sent packing from many of the main Fair buildings, including the Center of Progress and International Pavilion. I think they’ve been shooed down to tents near Restaurant Row. The Center of Progress building seems easier to navigate now and features more New Yorky type stuff — booths for different counties and communities trying to sell themselves, and more historical societies — not just pols bragging about their good deeds.

-The International Pavilion has gotten a pretty fab interior re-do (shame about the restaurant fire there this year though). I never had a problem with it before, but it was so hard to navigate the food court area and find seating. Now there are attractive round wooden tables with benches, and elevated seating areas including a wine and beer area. This is probably the biggest actual facelift the Fair has seen in quite some time.

-Llamas every day now.

-The horse shows in the Coliseum seem to run better and move along more quickly, with pleasant music to accompany all the cantering and trotting. I don’t know about you, but plopping down in the Coliseum for a midday snack break to watch a random horse show is one of my personal Fair traditions. (I still wish they’d bring back the jumping competitions to the main venue, but possibly there were safety reasons for that.)

-Wine flowing a bit more freely at the restaurants. I didn’t have any today, but bought a bottle like a good patriotic New Yorker.

The bad:

-Chevy Court (I still can’t stop calling it Miller Court, which severely dates me) used to be a pretty laid-back venue, but is now a deadly serious musical happening. That’s not “bad,” but I’m not sure how I feel about all acts only doing one show a day now — the wildly popular Peter Noone could have packed in a second show on Senior Day, for example. I walked through the empty Court this morning and saw crowd control gates. Whoa.

-Centro’s shuttle buses insist on traveling on 690 and slowly plowing their way through main drag traffic when they could just quickly pop over there through Solvay. (I guess Solvay is having none of it.)

-Nobody is stepping up to make the Energy building (or whatever that place is now called – where the big corporations like Time Warner hang out) very interesting. Years ago, Niagara Mohawk packed in the crowds with annual documentary presentations on their weather emergency heroics like the North Country ice storm and the Labor Day Storm. Not any more. Snooze.

-Did I see $10 parking?!?

The Fair has definitely changed since I used to go every year… and I think mostly for the better. It’s a good sign when you can’t get to the main gate at the end of the day because a huge and lively crowd has gathered around a lone juggler.

Maybe the Fair-runners should keep that in mind when they are pondering their million-dollar concert bookings. It really doesn’t take much to amuse most people.

“Because we can…”

Paging Barbara Kopple (director of Harlan County USA and American Dream)… why not come to Wayne County and make it an even trilogy?

In Mott’s Strike, More Than Paychecks at Stake

The story in a nutshell: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the company that owns the Mott’s apple juice plant in Williamson, says that their unionized workers make too much, even though the company is enjoying record profits this year. Apparently, Mott’s workers are supposed to be embarrassed that they’re not being paid like peasants, like the rest of their working-class brethren in harder-hit industries. (This attitude can also be found among bitterly unemployed master’s-degree holders as well, I’ve noticed.)

Kopple’s first film, Harlan County USA, was about labor struggles in an industry where the workers had yet to partake of the pay and security that other American workers enjoyed in the 1960s and ’70s. Her second film, American Dream, was about the confused Hormel plant strike where American workers began to lose their grip on what they’d won. This would make a great final chapter: the Mott’s workers as the last men standing, the tall poppies, with no one in America left to cheer them on in a clear fight that the coal miners in the first film would have well understood.

Dr Pepper Snapple has vigorously defended its stance. “The union contends that a profitable company shouldn’t seek concessions from its workers,” the company said in a statement. “This argument ignores the fact that as a public company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group has a fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best interests of all its constituents, recognizing that a profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs and builds communities.”

It would be interesting to parse what this corporation really means about “generating jobs” (are they saying they will be generating more, but lower-paying jobs for the community? Highly doubtful – they just want to pay the same amount of workers less) and “building community” (maybe they’re talking about building a company store).

However, Dr Pepper Snapple is, on another level, being honest. It is the duty of a profitable corporation to screw its workers over as much as possible. And it is the duty of a union to resist a blatant and open screwing. If you can get more than $14 an hour (or one billion dollars) for whatever work you do, it is self-evident that you are worth that much to someone powerful enough to pay it. It’s a fact of life that many Americans (despite their college educations) still don’t understand: you don’t get to be adequately paid just because you possess a piece of paper that says you’re in the club. If you must rely on a piece of paper, rely on a contract – and even then, not too much.

This is war, and it always was, despite many decades of niceties that are now past. Whose side are you on?

FailFaire CNY

I think Central New York needs one of these maybe more than it needs Forty Below, Biz Buzz or other such gatherings!

FAILFaire

FAILFaire features projects using mobiles and ICTs in international development that have, to put it simply, been a #FAIL. Busted, kaputt. Tongue firmly in cheek, we take a close look at what didn’t work and why the projects failed amidst the ICT4D hype we all are subjected to (and sometimes contributors to). We believe that only if we understand what DOESN’T WORK in this field and stop pushing our failures under the rug, can we collectively learn and get better, more effective, and have greater impact as we go forward.

See more at this NYT article about the most recent FailFest.

Instead of technology failures, FailFaire CNY could be an honest, open hashing-out of failed local initiatives and redevelopment schemes. (I suppose in order to avoid hurt feelings, there would have to be a moratorium on discussing any projects that failed less than ten years ago.) Syracuse B4 could be our keynote speaker!

Seriously, I’m not just trying to be snarky. Why should these discussions just be kept on the blogs?

Even a stopped clock…

…is right twice a day. The state Senate passes a bill supporting an 11-month hydrofracking moratorium. The Assembly will have a crack at it next month.

Such are the benefits of Upstate New York being last in line for all the latest innovations. Sometimes, you get to smell the crap coming.

Dejobbing society

99 Weeks Later, Jobless Have Only Desperation

Facing eviction from her Tennessee apartment after several months of unpaid rent, Alexandra Jarrin packed up whatever she could fit into her two-door coupe recently and drove out of town. Ms. Jarrin is part of a hard-luck group of jobless Americans whose members have taken to calling themselves “99ers,” because they have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits that they can claim.

Without the checks, many like Ms. Jarrin, who lost her job as director of client services at a small technology company in March 2008, are beginning to tumble over the economic cliff. The last vestiges of their former working-class or middle-class lives are gone; it is inescapable now that they are indigent… Ms. Jarrin had scrabbled for her foothold in the middle class. She graduated from college late in life, in 2003, attending classes while working full time. She used to believe that education would be her ticket to prosperity, but is now bitter about what it has gotten her.

“I owe $92,000 for an education which is basically worthless,” she said.

I don’t know why the NY Times keeps finding women of a certain age to talk to. Maybe it’s because these women are truly desperate and agree to talk, and men won’t. But over and over, the profile is the same: fiftysomething, single/divorced, usually with more than two kids, in debt because of mortgages, vacations, new cars or pricey graduate degrees. They’re intelligent, well-educated, and have plenty of job experience, but no one wants to hire them.

I don’t know what to say, because chances are these women are never getting anything resembling their old jobs back. In fact, employers find them attractive layoff prospects even in good economic times. The closer she gets to the age she can take early retirement, the more apt the company is to dump her. And companies also don’t want to pay out the health benefits, so it’s easy to cut off the aging woman who hasn’t got young kids to raise any more. Is it a female thing? Maybe not, but women also tend to network less in the workplace and carry more of the water, which may get some of them to a certain point on the corporate ladder, but might not serve them well enough when cutting time comes.

What is troubling to me is how many women don’t get this picture. It’s scary how many nonmarried (single/divorced) women lose sight of how expendable they are in the eyes of society, though, and enter their last real earning decades amassing more debt than they should. I won’t comment on the mortgages and Caribbean vacations, but the bright shining lie of “more education” in the form of expensive post-baccalaureate degrees is something that needs to be shattered. The woman in this story now has $92,000 of non-dischargeable educational debt. She’s very probably never going to be able to pay that back.

There might be a serious lesson for the younger single (nonmarried) woman here: These are effectively your best earning years. Don’t squander them. Don’t waste your money on things that will have no long-term return. Strengthen your finances and especially whatever personal relationships you have. Prepare for what you know is coming. Always know what time it is. This is Logan’s Run, and forget your biological clock — that flashing crystal on your palm has to do with money.

Modern feminism ought to be speaking to this. I don’t pretend to know what happened, but in the beginning, feminism was about making it easier for women to make choices – not to “have it all,” which is what the message is today. Early feminism sought to liberate single women from servitude not of their own choosing. It sought to give single women the tools and confidence to live with dignity and self-reliance, if they so chose. It was about living smart as a single woman, not about living large. Early feminism also had much to say to the married woman. This is why the institution of American feminism is so beautifully represented by the statue in Seneca Falls, of the married Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the single Susan B. Anthony first meeting in friendship.

So what happened? It’s sad to see how alone these older women are in these anecdotal news stories. Many times, their children are not helping them. It isn’t too late for women of a certain age to make a better future for themselves, but it’s going to involve turning away from a society that has pretty much shown its true colors in a time of stress, and has rejected them. In the Middle Ages, widows had the same problems, and in some parts of Europe they banded together and formed lay communities. Some of these communities became surprisingly big “players” in the wider community, much to the consternation of the Church. In American life today, this is a missing institution (as is traditional feminism).

Has the institution of higher education grown too large and usurped other institutions in importance (real or perceived)? I’m inclined to say yes. It’s not that there is anything wrong about higher education. But American higher education now purports to be all things to all people — the Great White Hope that, morally and practically, stands all alone against our corrupt financial institutions and a democratic system that is largely pay-to-play now. It doesn’t pass on knowledge, quite so much as it dispenses “educational treatments,” as Ivan Illich pointed out in his radical book Deschooling Society – inoculations of frankly questionable value, rather than necessary healing; an obligatory sheep-dip through which all the wayward flock must be herded. (“Take this shot of Education, or you will surely wind up in an economic hell from which there is no escape. Dominus vobiscum, suos cultores scientia coronat, oolee oolee oo.“)

When you put all your eggs in one basket, and all your trust into one social institution, that’s a recipe for disaster. Our society isn’t there yet, but with the decline and stress on so many other institutions — K-12 education, religious life, labor unions, the military — it’s getting dangerously close. It certainly was a disaster for the lady in this story.

Maybe someone also should write a treatise on Dejobbing Society – since the jobs are going away for all demographics. Is it possible that in the end all our former institutions will have to be upended and alternative ones formed, or re-formed?