Monthly Archives: November 2007

Spitzer cries uncle

Courtesy of Simon (posting at The Albany Project), this NYT story would have been not only unthinkable, but unstomachable just one year ago:

Spitzer, Hat in Hand, Asks Fellow Democrats in the Assembly for a Second Chance

Mr. Spitzer “has the potential to be a very creative man,” said Aileen M. Gunther, an Assemblywoman from Sullivan County. “If he works with all the creative people in the Legislature, I think there’s a lot of great possibilities for a turnaround.”

For 45 surprisingly peaceable minutes, lawmakers said, they peppered Mr. Spitzer with questions about how he planned to balance the state budget, what he would do about New York City’s shortage of subsidized housing, and whether he might think about raising taxes to bring in more revenue. Mr. Spitzer sidestepped the question about taxes, according to people in the room. But he was more vocal about spending — specifically, his willingness to help raise lawmakers’ pay, which bottoms out at $79,500 a year.

I know most people will probably do a spit-take at the second paragraph, but it’s the first one that I find unbelievable. Paging Richard Florida… apparently Upstate New York’s Creative Class has been hiding in the Legislature all along! Who knew? (My cynicism double backs on itself when I think of Spitzer’s other professions of humility that he never followed through on.)

I have more thoughts on Spitzer’s situation at the aforelinked post at TAP, but I will add a further thought for the Upstate audience: No matter what party they are from, Upstate Assembly members are still not very powerful… or creative. Without power, creativity is useless. But without creativity, power is just a recurring nightmare we can’t wake up from.

Other people’s blogs

New York Cowboy has a new look. This is a long-running blog that always has very current observations on a variety of issues in Albany (emphasis on rural issues and the environment) — and examines actual Assembly and Senate bills, something I certainly don’t have the time or energy for.

Jockeystreet writes about the proposed DestiNY hotel (the big green peapod thing) and objects to the idea of a green mall (as opposed to other type of building). I feel the same way. Function should follow form… and if the impression the architects are trying to convey is a grand paean to life and growth, you’d think a school or a hospital (or better yet, a factory) would fit the form better.

A visitor to CNY becomes terribly creeped out by Auburn.

There is apparently such a thing as PORN snowfall, and Golden Snowball is blogging about it. Further weather geekery (I mean that in a good way) is at the Groton Weather Blog, by a SUNY Oswego meteorology student (who has some contrarian views on climate change, btw).

The past: Via New York Cowboy, here’s a look at global warming from 1958.

The future: Upstate 2050 has a story on the Upstate Resettlement Zone.

And I don’t claim to know what this is all about, but somebody on my end of town is having a thrilling time

Holey bent along with the road past Westvale Plaza, stopping occasionally to break open the window of a car and bludgeon the zombies inside. Someday, salvage crews would come this way. Traffic control would be happy to have a few previously-cleared cars. He wished he could think of it in the long term like that, but really, his goals were more personal. He was hunting out of spite. It slowed him down, but he couldn’t resist his anger. Only a couple more miles and he’d be there. He approached from the east. Fairmount Fair had been the original goal. The Wegmans, Target, and the Dicks Sporting Goods sat there like ripe plums, waiting to be plucked. More important than the food and weapons that had probably already been picked clean would be the clothes of Marshalls. Three teams had headed out every day for a week before the Grabbers would come in. Lots of people had a similar idea before the evacuation and the place was loaded with Z’s. Assault, retreat, pick them off one by one…

Hmmm… are we coming into the present? (A description of Black Friday weekend?)

Winter: let’s call the whole thing off!

The NYT had a piece this weekend on the ancient European practice of simply shutting everything down for the winter:

Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the [French] Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring… Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end… In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep.”

The article goes on to suggest that if French president Nicolas Sarkozy is serious about conservation, he should “consider introducing tax incentives for hibernation… There has never been a better time to stay in bed.” (But in Maine, many elderly people do not have families to snuggle up to.)

What do you think… when it comes to conservation and general sanity, would we be better off just dialing it way down for the winter? Shorter workweeks? No alarm clocks? Three-dog nights?

Limbo

Spinning off from my previous post about the economy, I’d like to recommend a terrific (not new, but new-ish) book I’ve just finished: Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, by Alfred Lubrano. If you’re like me and you were the first generation of your family to go to college, you may find this book as dead-on as I did on the subjects of school, career and family relationships.

Lubrano takes a personal look at what it’s like for people who come from working-class backgrounds who are attempting to enter “the middle class” as we know it today (and failing, or succeeding, or — as the title suggests — remaining in limbo). For some reason, nobody in the mainstream media ever talks about this these days — I guess far fewer are considered “working class” any more, since a great many more people have access to financial aid and some sort of college opportunity. But for people of my generation, anyway, the conflicts described in this book are still a part of daily life. (Here’s one type of conflict I blogged about earlier.) I never thought of myself as being in the vanguard of a cultural front, but I recognized myself in nearly every page of this book. Much of this stuff is not a revelation to me now — I figured it out painfully since my college days — but boy, I sure wish I’d had this book when I graduated high school.

If the economy should happen to go south in a major way, I wonder if something like this will play out in reverse. What’s going to happen to all those second- and third-generation non-working-class kids — the ones who will be sandwiched between the expectations of their well-to-do parents and the realities of having to do service jobs? I really worry about these kids. They may well be just as clueless (in reverse) as the generation that Lubrano terms “Straddlers” (the ones who are confused by “networking,” who don’t know how to power-lunch, who simply want to go home at the end of eight hours’ hard work, and just wish their managers would manage, for a change.) Will these kids become easy prey for destructive political movements in the future?

I cherish what my parents taught me, but very little of it is useful in a white-collar environment. Sometimes I wonder if I’m guilty of wishing for the political scene to change in a way that would enable me to use what I know and honor, rather than dutifully sticking to the new rules I’ve learned that I often feel so cynical about. So there could be a whole other generation of potentially destructive loose cannons out there, not just the young ‘uns.

On a broader note, one could almost read this book and apply it to our entire region at large — since Upstate New York has such deep working-class history. No wonder our region feels like it’s in such limbo.

These may not in fact be interesting times, but this is a fascinating book anyway. Highly recommended!

Updated: Bloggers of the World, Unite! (Too funny.)

On the dole

Here in our part of the country, we wonder how sustainable our local economy can be when new business ventures are being subsidized by (often poorly administered) state and federal government spending, unwise tax breaks, and the like. We lament that our cities and schools must be stabilized by taxpayers’ money. We look longingly at the promised lands of North Carolina and Arizona and Florida, with their never-ending expansion, their shiny new neighborhoods and amenities, their boundless construction projects and job-filled economies.

The excellent blog Calculated Risk reminds us that the “success” of many of those regions has also been heavily subsidized — just in a different way.

Let us, instead, ask ourselves what constitutes the “upper and middle classes.” If they “moved up beyond their means,” then . . . their means are what, exactly? If 100% or near 100% financing is required to keep these neighborhoods stable (loans over $400,000 for houses in the $400,000-$450,000 price range), then in what sense are they neighborhoods of the “upper and middle classes”? Does our current definition of “middle class” (not to mention “upper class”) include having insufficient cash assets to make even a token down payment on a home?

In this light, Central New York doesn’t seem quite so pathetic. A tumbledown house it may be, but it least it wasn’t built on sand.