Monthly Archives: December 2008

Syracuse China

I really only have one thought about Syracuse China closing (my grandfather worked there until the late ’60s): We’re running out of things to be taken away from us. Pretty soon we’re going to reach a point where there is nothing else they can close and no more jobs to take away. There’s a certain relief in that, perverse though it may be…

Well, two thoughts: Does Libbey also own the name “Onondaga Pottery”?

Power is perishable

This item in today’s New York Times has NYC’s power brokers wondering why there are more “leaders” who have less ability to get things done.

Power broker, a title attributed to Theodore H. White, chronicler of presidential campaigns, had been replaced by what he dubbed “constellations of satrapies” — shifting coalitions dependent on process brokers skilled at navigating bureaucracy.

An old power broker observes:

“A whole generation has been brought up believing that leadership is out of place and in bad taste, that you have to find out what your people think first and that you can’t take a chance. If I wanted to do something today and was promised 10 people to make it happen, who would I pick? I’d be hard pressed. Because when you say, ‘What is power?’ one question is, ‘Is there power?’ ”

About 15 years ago a book (The United States of Ambition) was written by Alan Ehrenhalt, editor of Governing, that asked the same question. One of the chapters dealt with the Elefante machine of Utica and demonstrated that, even though it was corrupt, there was an efficient and functioning power structure in Utica at that time. Ehrenhalt moves on to presidential politics and concludes that power can disappear, or at least, fall through tiny cracks and evaporate. Or (taking Ehrenhalt’s conclusion further) perhaps it can pool somewhere hidden and be discovered by new strongmen.

Something for Malcolm Smith to consider as he brokers “power-sharing” deals. How much power remains to be parceled out? And does he really want to leave Upstaters at loose ends, with no illusion of being part of the network of ‘satrapies’?

Other people’s blogs: Canadian crackup edition

You know us ugly Americans — we’re so centered on our own problems that few of us have noticed that there is weird stuff going down in Ottawa.

In Java, Literally asks: What’s going on, eh?

See also Phil’s take at Still Racing in the Street.

Alan Gen X at 40 is providing daily coverage of PM Stephen Harper’s shutdown of Parliament.

(By the way, Alan has commented repeatedly on the shockingly bad video made by Quebec politician Stephane Dion the other day; you can view it here.)

We often think of Canada having an English-Francophone problem, but less discussed in the U.S. is Canada’s East-West divide. These events have a lot to do with that.


The economy. Plant closings and job losses are some of the bigger signs that all is not well, but what about the little signs?

  • Saturday post-Black Friday shopping: A normal, slightly busy day. Hardly anyone was in Target, but you couldn’t get near the registers at Michael’s. (Are people making Christmas gifts instead of buying?)
  • Automobile Row: Most dealerships are still open, but the car transporter trucks — which used to be parked on the side of West Genesee Street a few days a week — are nowhere to be seen.
  • Parking ticketing growing more aggressive (as at Ra-Lin’s).

Do you notice any little signs of change in the air?

The Syracuse Misery Index

You hear a lot about the Dow these days. It’s the only barometer of economic health that most people know. But it’s really not a terribly great economic indicator — not only is it gamed by all sorts of interests, but it isn’t really a leading indicator. As a public service, I’m telling you about an economic index that probably will tell you what’s going to happen. It’s called the Baltic Dry Index, and isn’t much followed by mainstream financial analysts because it’s about the very “dry” subject of raw materials shipping.

Very simply, this index tracks how much ship owners can expect to command for their global shipping services for all kinds of raw commodities such as iron, copper, grains, and everything that goes into manufacturing the goods we eat and use. When the index is high, that means there are a lot of materials to be shipped – high demand for the shipping services. When the index is low, that means that there probably isn’t that much raw material floating around out there on the high seas — low demand for shipping.

What you see on the BDI today is probably not being felt in real life today, but may be felt weeks or months from now. The BDI was as high as 11,000 over the summer. Today, it stands at 666, its lowest-ever reading. If the number reaches (a theoretical) zero, that would likely mean a complete drying-up of global trade – and probably of manufacturing as well. Which would mean more job losses, and possibly more shortages of manufactured goods. Why is this happening? Economic slowdown is one, but it also has to do with the global credit crunch, which hampers the flow of the shipping trade (there is a market for some of this stuff, but credit-based transactions cannot be completed). (Here is a link to a daily report about the BDI. You can bookmark it and watch it fluctuate.)

Okay, I admit this post was mainly an excuse for me to tell folks about the BDI. But it occurs to me that maybe someone should develop an “SMI” – Syracuse Misery Index (and perhaps an opposite SJI, Syracuse Joy Index). What factors would you include? Obviously, rain, snow and temperature levels; how many points SU football/basketball gave up during its last game; job losses; but that can’t be all there is, so what else would you suggest?