Category Archives: Marked

Can this state be saved? – Part 2

As I watch what may be the first rumbles of collapse in that elegant and complex society known as the Albany Triumvirate (will the Steamroller ultimately prevail? Will Uncle Joe go gently into that good night?), now is a good time to read history books on collapse. Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is a good read, but having just started on Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies, I find the latter a more interesting book (although it reads like a college textbook). If you haven’t read the book, I recommend this review and summary by another reader, who adds his own observations.

Just spinning off the question posed in the editorial I wrote about in my post from the other day, there is much in Tainter’s ideas which explain what is happening in the mini-society that is the State of New York. Why not think of NYS in this way? After all, it isn’t called the Empire State for nothing. We know it’s unusually complex for an American state — demographically, politically, culturally, geographically, and economically. (Upstate musings represent just one voice in the New York fugue.) And we know that the state of New York has historically invested in a complex system of state-managed public works (the Erie Canal, the Thruway), land management (the Adirondack Park), social services (the “bread” in “bread and circuses”), and bureaucracy to enforce laws, including human-rights laws.

New York State has historically led the rest of the nation in a lot of these things, both for better and for worse. The United States, in turn, leads the world (currently) in these areas (or thinks it does). So much about the American empire’s way of empire was first tried out in our state (tried out, not necessarily invented). New York is not just a delineation on a map — not just a government, either; it’s a sub-civilization of the greater American civilization, and it was an important force in its founding.

But maybe it’s not that New York has fallen behind; maybe we’re just on the next page. With the sound of NYS’ spinning wheels echoing year after weary year, one has to faintly wonder if what’s happening here in microcosm is a harbinger of wider things to come.

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Why I like Vermont, and why I don’t want to live there

The other week I went on vacation to Lake Champlain and Vermont. Not the first time I’ve been to the area, but happily I found myself back there for a visit, and I will probably in the future go back again. I’m a little infatuated with Vermont, I admit. It’s just… so not like home. I’ve even sometimes wondered if it might be worth buying land there. But would I like to move there? Retire there? I don’t know about that.
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Democracy, or no democracy?

This review of a Romanian film called A Fost sau n-a fost? (Was there or wasn’t there?) in the NYT caught my eye. It’s a comedy about a TV personality who puts on a program to investigate whether the Romanian revolution of 1989 had any on-the-ground effects in his hometown. Was there a revolution, or no revolution? You could ask the same question of New York. In the last quarter of the 18th century, a democratic revolution supposedly happened in America and, presumably, in New York as well. These democratic traditions were further strengthened and evolved over the next two centuries to become the loose grab bag of democratic assumptions that we carry around with us today, a sort of national one-size-fits-all brand.
However, those of us who know even the basics of New York history and political culture understand very well that one size does not fit all. Continue reading