Monthly Archives: June 2007

Thunder in the east

Not exactly Drums Along the Mohawk, but just a little farther down the Thruway.

Lawmakers Call Governor to Task on His Plan to Rejuvenate Upstate

The Republican-led Senate, which is dominated by upstate lawmakers, is holding up approval of the governor’s top economic development nominees amid a growing feud. Among other things, they are upset that the governor’s new upstate economic policy director, Daniel Gundersen, has chosen to live in Saratoga Springs, one of the rare thriving locales upstate, instead of Buffalo or other points west. Tensions flared anew on Tuesday as Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, visited this resort town [Bolton Landing] on Lake George to deliver a withering assessment, with a PowerPoint presentation, of the Senate’s recalcitrance.

What a mess. But I have to admit I am fascinated by the geography of all this. It means nothing, and yet it means everything in this crazy fragmented Empire State of ours, or else people of good conscience would not have felt genuinely irked by Dan Gundersen’s chosen place of residence. Saratoga Springs… now, Bolton Landing. Why is Eliot hurling thunderbolts at Joe from safely behind the other side of the Northway?

Updated: Okay, I didn’t realize Eliot was on a tour. Apparently he will be here in Syracuse today hurling thunderbolts as well.

Brilliant idea

There was an interesting op-ed in Sunday’s Post-Standard by consultant John Gann about upstate New York’s need to market itself to wealthy downstaters as a “better place to visit, live and work.”

Upstaters enjoy some of the nation’s most affordable housing, abundant land and uncrowded interstate highways – along with productive farmland, excellent colleges and universities, short commutes, safe neighborhoods, friendly people, great scenery, and generally reasonable local regulations. It’s almost a bit of the Midwest advantageously if improbably located in the Northeast. Missouri on the Mohawk.

Missouri on the Mohawk? That’s a new one.

So what kinds of people and businesses might such Upstate virtues be marketed to? Logically it would be those found in a place with super-high housing and business costs, lofty property taxes, congested highways, widespread crime, an extreme scarcity of land for housing and development, tedious commuting and vanishing farmland. And ideally such a place should be close to Upstate to facilitate investigation and relocation and overcome resistance to the remote and unfamiliar. So the most natural place to sell Upstate is Downstate. Upstate may indeed be the perfect nearby antidote to the downside of New York City and its suburbs. And mining Downstate for jobs and households is certainly a better bet than trying to recruit them from other states or overseas.

I’m not sure sophisticated downstaters really want to go to Missouri, though.

But marketing in the usual sense may not be what Upstate needs, the term having become confused with logos, cute slogans, artsiness and other Madison Avenue frivolousness. Even to fellow New Yorkers, Upstate is going to be a hard sell, the two parts of this state being more like two different planets.

It is an interesting article, but Gann mentions the Illinois power company which reminds me that companies like NYRI find upstate New York very, very alluring indeed to “market” to downstaters who are looking for stuff to make them go. I give Gann points for acknowledging the reality of the cultural divide and seeing it as a strength, not a weakness — and taking the competition straight to our very own doppelganger, NYC. So how do you sell yourself without losing yourself?

But hey, wait a second. While we’re sitting here talking about marketing ourselves to downstate, New York City wants to start marketing itself to Chinese tourists! Why not cut out the middleman and just market Central New York to the Chinese ourselves? Here, I have prepared some draft copy for a brochure. (Click for translation)

So, what do you think?

More on “class”

Not going all “class warfare” on y’all, but in the course of my wanderings I came across this interesting website for activists: Class Matters. It’s not so much about class in America, but about activism styles of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds, and how they can sometimes get in the way of getting people together to work on issues of mutual concern. (Or rather, how they get in the way of keeping them together.) This website appears oriented toward “middle-class/professional” activists, trying to get them to understand why they often aren’t able to reach and mobilize people from backgrounds different from their own.

And no, it’s not just about tofu, casual dress and sitting on the floor… it’s also about how meetings are run, how agendas are planned, when events are scheduled, and so forth. (This article on group processes is most illuminating.)

I personally couldn’t look at myself and see myself as “working class,” just based on what I do for a living, but upon reading some of the material here, I can definitely identify my style as being “working class.” (And, this shouldn’t have been any surprise to me, since I grew up in a family where people were in unions and where union politics sometimes got brought home.) It is interesting to read some of the testimonies on this site and see my experiences (and frustrations) reflected in them.

Class warfare on the web

Interesting article, linked via Boing Boing, about a study of who uses MySpace and who uses Facebook:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities. MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

Gosh, MySpace suddenly got a lot more interesting… But seriously, we might need a third category here – for people, like myself, who fundamentally don’t understand the appeal of either site. (This is no laughing matter for me because I am supposed to go to an office meeting about the uses of Facebook this very week. I feel like I’m in one of those dreams where you have a test that you haven’t studied for all semester.) To me, it is a puzzlement. Why would one need a third party (a company) to provide a space for one to network in? Why would one want to subject their expressivity to the aesthetic or content limitations of someone else’s system? Why would one want to show off (via one’s friend list) who they’ve networked with? How can someone really have 400 “friends”?

The article is speculative, but interesting nonetheless and touches on how we take new technology and proceed to drearily recreate all our same-old same-old biases within these exciting new “virtual worldspaces.” I checked out Second Life once, and lasted all of ten minutes before I realized that it’s the same boring rat race in there as it is out here. It’s just like real life — including the emphasis on amassing money and acquiring “things” — except with clunkier graphics and more name-dropping (“Wow! I just attended a virtual seminar with John Edwards!!”) The difference with Second Life is, you don’t need to feel guilty if you feel schadenfreude when you hear that their master computer has gone down, causing absolute havoc in Second World for a few hours.

Also of note is the recent NYT article on Chinese “gold farmers,” who slave away in a small room together daily playing repetitive online games so that their characters can earn game credits and then their bosses can sell the credits to lazy American gamers who want to reach the highest levels… and somehow manage to find real adventure along the way.

Quote of the week

The ever-quotable Mr. Bruno was in fine form this past week…

“It’s sad for the people of New York State that here on the closing day of the session the governor establishes a position that nothing happens unless we get agreement on campaign finance reform. Now I don’t know about you, in your lives, when you get up in the morning — do your children, your significant others ask you what’s the status of campaign finance reform?”

I would love to live in the Capitol. Seriously, it must be such a warm and secure cocoon, like being in the womb, one where everything you say to yourself echoes off the chamber walls and comes back to your ears sounding intelligent and noble.