Monthly Archives: August 2007

Unseasonable thoughts

Now that the temperature has dropped, I can post…

I find Indian summer to be deeply confusing and problematic, a jumbled disappointment for the most part. The hot weather is way too hot, the shock of going from summer’s freedom to “civilization” all too much. And having a birthday during back-to-school week is just weird and unfair, and can be miserable for a kid — second only to a Christmas birthday, maybe (perhaps even worse, since at least at Christmas you’re on vacation and hey, look who you share a birthday with).

So I like the injection of reality that fall’s snap provides. Bring. It. On. Cool breezes to return the heated brain to sanity (or something like it). Cold, hard numbers that make vagueness impossible. Bright colors in the trees: wake up! But all in good time…

On Wall Street, it’s the season of the bear, although investors don’t accept it yet. So many confluences of factors, and even respected models of cyclical economic activity, point to a coming recession. And yet the partying continues on; it’s as if the head is no longer connected to the body.

Observing this disconnect can be fascinating, if you are not unfortunate enough to be smack dab in the path of those who don’t sense what time it is. There is a certain period of time where, after provided with facts, research, and good (as opposed to damned) statistics, the human impulse is to just discount them or provide another explanation for them, and keep on pursuing the same program, because the program feels like sheer genius. One good facet of a program means that all facets of said program must be equally clever.

When presented with a balance sheet, or a scoreboard, or a tracking report, that says that a dearly cherished part of the program isn’t really working, and hasn’t worked for quite some time… curiously the first impulse often is to go crazy with redoubled effort. There are home builders, even in California, even as abandoned McMansions go to seed and neglected swimming pools turn green, who are advertising brand new developments — “Taking Custom Orders Now!” (There is nothing, but nothing, that can’t be cured by a few new shiny buildings.) Cable news financial hosts continue to gloat approvingly over spikes in a stock market which is precariously balanced on stacks of bad paper. “Surges” are planned for wars that are going badly in every objectively measurable way possible. Losing sports teams are draped in bright streamers as the trappings of excitement are even more frenetically manufactured and sold. Election campaigns start super-early; state political committees pile on each other, each trying to have the first primaries in the land. Halloween candy appears in the stores in August. The time is out of joint.

There will be more of this for a while, before there is less. I don’t think we’ve quite reached the pinnacle of the insanity, and we can only hope that the parts of the program that are working aren’t brought down with the rest of it.

Sean Kirst wonders why there are all kinds of stern killjoy rules at this time of year, such as “No wearing white after Labor Day.” I agree these are silly and seemingly arbitrary rules (not that I ever obeyed the white-after-Labor-Day thing, myself), but even as I disagree with them, I think I understand the impulse behind having them. Somewhere along the way, people lost the ability to tell what time it really is. Perhaps they caroused all through autumn one year, and when winter came, they were not ready. Maybe it is somehow an unconscious cultural expression of a healthy respect for timetelling and truthtelling. Or, perhaps, an unhealthy fear, resulting in too-early rules that could stand a little relaxing. If so, it’s a shame that kids have to get caught up in those rules, and have to sit sweating in classrooms when there should be a little bit more time to play.

County executive race

Someone please remind me again why New York has such a ridiculously late primary? Overnight, the campaign signs have magically sprouted from people’s lawns like so many mushrooms. It is also amusing to cross the town line from Geddes to Camillus and see the signs instantly change from Ryan vs. Magnarelli, to Mahoney vs. Sweetland. Although I don’t know if they’ve really done their demographic research all that thoroughly because last time I knew, the 4th ward of Camillus (ie the one closest to Geddes) still had quite a few Democrats. (But who knows, it could be I am really the last one left.)

Clearly, this is truly the most important election of our lifetimes (really, it is) and Change CNY is on the case. He writes about the dueling green plans of Sweetland (GOP, for those who haven’t been playing the home game) and Ryan (Democrat), which you can find more about here from the Post-Standard.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t include the obligatory campaign website links for the four of them:

Ed Ryan. His website talks about his job creation strategy, which will have (sic) “three basic tenants.” (Well, downtown Syracuse now has four basic tenants so I don’t really see where that’s an improvement, sorry.)

Dale Sweetland, who has a penchant for leaving little notes and Post-Its all over the place. Don’t forget the milk, honey.

Joanie Mahoney, who has a blog, where she talks about her campaign signs. She really went nuts with the signs on Onondaga Road, I must say.

and Bill Magnarelli may not be down with that there Internets thing, I’m not sure, but I can’t find his campaign website. Here’s Magnarelli’s website. (Thanks, Aaron!)

God Grew Tired of Us

This weekend I got a chance to finally watch God Grew Tired of Us, the much-lauded documentary film about three young men from Sudan, known to the world as “The Lost Boys,” who were resettled in Pittsburgh and in Syracuse. It’s not a “great” film, but that’s only because there’s so much to this story that the filmmakers only had time to hint at (causes of the war in Sudan; the post-traumatic stresses experienced by some of the resettled refugees we aren’t following in the film; how some of the refugees encountered racism in the U.S., etc). It is, however, a very good film and I recommend it heartily.

In this movie, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are “America” to foreigners’ eyes. It’s very strange to see your hometown both through the eyes of strangers, and also selectively portrayed by a documentary filmmaker. Pittsburgh comes off as a bit of an intimidating, coldhearted metropolis that’s too busy to notice newcomers or gain anything from them. Syracuse is presented as a place of snow and gray sky, sad-looking apartment buildings, banal and half-empty shopping centers, spaghetti highways, and cozy ice skating in attractive Clinton Square at Christmastime. It’s also a place for John Dau to wonder what Santa Claus has to do with the Bible and what the meaning of a Christmas tree is. (He ponders this while we ourselves fret that our downtown is not as glitzily decorated as Quebec City’s or Montreal’s.) There’s also a very positive image of Syracuse, though, in a scene of local activists marching with Dau to promote awareness about the war in Sudan. This is a symbolic re-enactment of sorts of the Lost Boys’ march across the desert, Dau explains, and watching Syracusans marching across their own desolate landscape (right by those spaghetti highways) does give one a sense of hope — and not just for Sudan.

In local conversations about Syracuse’s economic troubles, loss of our own friends and family to out-migration for jobs, and struggle to keep our own local culture intact, there is a tendency to despair and wonder in our own way if something “has grown tired of us.” Watching this film, of course, puts all that into proper perspective. Not just because the struggles of the Lost Boys have been so much more tragic and epic than our own; but also because of the fresh perspective it gives that all people who struggle are never as alone in their essential experience as they might think.

What they heard

Some years ago, Hart Seely (who writes for the PS) put together a collection of Donald Rumsfeld quotes re-imagined as free verse. Maybe it’s not just for fun that one can do this; maybe one can really get an insight on what so many people found inoffensive, or even attractive about the rhetoric that was endlessly recited by President Bush in the days after 9/11. It obviously had to be attractive to millions of Americans on some level, and for quite some time. Rather than hide behind hindsight, maybe we should just understand that maybe what sounded like bullshit to some of us, sounded like comforting country-rock song lyrics to someone else. Here, with a big tip of the hat to Mr. Seely, are some of Bush’s Greatest Hits…
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