Monthly Archives: October 2007

Boo!

Eliot Spitzer isn’t the Great Pumpkin these days, so much as he is Ichabod Crane. As the emboldened GOP hurls flaming dittoheads at him over his plan to issue driver’s licenses to immigrants (illegal or non), Spitzer has galloped blindly through the corn maze, now voicing support for the federal Real ID, which gives his pro-immigrant supporters a fright. Here’s what gives me the night terrors (as reported in this AP story):

The Bush administration and New York cut a deal Saturday to create a new generation of super-secure driver’s licenses for U.S. citizens, but also allow illegal immigrants to get a version.

And it echoes in the brain…

The Bush administration and New York cut a deal Saturday… The Bush administration and New York cut a deal… cut a deal… cut a deal…

That’s when where I sit upright in bed shrieking, thinking about NYRI and about the Great Lakes.

But lost in all of the outraged posturing over the issue is whether or not Spitzer ever tried to sell his plan on immigrant ID to the people of New York at all. Dare I ask if Spitzer knows what he’s doing? It’s obvious by now that the man is not a prophet, which is OK. But he’s not a salesman either, which is not OK if he hopes to steer the ship of state. When you remember how easily Spitzer rode in last year, you begin to understand why he’s having such difficulty understanding that he’s got to do one or the other of those things. After all, it’s not like he even had to sell himself to the people of New York. This time, he not only failed to sell his idea, but he failed to awaken New Yorkers on why this should be an issue at all. (I’m beginning to view my primary vote for Tom Suozzi with a little more nostalgia. At least he had a semblance of a “Fix Albany” sales campaign.)

Where Spitzer’s plans for Upstate are concerned, specifically Syracuse… “$20 million for one project?” wonders the Post-Standard’s Dick Case. But why that amount particularly? Why not $15 million, or even $40 million? It’s so arbitrary. Don’t get me wrong — I still thank God that Spitzer hasn’t shown up here with a Richard Florida book in his hand, but does anyone get the feeling he really hasn’t thought about Syracuse all that hard? (See also: Frank Cammuso’s cartoon.)

Syracuse among top 20 blogging cities

Okay, now this, I can’t believe: According to Scarborough Research (“the leading local market research firm for identifying consumer and retail behaviors in the United States”), Syracuse ranks among the top 20 U.S. cities for percentage of adults who are “blogging.” Their definition of “blogger” is “adult who has read or contributed to a blog within the last 30 days” (a rather loose definition). Syracuse ranks #17 nationally, outranked in New York State only by New York City. According to them, 9% of Syracuse-area adults write, read or comment on blogs.

I think this statistic encompasses all blogs everywhere, not just locally-oriented ones. And I suspect our relatively high proportion of college students has something to do with it. But they don’t say what their methodology was.

Incidentally, the report is quite a come-down for Buffalo, which has a great “blogging infrastructure” – ie, lots of active local blogs – but is ranked dead last. Doesn’t quite make sense.

Tuning in Syracuse

I’m a fan of The Office and because the show is set in Scranton, part of the fun is seeing all of the Rust Belt, back-of-BosWash references on the show. Upstate cities occasionally get mentioned, and products from Wegmans sometimes make an appearance. It turns out that being cast as a “boring, dead-end city” has paid off handsomely for Scranton: they just hosted a wildly successful convention for Office fans from all over the world.

It’s all because of the name, you know. SCRAAANton. It sounds scraggly, like it’s just scraping by. Syracuse is just as worn down as Scranton, but would we ever get a TV show set here? Doubtful. In order to have a TV show set in your city, it has to either be very, very cool (like San Francisco), or very UN-cool — yet, it must be brave enough to embrace its uncoolness. I think Syracuse has a problem with that. (Not as bad a problem as Rochester has, but still.) Upstate is too proud, the pain of its fall still rankles too much.

If you had the ear of someone in Hollywood, what would be your Syracuse TV series pitch? Sitcom or drama? Past day or present day? Dramedy? RomCom? Sci-fi? (Extra points if it’s scripted, and not a reality TV concept.) Personally, I’d prefer a good old serialized drama a la Hill Street Blues, though not necessarily about cops.

Why Johnny Candidate can’t read

Two words! That’s all you get, according to a story on web writing recently appearing on Boing Boing. Books, newspapers and letters get read… but websites and blogs only get looked at. It turns out that you really only have the space of the first two words to grab most readers’ attention on the web, perhaps even in e-mail. Therefore, according to “usability guru” Jakob Nielsen, you’re allowed to break certain writing rules on the web, such as using the passive voice in headlines, or switching words around in slightly manipulative order.

As my job now involves putting stuff on the web, this method feels intuitive. However, I first discovered this principle years ago — fumblingly — at the dawn of the Internet age. I had just graduated from college at a time when everyone started to get their own e-mail addresses. It was a time when my friends and family suddenly scattered physically to the four winds, and using e-mail to have important conversations appeared to be a great and affordable idea, particularly for me. Writing down my thoughts had always come naturally.

But no matter how carefully I crafted my words, how much I thought before sending, or strove for clarity and even brevity, a few of the people I was writing to just did not respond well. Conversations I wanted to have would either not develop, or worse, would get derailed. I gradually realized that some of my readers (people who I thought I knew well) were picking out certain words and phrases, and focusing on them – “hot-words” that for whatever reason had some strong effect on them. I thought I was being very straightforward, informative and responsive to them, but it occurred to me finally that some people only saw blah blah blah HOT-WORD! blah blah blah. The hot-words would either excite them, or make them angry and defensive.
Continue reading

Out of the pool

Another CNY blogger is striking out for the infernal regions. Gear of Zanzibar, an occasional commenter here and the guy behind CNY Snakepit (one of the tentpoles of Mohawk Valley blogging) has decided to move to Austin, Texas. His reasons for doing so stretch across a couple of posts at his blog, and offer some serious food for thought.

One of his frustrations involves racism that goes unchallenged by the local media in the Utica/Rome area. I’m not familiar with the local politician he’s complaining about, but I can understand the frustrations with the way that racist attitudes in the greater community are sometimes left to just fester in stagnant, seemingly inoffensive containment pools — just take a look at the “Breaking News” comments threads on Syracuse.com. There’s a large and shadowy peanut gallery that comes out to play whenever someone is shot, stabbed, arrested or involved in a car accident.

Racism is alive and well in Syracuse — and while a politician might not be able to get away with a racist comment in this larger, marginally more cosmopolitan city (yet), there is still plenty of home on the range for prejudice. It is frustrating to see, and I wonder why the authors of the Breaking News posts don’t ever seem to engage the commenters or even simply make their presence known in the comments (not generally a weakness an oversight among journalists who write for the Post-Standard). Shouldn’t bloggers be commenters too?

Anyhow, it’s sad that it takes a blogger leaving the area to make me post about one of the elephants in Syracuse’s online room. I wish Gear the best of luck in sunny Texas — Austin being the Ithaca of Texas, or so they say. Here’s what they blog about in Austin. I hope Gear won’t lose the bug for blogging, wherever he goes.