Monthly Archives: October 2007

Sojourner trash

A few weeks ago, news came that one of the longtime custodians in my building at work — a lady with the gift for saying good morning a different way every day — was in the hospital with a sudden serious illness (and here I had assumed she had been taking a well-deserved vacation). Some temporary staff are filling in for her, but they must be overstretched, because since she’s been away, I’ve noticed that the ladies’ room on our floor is sometimes a mess. Water splashed around, paper towels wadded on the floor around the trash basket, and so on. This particular bathroom gets some student traffic, and America’s best and brightest young women are busy training on how to save the nation and can’t be expected to always aim precisely at a receptacle.

Besides, it is someone else’s job to clean up the bathroom. Apparently employees know this too, because yes, I have walked past the mess (in a hurry myself) and come back later and noticed the same pile of wadded up paper towels is there, with some new ones besides. At least once a day I find the time to pick up a wad or two. However, the wads just keep coming. Now what? Should I just ignore them like everyone else? After all… not my job. And nobody’s going to give me a gold star for doing it. And I personally don’t have time to stake out the bathroom and tell students to stop being slobs (would they even pay attention to me? doubtful).

I think the logical response to this problem would be to call together a bunch of co-workers and organize some sort of effort (or complaint) to deal with the occasional messes, but the building is full of a lot of different departments that have little to do with each other; not always a lot of socialization going on. The circles don’t naturally connect. And, even if you found two or three willing pinch-hitters, how do you know if they’ll really want to do this indefinitely? If we can’t or won’t pick up the wads consistently when we are each of us all alone, can we really assume that a group will want to really do it when together?

Last year I proposed a Day of Sojourn in which people would just take a lunch and a bottle of water and some good shoes and simply walk around from morning to eve, and I recall there being a potential litter component to this. “Sojourn” does not mean “journey,” but rather “a temporary stay or brief period of residence.” I don’t think I stressed that this day should be spent alone, but maybe it ought to be. Maybe anyone who wants to do something about trash should see if they have what it takes by facing a day, a week, a month of picking up the same miserable stuff from the same miserable spot over and over again. And strict rules: no pay, no gold stars, no appeals to the litterers, no appeals to the authorities, no appeals to group effort, no companionship. Just as an experiment.

How long would it take for one to give up? Or start really actively hating people who litter? When would the deranged muttering start? What are one’s personal limits? There is no sugar-coating that cleaning up after people day after day is a potentially spirit-killing activity. Doing it as a team can dull the horror, but in order to overcome it for very long, it’d have to be a pretty damn exceptional team. A certain long night of the soul would eventually have to be confronted by several individuals, before one could even hope to organize a worthy squad of long-term custodians.

So I think the sojourn idea is still a good one. And you don’t even have to travel far to go on this kind of “vision quest” as there is probably a “desert” right down the hall from you. But what person in their right mind would attempt it?

Power trips

“National Affair”: I don’t watch the Ellen DeGeneres show, but I know people who do. There’s this whole controversy (probably over by now) over a dog she adopted from a pet adoption agency, decided she couldn’t keep, and unwittingly gave to some friends in violation of an adoption contract. Agency showed up at friends’ house and (supposedly) ripped dog away from sad children who wanted the dog. Ellen made an on-the-air fuss; she wants to use power of TV show to guilt adoption agency to yield the dog back to the kids; meanwhile, idiots are calling with death threats to the adoption agency owner, blah blah. People I know who watch the show seem equally disgusted with Ellen’s and adoption agency’s behavior (to the point where one of them is considering a switch to Oprah, a real Catch-22 if there ever was one).

I’m just wondering how it came to pass that Americans became such bossy control freaks with each other about children and pets both. There is sometimes paranoid talk about how America is primed for a totalitarian takeover in the future, but there are plenty of individual citizens who already really get off on telling each other what to do. Whatever happened to going to the pound and picking out a dog, for example? I can understand paying mandatory fees for neutering and puppy shots, but what’s with this adoption-agency power trip where you need a home inspection, personal evaluation, your vet history has to be reviewed, and where children under 14 aren’t to be trusted with dogs? My family members have had multiple pets for 40 years and yet I don’t think we’d pass muster with some of these people. Is this just a phase American society is going through? Because honestly I don’t see where this legalistic attitude toward life and lack of trust in one’s fellow citizens makes for a sustainable society.

As for Ellen, using a TV show disingenuously as a bully pulpit for one’s own bullying is the crudest tactic around. Which is why I’m delighted that Stephen Colbert has (apparently) decided to run for president, at least in South Carolina, his home state. Has he really? No one’s quite sure, and uncertainty of course is the nuclear fuel rod at the heart of Colbert’s satire. On one hand, this is a really serious election in a time of bloody and insane war where people are dying needlessly every day. On the other hand – and perhaps this says too much about me – the prospect of Colbert possibly being able to blow apart the entire presidential election charade the way he blew apart the White House Press Association Dinner fills me with giddy anticipation. It is wise and prudent of Colbert to limit himself to South Carolina, as this is both Pure Comedy Gold and Pure Political Plutonium. However broken the process, we must take it seriously. Which is why I’m glad he’s starting in S.C., which is probably where he can do the most damage. See this NYT story for things we’re already learning about the nomination process just because he’s declared.

Acting out

The NYT has a story on all of Spitzer’s “acting” appointees, including “acting” Upstate czar Daniel Gundersen…

Other governors have run into problems with a handful of nominees, said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science and a dean at the State University of New York at New Paltz. But the length and extent of the current delayed appointments — reaching into the ranks of even relatively minor jobs — appear to be unprecedented, he said. By the end of his first year in office, George E. Pataki, Mr. Spitzer’s predecessor, had only four nominations pending…

Daniel Gundersen, whom Mr. Spitzer nominated in February to be the state’s economic development commissioner, has had to write in the word “acting” next to the word “commissioner” on every business card he hands out while traveling the state. Assistants must make the same change on all standard contracts, time sheets, grant award letters and other documents that come out of his office and carry his name. “The quirky stuff is for every single document, they have to scan through where it says ‘commissioner’ and white it out or put in ‘acting,’” Mr. Gundersen said. “And there are a lot of contracts.”

Do Bruno and his flunkies really believe that they are gaining more control over New York by pulling these stunts? What they’re doing is de-legitimizing the very political process that gives them whatever shred of legitimacy they have left.

Other people’s blogs

Phil at Racing in the Street has uncovered a handy guide to jargon, explicating many common words such as empowerment, diversity, best practices and grassroots. (May I also suggest solutions, connective and the ever-popular kickoff… not to mention gratuitous italicization of jargony words?)

(While I’m on the subject of ill-considered words — how about penultimate, a word that really has no business ever being introduced into a normal conversation under most circumstances because of its high tendency to being used incorrectly?)

Meanwhile, find out what the word hit means to Syracuse United Neighbors, whose blog now has an updated web address.

Jennifer at Cookin’ in the ‘Cuse recaps last week’s visit to Syracuse by food activists Alice Waters and Judy Wicks.

At his blog, Sean cries out for coffee justice at Wegmans.

Steve, writing at Groovy Green, marvels at today’s college student accommodations. (Bet they get free coffee.)

Alan at GenX at 40 comments on last week’s firing of Syracuse city employees over residency requirements – which is unconstitutional in Canada.

iSaratoga writes about Spitzer and Bruno and how the Sport of Kings is being affected by the Sport of Jokers in Albany. (Also included is commentary on a disgruntled citizen who once dumped a 55-gallon drum of chicken poop in front of the state Court of Appeals. I hadn’t ever heard that story. I do not recommend that course of action for the disgruntled, but thought it worth noting.)

The Other Side of New York is by Loren, a blogger living in an area affected by NYRI who wants to share some of its “best-kept secrets.” Also, she’s got a farm blog, Musings at Windyridge.

CNY Political Insider reports on a Democratic Oneida County clerk who’s defying Spitzer’s plan to give drivers’ licenses to immigrants without Social Security numbers. And on Rochester Turning, a look at how the Monroe County GOP is bringing the xenophobia on the immigration issue.

Legal footwork

The PS has a recap of what happened in Albany yesterday with the first hearing on the Onondaga Nation’s land rights action. The U.S. District Judge reserved decision, which was not unexpected. The big question is whether or not the federal government will join in the suit with the Onondagas against the State of New York, as they have for other Haudenosaunee groups seeking to uphold federal treaties.

I was not in Albany with the other supporters, but I did attend the vigil at Clinton Square on Wednesday night, which was a nice, low-key event. I thought it was interesting how, undirected, people naturally arranged themselves into a circle (not as a group bunched together in knots, like you typically see in photos of candlelight vigils). This reminded me of the social dance for the Onondagas and the Syracuse community that I attended last winter. The main participatory dance was the Circle Dance, where everyone forms a huge enclosing ring and performs the same moves.

In a non-Native context, that’s not socializing; something like a square dance would be preferred, which depends on tight and ever-shifting circles of association which are called by the fiddler. You dance to his tune, never seeing the big picture or breaking out of the prescribed whirl. You hope you end up with a “good” partner. If not, you can always dump that one and seek another (at least, within the limited context of this dance you don’t control). That’s the nature of the square dance.

Now the Onondagas have joined this unfamiliar legal square dance, where one hopes the tune is called by justice and not by other powerful interests. This dance is going to go on for quite some time.