Monthly Archives: February 2008

Suburban slums

Interesting (perhaps overwrought?) article in The Atlantic on how foreclosure-ridden McMansion subdivisions are slowly turning into… well, not what they were intended to be.

Again, like so many on the subject of exurban vs. urban living, this article pretends that there is no middle ground between the lifestyles at all, and that old-growth suburbia does not exist – except in a sort of negative “white flight” way:

Many inner suburbs that are on the wrong side of town, and poorly served by public transport, are already suffering what looks like inexorable decline. Low-income people, displaced from gentrifying inner cities, have moved in, and longtime residents, seeking more space and nicer neighborhoods, have moved out. But much of the future decline is likely to occur on the fringes, in towns far away from the central city, not served by rail transit, and lacking any real core. In other words, some of the worst problems are likely to be seen in some of the country’s more recently developed areas—and not only those inhabited by subprime-mortgage borrowers. Many of these areas will become magnets for poverty, crime, and social dysfunction.

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Crime of the century

Rather scary robbery of the Fairmount Burger King last night. Forcing employees into the freezer at gunpoint? At 10:00 – not really that late? Considering the tragic outcome of what happened at a Wendy’s several years ago, this just isn’t funny. (I don’t even like to go into the vault at First National Gifts in Skaneateles…) And here I was going to stop in the drive-through for a bite after work today, but I figured they’d be closed or something. Nope, they were open for business, pumping their burger-scented smoke into the air as usual. Carry on!

Well, I guess there goes our spot on the “Best Places to Raise a Kid” ranking. Who cares… especially when you think of how something like that could have turned out.

Thoughts on Hillary

Remember back months ago when some people were saying that Hillary Clinton would do well in the “red states” because she “won over” Upstate New York?

During this primary election, it turns out there never really was a chance to test this theory, since she was blindsided from the (supposed) left. But I don’t know if it ever would have held water anyway.

Upstate New York was starstruck. Or maybe a better metaphor would be the image of a hungry tiger in a cage. Upstate voters spend their entire political existence, on the national stage anyway, being overshadowed (if not crushed) under NYC’s heavy demographic weight. When a political newcomer arrives from outside, they’ll snarl and rush the bars at first — but if you just talk a little gently to them, and give them (pork-based) treats, they calm down and accept your presence.

Perhaps someday, someone’s going to let them out of that cage (or they will escape), so they can be the unique and free-ranging political animal they’re supposed to be. Maybe it is too cynical to claim that Hillary Clinton was just there at the zoo to pose for carefully staged pictures. But she didn’t have to tame the poor beast; that would involve them being out of the cage (like the real voters in the actual red states are). I think that any notion that her throwing treats to a chained and essentially powerless electorate meant she was a real lion tamer, was probably mistaken.

Other people’s blogs

Rome Scene is a different sort of Mohawk Valley blog – relatively unconcerned with pessimism and politics. Here’s a thought-provoking post on local banking and savings accounts, and another post for those who are longing for the full Turning Stone “Lava” nightclub experience.

Also: What if Spartacus had had a Piper Cub? What if the Dutch had never lost hold of New York? (via Upstate 2050)

On the subject of maps, the Post-Standard is inviting its readers to take part in an intriguing exhibition at the Redhouse: they’ve included an outline of the map of the city of Syracuse in the Sunday paper and have asked readers to create their own highly individual “alternative maps” and send them in.

Steve Balogh has posed some interesting conundrums about “Who’s Greener?”

Lastly, returning to Phil’s blog post about “Ishikoro,” or the phenomenon of abandoned blogs, and abandoned local blogs in particular…

Local blogging simply is not popular in most areas of the country, particularly economically depressed areas like ours. One Syracuse-area blogger, Jude Nagurney Camwell (aka Iddybud), has been putting out a wonderful blog regularly for years. I occasionally read (perhaps less than I should), but because the focus of my blog tends to shy away from national issues, there isn’t a lot of overlap, and so her blog goes unmentioned. And there are probably even more people keeping blogs in Syracuse that we don’t know about, because they don’t write about local issues or even mention where they are physically located. What can I say? Local culture and politics is seen by some (many?) as less relevant, while Washington and national politics is seen as the only thing worth examining. The idea that you can make things happen in the hallowed halls of power just by sitting in your pajamas, is very seductive. If one craves power and attention and influence (or the illusion thereof), local blogging will probably seem a waste of time.

Also, as for my own blogroll on the right, these are mostly Upstate bloggers who blog about local or state issues. No doubt, my blogroll confuses the hell out of people who are used to every blog having its distinct partisan slant. (Is it Blue? Is it Red? Is it Green? I’m sure it is not enough of any of those, for some.) Almost none of those bloggers found me first (I had to go out and beat the bushes to find them, a task I admit I’ve been lazy about lately – because, as Phil noted, most blogs have a short shelf life) and probably few of them think of themselves as “New York State bloggers” (or even know my blog exists). And we are as far away as we have ever been from having a statewide blogging network that could augment or even form a unified Upstate media voice.

Anyhow, blogging that is not part of a business model (media, political or personal), is never going to attract too many participants. It could be that it’s always going to be a form of communication and deliberation that is for the few, by the few — although I agree with Phil, the apparent death of some local blogs is most regrettable. If that is a dead end, consider the function of a nighttime campfire. It doesn’t take a lot of people to keep that going, even when nearly everyone else is asleep, although it does take at least two or three, and the more the merrier. Does it have a function? That is to say, does it really keep the sleeping campers from freezing to death, or being eaten by the hungry bears out in the forest, or is it just happening because a few people can’t sleep? Unknown. And when you look around and the person sitting next to you has suddenly disappeared, did they go back to sleep, or did they go out to get more wood? Hard to say.

The only thing that’s clear is that when daylight comes, the campfire will no longer seem necessary, and the fire will be ashes. Only the memory of the night’s conversation will remain.

Ruh-roh.

I don’t pretend to be a financial wizard, but even I know this article bodes not well for our state’s fiscal health.

Auction-Bond Failures Roil Munis, Pushing Rates Up

    Bonds sold by U.S. municipal borrowers with rates set through periodic auctions failed to attract enough buyers as banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. that run the bidding won’t commit their own capital to the debt. Rates on $100 million of bonds sold by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with bidding run by Goldman, soared to 20 percent yesterday from 4.3 percent a week ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Presbyterian Healthcare in Albuquerque and New York state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority also experienced failures, officials said… What began three weeks ago with too few bidders for auction-rate debt backed by relatively small entities, such as Georgetown University and Nevada Power, has widened in recent days to include large issues of state governments, such as New York state’s Dormitory Authority. The Dormitory Authority had five auctions for seven-day securities scheduled today and tomorrow for the City University of New York. The authority also reported failures of auction bonds sold on behalf of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Rochester.

As of this evening, you can add the NY State Thruway Authority to that list of entities presiding over failed bond offerings. Meanwhile, Spitzer has given Wall Street an ultimatum. (I wonder if they’re still scared of him?)

Updated: Somewhat off topic, here’s an op-ed by Gov. Spitzer on the federal government’s role in predatory lending appeared today in the Washington Post.

Updated again: Back on topic, the NYT’s Paul Krugman explains about these particular bonds,

    These securities seemed like a good deal for borrowers despite the fact that they contain a penalty clause: if an auction fails, the interest rate the borrower pays jumps up. (The Port Authority, which had a failed auction last week, just saw the interest rate it pays leap from 4.3 percent to 20 percent.) You see, there weren’t ever supposed to be failed auctions, so the penalties weren’t supposed to be relevant.

Okay… if Richard Brodsky doesn’t get up on a table and bang his shoe over this, he’s missing a great opportunity in his war on the stupidity (not just the corruption) of the state authorities. Then again, isn’t everyone in Albany complicit in the state’s overreliance on borrowing? Just like our national politicians currently running for president, though, I’m sure everyone in Albany will say hoo coodanode? and refuse to address the underlying systemic fiscal foolishness in our state and country.