Monthly Archives: March 2008

The audacity of hopelessness: thoughts on regime change in Albany

In Sunday’s paper, Grant Reeher has an op-ed wondering if New Yorkers could have ever possibly chosen David Paterson as governor of their own free will. In Reeher’s opinion, Paterson’s temperament may be much better suited to the current political climate in Albany in a way that Spitzer’s never was. At this point I agree – although I think there are deeper reasons why Spitzer was elected by such a landslide that went beyond hype and money. There’s no indication that New Yorkers didn’t want a standard-bearer of reform, or at least of change in business as usual. But the expectations for such a standard-bearer were very high and strict — expectations that Spitzer’s candidacy rested wholly upon. When he could not live up to those strict expectations, he was rejected not only by Albany’s power structure and the by the media, but by the voters, who according to one poll felt he should immediately resign, in almost the same number that he was elected by (about 70%).

Although the media establishment has been interested in Paterson’s failings, the New York Times did stay on the Spitzer story and published a few very eye-opening, and saddening, stories. From a March 23 article:

    The e-mail message was time-stamped Dec. 18, 2007. It was sent at 5 a.m. It did not mince words. “I’ve been up all night, I haven’t been able to sleep thinking how we’ve gotten to this position,” it began, according to one recipient’s recollection… The author of the e-mail message was Eliot Spitzer, the 54th governor of New York. His administration was just days from the end of its first year, and his poll numbers were abysmal. And now the morning newspapers had another report of another set of subpoenas issued as part of an investigation into the administration’s effort to tarnish a Republican rival… Mr. Spitzer ordered a 7:30 a.m. conference call. He canceled plans to attend a forum in the Bronx on predatory lending in poor neighborhoods, suggesting it was a waste of time when “everything was falling apart.”

The story goes on with several examples of the same anger and confusion from earlier in Spitzer’s first and only year in office, with the anecdotes seeming to end in dispiritedness, a sense of What’s the use? There had been a feeling, only privately expressed and never in the papers, coming from people close to Spitzer that they felt he might not run for a second term, if only because he appeared to dislike the job. All this at a time when most New Yorkers saw fireworks coming from Albany, but still felt mostly confident that Spitzer could get things on track, and little suspecting that he felt otherwise. Spitzer didn’t really admit it to himself either. He had said, “we will not waste this crisis,” and yet he found no use for his own hopelessness.

What we got with Paterson’s ascension was precisely one day of celebratory hope (his inaugural) that felt like a spring breeze, followed by more scandal — and the distinct sense that, even if he didn’t seem to be in immediate danger, that our new governor would be publicly scrambling for his political life from his own Day One. Perhaps Paterson’s honeymoon was perfect in being so brief. After a dozen years of a blandly magisterial Pataki administration, and one year of a governor who had only a veneer of control, a lot of people in this state have felt as if they have been scrambling for their own lives for a long time. It almost feels a perverse relief to have a governor who is obviously doing the same.

Or, as Emily Dickinson said, “I like a look of agony, because I know it’s true.” Continue reading

Dith Pran

The NYT notes that Dith Pran, the Cambodian photojournalist whose story was told in The Killing Fields, has died. Although he was most famous as perhaps the only victim of the Cambodian genocide with a name and story that Americans knew, he was a very talented photographer in times of both war and peace, as you can see from some examples in this slide show. The Cambodian genocide had its own awful uniqueness in history as one in which educated people and intellectuals (probably regardless of ethnic or regional identity) were specifically targeted for torture and killing. Looking at Dith’s photographs, it really hits you how much must have been lost with those estimated 1.39 million deaths.

Of future note

A very interesting story in today’s New York Times about the earliest recorded sound, which dates from 1860 and is only now made playable via computer technology. (Its creator had never intended it to be played back, only to be analyzed.)

We have the technology today to measure and record the complete physical properties of inanimate objects — maybe even whole rooms’ worth of them. Although we don’t yet have the ability to “play back” those measurements (i.e., reproduce the objects), and certainly not with any fidelity, someday this will be possible. (It appears that someone has already had this bright idea, although in a somewhat crude form: a printer that prints objects using plastics.) Although we may never see a transporter beam, it’s pretty possible we’ll someday have replicators and holodecks.

Other people’s blogs

It is very hard to concentrate on sitting at a computer when spring is busting out all over (or trying to), but I’ll give it a shot.

Adirondack Almanack does a roundup of new blogs in the Adirondacks, also mentioning the relationships between blogs and newspapers.

The Schenectady Daily Gazette has some blogs, including Focus on Mohawk Valley History, which caught my eye because of the author Bob Cudmore’s series of stories on the fictional Mohawk Valley town of Nero, “former sock-making capital of the world.”

Phil on why he thinks Syracuse radio sucks.

iSaratoga looks at changes over the years at SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center):

    It’s almost hard to recall how laid back the summers at the Saratoga Performing Art Center used to be during the 1990s. Back then, all you needed was a 20-spot, some beers, a few sandwiches and an umbrella if dark skies threatened. The security force was composed of local high school and college kids, many of them simply looking to catch a free concert…
    Pan to present day SPAC under the auspices of Live Nation, a company spun off from the neoconservative-controlled monolith of Clear Channel Communications. These days, most concert goers instinctively show up wearing garbage bags and with a wad full of hundreds. Otherwise, hanging out at the venue is more akin to skulking around a Soviet gulag with some pleasant 80s rock playing in the background. There are no umbrellas permitted, so if you happen to get caught in the storm, good luck. Anything consumable and not purchased from the over-priced concession stands is contraband; this includes water. And while you’re enjoying a seat in the mud purchased for $35, do stay out of trouble, lest you draw the attention of the hyper-aggressive steroid freak security staff hired to pummel and push anyone that looks like they’re having too much fun.

BTW, welcome your new Live Nation overlords to the Great New York State Fair; they’re now handling the concert arrangements. Will we have storm trooper security at Chevy Court? And if so, how many of them will it take to haul off a sixtysomething lady who’s just rushed the Frankie Avalon stage?

A NYRI update and complaint from Fault Lines.

Sean Kirst on perhaps revived plans for fancy lighting in downtown Syracuse. In his associated column, he interviewed the guy that put the awesome lights on the NiMo building. (Hey — if Syracuse can’t pick up their trash, they should throw a spotlight on something else! Works for Vegas!)

Golden Snowball reminds us that the contest is not over with until the end of April, but is contemplating spring all the same.

A Polish-American Easter

It’s interesting that Easter follows so hard upon St. Patrick’s Day this year, especially for me, because on my mother’s side I am a quarter Irish and a quarter Polish. (I am the result of an aggressive West Side breeding program.) And Easter in Polish-American households is (or used to be) a very big deal. I think only the Greeks, Ukrainians and Italians do it up bigger. So in many ways for me Easter is a firmly secular holiday, if only because so much was going on in the house that day that didn’t remind anyone of the resurrection of Jesus. My Polish grandmother lived with us for a time when I was a kid, so Eastertime was a very busy period that involved dyeing eggs, polishing them with butter, loading up a big old fashioned basket to take to Sacred Heart to be blessed; making sure all the goodies were gotten from Harrison’s, including of course the babka; and then tons of her friends, neighbors and relatives to the nth degree stopping by for coffee, cold cuts and boring pani talk as endless polka played in the background from WHEN. Although my grandmother is now gone, Easter is still an important family occasion.

And this really has nothing to do with Easter, but now might be a good time to put out a call… years later, I still cannot figure out what some of the words these ladies used meant in Polish. (Or indeed, if they were Polish at all; my only exposure to real Polish came from an old schoolbook.) It was a sort of “Polglish” they used, really. Now some of these West Side words (like hodgiepodgie) have been fairly well documented. And some of them I’ve been able to guess at (like kotuni, which apparently means “tangles in the hair” or something like that). But I’d love to know the exact meaning of svaanyaach (that’s a phonetic spelling) which was always yelled in association with me going through my grandmother’s jewelry box, and then the biggest mystery of all: the horrible, dreaded paklaaklaai. This was some kind of unmentionable disease or infestation. Someday I’d really like to know what the heck these ladies were talking about.