Monthly Archives: December 2009

Top New York stories of the year

Just because I’ve been quiet, doesn’t mean I no longer have opinions… In past years, I have posted this list going from 1 to 10, but this year I’ll do it in reverse.

10. Senate seat follies. The controversy over Hillary Clinton’s vacant job – how long ago it all seems! Technically an end-of-2008 story, the hoo-hah spilled over into 2009 as David Paterson’s predictably lousy year (see last year’s #1 New York story) began with fear and loathing over the allegedly carpetbagging Caroline Kennedy and the nerve he had appointing Kirsten Gillibrand – who’s turned out to be, all things considered, a pretty shrewd and competent choice.

9. American Civic Association mass shooting in Binghamton. The second of two tragic events (after the Colgan Air crash in Clarence Center) that struck Upstate New York early this year which brought national news attention of the most unwelcome and regrettable kind. There once was a sort of pleasant imagination that we had here in quiet New York State that this was not the sort of place where these things happen. And there is just something ineffably sad about immigrants being shot by another immigrant in a “land of promise,” where they were supposed to be safe from violence they could have been fleeing in their home countries.

8. Joe Bruno’s conviction. Why isn’t this one higher up on the list? The blessed event was such a long time coming, after all. But to me his conviction has all the dramatic impact of a wet fart. Or maybe it’s just the cold wind blowing through the empty stable after the horses have already escaped. The only thing his conviction will change is the style by which Albany’s finest operate. (I still think he should help the state out and make some collectors’ license plates, though.)

7. Authority reform passes. A not very sexy story from Albany but one of the very few positive measures to come out of there in a while, signed into law earlier this month. It’s the Feel-Good Story of the Year! (the Bigger Better Bottle Bill being the runner-up). At long last, Richard Brodsky gets his pet issue in the spotlight (and there’s once again been some talk that he might run for AG if Cuomo goes for governor.)

Okay, no more feel-good stories.

6. The Marcellus Shale. Exit NYRI stage left, enter hydrofracking stage right. Again we have an environmental story that is only getting widespread state media attention because the potential health of New York City’s water supply is involved, but one can hardly complain. Because this story isn’t going away, I hope to be able to rank it closer to the top 3 next year. It’s that serious of an issue and again – anyone in Onondaga County who thinks this doesn’t affect them needs to look a little closer at the maps. The confluence of a state economic crisis and leasable state forest lands could make for a (literally) sickening future.

5. Gay marriage defeated. As someone on my Twitter list tweeted, wasn’t it truly bizarre to listen to the state Senate actually debating and orating over something of substance? Except it was unfortunately a very one-sided debate, since those Republican senators opposed to gay marriage opted not to get up and actually speak. We all lose when this lack of real public debate happens. To their credit, gay marriage activists have not been taking culture-war potshots in the wake of their disappointing defeat but have been trying to figure out what they did wrong.

4. The “conservative rebellion” in NY-23. Okay, I lied, this is one last feel-good story: a truly comic episode in which bemused, flattered and then irritated North Country voters hosted some very strange guests, all under the glare of the Fox News lights. It was their moment in the spotlight and they did not disappoint anyone who knows and loves Upstate New York’s Republicans, sending the outsiders fleeing with their tails between their legs to declare “victory!” and withdraw. (The national conservatives may have energized a few of their North Country sympathizers, but the fact remains that there is no organizational infrastructure to support a prolonged national GOP assault on Upstate. “Waterloo” or “Stalingrad” comes to mind here.)

3. The Senate coup. I have to be honest: I’ve mostly erased the details of this from my mind. I sometimes even have trouble recalling if this happened this year or last year. See? We don’t even need Joe Bruno any more to keep the slime und drang going.

2. New York’s population loss slows

1. …but New Yorkers are the unhappiest people in the Nation. Does it get any worse, or more important, than this?

(For reference, here is the 2007 list and the 2008 list. You can also see Phil’s top Syracuse stories of 2009 at Still Racing in the Street.)

Saab story

G.M. Plans to Close Saab After Talks Collapse

Just pausing for a quick farewell to the family car of my childhood. Back in the ’70s, Saab didn’t have such a yuppified reputation, and was just a weird European brand that few people drove. My dad thought they were very cool, however, and from the mid ’70s onward the family car was always a Saab — first, an orange ’74 sedan, then a silver ’75 EMS (whose name was “Emily”), and finally a red ’83 900. During the ’70s, you could cross the entire country in this car (and we did) and not see another one on the road. (If you encountered another one, there would be friendly honking of horns and flashing of lights – all Saab owners knew the code.) Financial circumstances forced us to get cheaper, more ordinary cars after that, but it was just as well, since Saab got picked up by GM and turned into a not terribly distinguished brand that was marketed as a Beemer wannabee.

Time drives on…

Urban Blight Simulator

I’m sorry, that was a dishonest post title. I don’t have an urban blight simulator nor do I know where you can get one. But, having spent up to 15 slack-jawed minutes at a time watching this Zombie Outbreak Simulator, I really think someone ought to build one. (Turn your sound down before you click on that.)

The Zombie Outbreak Simulator represents a new leap forward in zombie attack prediction in that it superimposes the action on a Google satellite photo/map of a real Washington, D.C. suburb. You can observe the progress of zombie infections in the area and see which streets and neighborhoods get taken over first. And also where specific buildings, physical barriers, or armed civilians and cops are having an effect. (Er, not a whole lot of effect, actually.)

If someone can do this with zombies, why can’t we plug in all sorts of data and factors having to do with decline of Rust Belt cities, flip the switch and see what happens? I’m serious. Obviously we wouldn’t be tracking zombies, but would be tracking the comings and goings (well, mostly goings) of various demographics and businesses, as well as local and national economic and political developments and initiatives — then waiting to see which houses’ lights go dark and which historical landmark buildings go “poof.” We would get a reasonable prediction of exactly where the changes would take place decades in the future. And it would take a lot less time and effort than actually sitting around and waiting for it to unfold.

Then, once you’ve got the algorithm going, you could program in new variables drawn from the strategies of your favorite urbanist thinkers or commentariat cranks. Would anything new and interesting happen? Well, that would be the suspense of the game.

It could be, however, that the Urban Blight Simulator would just leave you staring at it listlessly and obsessively for days or years on end, turning you into a meta-zombie (as the Zombie Outbreak Simulator has an odd tendency to do) with its strange fascination. I think that’s a risk we’ll have to take.

What comes after BrunoGate?

Why, the BrunoPlate, of course!

Some of the commenters (see this thread for details) have come up with a brilliant three-in-one plan to rescue New York from its deficit, ease the public acceptance of the hated new Empire Gold plate, and give Joe Bruno gainful employment, all at the same time.

(Personalization is free, but for an extra $50 a year you can get the Bobblehead Edition, shown above.)