Author Archives: ellen

Fairmount gets noticed

Nice story in the Post-Standard about Fairmount being ranked No. 27 on “Best Places to Raise Your Children.” (A shame that the online story at incorrectly identifies Fairmount as being a suburb of Rochester. Between this and the recent NYT story about Indian manhole covers, do major publications just not do fact-checking any more?) Upstate New York made out pretty well on this survey, which emphasized modest costs of living — three or four western NY locales made it in, as did St. Johnsville in the Mohawk Valley. All too often, “Best Places to Live” lists turn out to be all about the places with the wealthiest demographics, biggest homes and greenest lawns, the ones farthest away from a city. Yawn. This BusinessWeek survey pointedly avoided the places where big money gets thrown around. Most of the locations in the ranking were in the Northeast, Midwest or Appalachia; although it goes without saying that the list avoided urban neighborhoods entirely, which I’m sure some people are going to take exception to.
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Spitzer cries uncle

Courtesy of Simon (posting at The Albany Project), this NYT story would have been not only unthinkable, but unstomachable just one year ago:

Spitzer, Hat in Hand, Asks Fellow Democrats in the Assembly for a Second Chance

Mr. Spitzer “has the potential to be a very creative man,” said Aileen M. Gunther, an Assemblywoman from Sullivan County. “If he works with all the creative people in the Legislature, I think there’s a lot of great possibilities for a turnaround.”

For 45 surprisingly peaceable minutes, lawmakers said, they peppered Mr. Spitzer with questions about how he planned to balance the state budget, what he would do about New York City’s shortage of subsidized housing, and whether he might think about raising taxes to bring in more revenue. Mr. Spitzer sidestepped the question about taxes, according to people in the room. But he was more vocal about spending — specifically, his willingness to help raise lawmakers’ pay, which bottoms out at $79,500 a year.

I know most people will probably do a spit-take at the second paragraph, but it’s the first one that I find unbelievable. Paging Richard Florida… apparently Upstate New York’s Creative Class has been hiding in the Legislature all along! Who knew? (My cynicism double backs on itself when I think of Spitzer’s other professions of humility that he never followed through on.)

I have more thoughts on Spitzer’s situation at the aforelinked post at TAP, but I will add a further thought for the Upstate audience: No matter what party they are from, Upstate Assembly members are still not very powerful… or creative. Without power, creativity is useless. But without creativity, power is just a recurring nightmare we can’t wake up from.

Winter: let’s call the whole thing off!

The NYT had a piece this weekend on the ancient European practice of simply shutting everything down for the winter:

Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the [French] Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring… Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end… In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep.”

The article goes on to suggest that if French president Nicolas Sarkozy is serious about conservation, he should “consider introducing tax incentives for hibernation… There has never been a better time to stay in bed.” (But in Maine, many elderly people do not have families to snuggle up to.)

What do you think… when it comes to conservation and general sanity, would we be better off just dialing it way down for the winter? Shorter workweeks? No alarm clocks? Three-dog nights?

On the dole

Here in our part of the country, we wonder how sustainable our local economy can be when new business ventures are being subsidized by (often poorly administered) state and federal government spending, unwise tax breaks, and the like. We lament that our cities and schools must be stabilized by taxpayers’ money. We look longingly at the promised lands of North Carolina and Arizona and Florida, with their never-ending expansion, their shiny new neighborhoods and amenities, their boundless construction projects and job-filled economies.

The excellent blog Calculated Risk reminds us that the “success” of many of those regions has also been heavily subsidized — just in a different way.

Let us, instead, ask ourselves what constitutes the “upper and middle classes.” If they “moved up beyond their means,” then . . . their means are what, exactly? If 100% or near 100% financing is required to keep these neighborhoods stable (loans over $400,000 for houses in the $400,000-$450,000 price range), then in what sense are they neighborhoods of the “upper and middle classes”? Does our current definition of “middle class” (not to mention “upper class”) include having insufficient cash assets to make even a token down payment on a home?

In this light, Central New York doesn’t seem quite so pathetic. A tumbledown house it may be, but it least it wasn’t built on sand.

Let’s talk about the Water Crisis

One of the most enduring in-jokes in my family, particularly in this Thanksgiving season, is the line: “Let’s talk about the Energy Crisis.” This was once said, in all seriousness, by five-year-old me at the dinner table one evening during the Nixon era. I’m sure I had no idea what the energy crisis was (just as I have no real idea of half the stuff I talk about on this blog), but to this day, whenever dinner conversation dies down to nothing, or there is an awkward silence to fill, someone will quip “Let’s talk about the Energy Crisis.” (thus ensuring I will never, ever live that down)

So just in case you have nothing acceptable to talk about at the dinner table tomorrow with your nearest and dearest, here are a few links to conversation starters about America’s water crisis.

Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving… May your turkeys not be dry!