Monday, November 05, 2018

Feeling down about Syracuse

I returned this evening from a wonderful two-night excursion to Baltimore. Christine and I stayed in Fells Point, a waterfront neighborhood with a lovely pier, cobblestone streets, nightlife, cafes... you know, all of that good city stuff. When I arrived back, I found myself down--extremely down, to be honest--about where I live. suppose that's true of everyone and everywhere, and I've often been able to keep that in perspective. There is no perfect place, you can only do what it takes to make the place where you live a little bit better. But tonight I am feeling defeated in a way that I don't think I have in some time. I'm also over-caffeinated following a long drive, so I wanted to gather some of my thoughts.

The constant negative political advertising is obviously bad for our democracy and for our mental health, but there's one ad that has been running that's really struck a chord with me that I haven't been able to shake. It's some BS Koch-ed up SuperPAC ad against John Mannion, a candidate for State Senate, and it drops in all of the usual villains. But in this one, it seems to link Mannion with Bill DeBlasio and New York City, talking about how he would be another vote for them, rather than us. This divisive rhetoric is terrible on its surface - the state of New York clearly isn't us vs. them. This isn't a zero-sum game where Syracuse only wins if New York City loses. But, beyond that, what are the values in New York City that would be so harmful to us, that John Mannion could possibly be looking to defend? Is it inclusivity? Cosmopolitanism? Community? A bus that runs more often than once per hour? The ad stops just short of saying that "A vote for Mannion is a vote for gay people, brown people, and Jewish people, all of the things we can't have ruining Central New York for us Real Americans."

I hated the divisive message and I hated the implicit bigotry behind it. But what I hated most was this feeling in the pit of my stomach that it would work - that it's exactly the sort of thing that resonates here. I shut off the TV.


Back in July, the Syracuse Post-Standard, the pathetic rag best used to get that annoying chair with one shorter leg at the coffee shop to stop wobbling, made a big to-do back in July, with a multimedia editorial campaign promoting the "community grid" option to replace Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse. They called the grid a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity not to re-create the city-planning failures of our forefathers. "Finally!" I thought. "Those dunderheads are starting to see the light! The city doesn't just exist as a place where the suburban folks can commute to and get out of as quickly as possible at 5:01pm!"

Silly me. In the last two weeks, the Sub-Standard has completely undercut that assertion that this was the most important decision facing Syracuse in 50 years by looking at the competitive electoral races in Syracuse, seeing which candidates most favored the grid, and then endorsing that person's opponent. Every Single One. Most notably were the aforementioned Mannion and US Representative candidate Dana Balter. "Here you go Syracusans, send a strong message about the Community Grid by electing its opponents. Also our website is now behind a paywall that won't leave you logged in."

I've cancelled my subscription.


A bit more on Balter. Her opponent in the 24th district of New York is a mealy-mouthed, do-nothing, stay-neutral-at-all-costs-and-make-sure-to-never-have-an-idea-of-your-own incumbent Republican by the name of John Katko. Katko's ads are the usual GOP tripe, screaming about "illegals," and Nancy Pelosi, and touting his record of... oh, sh*t, scratch that last part, his ads definitely make it a point not to mention any specific accomplishments of Katko's. I wonder why? I wonder why?

Anyway, we're all used to that stuff. What bothers me most about THIS ad campaign is the constant drumming of his opponent as "visiting-Professor Balter," and then directly questioning her ties to the region. One particularly misleading clip showed a Florida mansion, implying that it was a former home of hers. She had, indeed, previously lived in Florida: in a two-bedroom condo that she shared with her brother, two decades ago. In truth, Balter has been in Syracuse for 15 years. But I live in a place where the Mayor is the grandson of a former Mayor and the son of a former Congressman, and he was elected a year ago with a campaign that also directly questioned the legitimacy of his opponent's (a San Diego-born Latina who had previously been Syracuse's attorney) ties to the area. My city councilor is the son of a former county Judge. Katko is from a huge family - his sister owns a famous Irish pub downtown, his mother was an Irish dancer in the St. Patrick's Day parade, and about once a week I found out that another person that I've had dealings with is actually his cousin. Just about every one of my elected official is a legacy of the old boys' network. It's yet another message I've gotten that, no matter how long I'm here, Syracuse isn't going to welcome me as its own. I know that this attack, other-ing her as an outsider, is an effective one, because I know how unwelcoming this city can feel.


A lot of this negativity started a week ago with a discussion with neighbor at a school function. He was going down the list of stereotypical issues he has with the city school where my daughter goes: "They don't teach cursive!" "Too many of the parents aren't involved!" "It's not a 'neighborhood school' anymore!" All the greatest hits.

It is, for the record, a neighborhood school. The neighborhood for the school just happens to extend a little further west and north than he and a few others on one side of the neighborhood would prefer. But I digress.

Also, conservatives REALLY want kids to learn cursive. Every conservative person I know makes a big deal about this. It's treated as a downfall-of-civilization issue. I digress again. I have become a serial digressor. 

Anyhow, he gets through the usual diatribes on the setlist, when we reach the beloved encore "our neighborhood isn't as safe as it used to be." And in the midst of the second chorus he proudly, smiling, announces that he called the police on a black fellow riding his bike in down the street too early in the morning, in his judgment. I got an actual, in-its-natural-habitat "there's no reason for him to be riding around in our neighborhood with his hoodie on at that hour." And I failed, miserably at responding, just giving a stunned, dumbfounded "huh."


Just to be clear: this wasn't meant to be a woe-is-me exercise. Things are really pretty great right now! My job is solid, my family is wonderful, things are stable financially, our heat works again, I just got to spend a weekend with my wife and some friends at a wedding. There are obviously people who live in seemingly idyllic places whose lives are falling apart. I will take being down about my physical location to having any sort of actual real problems.

I am sure at some point I will feel better about Syracuse. There are some truly good things happening here - the downtown revitalization is spotty but real, there are some very good restaurants, my kids have already made wonderful friends. But it doesn't feel like home. And more frustratingly, it seems to be going out of its way to let people know that aren't from here know that it isn't going to. If it seems that way to me, a person who, at least superficially is welcomed, how must it feel to someone who is not?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Primary Day in New York: Vote Dana Balter

So fellow New York State friends (and enemies, if you're there!): it is primary day today for Congressional races. First of all, here in NY-24 we are lucky to have two sharp, qualified candidates who would be huge, massive--I'm honestly lacking superlatives for what a big gap this is--improvements over John Katko: so no matter who you choose to vote for today, if your candidate doesn't win today, I implore you to dust yourself off, pour a glass of your preferred drink, regroup, and get to work tomorrow electing the other. 

I am supporting Dana Balter today. Balter entered this race early as a relative unknown and got immediately to work building up grassroots support. She's presented a detailed progressive agenda that will help reverse the negative trends in New York exacerbated by things like the John Katko tax cut that seemed carved perfectly people to benefit those in rich suburbs of large cities of red states--you know, the exact opposite of Syracuse.

Balter also doesn't have the baggage stemming from a Mayoral campaign which still has some fresh wounds here in the city. I'm always, always hesitant to use "electability" as a key aspect of my voting choice (that bumper sticker says "elect ability", right?) But in order to beat Katko, the candidate facing him is going to need to consolidate support in the city, and Perez Williams was, very recently, totally unable to do that. Colleen Deacon got 58.6% of the vote within the city of Syracuse in 2016 on her way to getting trounced in the election. Hillary Clinton got 70.3% within the city. Granted, Perez Williams was running against a candidate with much more appeal within the city, but she still is running a race where she'll need to pull in 65% of the vote in a city that she failed to reach 40% in a mayoral election the year before. It's hard to see how those numbers are there.

 As a supporter of Perez Williams in 2017, I understand fully how much of that baggage came from attacks on her that were, uh, to say politely, gender-unfriendly and racially charged. Instead of policy, the biggest theme of the campaign sadly turned into her being "difficult" contrasted with Walsh's likeability. But I will also say that losing badly, and taking that as a sign to run for higher office only three months later really plays into some of those criticisms of her. 

Perhaps more importantly, the decision by the DCCC to recruit and financially support Perez Williams really plays into the narrative that they have become this aloof, elitist branch that fails to get into the trenches and talk to the activists doing the work. And I'm not just talking about progressive, college kid-type activists either: Balter consolidated the support of each of the county parties. If the DCCC had bothered to talk to people, they'd have found that genuine enthusiasm for Balter within the local party. They'd not have gotten spooked by Balter's poor 4Q (2017) fundraising numbers, when she was building momentum after being a total unknown. Which, speaking of Fundraising: the biggest reason for the DCCC wanting an alternative to Balter seemed to be those poor fundrasing numbers, but Balter has outraised Perez Williams overall, and by an overwhelming amount among donors within the district. 

So today, send a message to the DCCC that these campaigns are won on the ground, not with a checkbook. And then, even more importantly, send a message to John Katko and the local Republican establishment that they are responsible to the residents of Central New York, not their patrons on the Florida coast. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jim attempts to assemble a dollhouse - a play-by-play

So a couple weeks ago, my daughter turned two. We had a party for her, and it was awesome. One of the presents Alice got at her party was a dollhouse. Specifically, it is a Chelsea Doll Cottage, by the fine folks at KidKraft. It is pretty cool looking on the box. There is, however, some assembly required. How much assembly? Well, it says on the website about three hours worth. For comparison's sake, when you buy a grill, it says that assembly will take an hour? Have you ever assembled a grill? It didn't take an hour. I bought a grill this spring and I went out of my way to find one that was already assembled, so I wouldn't have to deal with that. The fewer steps between me and a hot dog, the better.

Okay, there is a big reason other than how long it would take for that first hot dog why I didn't want to assemble the grill: I would not be accurately described as a handy fellow. My future in carpentry is limited. If I was good at building stuff, blogging about putting a dollhouse together would basically be bragging. Not the case here!. At least once during this process, I will realize that I've screwed some necessary piece in upside down and then done four more steps before I realized that I did so and will need to disassemble and will be swearing a lot. I invite you to take part in this lovely process with me.

During the building process - at least the first couple hours - my soundtrack will be the Syracuse vs. LSU football game. This should be helpful. As much as I screw this up, there is no chance it will be as much as a disaster as this game figures to be for the Oranges.

1:02pm: Here is a picture of the box. Cubs Snoopy will provide moral support.

1:11pm. The manual!

There are only 14 steps. Whether that is good or bad is an open question. The color coordinated hardware is intimidating. The wooden pieces are numbered though. With actual number stickers! Now, as long as those numbers aren't like two mirror images that can be put together backwards, I will feel good.

1:20pm: The box is unpacked.

I am not overwhelmed by the this stinking pile of adorableness which appears to be the walls and floors and such:

What I am more worried about is the box within a box. I already opened and unpacked a box. To get to another box feels like I'm delving too deeply. Perhaps I can perform a doll house inception, though? Do I unwrap this piece by piece now, or try to find stuff as I need it?

Try to find stuff as I need it, obviously.

Ok, here goes

1:53pm: Step 1 completed
Ok, narrowly averted the first disaster of the day. Step 1 is to connect boards 2 and 3 to piece 1. So, I separate pieces 1, 2, and 3. Or so I thought. Initially, because I am a fool, I had pieces 5, 2, and 3. And I had them wrong long enough to photograph my error:

Fortunately, I realized it when the instruction manual clearly showed a window and door, rather than two windows, on piece 1:

Part 3 was connected first, using two Hardware Parts D: the White 11"x16" bolt. Part 2 was attached next, using two Hardware Parts C: the Green 11"x16" bolts.

We appear to be in business:

Also, incredibly, Syraucse is losing only 7-3 at halftime.

2:01pm: A pitcher who can paint the corners is known as a Rembrandt.

2:16pm: Step 2 completed

This step took a much shorter time than writing about it. It will likely be the easiest step. I had to slide Board 4a into the slots between Board 2 and Board 3. It slid in correctly, indicating that Step 1 was done correctly enough. Hooray!

1:43pm: Step 3 completed

So the goals of this step were to connect Pole 6 and Board 5 (YES! 5 now!) to the existing structure.

Pole 6 gave me guff, as Hardware Piece A (Silver 11"x16" bolt) did not want to catch the Dowel Nut. I played around with this for some time. I was apprehensive about whether Hardware Piece I (9"x16" Bolt) would give me difficulty as well, as it was not screwing into a dowel or nut, but straight into the wood. Fortunately that went smoothly.

Board 5 (!) connected easily to the structure, using one Hardware Part D and two Hardware Parts C.

With that, Step 3 appears to have been finished.

3:12 pm: Step 4 completed

So, here's where I started to get cocky. I saw Step 4 was another simple board-sliding step. This is easy!

So, I decided to go to my refrigerator to get myself a lovely Saranac Pale Ale.

As Alice would say... Delicious! She really says that, and it's as cute as it sounds. Anyway, after one sip, I took the Board 4b, the ONLY THING I needed to useduring this step, and slid it in place. Upside Down.

Again, this was the only thing to do on this step. I saw my error and corrected it before screwing everything else in place, fortunately. Unfortunately, LSU just snagged an interception. minutes after opening up a 31-17 lead.

Much Better.

3:20pm: An external complication arises. Alice has awoken from her (extended) mid-day slumber. She wants Play-Doh. The Play-Doh is hard. This will end badly.

3:48pm: Step 5 completed
Fortunately, I was able to mash the Play-Doh enough that she finds it acceptable. Every time it falls apart I get a "fix it" but that is better than the nuclear meltdown that would occur if the Play-Doh was no longer usable.

Anyhow, Step 5 was successful, even sustaining an attack from an Alicesaurus. (Note: not an actual attack. She's pretty gentle with her toys, fortunately). I connected Board 7, which appears to be the third floor, to the rest of the structure using three Hardware Parts D (the Green 11"x16" bolts).

So far, Alice seems to approve.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Matt Hague can really hit

I was at yesterday's Syracuse vs. Buffalo Triple-A game. I'd been planning on going most of the week, and when it was announced that Stephen Strasburg would be making a rehab start it was a pretty easy decision. Strasburg wasn't super sharp on the mound but he was spot on in the clubhouse, treating his teammates to delicious Dinosaur BBQ for the postgame spread

The point of this post isn't to debate the merits of the local barbecue scene, however. I wanted to talk about the Buffalo Bisons designated hitter. He was good. How good? Well, he compelled me to write a blog post about baseball, which I hadn't done in about forever. 

Hague went 4 for 5 with a double to raise his season line at Buffalo to a pretty remarkable .353/.432/.490. So why isn't he on every single prospect list? Because he turns 30 in 22 days. Hague first made it to Triple-A back in 2011, and has since compiled 583 games and 2508 plate appearances at the level. He's consistently hit there--.302/.378/.435--but he has never gotten a chance in the majors. 

So, Hague is probably just some Quad-A guy is what you are thinking. Having seen him live, I feel pretty confident that he isn't He reminded me quite a bit of Kevin Youkilis, who also took forever to get a chance. He holds his bat up and in front of his head, like a cross between Youkilis and Julio Franco, but with a much more upright stance. Then, as the pitcher is delivering, he shifts his weight back to an extreme level, going almost into a crouch. So, it doesn't look like a very effective swing. This isn't Ken Griffey, Jr.'s smoothness, folks. 

But, for all the weirdness in his stance, he was showing great hitting fundamentals, particularly with his hands. That enabled him to rip one base hit of Strasburg up the middle, and fist another in the same direction. Later, off of AJ Cole, Hague pulled a (slower) fastball hard for a base hit to left. Then, in the ninth, he hit a double the other way down the line off of left-hander Matt Grace. 

So, I don't really know why scouts or statheads haven't picked up on him. Maybe I just saw him on a particularly good night, but man, it seems impossible that he wouldn't be able to hit at the next level. His strikeout rate would probably go up, sure - but it's only 11% this year! He's not a great defensive player - but so what! Half the teams play a designated hitter, and even if he's a below average 3B/1B he would easily make up the difference with his bat. 

If I had to guess, I'd think he could hit something like .290/.360/.430. That would make him easily an above-average offensive first baseman. And while many teams around the league have that position filled, a team out of contention should absolutely give him a shot. The Red Sox, for example, have a lot of very expensive players. Getting a look at someone who could be a productive, very-low-cost option at first base (or even third!) for at least a couple years seems like a no-brainer. 

It seems like the Moneyball era got rid of players like this - Triple-A sluggers like Roberto Petagine and Jeff Manto who never got a chance because they weren't toolsy. Hague, though, is something of a throwback - a player who should be getting a shot based on his on-field accomplishments but has languished in the minors. Here's hoping someone gives him a chance.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

David Letterman, I will miss you

As you probably have heard, David Letterman's final "Late Show" will be on tonight. Even though I hadn't watched Dave as much the last 10 years as I did in high school, I will miss him greatly.

There have been and are going to be a lot of pieces that will explain in much greater detail and with much more authority what an influence Letterman was on late night TV and on comedy in general. While his detractors might want to point out that he rarely won in the ratings war, comedy is hard to measure by ratings. Being funny and having broad appeal don't always overlap - in a lot of cases, they are directly at odds with each other. Particularly in his early years, Letterman was never one to sacrifice being funny for being appealing. He was unimpressed with the cult of celebrity. As Julia Roberts said to him last week, "stupid people annoy you."

Enjoy retirement, Dave.