The problem of dichotomy

I made a mention of Buy Nothing Day in a tweet – for the uninitiated, that's today in the U.S. and tomorrow in the rest of the world. In the U.S., it is "celebrated" (such as it is), alongside Black Friday, the first "official" shopping day of the Christmas season.

When the person to whom the initial tweet was directed learned what Buy Nothing Day was, she said, "People come up with the stupidest things." And all I could think was, "Yeah, like lining up at 3 a.m. to buy crap they don't need and that their kids will stop playing with by February." I didn't say it, because frankly, I'm not anti-consumerist, and really my problem with Black Friday is that few things make me as uncomfortable as giant signs and throngs of people fighting over the last t-shirt or toy. My day after Thanksgiving is usually spent emptying the dishwasher's fifth load, hanging with the family, and avoiding the mall, though buying a meal or coffee or admission ticket isn't out of the question.

There's moderation in everything, isn't there? People who aren't doing the buy everything thing and who aren't doing the buy nothing thing?

It's the same dichotomy issue we're having with our (de facto) two-party system in the U.S. In 2004, Republicans won the White House and both houses of Congress. And so they spent two years making the moderate middle angry, and in 2006 Democrats took over Congress, and with a Republican in the White House, nothing got done. That changed in 2008 when a Democrat took the White House, and then earlier this month, after two years of making the moderate middle angry, Democrats lost control of the House and now nobody's talking compromise.

The past six years of U.S. politics are a tighter cycle than we're used to, but it's a cycle that we are, in fact, used to. And it's going to lead to a long cycle of government accomplishing something that annoys just over half the country for two years, then nothing for two years, then annoying just over half the country (with a different outlier composition) for two years, then nothing for another two years.

No one ever has to build a coalition. And no one gets to claim success for more than two years at a time.

Dichotomy is not the way things get done. Humans are not an either-or species; there are shades of gray, and worse (or better), we change our thinking. Unfortunately, it's easiest to express, in language, everything in an either-or fashion.

Democrat or Republican. Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day. No carbs or no meat. Writing for search engines or for humans. Paper or plastic.

When we think outside of language, we'll think outside of dichotomy. And that's when progress happens.

Reeher Window

When I was at Syracuse University, one of the things I did was to help put together a conference for the Center for Digital Literacy focusing on Democracy and the Internet.

It was summer 2004, and Howard Dean was making waves in the online fundraising and organizing world, thanks in large part to Meetup. We had one of Meetup's co-founders; Joe Trippi, a top Democratic strategist; and a bunch of other great speakers.

Among the co-coordinators of the conference were the authors of Click on Democracy. One of those authors, Grant Reeher, has recently launched a new public affairs blog, Reeher Window.

Grant is open to guest posts and suggestions, so please go over there and be active.

Incidentally, he's also hosting The Campbell Conversations on WRVO each week; he's done everything from interviews with local politicians and political candidates to having a really interesting discussion with Lakshmi Singh, who is the mid-day newscaster for NPR.

Don’t forget to vote

Heya. Checked your calendar lately? It's the first Tuesday following a Monday in November. That means it's election day.

If you're in New York and need to know your polling place, punch in your information here.

If you're outside of New York, or if you forget where exactly you're registered (renters who move frequently may have this problem), start at Vote411.

Oh, and this talk of not voting as a voting exercise? Bull. If you want to not vote for anybody, that's OK, but you need to show up to your polling place and turn in a blank ballot.

Go. Now.

Public Comment Sought on Connective Corridor

I got this email from Marilyn Higgins at Syracuse University's Office of Community Engagement. It's edited for style and such, and I've de-linked the email addresses so you can copy and paste into your web-based email clients.


Last Friday, the Syracuse Common Council held a committee meeting to look at the plans for the first significant build-out of the Connective Corridor. These plans include the redesign of University Ave. and E. Genesee Street including the installation of bike lanes, pedestrian-level lighting, green infrastructure, landscaping and beautiful new signage and street furniture. The plan also calls for returning University Avenue to a two-way street, and the restoration of Forman Park . The design for Forman Park respects the existing memorials and adds a new fountain, spectacular lighting, seating and carefully crafted landscape architecture.

The vote on these items has been delayed for two weeks. The Common Council is seeking community input so this is the time to register your support for this exciting change. In order to get into construction this fall on Forman Park and see this first major leg of the Corridor built next spring it is important for the Council to hear from those who are looking forward to having these new amenities in our City.

This is a rare opportunity for Syracuse, to use state and federal funding to design and build “complete streets” and better connect the institutions on University Hill to downtown Syracuse. If you are looking forward to Corridor construction, and if you believe that our streets should be shared by the pedestrian and the biker, along with the car please take action by emailing a note to the Common Councilors listed below by June 2.

P.S. Please let the Councilors know how you personally will be affected by the greener commuting options, walkability , safety and urban improvements planned for the University Avenue- East Genesee Street route to downtown Syracuse. Do you live or work in the City? Do you go to church in this area..dine at Phoebe’s…. attend Syracuse Stage… walk or bike this way to work? Also, I encourage you to share this information with colleagues, friends and neighbors. Each note can contribute to a positive change for Syracuse. Thank You!!!

P.P.S. If you would like to see more of the Corridor design work than has been in the papers feel free to stop by our office on the 4th floor of the Warehouse, 350 West Fayette St.

Syracuse Common Council

Van Robinson, President,
Lance Denno, Councilor At-Large,
Kathleen Joy, Councilor At-Large,
Jean Kessner, Councilor At-Large,
William Ryan, Councilor At-Large,
Matthew Rayo, Councilor District 1,
Patrick Hogan, Councilor District 2,
Ryan McMahon, Councilor District 3,
Thomas Seals, Councilor District 4,
Nader Maroun, Councilor District 5,

And they’re not married, because? Oh yeah, right…

If you're in the Central New York area, you may have caught the piece back in August about Jeff Kramer donning a Winnie-the-Pooh costume to marry couples at the New York State Fair.

I like Jeff a lot. It's not about his columns – sure, he's funny, and he knows how to stir up trouble (oh the things I'm not allowed to tell you about) – I know him personally. He's a nice guy. Calls me Justin all the time, but I've been called worse. And I'd be saying that even if his hands weren't 18 inches across and he couldn't crush my head like it was a potato chip.

But a letter-writer hit it smack on the nose. Go on, she said, look me in the eye and tell me about the sanctity of marriage.

I was at a wedding this weekend. The officiant was the first one in tears. It was under a minute, by the way. The woman who accompanied me to the wedding had never met either of the couple, and she was crying. During the 10-minute ceremony, there were two rousing ovations, plus a third, standing one.

Of course, they're not married, because this is one of over 40 states and they're both women.

Sure, they own property together, have pets, are talking kids next year, maybe livestock, too. But nope, sorry, while you (quite clearly) love each other, your families and friends are totally gaga over your relationship, and you're even planning on that stuff that's supposed to make marriage sacred, you both have the same equipment, so it doesn't count.


So, on the way to their honeymoon, they're going to make a stopover and make it legal, and hopefully that will stick – and they'll both be able to do things like, say, visit each other in the hospital and do the parent-teacher conference thing.

Have you been following the New York State Senate thing?

Unless you live in New York, you probably never hear what the state senate is doing. In fact, if you live here, there's a good chance you rarely hear about what's going on in the state senate. Until now, when it's been all over both local and national news.

It's got some playground bullying going on. Bear with the bit of background here; it gets funny, in a sad sort of way.

Last November, in keeping with what's been going on across the country, the face of the state senate shifted when Democrats were elected to 32 of the 62 seats.

Things started to get rough right off the bat, when three of those democrats had to be bribed with committee chairs in exchange for voting a democrat as senate leader, rather than a republican. The bribes were extended, then retracted, then I'm not sure, but democrat Malcolm Smith became majority leader, and the dems had a 32-30 majority.

Until June 8, when two democrats, Hiram Montserrate and Pedro Espada, jumped ship and 32 republicans voted Dean Skelos majority leader. The dems refused to recognize the change in leadership, and over the next two days, Montserrate returned to the dem camp and left the senate in a 31-31 deadlock.

Maybe this is a good time to mention that Montserrate is under indictment for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, while Espada has been accused of violating some ethics something-or-other relating to campaign financing.

So at 31-31, with no clear leadership position and no quorum possible unless people from both parties show up, nothing's getting done. Here's where it gets fun.

One day early on, both parties decided they'd hold their own sessions, so they met separately in the same chamber.

Another day, they agreed on a 3 p.m. session. But the republicans had a secret plan to to meet at 2 p.m. and take the leadership positions so at least they'd appear to have the leadership roles. But the dems got wind of it, showed up at 12:30 (walking in through a back door) and took the podium. When the republicans walked in, they brought their own podium and gavel, and held session as if the democrats weren't sitting there.

They've had their ongoing disputes since then, and no business has been conducted. Gov. David Paterson has ordered a special session every day, so the senators can't go back to their districts; rather they tend to gavel in meetings then just gavel them out again.

The dems pulled another fast one last week, locking the front door to the lounge so that if any of the republicans wanted a cup of coffee, they'd have to walk through chambers. When one finally did, the 31 dems sitting in the senate chambers signed him in, making it 32 people present – a quorum. They began passing legislation by a voice vote (even though the republican by now was in the lounge having some joe).

Needless to say, Paterson opted not to sign the legislation.

So, we're still locked at 31-31, and senators get a $160 per diem when they're in Albany – which they've been required to be every day until this thing gets straightened out. The state comptroller isn't sure he's going to sign off on the paychecks, since they're not actually working.

I haven't been able to find a recall provision, and I haven't heard of anybody else having found one, so we might just be stuck with no movement and spending lots of money on nothing through the next election, which is in November of 2010.

In case you're wondering, this is what it takes to be eligible to run for a seat.

Customer service review: When is “sorry” good enough? See also: Obama cabinet

My couch didn't make the trip from the North Side to the East Side. It was exactly the same size as the bottom landing, including the height to the overhang.

We probably shouldn't have successfully got it up those stairs in the first place.

It kind of needed to be replaced anyway; the wood was crumbling and it needed to be re-upholstered.

After looking around for a while, on Saturday I bought a nice, comfy sueded love seat from American Freight. The salesman was polite and helpful, but when he found out I needed delivery, he apologized profusely that they probably wouldn't be able to deliver it that day (which is what I get for going in 3 hours before closing on a weekend).

So we scheduled delivery for Tuesday after 5. The salesman said Tuesday was his birthday and he was taking it off, but he'd mark it on the invoice and put someone in charge of it.

I figured that after 5 is probably a popular time, so I was prepared to wait until 8-8:30, but since the store closed at 8, I decided to call around 7:30 to check in.

The guy who picked up the phone said, "I don't think [salesman] set it up for today," and as I started to say, "it's right on my invoice," he cut me off with, "Crap! It's right there. That's my fault, I'm really sorry. How early can I get it to you tomorrow? I'll put it on the first shipment."

Those of you who know me know that standing me up without notice is one of the worst things you can do. I have a pretty tight schedule, and if I had known there wouldn't be a delivery, I sure as heck would have put something on my calendar and been elsewhere.

I was really – really – unhappy.

So Wednesday morning, I got to work a little early, so that I could be sure the work that needed to be done was done in case they were early, and waited for them to call. I live about a mile and a quarter from work, so we're talking maybe five minutes each way, with 10 minutes for the delivery.

They called me at 11:30, and said it would be between 1 and 3, and that they'd call when they were loading up – which was especially good, since it meant I could take a late lunch and not have to skip out of work.

They called at 2:15, said they'd try to be there around 3; they showed up about 3:20 (not too bad). And rather than the love seat I had bought, they had brought a sofa, so definitely worth the extra 20-minute wait.

Bottom line, though, is that I have a place to sit and stretch out; I'm happy with the quality of the furniture, and I'm happy with the price I paid. I'm not entirely happy with the transfer from warehouse to delivery, but in the end, it didn't put me out that long.

That's not great customer service, but it's not bad. I wouldn't be doing business with them if they weren't human beings, and unfortunately, humans make mistakes sometimes. It's the willingness to own up to those mistakes and correct them that makes the better humans stand out.

As long as you don't let the mistakes snowball, it's all good. You can always correct mistakes, but if you have to do it often, you're not doing your customers right.

We're seeing that with President Barack Obama's cabinet choices. Eric Holder was confirmed, despite questionable decisions during the Clinton administration. Tim Geithner was also confirmed, despite a $34,000 tax mistake. He admitted the error and worked to correct it.

But Tom Daschle – who had a bigger tax mistake, though he is working to correct it – withdrew his name from consideration. And the mistakes snowballed enough that Nancy Killefer, withdrew her name from cabinet consideration for a $950 error.

So, American Freight doesn't get a recommendation with flying colors. I liked the product and the price, and the service wasn't entirely lacking. But I'd give them another shot. But the next time, a minor service problem looks a whole lot bigger.

Day 1

President Barack Obama's inaugural address keeps getting better every time I listen to it.

In fact, I have to say, I wasn't all that impressed sitting and watching it live on television – but then, I, like millions of others, was very much wrapped up in the moment, and the words were just the words of a politician.

But I'll admit, there were definitely some winning moments. One thing Obama had to do was to declare America safe – something he had barely done during the campaign. In fact, I'm of the opinion that he's learned something since the election, sitting in on daily security briefings. Suddenly, safety is an issue, not something abstract. He knows, as very few others know, what intelligence is being gathered about potential threats against the U.S.

Flashy speech or no, Obama's first 100 days start now.

A hundred days is a benchmark. At that point, he's had some time to settle into the job, to learn what it takes to get things done, and most importantly, to accomplish some things.

Mitch tells me the first 100 days need to include a stimulus package, the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and the ending of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.

I'll agree with all of those, and I think the Guantanamo closing will come as soon as we figure out what to do with some of the prisoners we're interested in holding but not extradicting (because they'll be tortured in their home countries) or prosecuting (because military or intelligence secrets would be aired in open court).

The other thing I expect soon – Thursday, perhaps, since it's the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling – is an end to the Global Gag Rule. The rule says no federal funding can be used for foreign family planning programs that either directly fund or even discuss abortions as a possibility.

Ronald Reagan instituted it in 1984, Bill Clinton repealed it in 1993, and George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 – on the Roe anniversary.

But there's another thing I'm very concerned about, as are many other people: openness.

A new White House blog is one thing, but Jay Rosen puts it frankly:

We can now hold you guys to

- better communication
- more transparency
- greater participation.


At the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when I first came to appreciate Obama, the then-Senate candidate said that blogging was an important way to convey information. Some people even had him slated for President – in 2016 (presumably after Hillary Clinton had her shot).

But after 100 years of press inclusion, the Bush administration shut the door on the press, and in doing so, on the American people, who access government through the press.

As Rosen says, it's not just the one-way communication of a blog that goes out from the White House to the people that's important, it's government transparency, and a give-and-take between the citizenry and the government.

Rosen gives an historic overview and a bit of advice on his blog, as well.

So, we've had another peaceful transfer of power, and we have been peaceful during that transition. We have turned a page. We have elected a president on a platform of hope, change and positivity, someone with a simple motto: yes we can.

So let's, please, move forward.

But let's also not get complacent. We've given Barack Obama the privilege to lead us. Let's hold him accountable for doing so.

Eye Candy: Take a few minutes to install Silverlight so you can check out the inauguration photosynth. Holy fun, Batman.

Israel vs. Hamas, round infinity

Daryl Cagle - See more cartoons

I have a long history of bothering friends and relatives by occasionally declaring my support for land-for-peace efforts, and for more often than not, failing to blindly support Israel in offensive maneuvers against its neighbors.

So it may come as a shock to some people that I'm supporting Israel in its current offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

I've been mostly following the action in the Jerusalem Post and Al Jazeera, so I'm getting a fair balance of unbalanced news.

The cool thing I found today, was that the Israeli Consulate General in New York, David Saranga, gave a live Q&A; on Twitter (you don't need an account to read it).

He and his staff will be releasing a FAQ tomorrow, as they got flooded with questions and ran out of time.

There was a protest today in Syracuse, with those turning out largely against the Israeli action against Hamas.

But one commenter takes a good approach:

Allow me to introduce you all to a concept: gray. It's the thousand shades that come between black and white. It's where 99% of human actions and decisions fall.

Most of you are taking a very complex situation and boiling it down to two absurdly simple sides, then choosing one or the other. Have any of you ever tried any of these ridiculous ideas in your own life?

It's a shade of gray that makes me support Israel's offensive here.

Israel pulled out of the Gaza strip – a territory it had occupied since it overcame an attack in 1967 – in 2005. They pulled out enough that the U.N. said they were out of there. That has to be good enough for pretty much everyone.

Hamas was put in control of the territory by a plurality of voters (about 40%).

Hamas does things like build schools, staff hospitals, and train suicide bombers. The U.S., Israel, and others list it as a terrorist organization.

Israel and Hamas agreed on a six-month cease-fire earlier this year, and as the clock wound down on it, Hamas started launching rockets out of Gaza and into Israel, killing several Israeli civilians.

Israel responded by launching an all-out attack, killing hundreds of Hamas operatives and dozens of Palestinian civilians living in Gaza.

But I have to blame Hamas for those civilian deaths.

When Hamas shoots its rockets, it just shoots them into cities, killing whatever happens to get in the way. Most frequently, that would be civilians, who live in cities, while military bases tend to be out of the way.

Meanwhile, Hamas builds its bases among apartment buildings in densely-populated areas, making the civilians who live nearby the next best thing to human shields – a violation of the Geneva Conventions (like they're concerned about that).

If you're not familiar with the concept of a human shield, it's simple. You grab a gun, and you grab a civilian, and you figure the other guy won't shoot at you because they don't want to kill the civilian. If they do, you have a good piece of propaganda to use.

I always feel bad in war. I always feel bad when people die. But I feel worse when a country sits by and takes it, like Israel was forced to do during the first Gulf War. As I remember it, Iraq at that point said that if the U.S. invaded (which it did), it would bomb Israel (which it did), and the U.S. told Israel, "don't worry, we'll take care of this, just if you see a scud missile coming, run."

I have to think that if Israel keeps it up, the people of Gaza will realize it's Hamas' fault, and they will oust their leaders.

Saranga, the Israeli consulate, said that the Israeli government is pro-cease-fire, and that it thinks the only way to go is with a two-state solution.

I think a two-state solution is a great idea, but I don't see it working out: the Palestinian Authority will want Jerusalem (which has holy sites for both Jews and Muslims), and that's just a non-starter. I don't even see Israel giving open passage to Jerusalem.

Is there a solution? I'm not confident there is. Jerusalem has changed hands 24 times in the last (roughly) 2,200 years. The violence hasn't ended, and there's no reason to think it will stop now.

But we can certainly do our best to try to figure out how not to shoot at each other.

The proposed state budget

Governor David Paterson appears to be attempting to make New York a really miserable place to live, in an effort to shore up a $15 billion budget gap.

OK, that's a lot of money, I get it. But among Paterson's proposed measures are 88 new taxes and fees, along with service cuts.

There are some definitely reasonable measures. Upping sin taxes (beer, wine, cigarettes, cigars) and removing the 8-cent-per-gallon gas tax cap, no worries. Upping the auto insurance surcharge from $5 to $10? OK, fine.

But then there's things like...

• Taxes on non-diet sodas, and other "non-nutritious" beverages like juices that aren't really juice (officially, less than 70% juice). You can't really call this an "obesity tax," as some news outlets have dubbed it, because, well, where's ice cream? Cheeseburgers? Bacon? And if you tax non-diet sodas, you get people drinking diet sodas. So, what, they get cancer instead of fat? That will do great things for the health care budget, eh?

• Taxes on services like gym memberships and hair cuts. This might be fine at upscale places, but people will leave gyms if their memberships go up $6 a month (adding weight to the health care problem), and you start pricing people out of some services – if you're generally only willing to pay $15 for a haircut, when taxes send it to $17, you're going to go every other month instead of every month, and your barber will close, meaning a decrease in the business tax base for cities.

• New license plates, which will cost you $25. Why don't you just up the registration fee? Why do I have to stand in line at the registry to exchange my tags, then notify my insurance company, the bank that holds my car loan, and my landlord?

• Raising fees for camping and parks in general and cutting services. Pay more for less? OK, sure!

• Increase fees for fishing licenses by $10 – but only if you're fishing for salmon or trout. Hmmm...if I don't know my fish, will can I catch one by accident?

• New fees for cable TV, satellite TV and satellite radio. I would be in favor of this if these weren't monopoly industries. If there were price competition, it would be easy to swallow an extra $5 or $10 a month (well, maybe $10), but since you pretty much pay $15, $50 or $99 for cable from the local company (at least in this area), you're held hostage for whatever the company wants to charge you to pay those fees.

• Taxes on bus and cab fares. First off, we should be rewarding people for taking public or mass transit, not finding new ways to make money from them. Second, you wind up diminishing public transit services. Centro, the local bus company here, isn't likely to raise their fare to $1.08 per trip, they'll make their rate $0.93 so the sales tax makes the trip $1. And losing even seven cents per passenger means they're going to have some trouble, especially when gas prices go up.

• Taxes on less expensive clothing and shoes. Many states charge a luxury tax for some items (I remember growing up that it was a $70 item you had to pay taxes on in Massachusetts), and in New York, $110 is the demarcation point. You don't pay taxes on on a $109.99 dress, nor on a $3.99 t-shirt. Maybe you lower that threshold to $50 or something, but eliminate it all the way and you have retailers who make their livings on selling $3.99 t-shirts closing up because people are now buying two shirts at a time instead of three, taking away fully a third of their income.

• Taxes on entertainment, like movie tickets, tickets to sporting events, and movie, music and book downloads. I'm sure the anti-piracy firms will love the last bit. When you jack up prices, you encourage stealing of intellectual property.

The budget proposal also includes cuts to SUNY hospitals, increases in tuition at SUNY schools, a removal of a tax incentive to renters in New York City, an eight-fold increase in the cost of taking a civil service exam, and large increases in professional fees for certifications for physicians, lawyers, social workers and others.

And for just a brief second, let's talk about one of upstate's big problems: Brain Drain. Do you see that list of stuff up there? A lot of it hurts younger folks, and that means that once they finish high school or college, they're gone, to some place they can afford to live.

I don't think this budget is going to pass in this form, but if it does, I think we're going to start seeing more problems at ground level – more housing foreclosures, more businesses closing up shop, more people leaving the state.

At some point you have to realize, it's not just a hole in the state budget, it's a hole in people's pockets, and holes in people's pockets means holes in New York – as a whole.