November: Looking back, looking forward

November was a good – if very busy – month.

You may have noticed I neglected the blog for most of the month. Hell, you may have stopped reading the blog because I neglected it for most of the month. But hopefully you're at least subscribed to the RSS feed (and if not, please do subscribe) or reading it because you follow me on Twitter (again, if you're not, please do).

So, what came of November? Well, there was...

• The 40 Under 40 award. This was a classy affair. About 420 people or so for lunch and the ceremony, and I wound up on TV. This was definitely an honor, especially when I look at the other names on the list.

• There's a new title on my resume (retroactively). I was already doing the job, but, well, I needed to show some movement. The new title ("Project Coordinator") may still get massaged, but both my boss and I signed a title change sheet, so I'm calling it official.

• There was the whole NaNoWriMo thing. I churned out (officially) 50,015 words between Nov. 1 and Nov. 25, which meant that not only did they declare me a "winner," I spent a long Thanksgiving break hanging out with my family, rather than trying to cross the 50,000-word mark.

In December, I am looking forward to...

• Downsizing. Getting rid of the stuff I don't use, books I'm not re-reading, etc. I'm hoping this turns into moving into a new apartment, as well. I currently have two rooms that hold four file drawers and a book case, and nothing else. I have to walk through them, but I rarely stop in them. They could certainly be consolidated into a small office.

• Editing the crap out of the NaNoWriMo stuff. Some people actually wrote full novels, but I wrote short, creative non-fiction essays. They aren't related, and are, I guess to use a legal term, severable. I'll break them up, edit them down, and if something's worth posting I'll post it, and if something's better, I'll try to sell it.

Remembering Kristallnacht: How far have we come?

On the night of November 9 and 10, 1938 – 70 years ago today – a state-sponsored pogrom (riot, incursion) killed 92 German Jews and saw somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 Jews arrested.

Synagogues were burned. Jewish-owned shops were vandalized or destroyed. There was so much glass they called it Kristallnacht (Wikipedia), the night of broken glass.

It brought to a head five years of increasingly restrictive anti-Semitic laws, and offered only a hint of what was to come in the ensuing years.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is doing a special exhibit this year.

If, by the way, you haven't been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, next time you're in DC, give yourself four hours there, and a couple hours of recovery time.

This is the exhibit that does me in.

From the time we're young, Jewish people are taught about the Holocaust. We see movies. We read books. We hear from survivors – though even people who lived long, healthy lives after the Holocaust are dying off now.

We take it personally, even all these years later. Working for a weekly newspaper about six years ago, I was sent to cover a school event that featured children of Holocaust victims and children of Holocaust perpetrators sitting on a panel, talking primarily about forgiveness. I sat in the back of the auditorium and pretty much bawled for an hour and a half.

We are taught to never forget. If you forget, it could happen again.

And so the world puts on its blinders, and makes sure that Jews don't ever have to live through genocide again.

We forget about the six million gypsies, homosexuals and others who died during the Holocaust. In the U.S., we're systematically denying the latter group rights (that's the first step, by the way). We didn't believe anything was happening in Rwanda in 1994. We did so little about Darfur. We're certainly not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now.

I'm not naive enough to believe we can all just get along and that's that. But when we see genocide, why are we sitting still?

Parsing the election: Equality edition

In case you missed it, the U.S. elected Barack Obama to the office of the presidency on Tuesday.

It didn't really surprise anybody. Even Karl Rove predicted he would win in a landslide.

Obama is African-American, and if you're not up on your U.S. history, please leave right now, go to the library, and educate yourself.

During the primary season, it became clear that the Democratic Party was going to make some history. It was either going to put a woman at the top of the ticket, or it was going to put an African-American at the top of the ticket.

Some people – including some close to me – said that they would vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary because they were worried there were people in the country who would vote for the Republican candidate (we later found out that would be John McCain) solely because they wouldn't vote for Obama because of his race.

My response? These people wouldn't vote for Clinton because of her sex. Also, they would probably vote Republican even if John McCain were the Democratic candidate.

Once Obama and McCain were nominated by their respective parties, race became all but a non-issue. McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, certainly couldn't use race as an issue, at least not overtly. Same for the mainstream media, even if they were to endorse McCain/Palin (which very few of them did).

But once Obama got elected, people all over the world – including in the U.S. – started reacting positively at the fact we had elected a black man to the presidency.

Black voters interviewed by members of the press – particularly older ones, who had lived through depression-era segregation all the way up through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and '70s – celebrated. Some said they feel at home for the first time.

McCain, in his concession speech, brought race into the picture.

Media pundits declared the Bradley effect dead.

It feels like this election was never about race, but the reason for that is we have an economic crisis and two wars on our hands. Mitch reminds us that Obama's victory doesn't mean racism's dead in the U.S. He's right, of course. It just means race wasn't the top issue in this campaign.

There's still a lot of work to do, and it's not only racism that needs eradicating in the U.S.

Several states added constitutional amendments making gay marriage illegal. One state added an amendment – presumably aimed at gay couples – making it illegal for unmarried couples to adopt children.

Women still make less money than men for equal work – I've seen numbers that say women's salaries come in about 75% to 84% of men's salaries.

Some reading for you:

» The Housewife of the Revolution asks, "What are you doing to eliminate inequality?" Me: Doing the best I can to not use the privilege that comes with being a straight, white male.

» Keep it Trill wants to know how people in California could say Yes We Can to Obama, but No You Can't by passing Proposition 8.

» Here's one I found most illuminating, though: Jasmyne Cannick, a black lesbian, was out campaigning in force in California, but didn't feel the need to talk about Prop 8 at all, feeling a struggle she felt personally had been co-opted by a primarily white No On 8 movement.

Policing the vote: Twitter edition

You may have heard, but the U.S. is electing a president (and 435 U.S. representatives, and 30-odd senators, along with countless statewide and local officials) Tuesday, Nov. 4.

That's tomorrow, if you live stateside.

Not every state is fully compliant with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – New York falls into the "not compliant" category – and we're expecting at least some trouble, though hopefully it won't be as widespread as some people think it could be.

If you're in New York, by the way, you're probably using one of those lever machines. If you're not familiar with how they work, watch the video above.

Twitter, via the hashtags standard (more info), has set up some ways to for citizens to police the election.

If you run into minor issues (long lines, people holding signs too close to a polling place entrance), use a #votereport hashtag. Also add a #ZIPcode hashtag to be entered as a location. Check out the votereport aggregator here, including a map of where reports are coming in from.

If you have major troubles – people blocking entrances, not being allowed to vote, not being allowed to fill out a provisional ballot, that sort of thing – get Election Protection involved. You can call them at (866) OUR-VOTE (687-8683). On Twitter, use a #EPxx hashtag, where xx is your two-letter state abbreviation. Throw in a #ZIPcode for good measure. And let #votereport know, too.

What it comes down to is, the more information that's out there, the better. The more people know you plan to exercise your right to vote, the better.

EP has a New York voting FAQ here (Massachusetts - more).

I've also set up some hashtags for local folks. If you're writing about the election in Central New York, use a #votecny hashtag to get into the mix on syracuse.com's Twitter page.

The bottom line is, we're having an election tomorrow. This stuff's important, people.

NaNoWriMo, Take 2

Back in 2006 (all those years ago), I took a stab at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo/nanowrimo).

I didn't get too far.

The goal of nanowrimo is to churn out a 50,000-word novel between midnight on Nov. 1 and 11:59:59 p.m. Nov. 30.

That's 1,667 words per day, or about 70 words an hour (daylight savings time ends this month, so we get an extra hour).

In 2006, I set a goal of actually writing those 1,667 words each day. I did great for four days. When I missed one day, looking down the barrel of over 3,300 words got daunting, and I only got 1,000 out. That left me with 4,000 words the next day, and that was it for me.

I'm not going to be so much concerned with daily word counts this year. I may aim for 12,500 words a week, but even then, I'm not going to sweat it too much, because I know if I get going, I can churn out 5,000 words in a sitting, get up, stretch, grab a glass of water, and churn out another 5,000.

And this time, I'm going the creative non-fiction route. As far as fiction goes, I'm really good at creating characters, but just no good at having them do anything interesting. Fifty thousand words of character development with no plot just sounds miserable.

Also, I'm thinking if I do this correctly, I could sell it in pieces, rather than having to shop the whole thing. But maybe that's getting ahead of myself. But I'm geared up for this, think I can really do something fun this year.

I'll keep you apprised.

Christian Science Monitor about to break big ground

The Christian Science Monitor will announce in tomorrow's paper that in April of 2009, it's going to cease printing a daily edition, in favor of a weekly print edition and daily online offering.

This is both really scary and really exciting.

Scary. The CSM is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. It's won six Pulitzers and a special citation, and it might just have the best international coverage of any U.S.-focused news outlet. If a paper like that is having trouble, I'd have to worry about other, not-necessarily-so-amazing papers.

Of course, the CSM is based in Boston and serves a national audience, and there aren't many of those anyway.

Really exciting. I've long thought that newspapers' print editions should complement their online offerings, rather than vice-versa (for the record, this was my belief before I started working for a newspaper-affiliated Web site). The Web may be bottomless, but people tend to skim.

Print news hole, however, is not infinite, and furthermore, newsprint is fairly expensive, so you tend to fill as much as you have to, not as much as you can.

Ideally, what goes on the Web are all 300-to-500-word briefs and interactive elements like slideshows, photogalleries, videos, and Flash graphics. What goes in the paper would be 3,000-to-5,000-word versions of the best of the stories, along with large, interesting informational graphics.

The idea is not to see the two media as competing, and not even as places for duplicating content to reach a broader audience (though shovelware has, thankfully, gone out the window in most places). Instead, use each for its advantages. You don't need to cram another 200-word blurb about a fire at a vacant house into a corner of the paper, but you can stick it online and tie it to a 4,000-word piece about absentee owners and insurance fraud that's running in the paper.

The item the CSM put out about the switch cites a combination of 40 years of declining print circulation and a growing Web audience. I'm sure that could be said of almost every daily newspaper/Web site pair in the country – as our jobs become more mobile, our lives become more hectic and our wallets become thinner, we don't take as much time to read a newspaper, and if we're not taking the time to read it, many of us aren't buying it. But we're reading online, and through a variety of sources, including our mobile phones and headline aggregators, and through social media services like digg, Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, it's going to be tough, and I'm guessing they picked April 2009 because (a) they can ramp up the plan, (b) train people, and (c) have enough cash to get them through the next six months.

I think that a lot of companies are going to look at what the CSM does, and adopt or modify it as a concept. It's an influential news organization, and it's a changing world out there. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do.

East Woods Skate Plaza

I met this morning with some folks from the Eastwood Neighborhood Association.

One of the things they've been working on – in addition to ensuring safe sidewalks, clean neighborhoods, and good rental programs – is a skate plaza attached to Huntington Park.

It's quite a project they're proposing. I went over to the site with a couple of members after our meeting, and saw that some neighborhood kids had built a BMX course through the woods; those trails would circle the skate plaza.

The plan is for a multi-use plaza: there would be picnic tables, and the way the land is sloped, it could be used as an amphitheater, as well.

If you're questioning the need for a skate plaza, talk to shop owners who keep chasing skaters away; ask the county, who gated up the Everson Museum plaza so skaters would stop using it; ask the folks who have put up signs at the Village Mall in Liverpool that say "Final Warning: No Skateboarding or Rollerblading."

Why can't they just use the skate park at Onondaga Lake Park? A few reasons:

• It's too small for large groups, or for mixed groups of bikers and skaters
• It's not in their neighborhood; they need rides to get there
• You pay for 90-minute sessions, and have to rotate between skaters and bikers

Seriously, who wouldn't want something else to do for teenagers?

The National Guard, the ENA members told me, have been doing some mobile skate parks. This makes sense, as one of the members pointed out, because skateboarders are fit and athletic (even the best remote control skateboards users), they're very aware of what's around them, and they're disciplined enough to work at the same tricks over and over.

I'm going to start mocking up a Web site for them. It'll be a volunteer deal, and I'm going to do a combination of static design and using Blogger as a content management tool, much like I do for this site and a few others that I run.

I'll keep you posted; I'm excited about this project.

Thoughts on the Future Fund’s Fall Kick-Off

I went to the fall kick-off event Thursday for the Central New York Future Fund.

The Future Fund is a project of the CNY Community Foundation, and basically borrows an idea from microcredit.

When you make a microloan through an institution like Kiva, you're basically saying, "OK, here's someone who would never get a $500 small business loan from a bank, but if 20 of us can lend her $25, that'll get her to her goal, and if it turns out she can't pay us back, well, we're only out $25."

The Future Fund brings together young philanthropists who might want to increase their charitable footprint but don't have the capital to do so, to combine resources to make a greater impact.

OK, now I'm going to translate that into English.

The Future Fund asks a bunch of people for $100, or $250 or whatever, and combines their money into a $5,000 grant every year for some worthy organization.

I went into the kick-off figuring I was going to say no to putting up $100 because I know organizations that could do more with my $100 than some organizations could do with the Fund's $5,000.

I left the kick-off saying no for entirely different reasons.

The speaker, Community Foundation CEO Peter Dunn, invoked Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone.

Bowling Alone is a massive study done about civic engagement in the U.S. The title refers to the fact that bowling alleys are still doing well, but the number of people bowling in leagues is declining greatly.

It's not just bowling leagues that are suffering. Attendance is down at houses of worship; service organizations like the Elks and Rotary International are seeing declining memberships. You get the idea. More people are going it alone, and there's not a lot of gathering together.

This was Dunn's pitch: Let us pool this money together. We'll get a bunch of grant proposals, and the steering committee or advisory board will whittle down the proposals to a few finalists. Everyone who put money into the pot will then get the chance to visit all the finalists, vote on who you want to give the money to, and hopefully, while you're checking the organizations out, you'll make some connections and either want to give of your time or money once you meet them.

I can't fault people who honestly don't have time to do any volunteer work. If you're a young lawyer or doctor, you're putting in 80 hours a week, and maybe you're trying to start a family, or raise your already-young kids. If all you can do for charity is write a check, by all means write a check.

But I felt very much like the pitch was, "You don't want to put your time and energy into volunteering, and we understand that. Write us a check, and we promise we'll make you feel really good about it."

Assuming they get about 60 people to put up $100 (50 for the grant, and another $1,000 in operating costs – though I didn't ask to see their books, so I don't know how they roll), I'd be surprised if more than 10 actually do check out the organizations that are picked as finalists. I'd be surprised if five begin volunteering with one of the organizations.

Between SPaRC, the Art Forum, 40 Below, and a new project I'm hoping to get involved in this weekend, I volunteer a fair bit of my time and energy. What I think I got out of the kick-off last night was a look at what the Fund might look for from an organization I'm working with. I guess that's something.

For the love of God, stop talking and tear the thing down already

In 1989, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants played in the World Series. It was called "The Battle of the Bay." It dragged on forever, not because of long games, but because there was an earthquake that halted play for a little while.

Take 12 minutes or so to watch what San Francisco did with the part of their freeway that collapsed in that earthquake.


Video courtesy of Streetfilms

Now, why aren't we tearing down Interstate 81?

Other cities have moved or removed freeways with great success.

There are a lot of naysayers; let's look at the arguments.

It's too expensive. Actually, the raised portion of I-81 has been up about 10 years longer than it was meant to last, and it's going to cost roughly the same to tear it down as it would to rebuild.

Syracuse can't handle 60,000 additional cars getting off the highway and moving along city streets. If you build a street-level boulevard, you're likely to put a punch of businesses there, and traffic lights every quarter mile or so. If you're looking to head through the city, you're more likely to drive seven miles on the I-481/I-690 spur, than to get off the highway and drive five miles in stop-and-go traffic.

If you put a street-level boulevard, you get more pollution. This is maybe a valid argument, but maybe not. The item just above points out that traffic moving through the city probably wouldn't use it. And if there are businesses along the boulevard, you trade the pollution for the revenue. Or, gasp, you improve your mass transit so people don't have to drive on it. Repeat: gasp.

It takes longer to get places. Sorry, but Syracuse shouldn't be in the business of making sure people can get out of the city quickly. And if it's people trying to get into the city from the suburbs, maybe they'll just move into the city so they don't have to worry about it.

You risk losing lives if people can't take the highway to the hospitals. I disagree. I think that most people who take the highway to get to the hospitals are either (a) living out in the middle of nowhere, when they could be moving into the city (see item above), or (b) not in danger of dying, if they're not taking an ambulance, which can do highway speeds on local roads. Also, figure if you take out the elevated portion of I-81 – not the whole thing through the city – you're getting off at the same exit if you're going to St. Joe's, or another exit a half-mile away from the current one if you're going to Upstate.

I can't think of any reason you'd leave the thing up, frankly.