Creating a NOW chapter in Warren and Washington Counties

Last week in Granville NY (Washington Co.) a woman trying to leave a bad marriage was brutally slain by her estranged husband. Several months ago, another woman was hunted down and killed with a deer rifle at the Cumby's a few blocks from where I live in Glens Falls NY (Warren Co.) by her soon to be ex husband.
I am a longtime feminist activist. I want to form a NOW (National Organization for Women) chapter for Warren and Washington Counties. While there are many non profits that serve battered women, they are prohibited by law from endorsing candidates. NOW is not fettered by that mandate.

Enid Mastrianni
If you're interested in getting involved, please email enid.mastrianni [at] verizon [dot] net

Coalition to Free New York Conference Tomorrow

James Ostrowski, of the Free New York Blog and Free Buffalo, is hosting a conference in Owego tomorrow at the Treadway Inn and Conference Center. With topic questions such as "Where should the boundry of York State end?" and "Separating school and state" the conference looks to be an interesting melting pot of ideas about taking action to reform state governance. Matthew F. Guilbault, executive director of the New York State Taxpayers Union, will be speaking.

Tickets to the conference are available at the door, so if you're in the Owego area tomorrow (Saturday, September 30th) and looking for a lively discussion on curbing government spending and tax reform in New York, look no further than the Coalition to Free New York Conference.

A schedule and more information is available here. Thank to James for submitting this announcement.



Reading St. Lawrence County

"Literary imagination is incurably local..."--Dante, Divine Comedy*
"How do people imagine the lands they find themselves in?"
-Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams*

Yesterday, we recieved in the York Staters mailbox a short email from Christy up in the North Country about her great website Reading St. Lawrence County: Annotated Literary Highlights. Described as "an interactive regional literatures project," Reading St. Lawrence County is based upon her MA Thesis for the U of R about regional literature from St. Lawrence. In her introduction, she writes:

The study of regional literature is arguably a thing of the past. Perhaps it's because the term "regionalism" can muster up images of poor rural Victorians struggling against the industrialization of the modern era or stark pioneering families struggling against the environs of the American West. Regional literature is in its simplest definition the literature of a particular region, and depending on the region, this kind of study may perhaps seem outmoded or merely uninteresting in literary studies today... Admittedly, the regional literature of St. Lawrence County is all of these things--largely written in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, likely uninteresting to those without ties to the area, and completely left out of the larger canon of American Literature. However, this project unabashedly works against all of these disadvantages and seeks simply to compile a useful resource on the literary heritage of this Northern New York county for those interested in reading about it.

The heart of the website is a categorized listing of books written about the county and its citizens. Each contains a short description, photo of the cover and information about the author and publisher. This is a tremendous resource for historians and readers alike, primarily those within the County, but for anyone with an interest in the area. Thanks for the great work Christy!

-Posted by Jesse

Note: Those interested in Upstate Literature might also enjoy our Upstate Book List. -J

*Both are quoted from Reading St. Lawrence County.


Cooperatives in Action: Agriculture in the former East German state

Over the course of the history of this blog, I have repeatedly celebrated the benefits of cooperative economics[1] by bringing up exciting examples of collaborative projects going on throughout Upstate. However, I have never presented an example of how cooperative enterprise operates when it dominates an entire sector of an economy. The simple reason for this failure is the fact that I didn’t know of any such examples. If you will, I would like to look a bit further a field for my discussion today because all of that has changed since I began studying Eastern Europe.

The topic of this discussion will be the cooperative agricultural enterprises that have dominated what was once the German Democratic Republic (the GDR), better known to us as East Germany, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Before we move any further, I would it to be known outright that I am not a supporter of state-controlled economics in any form and have previously written my opposition to the state meddling in the economic sphere
[2]. I do not intend for this essay to be a validation of a command economy or a police state. What I do intend is to point out how the altered values of cooperative enterprises vis-à-vis purely capitalistic enterprises are highly beneficial to communities under severe economic duress.

Cooperatives in the ex-GDR are the direct descendents of collectives called “LPGs” during the communist era
[3]. Originally, the LPG was created out of a coalescence of agricultural cooperatives created in the 1940s and 50s—these institutions were made of freely associated small farmers who pooled their mechanical and technical needs. Pressure from the State eventually forced greater collectivization upon these cooperatives, creating the LPG, but were never able to undermine the ultimate nature of the cooperative: it was an enterprise owned and operated by those who worked it, not the State. Despite heavy control by the State apparatus, the LPG maintained greater autonomy than perhaps any other aspect of the GDR economy.

With the dissolution of the GDR in 1990, there was a concerted effort by the Federal Republic of Germany (the FRG), or West Germany, to eliminate all traces of the command economy. They were, however, hampered in the case of the LPG because of the fact that they were still technically owned by the members. Thus, the members of the LPGs were given the choice of remaining within the collective or becoming independent farmers. Remarkably, the vast majority of LPG members instead chose to reform their collectives back into the cooperatives they once were. The State began applying immense pressure upon these newly remade cooperatives: denying access to loans, refusing to renew leases on state owned lands, limiting their ability to gain or change quotas (especially in milk production). Simultaneously, the cooperatives were faced with the complete disintegration of the East German economy—the factories they once sold food too closed, their markets were flooded with Western produce, prices rose but profits remained stable. In general, by the mid-‘90s virtually no East German industry remained; what had been considered the world’s 10th strongest economy in 1989, by 1994 had been completely dismantled for the profit of the West.

But the cooperatives survived.

Not only that, but they had stood directly against the current of unemployment and decay that had swept East Germany: “an editorial in the Neue Landwirtschaft… calculates that between 1990 and 1993 an average of 25,000 workers were employed by cooperatives that were not actually needed… the fact remains that cooperatives have provided far more jobs both in absolute numbers and in relation to the surface cultivated than other types of farms” (Buechler and Buchler 178). Despite the freefall of the ex-GDR economy, “the statistics on agricultural cooperatives show a progressive stabilization of their numbers since the conversion of collectives was completed at the end of 1991. Their numbers continued to decrease between 1992 and 1998. That decrease slowed from 10.2% between 1992 and 1995 to 7.4% between 1995 and 1998… Given the prevalence of plan closings in other economic sectors, ‘the stability of the successor enterprises to the LPG is quite spectacular’ ” (ibid, 187).

Coming from a region of the world where absentee-ownership of all major sectors of the economy meant that we were particularly susceptible to mass layoffs, it is difficult to understand the ideological and economic reasons for the cooperatives maintenance of swollen employment rolls. There are, as I see it, three reasons for this phenomenon: 1) the basic nature of a cooperative, 2) new Capitalist values and 3) long held Cooperative-Socialist values.

Simply put, when a company is owned by those who work in it, it is far more difficult to lay them off. Managers recognize that their authority will disappear if the votes for them vanish. Simply put, in a cooperative lay-offs become the ultimate last resort; in East Germany, managers would employ every possible alternative before letting worker-owners go. The structure of the cooperative further influences continued employment because of the direct ties between management and labor: managers work with, live with (in the communist era) and are, in effect, part of the labor force. Many emerge from within the ranks of the cooperative and must maintain those ties in order to continue to enjoy re-election.

Secondly, the arrival of Capitalism put an emphasis upon greatest profit for the owners of a company; for the first time profit was king and the East Germans realized it quickly. For the cooperative manager unlike the corporate farm manager or the private farmer, the laborers in the farm are the ultimate reason for the farm’s existence. They have no higher master and no boss to answer to. Thus, the value of making profit for the owners and the reality of sending your owners into absolute poverty does not jive well.

Finally, the cooperative farm managers were steeped in values that were not of Capitalist origin, but instead harkened back to Socialist or pre-Socialist Cooperative days. As Buechler and Buechler write: “the cooperatives still hold on to the socialist ideals whereby priority is given to livelihood consideration for all over abstract principles of profit or economic aggrandizement of the management. They have done this at the cost of maintaining a modest image and relatively low compensation of their managers” (188). Simply put, the ideals of the Cooperative are real for the East Germans and have a measurable, positive influence upon an otherwise devastated economy.

What does this ponderous essay have to do with Upstate New York and our economic problems? For all of our troubles, we have had nothing of the economic destruction of the ex-GDR, yet at the same time our problems echo theirs and we can learn from both their mistakes and their successes. The value of cooperative enterprises, which is completely ignored by American policymakers and economists, to stabilize economies and protect jobs is the greatest lesson for those of us on this side of the Atlantic. The greatest difficulty that would face us in this regard is the fact that a cooperative enterprise benefits the workers, not the stockbrokers, corporate masters or other powerful elements in our society, thus there will always be little impetus for official aid for such experiments. However, we as citizens, as human beings for whom jobs are more important that corporate dividends, might begin to look for new ideas and new answers to our old problems. Perhaps its time that we look to the beleagured former Soviet Bloc for the solutions they’ve found to our shared problems.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] I have featured a potential purchasing cooperative in Saranac Lake, a Boston-area neighborhood initiative, local money systems in Ithaca, a cooperative kitchen in Washington County and my attempts to join “Cooperative Ownership Society” in Syracuse.
[2] For instance, I wrote Buffalo and New Orleans: Sisters in Suffering about how reliance upon Big Government and Big Corporations had betrayed those two cities and a more straightforward essay entitled The Promise of Government Development: Hiding Behind a Leaky Dike.
[3] The primary source for this essay is Contesting Agriculture: Cooperativism and Privatization in the New Eastern Germany by Hans C. and Judith-Maria Buechler (2002)


New York Times Explores New York State Town and Village Courts

The New York Times this morning unveiled the first part of the three part series, entitled Broken Bench, about "the life and history of New York State's Town and Village Courts."

The first installment details the lack of regulations and abuses within these small community courts. Many of the violations they uncovered are pretty egregious.They have an audio slide show showing the interiors and exteriors of town courts across the state.

I'm at work right now, but I will be picking away at this rather extensive article throughout the day, and amending to this post. You can read the first installment here: In Tiny Courts of New York, Abuses of Law and Power.

Posted by Natalie

Update: I feel as though this series demonstrates precisely why we need an Upstate Magazine. While our many of our local papers provide excellent investigative reports on local issues, there is nothing in place to explore Upstate issues in depth (as NYCO recently lamented in her article about Upstate's media problem.) We should have a framework and an outlet in place to do this kind of investigation, rather than having the New York Times do it for us. Not that I'm complaining about the Times, oh no. The article is fascinating.

A question that I have about the situation, which will perhaps be addressed in the future parts of the series, is whether or not having better educated justices would significantly curb abuses. Clearly some of the examples they cite are mistakes as the result of a lack of knowledge, but the article also touches on some knowing judicial and fiscal abuses that may not be cured simply by people with better knowledge. Are most of these mistakes made out of ignorance, willfull ignorance, or just plain malice and greed?

Also, would Upstate's small communities benefit from the professionalization of town justices? Assuming for the moment that funding for full time, or even reasonably paid part time, justice positions were avialable to attract those with background in the law, the people filling those positions wouldn't necessarily be members of the community.

Neither of these questions are arguments for keeping the system the way it is. To the contrary, I think the town justice system, like many of the other legal and political frameworks in New York State, could stand to be overhauled. But senstitively overhauled. Throwing money at the problem might change things, but it probably won't help.

On a local note, Dick Griffiths, Red Hook town justice, who was the head of my college's Buildings and Grounds department for over forty years passed away this weekend after a long battle with leukemia. I saw him speak at the debate for last years town elections, and while he was clearly not as smooth an orator as his opponent (a lawyer) he seemed like a very genuine man who had years of experience and the community's best interest at heart. He was re-elected. And he will be missed.

The first article ends with an invective to "the next governor" for reform to the system. Stay tuned for Part II and Part III of the New York Times article, and commentary from your friendly neighborhood York Staters. Further commentary and reaction can be found at NYCO's blog and at Sui Generis.


Deep thoughts about maple syrup

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven/a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted/a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up/a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecc 3:1-4

I was thrilled this morning when I stepped out of the house and found the air crisp and cool—the kind that catches in your throat in your first breath and gives you that single instant reminder that you are alive. I personally love the coming of Fall; to be absolutely honest, I’m a fan of the coming of each seasonal change: the first snows of Winter, the first crocuses of Spring, the first swimming day of Summer and the first gold and red leaves of Fall. The round of the year is mimicked in my social cycles: the beginning of school, Halloween and Thanksgiving, the glory of Christmas, birthdays, final exams and summer vacations. The land and my life reflect and inform one another in my mind and each change is celebrated with a rush of joy—knowing always that what is being left behind will be returned to, in its proper season.

Amongst many in our society, the round of the seasons seems to be a thing to dread, not celebrate. I talk to some friends, they speak wistfully of Southern California, where its always 70 degrees and sunny. Maybe I just don’t have enough experience with that type of life, but it sounds monotonous and horrible. It’s bad enough that we have self-contained little environments in our cars, stores and homes that never allow us to experience the subtle joys of changing weather. To homogenize it, to remove weather all together seems to be another way to take variety out of life. Perhaps its good for Californians, but let me keep my white Christmas.

This was originally going to be a post about maple syrup, believe it or not. Maple syrup, in my estimation, is about as close to ambrosia as us mere mortals can handle. I use it not only with my traditional pancakes, but as sweetener in most everything that needs sweetening (though I still stick to honey in tea)—it’s the touch of Upstate. According to the NYS Maple Producer’s Association:
“New York maple syrup 2006 production increased 14 percent from last year’s below-average crop. Syrup production is estimated at 253,000 gallons, up from the 222,000 gallons produced in 2005... Only two states, Vermont and Maine, produced more syrup. The number of taps, 1.53 million, increased 8 percent from last year.”
To bring this post back around (that is the theme after all), maple syrup is the last gift of dying winter, one of the first harbingers of Spring. The maple trees themselves must be 30 years old before they can be tapped, thus a working sugar bush is a product of foresight, planning and patience—the antithesis of modern Capitalism, but of great value in the sustainable society I hope to see emerging. Maple syrup is local food made by local people.

So, the next time that you think about the turn of the year and wish that winter would just end already remember maple syrup, which is the distilled whisper of the summer sunshine two years previous[i]. And the next time you have pancakes and you pour on that Real NYS Maple Syrup, you might think about how you’re enjoying the hard work of the tappers and boilers and the foresight of our mothers, fathers and grandparents. That sounds like quite a bit for breakfast, but if you’re eating maple syrup, chances are you don’t have a cereal box to read.

-by Jesse

[i] The math goes like this: if you are eating maple syrup in the winter, you’ve probably gotten it from the boiling the previous Spring. That syrup is boiled down from sap, which is itself created using the sunshine from the previous summer’s growing season. So the maple syrup we eat now was made in the tree two summers ago.


A whole lotta pig

This summer at the State Fair I met a giant from Central New York, no not the Cardiff Giant, but Big Norm of Hubbardsville, NY, the world’s largest known pig. Approximately 1600 pounds, eight feet long and four feet wide, Norm is an unprecedented natural phenomenon. Interestingly, according to his first owner, Robert Peterson, Norm was originally fed no more than the other pigs at his small farm, but grew to tremendous size. Peterson, who long suffered from heart trouble, passed away in 2004 just as the Big Norm phenomenon burst onto the CNY stage. Today, Norm appears at the Fair and can be found on t-shirts, sweatshirts and other apparel and in local and national newspapers.

I must say, that personally seeing Norm is a strange event. At the Fair, they had a sizeable tent that one could enter after paying a dollar. Inside, behind grubby plastic walls were a muddy area and a single, huge pig. This beast was massive, literally comparative to an
American Bison, the largest North American land mammal.

My feelings upon viewing the pig were mixed. For one, this is uber-fair material—I can think of no display more appropriate to the State Fair than a giant pig. At the same time, I find something awkward and mildly disturbing about paying to view living beings, human and animal, on display for their own “freakishness.” We also stopped by to see ‘Tiny Tina,’ who was only something like 30 inches tall; I was even more uncomfortable here, despite the fact that I knew that this was this woman’s job (which she entered willingly) and that many ‘sideshow freaks’ have been proud of their profession over the years. Both Big Norm and Tiny Tina raised difficult questions about normalcy, the boundaries of good taste in entertainment and the commodification of ‘freakishness.’

Perhaps for me the biggest saving grace of Norm were his ties to a specific form of rural living. According to the
Department of Labor, the majority of those engaged in farming in the United States today are part-timers, those who raise a few pigs or chickens or have a farm stand based off of their overgrown gardens/small farms. Norm could not have emerged from an industrial farm that takes no pleasure in the abnormal or exceptional, but attempts to fit all production (living things) into factory-like homogeneity. A fast-growing, big-eating pig would not have survived in those conditions, just like anything that deviates from a strict definition of profitability (though at a buck a head, I’m sure Norm’s current owners are making a killing). Don’t we have a society that at the same time that it claims to celebrate individuality and diversity, instead attempts to homogenize and force our expression into a handful of areas that are easily commodified and sold? I’m thinking about fashion, music, movies, cars, computers and all of the other things that are mass-produced and sold to us so that we can feel unique and special. Norm perhaps reminds us that its possible for a creature to be special and unique without all that effort.

I suppose that in the end I will salute Norm and his kind—the freaks whose existence breaks the norm (no pun intended) and who remind us that life doesn’t always fit into little categories and that for every average size (or average anything), there are always outliers… and that the outlier, the Norm, is as legitimate an expression of that phenomenon (whether it be a pig or a piece of art) as the norm.

-Posted by Jesse
Photo from http://www.worldsbigpig.com/.


Additions to the Reading List

Our Upstate Reading List has grown, thanks to four great suggestions by Jenn C. If you have any suggestions for books to add, drop us an email at york.staters (at) gmail (dot) com. Also, if you've like to get in more depth about an Upstate work, feel free to submit a full-length book review for us to post. We've also added a new quote to the Quote Board, courtesy of Natalie: "And here's 10 Canadian dollars from your trip to Upstate New York!" -Principal Skinner discussing souvenirs from The Simpsons, The Prince and The Pauper espisode.
A Northern Light
By Jennifer Donnelly
Suggested by Jenn C.
“ “This is a fictionalized account of the Grace Brown murder which happened a century ago in Herkimer County. It is told through the eyes of a young teen-aged girl who is working as a maid in a hotel in the Adirondacks. The book is considered young adult, but I have loaned it to several adults who have found it to be a great read. Interesting to contrast with An American Tragedy.”
The Lake of Dead Languages
By Carol Goodman
Suggested by Jenn C.
“ “A Latin teacher returns to teach at her alma mater. While she was a student there twenty years ago, her roomate committed suicide, and present events make her fear that history may repeat itself. This novel is set at a fictional girls' boarding school outside of Glens Falls. All of Carol Goodman's novels (The Ghost Orchid, The Seduction of Water, The Drowning Tree) are set, at least partially in Upstate New York, and are enjoyable reads if you like gothic mysteries. ”
Ghost Story
By Peter Straub
Suggested by Jenn C.
“ “If you like Stephen King, you'll love Peter Straub. Five friends accidentally kill a young woman. Years later, they are stalked by the spirit of the woman. One of their nephews, Don Wanderly, is called to help figure out what is happening to them. The story takes place in the fictional town of Milburn, New York, somewhere near Binghamton. One of the characters is a Cornell alum. Very scary and hard to put down! ”
By Eugena Pilek
Suggested by Jenn C.
“ “This book contains a cast of eccentric characters that reminded me of Richard Russo's Empire Falls. A group of friends unearth a secret that could destroy Cooperstown's claim as the birthplace of baseball. In the meantime, potential development threatens the town's status as America's favorite small town.”


Tokenism in Utica

Since the 1960s and 70s, the movements for the empowerment of minority groups and women have had some great successes (and some major disappointments). One of the victories that is worth discussing is the way that today history as told by and about white men has been contested. Our understanding of American and world history has been deeply enriched by the emergence of so many repressed voices-- not to mention that the reclamation of history has led to pride and empowerment amongst modern people.

At the same time, a desire for "political correctness" and for every community to find women's and black history has led to a new type of demeaning tokenism and widespread pigeonholing. The picture at the top of this post is a picture of Utica's attempt to recognize the accomplishments of women. The plaque reads: "The City of Utica dedicates this park in the memory of Maryann Riggalls-Coyne. Her bold spirit helped forge opportunities for past and future generations of women. In both industry and the community, as one of the first females in such business organizations as the Mohawk Builder's Exchange and such civic organizations as Rotary, Ms. Riggalls-Coyne lead the way for all women to dream, to lead and to accomplish."

Now don't get me wrong, I stand firmly behind movements to write the history of suppressed peoples into the landscape using monuments, plaques and similar measures. What I do have a problem with is an organization like the City of Utica creating a token to this movement: a tiny little strip of grass in the heart of a blasted post-industrial ghetto.

Utica has, according to it's Parks and Recreation Website, 39 parks and monuments-an impressive number. To then go ahead and declare that "this one" is about women is insulting. Contrary to its goal of empowering women, it instead reinforces a gender hierarchy by implying that women's concerns are inferior and that women's accomplishments deserve only a median strip in the brownfields. Maybe we should erect plaques to Hispanic entrepreneurs in janitor's closets? Perhaps naming bathrooms in bus stations after Martin Luther King would be a fitting tribute?

This type of insulting bow to "political correctness" is repeated time and time again, not only in our monuments, but in our rituals surrounding history and our celebration of culture. The call for a recognition of Blacks in history is amongst the noblest of traditions, but to segregate it into a single "Black History Month," makes the inference that Black history is not common history that affects all of us but some indulgement of only Black people. It allows for the other 11 months to be the unchallenged domain of White history. Instead of Black History Month, we need a year-round people's history that recognizes that dynamic interplay of all of the peoples that forged the present world.

Likewise, our Upstate cities do not need another Martin Luther King Boulevard. Dr. King's actions deserve celebration, but by having an MLK Boulevard in every city as an antidote to racist street naming patterns systematically denies the existence of local African-American communities and their importance in our own histories. By doing that, it justifies racist ideologies within our cities that view Blacks as recent interlopers from NYC coming up to prey on our decaying communities instead of the long-term community members and humans worthy of dignity that they are.
Just because a plaque contains a touching tribute that calls for empowerment and uplift of women doesn't mean that the message won't be drowned out by the surroundings, it may in fact serve to send subtle messages to young women that their accomplishments will never be truly appreciated.

Just because we have a Black History Month doesn't mean that the story of Black folk will be integrated into the general American story, it may in fact justify their continued exclusion.

Just because we name a road after Dr. Martin Luther King doesn't mean that we recognize the accomplishments of local Black people, it may in fact hinder their recognition.

-By Jesse


The Cooperative Ownership Society

The "ownership society" is a hot topic todays, but, like most big-government propaganda slogans, it doesn't mean much in an of itself. What exactly is owned? Does it mean people take ownership of their actions? That people own more things? That somebody else owns your genes, water, air, roads and future?

Well, I decided when I moved to Syracuse to put the best spin on the topic that I could and run a little experiment. I wanted to see if I could become part of a cooperative ownership society here in the 'Cuse, one where people worked together to improve their common lot.

So far, the three main vehicles that I have used in this quest are three Westcott institutions: the Real-Food Co-Op, the Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union and the Westcott Community Center. I joined all three the first week, which was perhaps a bit hasty, since you can't access your SCFCU account for 10 days after it is opened (security reasons of some sort) and joining the Co-Op takes a hefty $105... so I was a bit short of cash for a few days.

Since then, though, things have gone quite a bit smoother. I have all of my money in credit union accounts, buy about 85% of my food from the co-op and I keep my eyes peeled for interesting Community Center events. For those looking at the dollars and cents of the picture, my actions seem a bit idealistic and costly. I will admit that the Co-Op tends to be a bit on the expensive side and that I would probably make 5x more on interest if I invested my savings instead of putting them in the low dividend credit union accounts. To make up the difference, I've been mending my clothes instead of throwing them out, shopping in thrift shops and yard sales and walking or biking almost everywhere.

However, there is something that I've noticed as I walk around the neighborhood doing my daily chores. Out front of the branch library, I see a sign that says that rennovations were done to the building partly through funds donated from the Co-Op and the SCFCU. The community center has given out free lunches to children and perennial bulbs to brighten my walk, also with money from those two organizations. They've invested in pocket parks, shaded benches, the Westcott Street Cultural Fair and local businesses. Because of them, local farmers grow food with dignity and without poisoning the land and local restaurants open up serving great food.

Through investing in a cooperative ownership society, the people of the Westcott Neighborhood have transformed what could be a "student ghetto" into a diverse and vibrant neighborhood. Though I wear mended shirts and have to sometimes walk when I don't want to, I can also enjoy parks, flowers and the fellowship of my neighbors.

How can you get into this type of ownership? Its not required that you throw all your money in low dividend accounts or shop only at a co-op carrying canvas bags; a good friend of mine who is has a bit tighter budget than me has instead put half of his savings in the Credit Union and buys food from the co-op when he can afford it. You neighborhood may have community centers, co-ops, credit unions, neighborhood assemblys, cultural groups, etc that you can throw your support to.

The way I see it, those dollars are better spent building parks and libraries, feeding kids and planting flowers than they are in the big banks paying for soft money contributions, funding the destruction of the rainforest or putting guns in the hands of dictators. It's all about what kind of ownership you desire.

-by Jesse


Some Adirondack Imagery: Blue Mountain Lake, The Hudson at North River, and Sagamore Lake

Some pictures I took last summer in the Adirondacks.
My body's in the office, but my mind is in the mountains.

- Posted by Natalie


Tastes of the Region #11: Mary's Pizzeria

I come from Dunkirk. It is a little steel town, or used-to-be steel town, about 40 miles southwest of Buffalo, on Lake Erie. When I was born, the city had around 18,000 people. It's down now to 12,000 or 13,000. That does not sound so dramatic, maybe, but when you go there you understand what losing 30 or 40 percent of your population does to a city.

My parents are buried in a cemetery there. Of my siblings, two passed too young, one moved to North Carolina, one moved to Ohio, and one is still in Dunkirk. It will be a hard day if and when that brother leaves, and my teen-age boy and I went back to visit him (and his family) last summer. We parked the car at Point Gratiot, a park on Lake Erie where you often saw red-headed woodpeckers, at least if you hadn't knocked back too much Koch's Black Horse Ale (lamentably, that Dunkirk bewery shut down just before the burst of interest in exotic local brands) and then we went for a run through Dunkirk, where every step was an explosion of childhood memories, before we got downtown and got my brother at the office where he works ...

And got ourselves a Mary's pizza for lunch.

Mary's Pizzeria is in a little storefront near what once was downtown Dunkirk, before they leveled much of the area in the 1970s to get ready for the mall that would save the city, a mall that somehow never got built, leaving a vast open area in what used to be downtown. Mary's survived. It was a little grocery store when I was a kid, not far from "Progress Park" - an industrial area given that name after Alco shut its doors and Dunkirk convinced several smaller companies (including Roblin Steel and Kraft) to open up in the yards of the old railroad works. I spent a summer working for Kraft, helping to make jelly in a hot, sweaty Hades-like room where big-bellied men on forklifts threw around great barrels of sugar while the kids there for the summer did the dumping and the lifting, although, to be fair, Kraft did pay well...

Now it's gone. Just like Roblin. Just like Marsh Valve. Just like Allegheny Ludlum.

Mary's survives. The proprietor, herself, in her 80s, still lives in the building, a young clerk told me as she boxed up our pizza. At some point they switched from corner store to pizzeria, and the pizza is come-back-to-Dunkirk wonderful, with a hot, sweet sauce not quite any other I've tasted. I took my kids once to see the Goo Goo Dolls in concert on a homecoming trip to Buffalo, and Johnny Rzeznik said his favorite part of coming home was that he ate like a pig, because he really believed the Buffalo area had the best pizza in the country ...

High praise, and when he said that, I thought of Mary's.

- Sean Kirst, January 2006

Editor's Note: We loved Sean's evocative portrait of his home city and his favorite pizza when he sent it to us in January, but we felt it was too soon after posting contributer Joe's remembrance of Brozetti's Pizza in Johnson City to return to the pizza topic. We vowed to hold on to it and post it later, and of course time got away from us and we forgot about it (sorry, Sean!) until he reminded us in his comment on this post. We hope you've enjoyed this (belated) addition to our Taste of the Region series- Natalie


Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church

I found this great picture of the Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church on Dick's Picks. Dick Bower, the photographer and webmaster, is based out of Johnson City (coincidentally, my hometown and the location of the Church); he's got some great shots of various buildings, natural sites, etc throughout Upstate New York.

The Church itself is one of the most beautiful and architectually distinctive buildings in the Triple Cities. I was fortunate enough to take a guided tour of the iconography last Spring during the annual Ukrainian Heritage Festival. The building, and all of its interiors, are made of hand-carved, beautifully polished hardwoods in a traditional fashion. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is a little-known sect-- they are Roman Catholics (thus they recognize the authority of Rome) but follow Eastern Rite (like the Orthodox Church). It all goes back to the politics after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, which I won't detail here (it was dry enough when the priest explained it to me at the Church), but suffice to say that the most striking feature of the Church is that the priests are considered to be Catholic and yet can be married-- as per Eastern tradition.

Raises a few questions about the mainline Catholic Church's statement that having priests marry would break down the foundations of the Church community, doesn't it?

Those interested in more about the distinguishing features of the Triple Cities and why it's a great place to live, check out Sara's Binghamton Page.

-Posted by Jesse


York Stater of the Month, September 2006: JP Wing

With Labor Day past, the news has noted (largely in discussion of gas price fluctuations) that the traditional "summer driving season" is over. But there are still many good weekends ahead for road trips before Upstate's legendary snows make casual driving imprudent. As fall colors turn out and crisp weather returns, there is a lot to see across New York State. This is perhaps the nicest time of year for such jaunts, and that is why this month we pay tribute to the consummate chronicler of upstate roads, JP Wing.
a vintage view of Interstate 81 in Syracuse from Upstate NY Roads

Upstate NY Roads is a fascinating and comprehensive website about our state's roads, and has the answers to innumerable questions, such as: How many Route 9's are there? Answer: 11 (not including the 4 decommissioned ones) How many miles does Route 20 cover? Answer: 372.33. Why doesn't Onondaga County have any county routes? Answer: It does, they just aren't marked. Nearly everything you'd want to know about upstate roads can be found on Upstate NY Roads, with the kind of lasting dedication only a true road enthusiast could show. Who else could write an article about new road sign fonts?

Exploring the highways and byways of New York with long time partner Earl, assembling a large body of photographs of everything from mile markers to sign mistakes. The have visited all 62 counties of New York State, and while they are based in Central New York, the site covers the entire state from the western terminus of Route 20 to the Taconic State Parkway and everywhere in between.

JP Wing does more than just research and chronicle the roads of Upstate NY; he endeavors to make them better. Wing's The Renumber New York Project is a project conceived for the public convenience and public good. A step by step plan of rolling the exit numbering system over from sequential numbers to mile distances, he explores the benefits the new system would have for drivers, and how to execute the project at a low cost to the DOT.

Wing has my admiration, for his focus and depth, and his tirelessness (he started Upstate NY Roads in 1997.) His dedication makes him an exemplary York Stater, and that's why he is our September York Stater of the Month!

Posted by Natalie


Welcome new visitors

To those who are visiting York Staters for the first time, or even those who only stop by occasionally, welcome!

Our website is an experiment in increasing regional debate and identity throughout Upstate New York by providing a forum for discussion. Our mission statement perhaps best sums up our mindset and goals:

"In a vast state that has always been dominated in the national consciousness by a few measly islands, New York has long been synonymous with New York City. Everything else is, sometime contemptuously, referred to as 'Upstate.' And geographically speaking, that’s where we in the rest of the state exist.

And so we are termed 'Upstate New Yorkers.' But personally, communally, regionally, are we merely a footnote to the story of New York State? Second class citizens residing in some hayseed cultural backwater that is merely a place for second homes, colleges,
and prisons? For people who now or at one time have made their homes Upstate, the answer is no. Upstate New York has its own rich history, culture, and communities worth considering, worth investigating, and maybe even worth celebrating. The term 'York Staters' reflects these facts and contributes to something that in this age of rapidly homogenizing culture can too often be lost: a regional identity. One made up of smaller local identities, to be sure:
the York Staters from Buffalo to inside the Blue Line have as many differences as they do similarities. And York Staters is a place to share them."

I encourage new visitors to take a look at our subpages, for which you will find links on the right hand column. Our Mission describes who we are what what we do. Below that are the guidelines for Submissions; we are a community blog and encourage you, the Yorkstater, to submit your writings to our discussion. The remaining subpages are devoted to our projects: The Yorkstater of the Month Gallery (which honors one resident who is doing his or her best to make Upstate a better place to live), Upstate Essays (a listing of our favorite posts from the history of Yorkstaters), Tastes of the Region (one of our most popular areas, each edition features a food unique to our region, its history and how to make it), What's in a Name? (discussions of the histories of unique place names), Great Books (the Upstate Reading List) and the famous York State Quote Board.

If you wish to sendus hate mail or fan mail, submit articles, photos, quotes for the quote board, suggestions for things for us to write about or books for our Reading List, please drop us an email at york.staters (at) gmail (dot) com. We also love comments on our posts as debate is impossible without your opinions. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the site.

-Jesse, co-editor of York Staters.

Adventures at the State Fair

For me, the State Fair is inevitably intertwined with memories of the Johnson City High School Marching Band (Go Cats!). From grades 8 to 12, every Labor Day weekend, the Band would travel to the NYS Marching Band Competition at the Fair, spend the day there and then return triumphantly (or dejectedly, depending on the year) to our home festival, the Johnson City Field Days. Even today, fried pickles, the Footsie-Wootsie and the infamous Angel the Snake Woman with no arms or legs or bones in her body who talks to you are bound up with memories of polyester cumberbunds, sore shoulders (I was a Sousaphone player) and wacky band pranks.

However, last weekend I attended the Great New York State Fair for the first time in my memory as a mere civilian. In some ways, I was dreading the experience--I didn't think it could live up to, or would somehow cheapen, the memories- but I was wrong. The Fair was great, just that perfect mixture of sentimental kitsch and slightly vulgar entertainment.

My first stop at the Fair was on Friday in response to a most unique invitation. I received an email from Sean Kirst, a collumnist and blogger from the Syracuse Post Standard inviting me to join him and other Syracuse blogger for Dinosaur BBQ in the Fair's central courtyard. How could I turn that down?

It's always strange to meet someone that you've only known online. Inevitably, you've formed a picture in your head of who they are physically and socially based off of their words. Sometimes you're right, sometimes your wrong, but for me the mere experience of that first face-to-face encounter always brings home the fact that you're already pre-disposed.

Attending what Natalie calls "Bloggercon 2006" were (I'm going to use Blognames since that's how you probably know them) Sean Kirst, NYCO, Balogh, Josh and Phil. Other blogs have already weighed in on the event and Sean actually wrote an article in the paper (provoking me to send an email to my mother entitled "Look Mom, I'm Famous!"), but I thought now that I've had a chance to reflect I would put down my two cents.

The topics discussed ranged from the lack of an Upstate-wide newspaper of record (a topic NYCO first brought up on her site) to corruption and institutional selfishness in local government and the abolishment of county government. It was refreshing to discuss face to face the issues and ideas that we have for so long only articulated here, on our electronic selves. My human to human debates these days tend to revolve more around dead anthropological theorists (the life of a grad student) than the future of our communities and it was a refreshing change of pace. I could think of no place more symbolically potent for the talk than Kirst's choice of the Dinosaur BBQ tent at the Fair, though actually finding a table might have been an improvement over the benches we ended up at.

In the end, I left the discussion refreshed and excited. I was flattered by the invitation, since my status as a "Syracuse Blogger" is still relatively new and with the attention given to us since (Josh in particular seems to be buttering me up for something). My great hope is that we will all be energized to continue to speak truth to power and improve the state of civic debate within not just Syracuse, but all of Upstate New York. Every chink in the armor will be necessary to bring Goliath down, because I'm not counting upon a divine stone to the forehead anymore.

-Posted by Jesse


"The York Staters Manners Should Be Beyond Reproach"

From my friend Heather's and my ramblings around upstate this Labor Day, an unusually polite 'no trespassing' sign. Jesse said it called to mind a quote about York Staters superior manners I'd issued last year.
Seen on a covered bridge just off Route 20. Maybe Oneida County, maybe Otsego...does anyone know?

Posted by Natalie


Buffalo '66, a film review

Perhaps Vincent Gallo is not the type of poster-child that Buffalo's PR handlers would prefer: his first film brought boos and catcalls from the audience of Cannes and showed un-simulated fellatio, his statements are often crude and racist (he put a "hex" on Roger Ebert and claimed to cause his colon cancer and put himself up as an escort "even for black chicks") was arrested for flashing and regularly displays a reactionary, selfish, spiteful attitude: "I stopped painting in 1990 at the peak of my success just to deny people my beautiful paintings, and I did it out of spite."

However, in 1998 Vincent Gallo produced a low-budget film entitled "
Buffalo '66" that perhaps best captures the soul of devastated Buffalo during the dark days when industry collapsed and the Steel Belt rusted. Gallo's film is not uplifting or funny, but stark and real. In many ways similar to the Coen Brother's masterpiece Fargo it is a picture of a world, Buffalo, and the things that human beings do to one another in it. At times, such as with his mother's obsession with the Bills or his father's murder of his puppy as a child, the film borders on the absurd but it never pushes completely beyond reality. It certainly never leaves Buffalo.

The basic plot of the film is that Billy, Gallo's character, is released from prison. It turns out that he has been lying to his parents for years, claiming to work for the CIA and therefore out of communication. He plans to go home for one visit before murdering the Buffalo Bills kicker that he blames his imprisonment on (the plot gets a bit more complicated here), but there is one catch: he told his parents he was married and needs a wife. Desperate, he kidnappes Layla (Christina Ricci) and coerces her to pose as his wife for an incredibly awkward homecoming.

The film is a collection of juxtaposed contradictions and confusions: a city without jobs, a family without love, an unnecessary kidnapping that becomes the emotional center of two lives and a conflicting tangle of lies whose targets care so little that they never see them.

Do I like Buffalo '66? Well, I own a copy and would suggest it to others, but it is not a film that I enjoy. It is a story, a snapshot, of a world that is compelling and true especially in comparison with the last film I saw set in Buffalo, Bruce Almighty. Buffalo '66 is about a place and time that was filled with contradictions, lies and violence and it does not shrink from that, but it also does not revel in them, but also shows that the actors within those circumstances are still human and in the end gives perhaps a glimmer of hope.


Oh Cannonsville!, part deux

Gary Teed, author of the song, "Oh Cannonsville!," which we featured a few weeks ago, has sent us this link so you can listen to a recording of the tune. Gary writes this about the tune:

"Let me have any ideas you may have for it. I want to make sure I do my best for this song. Joyce at the Delaware County geneology page is going to put this song on the Cannonsville page along with a panorama photo I took of the resevoir in 2001."
For those of you who missed the first discussion of the tune, Cannonsville was a thriving Catskill village that was siezed through eminent domain (the same technique that is threatened in the NYRI struggle) and flooded to create the Cannonsville Reservoir. A former resident of the village, Gary sings about the community he loved and lost. If you're interested in other towns destroyed by the NYC reservoirs and the music they've inspired, check out this article on Ashokan.

-Posted by Jesse

Update 9.10.06: The song can be found on the Delaware County Historical Society website here. Also, Gary supplied us with this image to accompany the song.



I think promoting an Upstate/Downstate dichotomy is both foolish and counterproductive. These people are not our enemies; they're decent people doing their jobs, paying their taxes and trying to raise their children to do the same.
I believe the pot is stirred by people with an agenda. As a lifetime resident of Syracuse, I can tell you that it's usually done to deflect attention away from an inbred political elite that has dominated local politics and government for decades. While our area stagnated then declined, these individuals passed office directly to other family members and opened the public treasury to their friends.
In the early 60s, Interstate 81 was run through Syracuse. East of Downtown it followed the New York Central tracks; to the North the old Oswego Canal, and to the West the shore of Onondaga Lake. However, to the South it cut through urban neighborhoods.
One of these was the minority-dominated 18th Ward. A huge area between Downtown Syracuse and the highway was demolished. We were offered grand plans for development, complete with models of modern high-rise office towers and the like. In the end, we got empty, weed choked lots that were covered in gravel and used for county employee parking.
Later, a group including a former State Senator and State Republican Chairman proposed an "Avenue Of the Arts". A local physician questioned the project and had her license stripped by GOP appointees under questionable circumstances. The Senator and former Chair sued the City School District - in effect the children of Syracuse - and collected millions of dollars. The citizens of Syracuse got a gutted hulk which used to be a beautiful Masonic Temple with woodwork and furniture by Gustav Stickley and two derelict buildings which have since been resurrected.
Syracuse and Onondaga County built a new ballpark. Reversing a national trend, it was not built downtown, but rather next to the old facility. Instead of revitalizing the city center as was done with every other comparable facility built in the last decades, ours is surrounded by acres of asphalt and malodorous, mosquito-breeding swamps. Fans drive to the games and leave immediately because there are no restaurants or other amenities to attract them.
Today, a local developer is demanding tax breaks to expand his shopping mall. Again we are being shown grand plans. However, the actual plan calls for nothing more than enclosing an area the size of a JC Penny store. When City Councilors balked, the local DA - an associate of the developer's son - iniated a Grand Jury probe of their vote.
Through all of this, the same families get nominated for office after office. A recent Family Court vacancy had the Republicans consider a relative of the current County Executive or the daughter of the former CE (Onondaga County has had only two County Executives since the system was begun in the early 1960s). Our Congressman is the son of the former Congressman, and a retiring State Legislator actually had a press conference to announce his son would be handed the job.
The cost of this inbreeding is not just fossilized government and antiquated thinking. It translates to a total private-sector job loss of 1.3% since 1990, with the national growth at 22.6%. This 24% differential corresponds to the percentage of young, educated workers fleeing this area in search of employment. Our median household income is half the national median.
Our "leaders" respond by playing the New York City card. This was done before during the 1960s when Medicaid was instituted. Our politicians, including the State Senator who profited from the Avenue Of The Arts debacle, insisted each county pay its own Medicaid costs so we wouldn't have to pay for "New York City". (At the time NYC was used as a well-known code word for African-Americans). Today, Upstate is choking on the staggering costs this foolish, parochial and bigoted way of thinking.
We MUST end the false division and question the motives and rationales of those who promote it. Suggesting people from the Downstate counties are somehow robbing us blind and blocking our prosperity is too often the stock in trade of those who actually do.
Johnny Salami
Syracuse NY