February 1, 2009

Tenth month of Sungiva

There's a little girl starting to emerge from our baby Sungiva as she crawls around, pulls herself up on a regular basis, and gets better at making it clear what she wants.

Sungiva tries sidesaddle on the rocking horse.
Sungiva tries sidesaddle on the rocking horse.

Sungiva feeds Sprocket in exchange for some petting (okay, fur-pulling).
Sungiva feeds Sprocket in exchange for some petting (okay, fur-pulling).

"I know they use this to call my grandparents!"
"I know they use this to call my grandparents!"

She gets more amazing every day. If you'd like to see more amazingness, I've also posted a gallery.

Posted by simon at 8:11 PM Comment

February 7, 2009

More caucusing

It seems that the County Legislature has finally sorted out who's in charge and appointed committee heads. The bigger problem, though, isn't just who's in control, but the total process botch that made it clear that key legislative conversations happen in private, for both parties. I'm completely with the Journal's editorial criticizing routine caucuses, and pleased that they printed a small notice about it regularly. (They also followed up with a piece on state government.)

Unfortunately, I can't respond with anything other than hysterical laughter to Marty Luster and Barbara Mink's letter supporting caucuses. I like Barbara Mink, but why would she co-sign a letter with a former state legislator, in support of the institution that both houses of that legislature abuse constantly? Luster might have tried to overthrow Sheldon Silver, but he still seems completely wedded to the culture of secrecy and power that makes Albany so incredibly useless to its citizens and opaque even to federal investigators. He has negative credibility on this issue, and this letter is a sad statement about his lack of interest in actual, you know, democracy.

There's a brief note on village elections, including Dryden, though I don't see Freeville there.

Meanwhile, the proposed Dryden DOT building that sparked a series of Village of Dryden annexations never got sorted out, which I think is sad testimony to the efficiency of our state government and this project's main sponsor, State Senator James Seward.

And someone decided that flattening school bus tires was a good idea, closing school for a day. It's amazing how much damage an individual or a small group can do.

Posted by simon at 11:52 AM Comment

February 11, 2009

Tomorrow the big day for Lincoln speech

An event in New York City tomorrow may have some big reverberations in Dryden. Christie's will be auctioning the original manuscript of Abraham Lincoln's 1864 victory speech, for a hoped-for $3 to $4 million. The Southworth Library, owner of the manuscript, is hoping to build an addition with the money, expanding the library significantly.

They'll be having an auction party at 11:30am tomorrow to watch. There's been lots of interest in Abraham Lincoln lately, and hopefully this can make a big difference for Dryden. You can see more on it at ABC and MSNBC.

In other local news, Cathy Wakeman reports on Valentine's Day activities around Dryden, including my favorite annual event, the Etna Chocolate Festival.

TCAT is contemplating cutting routes. They don't mention it in the article, but I understand the 54 through Varna, Turkey Hill Road, and Ellis Hollow is on the chopping block.

Finally, there's a letter to the editor supporting Randy Sterling for Mayor. It brought back old memories of Republicans complaining that letters supporting Democrats sometimes came from Ithaca, and that that was evidence of how Democrats just didn't have "Dryden values" and such. I guess Republicans must have dropped that line of argument over time.

Posted by simon at 6:38 AM Comment

February 12, 2009

Your state tax dollars supported...


It's been clear for years that the Republicans in the State Senate used state money to keep their operations afloat, but on this scale? That's an amazing patronage and PR infrastructure.

We need more transparency, period. The only reason this nonsense can go on is that nobody talks about it while those benefiting from it are in power.

(And no, I don't think slicing the minority party's staff allotment is smart, though I'd appreciate the Republican party maybe sending the state a few bucks to cover their plainly political use of tax dollars over the past few decades.)

Posted by simon at 8:28 AM Comment

A few million dollars for the Southworth Library

It looks like Dryden will be getting its own micro-stimulus package, thanks to the record $3.44 million a buyer paid for the Lincoln victory speech they auctioned today. You can see more reporting on it here.

I was worried about the sale in the light of the current economy, but it looks like interest in Lincoln prevailed nonetheless. I hope they'll be able to build an excellent addition to the building!

Posted by simon at 3:06 PM Comment

February 19, 2009

A brief rant about Cornell architecture

[This isn't quite Dryden, but I suspect it's something a lot of people in Dryden have an opinion about.]

It was very strange today to see the collapse of the Cornell hydraulics laboratory on the front page of the Ithaca Journal and letters defending Cornell's proposed Milstein Hall (1 2) on the opinion page. There's been a steady stream of these letters - apparently someone hit the panic button and is asking every supporter of the project to write in.

The sad thing, though, is that the now vanished laboratory, as strange a barnacle as it may have been on the gorge walls, actually fit far better with both its surroundings and Cornell's existing architecture than Milstein Hall ever will. It was a strange addition to a creek, but was far less strange a barnacle than the drawings for Milstein propose.

Every day I watch fleets of concrete and gravel trucks head into campus (and also downtown), feeding an urge to build that seems part of Cornell University's recent personality. Unfortunately, they long since lost any sense of their own architectural DNA, lurching instead from supposed triumph to triumph while turning their campus into a freakshow of bad design.

I know, I know - Cornell is hardly unique in this. Neither Ithaca College nor TC3 is exactly a paragon of great architecture, though at least they're spared the contrast with older buildings that shows off the ugliness of the modern. And it could be worse. At least they remodeled Sage Hall instead of demolishing it for another boxy temple to architectural lunacy.

Walk around the campus, and take in the beauty of the surroundings, the quality of even the uglier pre-1950s buildings, and then look around at the newer additions. Better still, for the quickest headache possible, pick up a copy of Cornell Then & Now, which does an amazing job of cataloging the damage that Cornell has done to itself over the past few decades and congratulating Cornell when the older stuff survived. (It's too polite to say it quite that way, of course.)

Just a few of its highlights:

  • The demolition of Boardman Hall to make way for the giant ugly box of Olin Library.

  • Replacing the Armory with Hollister Hall, a dire 1950s contraption looming over the College Avenue entrance.

  • The replacement of Morse Hall with the "Is that really a sewing machine?" Johnson Museum of Art.

  • Farewell Stone, Roberts, and East Roberts, hello to a boxy new Roberts and Kennedy Hall.

  • The book can barely stand to look at Bradfield Hall ("the Dark Tower"), most things around the Vet School, or Boyce-Thompson Institute, all sad monuments to 1970s ugliness.

The only good thing I can say about the proposed Milstein Hall is that the main victim of its construction seems to be a parking lot. It also avoids the mistake of Bradfield Hall, and includes windows, though perhaps it goes too far the other direction.

I can sympathize with concerns that the architecture department faces the loss of its accreditation if they don't have a new building soon. On the other hand, I really have to wonder if Cornell as a whole has long since lost its architectural credibility, and seems intent on making what could have been a beautiful campus into an ever-uglier disaster. Architecture has fallen far for these buildings to be considered appealing.

Okay, that's all. Let Dryden's gravel trucks roll - the disease has probably gone too deep to cure. It'd be nice to think that there are other alternatives, but it's unlikely that Cornell's fondness for bizarre ugly statements will go away soon.

Posted by simon at 7:54 PM Comment

February 23, 2009

To consolidate, or not?

Every now and then I get to argue with people who think we should abolish villages and just have towns, cities, and counties. Or abolish towns and villages, leaving cities and counties - or just have counties. Personally, I think our layers of government exist for good reason, bringing decision-making closer to the people it affects. However, given the tax situation in New York State, lots of people seem to think that abolishing these layers would magically bring our tax burden down so it looked like we were living a lot further south.

I was surprised to find this piece on municipal consolidation in this morning's paper. Gannett seems generally on the side of consolidation, and I don't think of Jay Gallagher as an enthusiastic messenger for more layers of government.


Last November, when a consultant unveiled a plan about the effects of a potential merger between the town and village of Seneca Falls, one number jumped out at those attending the meeting: a potential savings of $978 a year on property taxes....

In fact, while taxes would plummet for village taxpayers, they would increase for town of Seneca Falls taxpayers.

According to his figures, abolishing the village, while saving village taxpayers $978 a year, would increase the levy on town residents who live outside the village, who now pay almost no taxes, by $375. Both figures are based on a house worth $100,000.

In addition, another big chunk of the savings would come from a $495,000 incentive grant from the state designed to encourage government consolidations - in effect, a shift in costs from village to state taxpayers.

"This whole thing is an art form, figuring out who benefits and who doesn't," said Zettick, who said that generally government merger plans can trim expenses "in the 2.5 percent to 5 percent range."

There's more there (and Seneca Falls may not prove the best example because of their landfill), but that seems like the core of it to me. 2.5% to 5% is real money, but hardly revolutionary. New York State has no shortage of consolidation and efficiency needs, but I continue to doubt that this highly visible one is really the place to start.

There is consolidation worth considering. Special districts seem to get scattered across the landscape on bonding terms that mostly give lawyers and accountants business. State government seems riddled with corners where agencies duplicate each other's work, but no one's quite sure who's in charge. I suspect it's too late to fix the strange differences between municipal boundaries and school district boundaries, but that might be worth considering as well.

But this piece pretty much confirms what I'd expected: there's some savings, but not enough that it makes sense to me to throw out local government on grounds of efficiency. Dryden seems plenty big enough for me, and I'd rather we had more villages form than see villages disincorporate.

Posted by simon at 7:55 PM Comment

February 28, 2009

Member item power play reaches Dryden

Sometimes Democrats screw up just as badly as Republicans.

Member items, basically money handed to municipalities and organizations on the say-so of legislators, have been an ugly spot in New York State for a long long time. We've seen the majority parties in both houses outspend their minority brethren, using pots of money to help seal their reputation for bringing pork to their districts.

While it is, I think, a corrupt system, and the Senate Republicans played it for all it was worth, Democrats seem to have fumbled an opportunity to end it with style. This morning's Ithaca Journal carries a story about local local member item losses, with a list of specifics, that's just guaranteed to make the Democrats look bad. Turning the mike over to one of my least-favorite State Senators:

"The reason why it's partisan is because the only people impacted are Senate Republicans," Winner said. "And while there is technically Democrat money that was swept up, (state Assembly Speaker Sheldon) Silver has significant reserves to cover (them)."...

"In the deficit reduction package that was just passed, (Democrats) swept the member-item account of any cash," Winner said.

And, of course, on the Assembly side, there is no local damage:

State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-125th Dist., said none of her $200,000 of member items is in jeopardy....

"There is politics with member items. There always has been," she said.

There certainly is Republican precedent for this - Republican Senators stripped Syracuse-area member items Nancy Larraine Hoffman had promised after Democrat Dave Valesky defeated her. Precedent, though, doesn't make it look any better. "Just as ugly as the Republicans" is not a good campaign slogan.

The local impact is real, and well-worth complaining about. Dryden Mayor Reba Taylor is right about this:

"We had a signed contract with the state of New York for $20,000 for the generator. The voucher has been sitting up in Albany since November. Then I got a letter from Sen. Seward on Jan. 29 saying the governor killed the grant," said [Village of Dryden] Mayor Reba Taylor, a Republican.

"As far as we're concerned it's a done deal. Now the governor has said 'No, we're not going to pay for it," she said.

I know it's a rough year, and I'm not at all surprised when Albany politicians act like power is all that matters. But this is counter-productive, basically rubbing people's faces in it by pulling funding already agreed to. People, including Democrats, will get even more disgusted with Albany because of this.

Yes, let's fix member items. Let's abolish them as a separate category, or set fixed amounts per legislator. Let's not use them for a power play when times are already looking bleak.

Posted by simon at 9:51 AM Comment

Local elections an opportunity

I'm not sure why the Ithaca Journal seems to have left this letter off its online opinion page for Thursday, but Village of Dryden mayoral candidate Wendy Martin wrote a piece that feels just right to me:

Dragging on my coat and gloves, leaving the warmth of my kitchen and family, facing the bitter cold dark nights to knock on the doors of friends and strangers alike these past few weeks, I have often had to remind myself why one runs for a political office in the depths of winter!

It is because I know that the issues facing my community will not go away if I sit home in my slippers watching reality shows, tracking our diminishing retirement accounts, or planning on what flowers I will plant in the spring.

Local off-season elections matter because the people you vote for will be the ones who care enough to spend countless hours away from their homes and families so that they can find ways to make your neighborhood a safe, sound, and enjoyable place to live. They are the ones who will work to hopefully keep your taxes low and community spirit high. They understand the need to find solutions for the challenges we are all facing.

These people need to know you care enough about what they are doing to be familiar with the issues and the candidates' platforms, put on your winter coat, and get out and vote on March 18th. See you there!

Every vote counts in local races, especially when elections are in March. The results make a huge difference, as there is much more opportunity for immediate change at the local level, and this year especially!

The Journal does, fortunately, have Dryden Town Talk online, taking a look back to 1898 and returning to the present... though the dinner was a few days ago, and I should have posted this sooner. Cathy Wakeman does list a number of events that haven't happened yet, though.

And finally, there are also the continuing echoes of long-ago crimes that I'm surprised not to have seen reported in the Journal. Maybe I missed it?

Posted by simon at 9:57 AM Comment