History Has Its Eyes On You, Part Deux

So, dear friends, the Schuyler statue is gone.

After being called out in the newspaper over its lack of follow through, Albany hastily arranged for the removal of Philip Schuyler to parts unknown.

They hoisted him up and carted him away, and then another crew proceeded to rip apart the statue’s base, where they uncovered a time capsule placed there in 1925. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan was so excited, she practically danced a jig over the rubble when the workers pulled out the copper clad case that was brimming with interesting and well-preserved artifacts.

Ironic? Yes. Sheehan has demonstrated throughout the Schuyler mess that her understanding of history is like that of a fifth grader. This is the good guy, that’s the bad guy, black is black and white is white, and there shall be no gray areas betwixt the two. No context and zero nuance.

She demonstrated this again lately when a Times Union columnist asked her about Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd. “Love it or hate it, we’re stuck with part of Corning’s legacy, which is [Interstate] 787 and the Empire State Plaza.”

Huh. That’s the best you can do when discussing such a complex and interesting character as Corning? All I can conclude is that she’s pandering to her base, or — and I’m sorry to put it this way — that she’s just not very sharp.

Schuyler’s demise is anticlimactic, at best. Off he goes to some warehouse, like that big wooden crate in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Maybe if Sheehan were a bolder politician, she would have made a real statement, like melting down the statue. Then, perhaps, she could have used the molten bronze to fill some of Albany’s potholes.

History Has Its Eyes On You

Poor old Philip Schuyler. He gets short shrift in Hamilton, appearing only very briefly in one number — and he doesn’t get to sing a single word in a show with about a million words. But that’s not the worst of Philip Schuyler’s problems.

Lately there’s been a lot of controversy in Albany over Schuyler’s slave ownership, a complicated fact that makes our view of his legacy a little blurry. In Albany, they recently decided to take Schuyler’s name off an elementary school, and the city is now removing the heroic statue of Schuyler that stands before city hall.

Like a lot of prominent people in colonial times, Schuyler’s legacy is patchy. Research by a historian at the Schuyler Mansion historic site estimates that Schuyler owned something like 40 slaves at one time or another to run his household and property. There’s also solid evidence that he facilitated slave ownership by his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Alexander Hamilton. Yes, Hamilton.

This really complicates our view of the ten-dollar founding father and his father-in-law.

Not an easy one.

We can’t compare our world today to what was common in the late 1700s, when the people fighting our war for liberty were slave owners, most notably George Washington.

So let’s consider this for a second: If we’re going to remove the Philip Schuyler statue from in front of Albany City Hall, next have a look at the statue of Washington across from the Alfred E. Smith building. Yeah, and rename Washington Avenue. And Washington Park, Washington County, Washingtonville, the Washington Tavern. Washington D.C., too. Let’s get his ass off the quarter and dollar bill, while we’re at it. Time to wipe that wig wearing, wooden toothed, slave-owning motherfucker right off the map.

Yes, let’s do all those things and more, because it will change… nothing.

I’m not going to pretend to have any answers here. History is full of people that did great things, but whose hands are stained with stuff that can’t be washed off.

This may be going out on a limb, but I’d bet you that most people couldn’t tell you who that statue depicts, but if it makes everybody feel better, let’s pack Schuyler on a truck and drag him away. The Schuyler Mansion would be a good place for him; at least there, people would know who’s up on the pedestal and what he was all about — good and bad.

This Is the Week That Was

In my house, we do our part to support local journalism and still have the paper delivered. I don’t know, to me, the obituaries feel better in print.

Last Sunday, the stories in our Times Union seemed — oddly familiar. Hmmmm… the State Museum is returning more Indian remains. They must really have a lot of them! Home schooling? It’s still surging. Oh, and here’s Chris Churchill with yet another column about gas stoves; jeez, didn’t he just write about this? And, wait, what? Rensselaer County executive Steve McLaughlin is going on trial. Really — again? This guy can’t get a break!

Something wasn’t quite right here, so I checked the date on the paper: Sunday, January 22, 2023. Holy shit — have I become unstuck in time! No, it turns out that this was not a disconnect in the universe, just some sort of strange screw up that ended with me getting the prior week’s newspaper.

It seems that the features, comics and ads, all printed days earlier, were correct, but the news section was entirely from a week before. And how the hell does that happen? I have my theories:

  • At the newspaper factory, somebody loaded the file incorrectly and printed the wrong edition;
  • There was a stack of last weeks papers kicking around and they got mixed up with the new ones;
  • Our carrier had some old copies sitting around and didn’t check the date.

We may never know; the Times Union didn’t reply to my snarky tweet asking what happened. The guy I called on the circulation hotline was puzzled, but had no info. He gave us a credit on our account for the paper.

My old boss used to say something like, “Newspapers are the only business in the world that relies on 11-year-old boys on bicycles as its distribution system.” No kids on bicycles anymore, but getting newspapers out — even as circulation numbers fall — remains a complicated affair. It’s a fresh product going to many different places every morning, right down to the customer’s driveway.

Not complaining. I sincerely like getting a paper and I’d be really disappointed if they stopped printing and delivering them. Details like bringing me the right one? That’s secondary.

New and Improved

Price Chopper paterfamilias Neil Golub has a modest proposal: let’s rebrand Schenectady as “New Schenectady,” and finally get people thinking differently about the Electric City.

In recent decades Schenectady’s been the Capital Region’s red headed stepchild and the punchline of many jokes. But have you been to Schenectady lately? There are great restaurants and things to do and new development and grand renovation projects everywhere you look. Mohawk Harbor alone is a pretty big accomplishment. These days Schenectady’s punching above its weight, and again becoming a place people want to go to, not run away from.

As for adding the word new to something, the first thing that comes to mind is the failure of New Coke, but let’s reach further back, to the days of the Dutch settlers who named lower Manhattan New Amsterdam. I’d suggest that this strategy worked, drawing throngs of adventurous immigrants seeking good fortune and a fresh beginning. If you like Amsterdam, you’re gonna love New Amsterdam. It is unknown if the Dutch used a marketing firm to name the outpost, as Neil Golub did in coming up with New Schenectady, but it was such a great place that the English stole it away.

It’s tempting to poke fun at the New Schenectady idea — God knows that I did the first time I heard it — but at least they’re doing something. Changing with the times, working with what they’ve got, moving forward. In contrast Albany continues to lead the region in small thinking. Oh, wait, I’m sorry — didn’t Albany open a pedestrian bridge over 787, or something? Good job, Albany. You’ve got some catching up to do.

You Oughta Be In Pictures

Oh, sure it’s exciting when Hollywood comes to town, isn’t it? Nothing gets the heart pumping like making a movie: a bunch of trucks and crew and lights and cameras — and oh, sometimes a famous actor might even be spotted on the street. Holy shit, this ain’t Smallbany anymore, it’s Hollywood on the Hudson!

There’s no denying that film and TV production can sometimes be an economic driver — especially if you buy the numbers floated by our local film commissions. These groups have gotten adept at greasing the skids when showbiz comes to town, helping expedite the sort of clearances and permits that are necessary to take over your block. Closing down streets, restricting parking, disrupting business, doing crazy stuff like dumping tons of period style dirt everywhere — you can’t just roll up and do all that without loads of cooperation.

So, here’s a question for you: Name one other business where a municipality will bend over backwards so completely to accommodate a commercial endeavor. You can’t because it doesn’t exist — but come to town making a movie? Heaven and earth will shift to accommodate your every need.

A sandwich shop I frequent on State Street recently complained on social media that they weren’t informed that a film shoot would block the entrance to their store and make it hard for customers to get their lunch. What the hell is their problem? How could it be that a small business is more interested in making a few bucks on a random Tuesday in August than basking in the thrill and excitement that a film crew brings to the sidewalk?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Sometimes it feels like the people who tout attracting film and TV production to town are a bit starstruck by it all. It’s understandable, because the glamour of movie making tends to rub off on those who get close. Unfortunately, the stink of it rubs off on everyone else, like the people who just want to bring in their groceries, get their kids to daycare, park their cars, or yes, get a sandwich for lunch.

La Cucaracha

It was just another day in Albany City Court on Tuesday — until someone let loose the cockroaches.

According to the Times Union, this was in the middle of the arraignment of four people arrested on charges related to a protest at the Capitol. The courtroom was packed with their supporters — until one of them released hundreds of cockroaches — and what was already a already a heated scene descended into chaos.

So, where does one get all those cockroaches, you ask? My wife suggested that someone collected them from squalid apartments, since the court matter arose from a tenant’s rights demonstration. Interesting idea, but there’s a much easier way to wrangle roaches.

Just Google “cockroaches for sale” and you’ll find that it’s surprisingly easy to purchase live roaches. I checked at Chewy.com, and they sell 400 roaches for $57. You can really stretch your dollar with crickets, which for under $30 you can get 1000. Just release the crickets and yell, “Cockroaches!” and I think it will have the same effect.

Oh, they’ll just sell you live cockroaches online? Yes. Most people use live insects to feed pets like chickens lizards, and it’s perfectly legit. Look: If you buy a hammer at Home Depot and they just assume that you’re going to drive some nails, not walk around town breaking car windows.

Here’s what I think: Having some live roaches would be handy if you want to break up a meeting at work or get out of a party you don’t want to attend. Order them today and you can have them by the weekend. Just saying.

Better To Have Loved and Lost

It’s easier than ever to find old acquaintances these days with social media and whatnot, but it would really jumpstart the process if the local newspaper joined the search, like the Times Union did recently with this front page story:

When Reno met April …can sparks reignite?

It seems that “Reno” — his actual name is Ricardo — wants to reconnect with his long lost love who said she was from Schenectady. He claims that they had a month-long fling as college students 26 years ago.

Everybody loves a love story, and this is pretty romantic, right? Yeah, I suppose — until it turns fucking creepy.

I’m not saying that it’s always wrong to seek out a long lost flame, but to do so in such a public way is troubling. By crowdsourcing this effort you’re taking away someone’s choice in the matter of being found.

Did anyone think that this woman might not want to be contacted by “Reno,” or that doing so could be disruptive or damaging? Let me tell you, not everyone would be thrilled if some dude was hunting down their spouse on the front page of the newspaper.

And what do we know about this Reno character? Not much except that he runs a “taxi and tour business” in the Bahamas. Oh, OK. He must be legit. And I’m sure the paper did some deep digging into his background.

I could be wrong about all this; it may be this woman’s lifelong dream to be reunited with the guy she dated for a month 26 years ago — a guy who doesn’t even know her last name. Hey, it’s romantic!

But don’t worry; the story says that Reno “just wants to reconnect. No pressure.” Perfectly harmless.

I don’t know what they’re smoking over at the Times Union, but it must be pretty potent for them to do something so stupid and irresponsible. Journalism students take note: this story is a master class in poor editorial judgement.

Coverage You Can’t Trust

Look at this Facebook post from NewsChannel 13.

The post includes a photo of a person sitting outside an Albany police station that was the scene of a recent clash with protesters. It’s excluded here because we don’t know if she did anything to warrant this kind of attention, and the police won’t say why they’re looking for her. However, that doesn’t stop WNYT from blaring in all caps with an exclamation point, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE!

This is disturbing and irresponsible. It’s not unusual for the media to share a photo to identify someone who is clearly a suspect in a crime, but this steps over the line.

The accompanying story says, “Police aren’t saying why they want her, or what she might have done.” Don’t ask. None of your business. All you need to know is that we are the police and we want to find her. Take our word for it, she’s a bad one. Just look at her.

Maybe there’s a very good reason for the police to be looking for this woman, but if that’s the case, tell us why — and shame on WNYT for posting this without questioning the cops or asking for a justification. They not only skipped the basic journalism part, they then jumped into the fray to whip up their audience. Remember, ONE SHARE CAN HELP THE POLICE!

It stinks when these TV stations do the bidding of the authorities without considering what they may be up to. What happened between protesters and police was unfortunate, but it’s the job of journalism to question those in power, not become their lapdogs.

Nevertheless, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE! Paging George Orwell.

Oy, Albany!

Oh, please, come for a visit to Albany! We’ll sit by the Waterway canal on Broadway and have a beer as we talk about old times. Then, maybe we can stroll to the Hudson through the park that used to be 787. Can you believe there was a six-lane highway here once? Then, let’s climb aboard the gondola to Rensselaer as the sun sets — because after all, that’s the best way to take in the skyline of our majestic capital city.

Yes, that sounds grand, doesn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to dream big dreams, but these and other transformative ideas to improve Albany will never be more than that: dreams.

Here’s a city that can’t even figure out what to do with the parking lot district or the gloomy old Central Warehouse building — and you think they’re going to dig a canal through downtown or knock down an interstate? Yeah, right.

Maybe the city needs to aim lower. Instead of spending on pipedream projects, how about we put money into building home ownership in struggling neighborhoods, a proven strategy for urban renewal and growth. Create incentives for businesses to locate in the city and provide good jobs to local people. Maybe spend some money on the schools, perhaps.

Big fancy schemes will do nothing for this town, unless you think that making it a theme park for suburbanites will solve a lot of problems. It won’t.

Albany doesn’t need gimmicky development, it needs sound ideas and inspired leadership. And that’s harder than digging a moat or ripping down an overpass. It’s fun to dream of flying cars and hoverbikes, but to stay in touch with reality, always keep one foot on the ground.