Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Power Of Political Endorsements.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We Need More Voters Like Matty N.

What I like about Matty N is that not only is he going to vote today, but he has also carefully thought out whom he is voting for and why.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Symposium Misses Chance To Fully Explore Herman Melville.

Note: The following article, which appeared in The Sunday Gazette on October 29, 2006, grew out of an earlier post that I wrote for this blog.

Nineteenth-century American author, Herman Melville, has a strong connection to the Capital District, but the Capital District has not capitalized on that connection like Pittsfield, Massachusetts has (where Melville spent the bulk of his creative years). Melville moved to Albany when he was ten years old. While there, he attended the Albany Academy for several months. Two years later, after his father died, his mother rented a house in Lansingburgh where the family of seven lived for the next nine years. While in Lansingburgh, Melville attended the Lansingburgh Academy, taught school and published his first writing, “Fragments From A Writing Desk,” in The Democratic Press And Lansingburgh Advertiser. Melville left Lansingburgh in 1839 but returned in 1843. During the winter of 1844-45, he worked on his first novel “Typee” in an attic room overlooking the Hudson River.

The Albany Academies are attempting to rectify Melville’s obscurity in the Capital Region by hosting a Why Melville Matters conference from November 17-19, 2006. Co-sponsor of the symposium is The Center for Humanities, Arts, and TechnoSciences (CHATS), State University of New York at Albany, and the event will bring together scholars, artists, historians, and others to discuss Melville through panels and the presentation of papers.

I applaud the Academies’ efforts to bring Melville to our attention. One of the events of the conference is a twenty-four hour reading of Moby Dick, which Pulitzer Prize winning Albany author, William Kennedy, will begin and which Albany Academy alumnus, Andy Rooney, will end. Moby Dick, thought by many scholars and readers to be the great American novel, is well worth reading and any activity that encourages people to read the book is worth doing.

I do have some concerns about the symposium, however--not so much about what it is including, but what it is excluding. According to the academies, Melville matters because “The questions he posed are the same issues that inspire contemporary writers, artists, and thinkers today—the vexed relations between humans and their environment, racial and social injustices, capital punishment, psychological alienation, and the new frontiers of science and globalism.”

Lists of suggested paper topics include Melville and environmentalism, Melville the ultimate eco-tourist, Melville and Pedagogy, Gender and queer studies: approaches to Melville’s short fiction, racial and social issues in Melville’s fiction, Melville and Science, cetology and herpetology, etc.

It doesn’t seem to matter to the supporters of this conference that the questions Melville posed most, especially but not exclusively in Moby Dick, were theological. Is God good or is he malignant? Does God exist? Do men and women truly have free will or is everything predetermined? Why do good things happen to bad people? Are people essentially good or are they basically evil?

Moby Dick has several hundred Biblical names, quotations and allusions, the first one showing up in the third word of its famous opening--”Call me Ishmael.” Ishmael, according to the Bible, is the first Arab and the ancestor of Muhammad. The Koran reveres Ishamel as a great prophet. These facts along with the chapter called The Ramadan could lead to a discussion of Melville and Islam. Now there’s relevance.

A brief sampling of Melville‘s comments on religion, either directly or through the mouth of a character in one of his books include "That greatest real miracle of all religions, the Sermon on the Mount." and “...all good Christians believe that any minute the last day may come, and the terrible combustion of the entire planet earth.” He once said, in an oft repeated quote, “That Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or another, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free....“

The absence of religion from the symposium is not only curious because of Melville’s obsession with it, but because when Melville attended the Albany Academy, while it was not a religious academy, religion was part of the curriculum. Depending on what department you were enrolled in, you were required to take courses in religious history, natural theology and evidences of Christianity.

On the other hand, the absence of a discussion of Melville and religion in the upcoming symposium is not completely surprising. Having graduated from the University at Albany’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in English, I know first hand how thoroughly secularized most English scholars are. It’s not that there is a conspiracy to avoid discussing a writer’s relation to religion, it’s just that the concept of God is so remote to the thinking of most academics, that it gets marginalized in most literary discussions.

Anyway, some good will come out of this symposium, even if Melville’s life long quest to resolve religious issues raised during his religious upbringing has been relegated to the category of irrelevant.

Maybe hearing parts of Moby Dick read aloud will inspire some people to read the novel for the first time, and they can decide for themselves if Melville thought Ishamel and Queequeg were a gay couple, or if Starbuck had survived the sinking of the Pequod, whether or not he would have been the founder of Greenpeace, instead of lending his name to a coffee company.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

"If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?"

From The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Friday, November 03, 2006

An Epidemic Of Stupidity.

Stupidity is the leading epidemic in America. Take the Schenectady DA’s office as an example. Yesterday, The Daily Gazette reported that a man entered a house unlawfully in order to steal copper pipe. He took a mentally handicapped teenager in with him. He was caught and arrested. He was not arrested for trespassing or attempted theft but for child endangerment because the house had no electricity. Following that logic, the Montgomery County DA would be obligated to arrest every Amish parent in the county.

My daughter came home from school yesterday and said that if you get caught throwing a snowball on school grounds, you get suspended for a day for the first offense and for each additional offense you get longer and longer suspensions. Over in Massachusetts, a school has outlawed tag on school grounds because it is dangerous and creates liability issues. If we keep denying kids wholesome ways of having fun, we should not be surprised if they end up experimenting with unwholesome and even more dangerous ways of having fun.

My last example of stupidity is the Times Unions refusal to publish a woman’s obituary because it violated the TU’s guidelines.

Here is the original wording that the TU objected to.

"She left strict instructions that there be no schmaltzy sentimentality of mourning, urging that in lieu of expressions of grief people should send urgent messages to their legislators to force U.S. signing of the Kyoto Protocol, then vote in such a way as to send Bush a strong message of disgust with his policies and politics."

Here is the same portion after The TU edited it.

"she left strict instructions ... urging that in lieu of expressions of grief, people who wish to remember her continue to support the Kyoto Protocol and oppose the Bush Administration."

So instead of publishing the obituary, the TU turned their refusal into a news story, then allowed the woman’s minister to publish the original obituary on his TU blog. The TU managed to cover all bases here. They stuck to their policy by refusing to publish the obituary, but at the same time they can claim they are still advocates of free speech by allowing the reverend to publish it on his blog, and to boot they got a news story out of the whole thing.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

One Year & Still Blogging. Part 3

I often ask myself, “Why do I keep blogging?” I can hardly justify the time I spend doing it, when I have so much else to do. Efforts to reduce my blogging to three days a week haven’t worked. That’s just not me. It’s either all or nothing.

There’s no money in it, no fame and who am I anyway to broadcast my opinions to the world.

Blogging is not just writing my blog, but it’s reading other blogs as well. And to understand why I keep doing both, you have to understand the place where I live. I love Montgomery County--it’s rural, it’s beautiful, it has lots of history. But it is also a vast cultural, artistic, literary and intellectual wasteland.

The blogging community that I am part of has become some sort of virtual salon for me--an unorganized, on-line club of sorts for people who are interested in the same things I am--politics, literature, history, art, film, historic preservation, family, religion, justice, education, etc.

The attitude of a lot of people in Montgomery County toward the things I care about can be summed up in the following anecdote. I called a man to come give me an estimate on installing a new septic system. The first thing he said when he walked into our pre-Revolutionary War, post and beam house, was, “If Ida bought this place, I woulda bulldozed it and put up a doublewide.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

One Year & Still Blogging. Part 2.

Yesterday I wrote about the high points of my first year of blogging. Today I want to point out the low points. Most disappointing to me has been the failure to establish a communal blog, representing many voices in the Mohawk Valley, not just mine. I have come across a number of blogs to which two or more people make contributions on a regular basis, but for some reason I have not been successful in my attempts to create that kind of blog.

(My offer is still open to any current or former Mohawk Valley resident who would like to contribute occasionally or regularly to this blog. Contact me at if you are interested.)

Another low point is knowing that some of my posts are not up to snuff. Its hard to always produce quality posts if you blog everyday or almost everyday.

My single date records for number of visitors have also been disappointing, not because the numbers were low, but because so few of those people have become regular readers. After a one day record of 7,087 visitors to my wordpress blog, I am down to 200+ a day. Even then I can’t be sure I am actually getting that many visitors because I am not sure how wordpress compiles statistics. My blogspot blog had a high of more than 1400 visitors in one day, but now is averaging 60 visitors a day.

It’s disappointing that even now, months after the trial is over, more people come to Upstream to read about Chris Porco than any other topic. It’s not that the Porco Trial was unimportant, but so much else that I’ve written about is more important. I wish I could get the same number of people interested in reading about and preserving the Ingersoll-Stanford Home in Niskayuna. (I will be writing more about that in a few days).