Realism vs. Negativity vs. Humor

19 Jan

During communism, the people would get through their drab, toilet-paperless days by cracking jokes about their predicament.

Q: It is constantly being said that the communism is on the horizon. What is this communism?
A: Communism is a society free from exploitation, our happy future where nobody lives in want.
Q: But what is a horizon?
A: A horizon is an imaginary line that keeps moving further away as we get closer. (1979)

“The phone is ringing in the Kremlin. It’s a long distance call and someone wants to talk to Leonid Ilyich. The person is being told that unfortunately Brezhnev is dead. Soon the phone rings again and somebody wants to talk to Brezhnev once more. “Look here! Didn’t you understand or hear – he’s dead”. “I did understand, but it’s so good to hear it”. (1982)

“Stalin visited a prison once. The prisoners are line up and Stalin greets:
“Greetings, comrades criminal offenders!”
Prisoners reply: “Greetings our great leader and teacher”. (1981)

“Lenin died and went to heaven. St Peter lets him in and grants him 2 wishes. Lenin says he would like all people on earth to be wise, honest and communists. Peter objects “i can only grant you 2 wishes”. Lenin starts thinking:
-When a man is honest and a communist, he isnt wise
– When a man is wise and a communist, he isnt honest
– But if a man is honest and wise, he isn’t a communist”. (1981)

Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine when one is confronted with a grave illness.  When the illness is caused by ineptitude and self-serving politics, it hardly makes sense to screech like a Jonas-obsessed schoolkid whenever Buffalo gets a bit of positive attention in national press or to blame problems on make-believe causes like the weather, or on currently irreversible past mistakes, like the Skyway.

This region is as balkanized and parochial as Boston was in the 1970s, and just as full of economic stagnation and fail.  Yet Newbury Street and Quincy Market are now landmarks, and streets that were then slums now feature unaffordable homes.

Literally every excuse you can hurl at Buffalo was operative for Boston – silly politics, patronage, unions, weather, urban renewal, bad planning decisions, bad highway and land-use decisions.  Yet for a variety of reasons we’ll look into soon, Boston is now a world-class city with a perpetual inferiority complex viz. New York.

Buffalo, on the other hand, is a faded industrial area that is treading water economically and trying to find its way in a new economy.  The political and social status quo needs to be dragged out of the 50s mindset and start emulating what other places have done to move forward.

Let’s be blunt – the development of, and investment in the medical corridor is worth a thousand Darwin Martin houses as far as our future is concerned.

But if you can’t laugh at our predicament, and you can’t mock some of the stupidity, then the area has become downright uninhabitable.

19 Responses to “Realism vs. Negativity vs. Humor”

  1. Mark January 19, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    I don’t know. I agree with what you say about the medical corridor vs. the Darwin Martin house, in terms of jobs and infrastructure. But the artistic/architectural/cultural aspects of an area are what give it a unique character, and that is an important part of what makes a place great. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between the two. They reinforce each other, really. If I’m a new Ph.D. looking for a job in medical research, one of the things I’m going to take into account is the quality of life in the city where Hauptman-Woodward and Roswell are located. And obviously it’s going to matter to anyone if the area has a functioning economy.

    We should still knock down the Skyway, though.

    • lefty January 19, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

      Speaking of the skyway…I wonder how much the Big Dig and the $14.5B that it cost had an effect on Boston turning the corner.

  2. Chris from OP January 19, 2010 at 9:58 am #


  3. Evan B January 19, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    errr. Boston has backed away from the perpetual inferiority complex to NYC since 2004. All that “Who’s your daddy?” taunting faded with the ALCS comeback and subsequent victories in other pro-sports as well. It may seem trite but that is how we feel in the bean now.
    As a Massachusetts native and a previous Boston resident (Beacon Hill) I do agree with your initial assessment of the past excuses for why Boston was in the economic toilet before the 1990’s. The Boston area saw such a turnaround as the 128 tech corridor expanded and the bay started to clean up that it is hard to remember just how bad of a situation the Boston metro area was in recently. Looking forward to your analysis.

  4. mike hudson January 19, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    how old were you in the 1970s?

    Boston was never like Buffalo. Youngstown was like Buffalo and it still is.

    • Evan B January 20, 2010 at 9:35 am #

      True. Comparisons between cities are always going to be subjective. But Boston, from a real estate valuation and economic health perspective, was is really bad shape in the 70’s and 80’s. And I’m not just talking about Mattapan, Southie or Dorchester either. FYI, I was born in 1974 in a mill town outside of Boston.

  5. Ward January 19, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    Sorry, Evan–just how far are your Broons behind the Sabres this morning?
    I am, however, glad to hear that the 2004 ALCS shut you Sawx people the hell up.

    • Evan B January 20, 2010 at 9:39 am #

      Ward, you are welcome for our silence. LOVE to hear the Sabres smack though. Buffalo needs more of that swagger going into the playoffs.

  6. Howard Goldman January 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    I agree that humor is important, but I don’t necessarily agree with the underlying premise that we are a failure. Calling Buffalo a failure is just as bad as hoping the current president fails – or just as bad as calling him a failure. Buffalo, and New York State, are the successful models being used for the remaking of the entire country. I have heard it referred to reverentially as European type Socialism. They said it involved having a large government sector that is at least 47% of the economy. I’ll bet we’re there – and still progressing.

    Even though I support capitalism and a strong private sector, I have to congratulate my friends on the other side of the political divide for their successes. I have to congratulate successful liberal initiatives because my liberal friends are way to modest to. For example, the environment in Buffalo – our air and water, is much cleaner than it used to be in large part thanks to environmentalists. They get mad at me when I thank them for their success. They hate to recognize success. I’m all for modesty but these are large issues and they often deserve credit. Traditional discrimination in Buffalo has been de-institutionalized over the years and I think the civil rights movement deserves much of the credit. Work place safety has become law thanks to unions working hard to make themselves less necessary by advocating for legislation to take over for the unions concern for these things. Even AIDs has made tremendous progress. It is much more survivable now. Thank you!

    I don’t think Buffalo and New York State have necessarily failed, not when you look at it from the perspective of what the mission really was. I don’t agree with the socialist component of the mission, but I have to admit that it has been successfully advanced. I would prefer that Buffalo and New York State were successful at not interfering with free-market wealth and opportunity – rather than being successful at government dependency and misery. I guess what I’m trying to say is that to measure success and failure you must first understand the intentions of the original mission. That can be the hardest part – and we better have our sense of humor ready.

    • mike January 19, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

      Well said Howard ! But don’t you have any communist friends too?

      • Howard Goldman January 19, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

        Thanks, Mike. Yeah, actually I do. People are more open about that now. (Take names while we can.) I am lucky that I have so many friends, but only a few of ’em aren’t libs. I guess I’m a lib magnet!

  7. STEEL January 19, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    Boston does and did have 5 times the metro population compared to Buff, Critical mass of people often (not always – see Detroit) can have a major positive impact on the health of a region and central city. Boston has had big time political power in Washington. Tip O’Neil knew how to bring home the bacon and that is in addition to the Kennedeys. Boston has over 200 colleges and Universities, several among the oldest in the world, Several among the most prestigious in the world. Boston is a coastal city which is a huge economic advantage. Buffalo had its feet cut off when the Federal government built a canal system to eliminate Buffalo’s port advantage. Throgh in cheap Chinese labor and you have a disaster for Buffalo before you even get to the politicians and the entrench blue collar spirit. So a little gallows humor can be great fun but it does not trump these advantages that Boston had. Also humor is the key work. The same dull joke about how Buffalo is really really really crappy is not funny. Just isn’t.
    Much of the so called humor in the comment sections of the local webs is not funny and tends more toward being mean spirited – especially on the Buffalo News web site were the comments are actually a bit creepy to read.

    • Alan Bedenko January 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

      1. I have yet to read a funny comment at the News site. In fact, I have yet to read more than a grand total of 10 comments at the News, ever. It is a sine qua non of maintaining sanity.

      2. You were quite right in mocking the Ikea/Whole Foods people.

      3. Boston was an abject failure in the 70s and fixed itself. Yes, it had a lot of advantages, as does Buffalo. (Water and power come to mind). Being coastal is swell, but the Conley container port is the 21st busiest in the US.

      4. “Woe is me” and “gosh, if we could just undo these thousand mistakes we’d be alright” are not a plans for advancement and progress in Buffalo.

      5. Buffalo gets repeatedly effed in the a because it continually makes the same mistakes over and over again. Given that, gallows humor is all that’s left.

      6. We might as well start off with the understanding that the rest of the country considers us to be a snowbound joke, and worry instead about what makes the people who are already here happy.

  8. Christopher Smith January 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    “Boston has had big time political power in Washington”

    And we have one of the three most powerful Senators in office (and majority leader in waiting) Chuck Schumer as well as one of the most powerful leaders in the House with Louise Slaughter, Chairwoman of the House Rules Committee. We had political juice for years with Nowak and LaFalce in DC. Our problem has never been access to federal monies, it’s what we’ve done with the money when we’ve received it.

    • Howard Goldman January 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

      Yes, we have it all. The Empire State. The power, the money, the influence. Exactly, Chris. That is normally the formula for success. Failure is an unlikely result. So, as an investigative technique, let’s assume that what we are looking at really does represent success – and work backwards to determine who is taking us where, and why. A program or initiative’s stated purpose might be a fraudulent misrepresentation, but the results are tangible evidence of what the real intent was. Look at who and what has been gaining strength. Look at who and what has been destroyed. I believe that we are looking at successful results.

    • STEEL January 19, 2010 at 10:49 pm #

      See now that IS a funny joke. WNY gets downsized out of a congressman. Buffalo has so much pull in DC that it now gets to share Slaughter with Rochester through a crazy gerrymandered district. Not only that, Buffalo is allowed to call the honorable Senators from New York City its own. What an honor! I bet Providence wishes if could share its 2 senators like that.

      The truth is Boston had a full tool kit with which to fix itself (I did not even mention the state capital thing) Buffalo has a screw driver and a hammer. Actually, it has to borrow those tools. Its neighbors have 15 different identical hammers which they busily use to pound away at one nail. Of course they can’t seem to hit the nail but that does not matter at least it is not a rusty nail like the one Buffalo has. The screw driver is owned by the state which never misses an opportunity to screw Buffalo with it.

      • Eisenbart January 20, 2010 at 12:05 am #

        That’s not funny at all…

      • Howard Goldman January 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

        Steel, If Buffalo appears stagnant and helpless, I submit to you that it is because the artist has lifted his brush. In a twisted way, we are the masterpiece. No doubt we serve a purpose and serve it well. Otherwise the status quo would not be so treasured.

      • STEEL January 20, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

        I did not say Buffalo (or shall I say WNY) is not to blame for its predicament – just that is does not and never has had the resources available to the Hub (of the universe)

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