2010 Speakers

Sarah Susanka

Susan Arbetter

Army LTC Jay McKee

Kurt Andersen


Sarah Susanka

Internationally known architect and author of “The Not-So-Big House”


By Jonathan Monfiletto

Before Sarah Susanka began her talk as part of the Cazenovia Forum lecture series, she complimented the people of the village of Cazenovia for the strong sense of community she found evident during her visit.  “If we could bottle what you guys have here, this would be a much, much better country,” she said.

The bestselling author and architect spoke before a packed house and standing room-only audience at Catherine Cummings Theater on the subject of “The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters.”

Susanka gave her talk on Thursday, March 11 and first spoke about the “not so big” house, which she said has more to do with quality than quantity in terms of comfort and beauty.    The “not so big” house, Susanka said, is better instead of bigger, built to last and meant to inspire the inhabitant, with quality and character. It is not about the size, but about how to use the size sufficiently.

“We need to design for the way we really live,” she said. “We need a new blueprint to fit how we live.”  Susanka noted that people often incorporate formal spaces, such as dining rooms and other rooms that go unused, simply as a way to keep up and impress others. However, she said, people need to build to ensure they feel at home in their house. “We’re not looking for awe in our living room,” she said. “If you don’t design your house your own, you’re never going to feel like you belong.”

The “not so big” house also includes details, such as tiles and bookshelves, that are built into the house and give it a personalized touch through inexpensive craftsmanship.  “These kind of things add a lot of character,” Susanka said. “That beauty keeps speaking of you.”  It is not just homes that are too big though, Susanka said, as she began talking about the “not so big life,” which incorporates aspects similar to those of the “not so big” house.”

“I had no time to do the things I care about,” she said, talking about how she realized she and other people were too busy and letting their lives run them. “It’s about just being able to take time to show up in your life.”

People tend to think they have to wait until they retire to do the things they enjoy, Susanka said, but they can and should pursue those things now. In fact, Susanka said she slotted herself in as a client in order to make time for herself.

Susanka concluded her talk by discussing the “not so big” community, which utilizes concepts of new urbanism architecture to make the community a better, more livable place where people actually enjoy being and want to stay. “We need to bring things down to scale a little so we feel related to the person across the street,” she said. “I would like to see communities where you could live forever.”

Susan Arbetter

NYS political analyst and host of Albany-based radio program “The Capitol Pressroom”

by  David Chanatry
Cazenovia Republican, April 2010

Susan Arbetter

New York state government is like a old gas-guzzling Winnebago barreling along the highway with a big curve just down the road.  That’s the metaphor political analyst Susan Arbetter used to describe the state of the State in this critical election year.  Arbetter is WCNY’s Capitol Correspondent and the host of “The Capitol Pressroom,” heard on public radio stations throughout the state.  She spoke on June 18th at the Catherine Cummings Theatre, the latest in the Cazenovia Forum lecture series.

In an illuminating and humorous talk followed by a lively question and answer session,  Arbetter portrayed the New York State Legislature as almost completely dysfunctional, with all power resting with the leaders. She said the Senate and Assembly are filled with people who have become tainted by the system, often arriving in Albany with good intentions only to get caught up in the rough and tumble game of politics as it’s played in New York’s capitol.

“You know the myth of the frog that won’t jump out of hot water…that’s Albany,” she said.

Arbetter described a political system in which each party tries to outmaneuver the other to political advantage rather than public good. “It all boils down to the schoolyard,” she noted. “Everything that happens in Albany is because of a slight or an ego bruise.”

For instance, she said the Democrats’ pledge for reform will take a back seat to a desire to get even after decades of smaller offices, older computers, and most importantly, significantly less money for “member items” or pork to dole out in their district.

“Are they all insane?” she asked. “No, merely human, and opportunistic.”

The elections this year are particularly important, Arbetter said, because 2010 is a Census year. If the Democrats hold their two seat majority in the State Senate they can redraw district lines in such a way the GOP can be out of power for decades. Everything done in Albany this session has been done with this fact in mind. “The future of the Republican Party is at stake” Arbettor told the audience.

But she also held out some hope that things could improve. The November elections are that curve in the road. The entire political establishment is being voted on and there are some unique vulnerabilities among incumbents.  Four of the statewide Democrats were not elected to their current office and the Republicans have little name recognition. The state’s looming $60 billion budget deficit—“the big ugly” she called it—may finally cause people to pay more attention to “the way the sausage is made” in Albany” and to force changes at the ballot box.

The Cazenovia Forum lecture series will resume in the fall with talks by author and columnist Kurt Anderson  and  LTC. James McKee of the JAG Legal Center and School.


Army LTC Jay McKee

JAG Corps, on the legal support for Army operations in Pakistan, Bosnia, and Turkey

Jay McKee

Kurt Andersen

Prize-winning author and host of “Studio 360”, discussing his latest book, “Reset”

The Rhythm of History

Kurt Andersen
Kurt Andersen

The biography on his website is unambiguous:  “Kurt Andersen is a writer.”  But that simple sobriquet is perhaps a cheeky nod to the man’s multiplicity of talents. The Harvard-educated novelist, radio host, commentator, screenwriter, producer, columnist, editor and all around bon vivant shared an evening with more than 150 people Friday, Sept. 10 as a guest speaker for the Cazenovia Forum at the Catherine Cummings Theatre.  Andersen, host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning Studio 360 radio magazine show, shared his thoughts on the future of American political, social and cultural trends in the face of the new economic realities of the day.

Andersen opened his talk with the proposition that the 1980s lasted far more than a decade.  “History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes,” he told the audience, quoting Mark Twain. In 1986, Andersen explained, the feel-good, party-hearty attitudes of Americans became a permanent mindset. “We all know, I think most of us, it used to be that decades lasted about ten years,” he said.  “We all know what the 50s means, we have a sense of that.  It probably started in the late 40’s sometime and certainly the 50s ended by the time of the birth control pill and Kennedy’s assassination and the arrival of the Beatles,” he said.  “We know what the 60s are and we know that the 60s ended probably in the early 70s and we know that the 70s ended between 1980 and 1982, in all the meaningful senses beyond simple chronology,” he explained. “What we know as the 1980s – politically, economically and culturally – what are they?  Well, it started with the personal computer and the Reagan Administration and deregulation and this incredible bull market on Wall Street and then it just went on and on and on.”  Andersen posited that the 1980s never really ended – until now.

The notion that Americans could get something for nothing permeated the culture, with rising home prices and easy credit and the capricious spending of rampant consumerism.  Even 9/11, Andersen said, didn’t stop what he described as America’s great winning streak.  “I think it’s no coincidence that during these last 20 years casinos and legal gambling became ubiquitous in this country in a way that young people have no idea that it wasn’t always this way.  Until the late 1980s, only two states had legal casinos.  Now 32 states have casinos and all but two states have legalized gambling,” Andersen noted. “That’s a new condition and part of this party-hearty spirit of the last quarter century.  It’s as if around 1986 we all decided that Mardi Gras and Christmas and bachelor parties were just so much fun let’s just do it all the time and just live that way,” Andersen said.

From the early 1980s to the peak in late 2007, Andersen noted, the average new home value doubled after inflation, the stock market rose 1,500 percent.  Debt exploded and the average household savings rate went from 11 percent to about zero.  Americans lived large, figuratively and literally. “Twenty-five years ago the size of the average new house increased by half as the size of American families shrank.  The average new car got 29 percent heavier 89 percent more powerful and two percent less efficient and the average American gained a pound a year,” Andersen said.

But Andersen acknowledged that indeed things had gone well for America; communism was defeated, home prices kept rising, stock markets kept going up.  It seemed almost magical and many, Andersen said, had an inkling that it couldn’t go on forever.  “It’s sort of like the way everybody I think knew that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens weren’t playing fair, really? Can they really be hitting that many home runs?  But nobody wanted to be a buzz kill and say, hey maybe we should give them a blood test.  Our state of denial was, if not universal, it was widespread. There were plenty of smart, rational people engaged in a kind of magical thinking. But this idea of the new economy, whatever that means, somehow it will all work out, is mythical,” Andersen said.

But the outlook, Andersen thinks, isn’t as dour as the recent past would indicate.  He sees a great reset in the American psyche and is heartened by recent trends in the choices college graduates are making.  He noted that despite ideological divides in the country, pragmatism is often winning the day.  “There’s a documentary coming out next month called Waiting for Superman that’s a very good film.  It was made by the same ‘liberal’ Hollywood filmmaker, who made An Inconvenient Truth, and it is in favor of charter schools and it is highly critical of the teachers’ unions and the system.  That is, to me, flux in the ideology.  That is pragmatism. That is people saying ‘maybe this makes sense, let’s look at this.’”  Andersen also noted that one out of nine Ivy League graduates is opting to become a teacher and he thinks that is part of the American reset. “Destinies are directional and not precisely preordained.  I really think we are at a crossroads moment in America where we do reset for better or we don’t,” Andersen concluded.

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