Appalachian Basin

Power to the People? The Two Different Worlds of New York State.

New York State represents two different worlds when it comes to attitudes, incomes and needs.  It’s hard to find a better illustration than the one offered by Yoko Ono’s fashion line as compared to the reality of life in Upstate New York, where natural gas development is essential.

Earlier this year, when Yoko Ono and her son Sean were launching a campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing in the State of New York, he penned a pastoral op/ed in New York Times.  It reminisced about the times he, his Mom, and his wonderfully talented father used to play farmer in Delaware County; and then, operating out of his love for New York, he proceeded to misinform New Yorkers about hydraulic fracturing.

I thought of this today when someone directed me to a campaign launch of, “Yoko Ono Fashions for Men,” and I wondered which New York do Sean and Yoko love?

Is it the New York where the per capita income is $22,928 per year and unemployment 8.6%, as it is in Delaware County?  Or, is it the New York where people are buying $250 Lightbulb Bras (for men, no less) and $400 Bell Boards?  Yes, these are real items and you can view a Bell Board after the jump below.

Is it New York City, the suburbs and upstate, all of which support hydraulic fracturing, as do all ethnic groups, age brackets, and identified religious groups? Is it the pro-gas folks making less than $50K, or less than $100K a year?  Or, is it the one income bracket, those making over $100,000 a year, who oppose hydraulic fracturing in the Siena poll?

Bell Board

A quick perusal of Ono’s new clothing line provides a clear answer:  Yoko and Sean love the New York where people can afford to drop $200 on a jock strap  – a category that probably doesn’t include the struggling farmers and job-starved communities who are seeing an economic opportunity kept out of reach by the state’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.  It is time to lift the ban and allow for safe and responsible energy development in New York, giving jobs, hope and, yes, “power to the people.”  But, that implies we have leaders who recognize the difference between these two worlds of New York.  It’s not always apparent they do.

We’ll explore this a bit further below but, first, I’ve just got to ask. Do men really wear lightbulb bras?  Also, can someone please tell me what the heck “bell boards” are all about?  A picture, while it certainly does justice to the whole absurdity of such fashion items, simply doesn’t suffice as to explaining practical purpose, assuming there is one.  One writer described the campaign launch and products as “utterly insane.”  It’s hard to disagree.  Absurdity sells.

This is no secret, of course.  Celebrities vie for attention with ever stranger antics.  The quest for notoriety makes for good entertainment and is, typically, harmless.  Who doesn’t love the eccentric, after all?  Fame, however, seems to compel the notorious to seek credibility as a sort of penance for their outrageousness.  Hence, we have the spectacle of Yoko and Sean creating some group called “Artists Against Fracking” and erecting this dreadfully sad billboard that trades off John Lennon’s well-earned reputation:



Those of us who are strong believers in free speech have no issue with this billboard, of course.  We do hope it doesn’t fool anyone as to the credibility of the individuals paying for it, however.  Yet, we see people who should clearly know better signing on with Yoko Ono and son Sean as allies.  Here, for example, is favorite anti-gas academic Tony Ingraffea with the  mother-son duo and the Incredible Hulk, Mark Ruffalo:


Tony Ingraffea Hanging with Yoko, Sean and the Incredible Hulk


Tony has the right to pick his friends, of course, but does he have to lend his support to Yoko Ono’s search for political respectability?  When he motored down to Manhattan to hobnob with his newfound friends of one New York State world he undoubtedly drove by farms and houses of that other world, the one that has no time for antics because they’re too busy trying to earn a living.  They have no excess cash to throw away on Bell Boards, Lightbulb Bras or Printed Fly Knee Pads. They’re just trying to pay the mortgage and they’d like an opportunity to do it by supplying natural gas to Manhattan, among other places.  Delaware County’s unemployment rate was 8.6% in October, up from 8.3% a year ago, so things aren’t going so well there.  There going even worse in next door Sullivan County with 9.3% unemployment.

They are going very well for residents of the Dakota Building where Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon have lived, though.  Apartments there have sold for as high as $21 million.  There’s a waiting list and even the reject list reads like the storyline of a Robin Leach show about the rich and famous.  It’s a different world, for sure, but one thing they have in common with a lot of other New Yorkers downstate is this; they’re switching to natural gas heat.  The place has central heating and, earlier this year, the co-op got permits for three new A.O. Smith HW-420 boilers.  These babies each put out 420,000 BTUs of heat to keep the 79-year old Yoko and her son comfy in the winter.  Talk about power to the people!

Unfortunately, this hypocritical New York world of fame and riches often gets more attention from leaders than the needs of the ordinary New Yorkers from that other world.  This is what’s so disappointing about Tony Ingraffea’s embrace of their cause.  He’s a man of credentials, who should be able to make his case without relying upon their help.  Surely, living in Ithaca, he sees what’s around him in the countryside of Tompkins County and knows there a lot of New Yorkers who desperately need the economic development natural gas will provide.  Surely, he’s also smart enough to know his Manhattan friends need natural gas in their world, as evidenced by what’s happening at the Dakota Building.  So, as someone with a foot in both worlds, why isn’t he demonstrating some real leadership to make it all happen in the best way possible?  I don’t expect we’ll get an answer to the question, but I still have to wonder.

I also have to wonder how Sean Lennon reconciles his life of luxury with the reality of the poverty in Delaware County.  He talks wistfully, and no doubt sincerely, about his pleasant days on the upstate farm, but does he understand what it takes to maintain a farm if you’re not the son of one of the Beatles?  Has he got even the slightest clue what is required to hold onto the land the residents of that world cherish just as much as he does?  Does he care that the pastoral landscapes he loves generate tax bills that folks with far fewer means than he must pay?  Does it bother him that they may lose their heritage because they can’t pay the bills?  Does it occur to him that as a user of the natural gas he wants no one to produce, he sounds like a spoiled brat?

Now, I know the answer to to all those questions.  Sean Lennon is oblivious to every bit of this.  We have a right to expect more from our leaders, however.  They know natural gas is clean.  They know hydraulic fracturing is safe.  They know the residents of the Dakota Building need that natural gas no matter what they say to the contrary when posing for cameras.  They know the residents of Upstate New York desperately need the economic development it would bring to their areas.  I don’t expect Yoko and Sean to ever grow up because that would destroy their credibility in their world.  I do, nonetheless, expect our politicians and leaders to act like grown-ups for the sake of the world in which I, my friends, neighbors and relatives live.


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