Gregory Travis


November 14, 2009

I've written about this before, and it's time to write again. As predicted, the state (as in Indiana) has decided to petulantly go forward with officially punishing Bloomington and Monroe County for being anything but grease on the I-69 skids.

But first, a quick redux. There exists something called a Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO. There exists also something called the Indiana Department of Transportation, or INDOT. And there exist local, state and federal governments.

Some time ago, the federal government decided that it wasn't going to give out money to the states, for road projects, unless it could be assured that it would be money well spent. Toward that goal the feds wanted to make sure that the money was needed, that it was wanted, and that it would be spent efficiently and effectively.


October 31, 2009

I gotta admit that I cringed when I pulled up the last issue of The Bloomington Alternative and saw editor Steve's piece on the new county Comprehensive Plan.

And I cringed even more as I read the piece, choc-a-bloc as it was full of assurances from my friend and County Commissioner Mark Stoops that this time the community was going to be able to get a hold of its destiny.

More than a decade's worth of involvement in land-use issues -- including the epiphany that almost the entirety of local government's existential purpose is not to provide police and fire protection, or the justice system, or anything else other than to arbitrate land use -- had left me rather cynical about the topic.


October 17, 2009

At first, I was horrified to learn that Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences had gone ahead this year and awarded a prize in Economics. That horror abated some when I learned it had been awarded, for the first time ever, to a woman. And it abated more when I understood that she was a faculty member here at Indiana University, a fact that replaced much of the horror with pride.

But what really turned things for me, what allowed that final sigh of total relief, was the revelation that the prize for Economics hadn't gone to an economist at all. IU's Elinor Ostrom is a political scientist.

Why was that important? Because the state of the dismal science is dismal. It's more than dismal, it's dreadful. It's embarrassing.


October 3, 2009

I went to a party a couple of weeks ago, at a farm wedged somewhere between the retail slums of Whitehall Crossing and Ellettsville. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and an even more gorgeous setting of gently rolling terrain of alternating fields and forest.

The kind of place that rejuvenates the soul. The kind of place that's becoming increasingly rare in Monroe County.

The farm lies smack in the middle of a vast arc, stretching from southeast of the airport, through the airport itself, and then swooping northeastward to State Road 37; an arc envisioned someday as the home of Bloomington's ring road, a mini I-465, and through other land held by an elite cadre of speculators enabled by the civic rhetoric of the growth machine.


September 19, 2009

Ted Kennedy saved my life, at least according to my mother. It was sometime in the mid 1960s, and she and I were walking down Boston's Beacon Hill when I broke away and began running toward a busy intersection. Just as I arrived at the end of the curve, a figure rounded the corner and, with an outstretched arm, whisked me from almost certain automotive death.

That figure was none other than Ted Kennedy. At least according to my mom. And, also according to her, after saving my life he carried my mother's groceries home for her.

Apocryphal or not, I've always admired the Kennedys as the standard bearers and most public repositories of the canon of liberal Democratic social values. Each impossibly and tragically flawed in character, nevertheless they carried a vision of the world not as it was, but what it could and should be, while relentlessly asking the question of why it wasn't so.

I remembered that question, when Ted Kennedy passed away last month, and I remembered its most succinct expression as I first learned it from Kennedy's eulogy to his brother, Robert. A eulogy devastating in its emotional impact on anyone who can bear to listen to it and made ever more so by the fact that it was a eulogy largely written by Robert Kennedy himself, from a speech in Cape Town delivered in 1966.


August 8, 2009

It's happening, again.

Four months ago in what was billed as an un-partisan "spontaneous outburst," corporate interests rallied their water-carriers and an army of useful idiots to stage ersatz "Tea Parties" across the country. Ostensibly focused on the issue of government spending and the level of indebtedness being carried by the public sector, each rally nevertheless deconstructed similarly: a fringe movement of furious whites, representative of the remaining base of what remained of the Republican party, lashing angrily out because there was a black man in the White House.

For none of their other explanations made any sense. You're concerned about the deficit? Then where were you during the past 30 years, when during 20 years of Republican presidencies, $9 trillion of our nation's $11 trillion dollar debt was accrued?

In other words, where were you when 80 percent of the current national debt was being charged off on the nation's credit card? Where were you when tax rebates for the wealthy were the excuse-du-jour for leaving a crushing legacy to the next generation?

Answer: you weren't anywhere. Because when all that was happening, there wasn't a black man in the White House. So you didn't care.


July 11, 2009

A little more than a decade ago, the political tide in Monroe County began to change. While the city of Bloomington's politics had been dominated by Democrats since the early 1970s, in the mid 1990s county politics still tilted towards the right -- even if ever so slightly.

But that was a time, not long after James Howard Kunstler's book The Geography of Nowhere was published, of increasing public awareness of and antipathy toward suburban sprawl. While not yet ready to reject the culture of suburbia entirely, people nevertheless began to wonder if things were not going a little too far.

This, of course, represented a political opportunity. A platform on which office-seekers could run, and run successfully, by offering an alternative to the status quo.


June 27, 2009

Twenty years ago the atmosphere of Monroe County and Bloomington gained a backbeat right out of a Buffalo Springfield Lyric: "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." And, yes, there were battle lines being drawn. Maybe nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

Bloomington had survived the iconic 1970s, with a character and ethos frozen in time by movies like Breaking Away. But by 1990 some of us started to worry that instead of a happy time capsule, Breaking Away had become an ominous, if still nostalgic, totem to a past now gone replaced by a future not as good.

For while most of us knew what "Bloomington" meant, reality was far more harsh. During the 1980s, IU's financial minister John Hackett had dictated that every university unit become a cost center, had to earn its own way and, with that dictate, were swept away anything not amortizable no matter what the sentimental, institutional or historic value.


June 13, 2009

In June of 1958, police broke down the door to Richard and Mildred Loving in the hope of catching them in the act of sexual intercourse. Why? Because Richard Loving was a white man and Mildred Loving was a black woman, and Virginia’s laws, based on long-discredited theories of eugenics, prohibited sexual intercourse between members of different races.

The police didn’t manage to catch Richard and Mildred en flagrante. But they did catch something else, a marriage certificate hanging on the wall of the Lovings’ bedroom. That, too, was something illegal in Virginia. The Lovings were married in the District of Columbia, which allowed mixed-race couples to marry. But they had returned to their home in Virginia, whose state code made mixed-race couples returning to the state after being married criminals.

The Lovings were subsequently sentenced to a year in prison with the sentence suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia.


May 30, 2009

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" - so says the Declaration of Independence, the shot across Britain's bow that said there was no God-sanctioned hierarchy of individuals.

"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." - so said the Constitution of the United States, reminding everyone that when the Declaration of Independence said "all men," it really only meant all men.

And, furthermore, it really only meant all white men.

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