Gregory Travis

March 20, 2005

If everything goes as planned, and I see no reason that it won't, this issue of CIVITAS will be the first in The Bloomington Alternative's new format as a biweekly (for now) printed paper (available at all quality outlets throughout the area).

What we progressives lack in rock-ribbed business sense (aren't newspapers supposed to be migrating from dead trees to the Internet, not the other way around?), we'll make up in wide-eyed gumption. It's going to be a heck of a lot of fun.

But it won't be without some changes. And the character of those changes, and what they mean to CIVITAS, has been the buzz at every water cooler in the sprawling Alternative media complex. I'll talk about those changes soon enough. But, first, a little retrospective for those tuning in for the first time just now.

March 13, 2005

Did I miss a memo or is it really a tradition in Bloomington mayoral politics that when a new administration takes office, the previous administration spends a year bashing it? Every time Tomi Allison opened her mouth in 1982, did Frank McCloskey emerge from the Washington Wilderness to utter "I don't think so?" And when John Fernandez took office, in 1996, did Allison then spend a year composing e-mails from the shadows critical of the young Basque, separated from Kokomo?

Because I sure don't remember that. Which makes me think that Fernandez' penchant for sniping at the Kruzan administration, not to mention the Democrat-controlled City Council, is unprecedented. But unprecedented it may be. Now the next question is, why?

March 6, 2005

If you have a pulse, you know that the issue du mois (that's French for month) is the Living Wage Ordinance and the upcoming March 23 vote on same. If you've more than just a pulse, you also know that the local paper has been hosting a veritable cascade of disdain for the ordinance, with everyone from the paper itself to the executive director of the Monroe County United Ministries (MCUM) weighing in against it.

But if you're a supporter of progressive initiatives, like the living wage, don't be disheartened by the rhetoric. It's come hard, and it's come fast, but it also came early and from the most predictable corners. There's another salient feature of the criticism against, namely that it's remarkably shallow and easy to refute. There's still plenty of time and, now that the opposition has shown its guns, it's time to play a little "D" before we go for ours.

February 20, 2005

Alternative columnist Gregory Travis is away at a wedding this weekend and unable to file a column. What follows is a column Travis wrote in the Alternative about this time last year, Feb. 29, 2004, on issues that remain near the top of the political agenda today.

In the recent edition of the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce's newsletter, chamber president Steve Howard took it on himself to warn the community regarding some popular memes that are making the rounds. He warned against uncritically accepting the benefits of a "living wage," he warned against the notion that I-69 might actually cost a lot of money, and he warned against getting excited about something called "New Urbansim" on the assumption that it's only practical in places like New York.

Now I didn't have much quarrel with the first two. Sure, I'm still totally unconvinced that the negatives attached to a "living wage" would materialize, but neither do I think it's going to deliver nirvana. And while I think it's utter folly to invest in obsolete transportation technology, I also grudgingly admit that, on a relative basis, Indiana pissing away two billion dollars on a road it doesn't need is equivalent to me buying a $2,000 foot massager from Sharper Image. Sure, I don't need one and it'll probably end up in the attic, but it's not going to bankrupt me either.

February 13, 2005

Saturday, 5:50 p.m. Bloomington time.

We're just pulling into Galesburg, Ill., as I type this. By "we" I mean Amtrak's train number five, more affectionately called the California Zephyr. Amtrak's Zephyr is something of a cruel facsimile of the original, the legendary dome car-equipped Zephyr born of the Western Pacific, the Denver and Rio Grand, and the Burlington railroads. But if the cars are more utilitarian than luxurious it's more than offset by the fact that the Zephyr of today still takes the same road, maybe a little less traveled, as did the Zephyr of yesterday.

The scenery one sees aboard a long-distance train in the United States is quite different from what you get outside an automobile. There's little money to be made speculating on trackside outlet malls and not a whole lot of future in a petromart fast-food node where one railroad crosses another. The result is that the scenery outside the window is remarkably unspoiled; a vision perhaps not of the real America as we've made it but of a better-looking one at least. A kind of rural moral Disneyland absent shareholder pressure and boardroom buckus.

February 6, 2005

Human beings are dogged repeaters (I suspect they share this attribute with the rest of the animal kingdom). When we find something that works or when we're taught that some particular way is the right way to do something, we tend to do it over and over again until there's some overwhelming reason to do it differently. Being creatures of habit isn't necessarily a bad thing. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of a small mind, but there's really no reason to abruptly forget oft hard-learned lessons of the past, particularly when those lessons are serving us well.

In few domains do we see reflected our dogged repetitiveness so well as in the built environment. Virtually every aspect of building anything involves the repetition hundreds, thousands, and millions of times of lessons learned, or passed down, before. Every new building uses the same spacing for its floor joists. Door openings are standardized as are everything from structural members to appliqué veneers. Like I said, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But it's not necessarily a good thing either.

January 23, 2005

The captain of the pirate ship Jolly Roger was instructing his new cabin boy when the lookout called "Man O' War on the horizon, Captain!" "Boy, fetch me my red silk shirt!" barked the captain to his charge. The cabin boy retrieved the shirt and the captain put it on and lashed himself to the mast as the Jolly Roger repelled her attacker.

Two days passed when the lookout suddenly called out anew. "Two Men O' War on the horizon, Captain!" he cried -- whereupon the captain again called for his shirt and lashed himself to the mast. After the battle, the cabin boy steeled himself to ask the captain the reason for the strange ritual. "It's very simple, boy," said the captain, "It's important to keep the crew's morale up during battle. If I am wounded, the red shirt hides the blood and the mast keeps me upright. That way, no matter what happens, the crew never fears for my safety."

Another few days passed when suddenly the lookout called "four Men O' War on the horizon, Captain!" With that the captain turned to his cabin boy and, in a low voice, commanded: "Boy, get me my brown corduroy slacks."

January 16, 2005

In The Essential Tension, philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn wrote: "The ability to support a tension that can occasionally become almost unbearable is one of the prime requisites for the very best sort of scientific research." I don't know if Kuhn thought, or would approve, of having that statement generalized. But if he did, I'd like to think he wouldn't mind being generalized beyond the realm of science and into social dynamics. I'd like to think it might be applicable not just to white-coats and test tubes but to a larger context to, say, a place called Monroe County.

Because there's something remarkable going on here. I don't know if it will hold but, for the time being, the attitudes of our institutional leadership appear to be undergoing what Kuhn would term a paradigm shift. Specifically, the old way of looking at the world — at least the way we've been looking at it for the past sixty or so years (i.e. since WW II) is peeling away and being replaced by something far more hopeful and far more promising.

January 9, 2005

One of the things that I hope to do this year is to keep the spotlight on evaluating for benefit, specifically benefit of the community. What does that mean? It means ensuring that those in a position to do so ask, whenever appropriate, "How does this hurt or benefit the existing residents of Monroe County?"

Like it or not, our local political boundaries are drawn at the township, the city, and the county boundaries. That means that the responsibilities held by our local elected officials end and/or begin at those boundaries because that's where the people who elected them live.

January 2, 2005

I watched Monroe County's government turn over today as the county's newly elected officials were sworn in at the courthouse (the old, good-looking one). I've never been to a swearing-in ceremony before and, I gotta tell you, I was impressed. My cynical and un-sentimental nature had me completely unprepared for what is one of the genuinely un-political institutions of our political process. No electioneering, no posturing. Just people solemnly affirming to those they will serve that they will keep their promises.

Everyone at the ceremony was there to have a good time. There was no need, nor use, to bring up records of the past or agendas for the future. It was, as some of my more sensitive friends might characterize, "a single moment," straddling athwart time neither tainted by yesterday nor framed by tomorrow. But when it was officially over, tomorrow did begin. And so I write the first column of 2005 thinking about tomorrow and what better way to think about tomorrow on New Year's day than by thinking of resolutions.

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