Gregory Travis

November 28, 2004

Ok, so I was preparing another standard rant this morning when I got an e-mail from high within the Bloomington Alternative corporate tower. The BA publisher sent a broadcast reminding us drones that the Alternative would be taking its standard year-end break next month and that we'd better write sappy tear-filled retrospectives on the year that was and what we hoped would be the year that will.

Those of us in the reporting pool alternately groaned and gasped. One because we were all still hung over after getting hammered at last night's square lighting festival (note to self: don't forget to put in the "plus" column the fact that when this town combines tubas, children, and a frightening clown the result is always unbridled baccinalian mayhem). And second, because the flip-side of annual retrospective schlock columns is our Christmas bonus check. Yee-haw! A new Sony WEGA widescreen is in the back of Santa's SUV!

November 21, 2004

In November of 2001, exactly three years ago, I initiated a dialog with Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President Steve Howard regarding a survey of Bloomington and Monroe County businesses. This was a time when the "Bloomington is anti-business" notion was getting widespread attention, and I suspected then what I now know, namely that was a notion unsupportable by the empirical evidence.

I suggested to Mr. Howard that the Chamber conduct a survey in which local businesses were asked to compare business environmental factors in Bloomington and Monroe County to the same factors in other Indiana communities. For instance, how did land-use regulation here compare with, say, Hamilton County? What government incentive packages did we have, or did we lack, when compared to, say, Terre Haute?

Well, it looks like that survey has finally been done.

November 14, 2004

Ok, I'm about to do something that's terribly, terribly dangerous. I'm going to interpret election results. Not just any election and not just any results, but the election, and its results, that happened right here in Monroe County two weeks ago.

What we know

Let me start off with the easy stuff. First, we know that turnout this year was heavy with 51,061 people going to the polls on election day. In Monroe County, the average precinct turnout (the number of people who voted in a precinct expressed as a percentage of people eligible to vote in that precinct) was 51%. In other words, on average, over half of the people who could vote, did. We all remember the long lines, it's nice to see the numbers reaffirm them.

October 31, 2004

What do we want? To get rich. How will we do it? By being in power. What does it take to get elected? Money. Who has the money? The corporations. What do the corporations want? To profit from the privatization of services that government now provides. What then is the game plan? Privatization. How will we do that? By destroying public government.

That, in a nutshell, is the Republican agenda both nationally and locally. Nationally, the right has consciously instigated what they call a "starve the beast" agenda. Massive increases in government spending coupled with drastic cuts in government revenue result, sooner than later, in a government that implodes and can subsequently be sold off. Locally, the strategy is the same although the tactics are a little different. Here's how it works in Monroe County.

October 24, 2004

I'm a little worried about my job at The Bloomington Alternative. When I started this column, nearly two years ago, I started it with the assumption that there was enough dumb local stuff to keep a curmudgeon like me supplied forever. But recent developments are starting to concern me. My inner paranoiac is discerning some trends, none of which bode well for the future of CIVITAS.

What am I talking about? I'm talking about what seems to be the beginning of a progressive shift in local politics. Jeff Ellington, Republican candidate for County Commissioner, just came out in favor of a countywide living wage ordinance. So did his party-mate Joyce Poling. And both have issued strong statements opposing development around Lake Monroe. I'm starting to think that the next time Jeff rides a cherry-picker into a tree it won't be to remove Mike "Moss" Englert, but to join him. What am I going to write about then?

October 10, 2004

Last week I attended a presentation by Mark Lakeman. He's part of a group out of Portland, Oregon, that calls itself "City Repair." The presentation began by describing the organic evolution of public space, as embodied in the public plazas and marketplaces of ancient cities, and then the subsequent assault on those spaces by the imposition of the Roman grid and its rigid subdivision of land into rectangular plots -- each meeting the other at a sharp intersection, an intersection geometrically and functionally hostile to public assembly.

Lakeman's thesis was fascinating. He dispensed with the usual hand-wringing that accompanies these things by flatly decrying that we all know that something is deeply and fundamentally wrong with our cities and with our civic arrangements. He told us that it was simply time to accept that things were wrong, that we all knew it, and that it was time to move onto the next and more important phase. That phase was the correction of what was wrong, or more directly, the repair of what was wrong. He told us that it was time to start repairing our cities.

September 26, 2004

I'm going to change the format of CIVITAS a little. The last issue of every month, like this one, is going to be comprised of a number of little rantlets, instead of the one big long rant. I'll still do the big rants, three or so times a month, but the end of the month will be reserved for a little lighter fare.

That makes it a little easier for me and actually gets CIVITAS back to what I originally envisioned for it, namely a 700-or-so word commentary of the week on the biggest, dumbest, or biggest and dumbest issues to arise over the past few days. I believe that the best points are made succinctly, and it's distressing to see the average CIVITAS column word count now heading north of 1,500.

September 12, 2004

by Gregory Travis

Ok, before I start off, a few disclaimers: I'm cranky. I'm tired. My hay fever, as it always does this time of year, is killing me. I'm too allergic to live in Indiana, but I'm not rich enough to move to Italy, and I'm too young to move to Arizona. I know, I know. I could get some drugs for it, but that would involve going to the doctor and, well, doctors creep me out. When I was discussing the outline for this column with my lovely wife, the Velvet Steamroller, she opined that I was being a bit shrill. Blame it on the pollen.

Second, I have a degree in History and I fancy myself an economic dandy. But what I don't know anything about is psychology. In fact, I got a "D" in college in the only psychology class that I ever took, a 100-level introductory course as wide as the Mississippi and as deep as the Jordan River in the fall (i.e. not very). I remember something about a girl in a box, as well as a dog with a salivation problem, but little more. But that's not going to stop me, today, from going on like I'm freaking Sigmund Freud.

September 5, 2004

by Gregory Travis

This Monday will mark the 100th anniversary of nationwide observance of the Labor Day holiday. First informally celebrated in 1885, Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 when Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday.

Labor Day's origins are found, not surprisingly, in the awakening of American labor power and the rise of industrial unions in the latter part of the 19th century. The first celebrations came in the form of street parades designed to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations."

Later, the scope of the holiday's focus was broadened to include more general discussions of economic and civil nature. But, today, those discussions and the once-ascendant labor class behind the holiday are in decline. I'll today celebrate Labor Day's centennial with a return to discussion of yesteryear.

August 29, 2004

I was eavesdropping on a conversation last night, a conversation that revolved around the recent controversy over pay, or rather the relative levels of pay, of our county's various police and fire personnel. If you've been following the news, you know that there's tension in the air arising over jealousies and perceived inequity between what officers in the Monroe County Sheriff's Department make and their counterparts on the City of Bloomington Police Department. Likewise, county firefighters have also thrown their hat into the fray, rejecting a contract that would have paid them less than police officers.

The conversation got interesting as the participants went from discussing the immediate issue to a broader one, namely a discussion of what it all costs framed against a backdrop of a city and a county in congenital fiscal distress. After all, police, sheriff (including the jail), and fire services form the dominant expenditure of local government. And from the sturm und drang emerged a thesis, a thesis that posited that we might move beyond surface issues like relative pay levels and down to a more structural issue — the issue of our cultural preoccupation with fear management.

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