Gregory Travis

May 23, 2004

It's amazing just how little disruption it takes to demonstrate just how thin and fragile is the veneer that we call civilization. Minor events this week illustrate just how not-very-far-at-all we've come from our simian roots. What then does that tell us about our ability to manage ourselves when the shit really starts to hit the fan?

The minor events that I referenced above have to do with our interpretation and reaction to the recent rise in fuel, particularly gasoline, prices. They're minor in that the rise has, on a historic basis, been relatively small. They're major, that is to say that they tell a not terribly flattering story about us and in how they predict our reactions to even bigger events which are coming down the pike.

May 16, 2004

History records two Renwicks of note. The first was James Renwick, a 17th century martyr and leader of the Covenanters, a Presbyterian sect which believed the church to be separate from the state and which forbade its members from participating in public political office or of even voting. Covenanters established themselves early in Bloomington, many coming to reside within an area around what is now known as Covenanter Drive on the city's near southeast side.

The other Renwick, again a James, was a 19th century Gothic architect whose most famous accomplishment was the design of the Smithsonian Institution building. While the Smithsonian may be Renwick's (the architect) most famous creation, his finest is probably the awe-inspiring St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

May 9, 2004

In last week's installment, I laid out the issues surrounding Monroe County's Solid Waste "crisis." Specifically, I pointed out that the most elementary investigation betrays the notion of a crisis—at worst the district is facing around a 10% shortfall in annual operating funds (with adjustments for the opacity of the district's finances, see below)--at best (i.e. if the one-time compliance charges are ignored), the district would end 2004 nearly half a million dollars in the black.

Despite these facts, we're nevertheless barraged by headlines and public meetings--all trumpeting a crisis. Why has this happened, why does it continue to happen, and whose interests and superstitions does feeding this "crisis" atmosphere serve?

May 2, 2004

When is a crisis not a crisis? Well, for one, when the problems depicted as a "crisis" don't actually exist, or are so minor that a slight amount of competent managerial oversight can correct them. Sometimes, too, crises are manufactured in order to further a specific political agenda. Now neither of those situations is exclusionary. A false crisis can consist of both characteristics. For example, the Social Security "Crisis."

Or, closer to home, the Monroe County Solid Waste District (SWMD) "Crisis."

April 11, 2004

For the past couple of weeks, CIVITAS has been talking about Bloomington's proposed "living wage" ordinance. I covered the arguments being put forth for and against the ordinance, but the more that I've thought about it, the more that I've come to the conclusion that those arguments are a bit premature.

One side argues that the living wage is necessary to address a social ill, particularly the difficulty which some have in providing adequately for themselves and their families. The other side argues that, yes that's a problem, but that it can't be addressed with tactical measures such as a living wage. They argue that it demands strategic thinking.

April 3, 2004

In last week's column I wondered aloud about the passion and energy being put into the local "living wage" debate by not only the proponents of the proposed ordinance but also by its opponents. It's one thing to have predictable opponents among low-wage champions like the local Chamber of Commerce and the rest of the blinkered brood, but it's quite another when some of the opposition is coming from the Democrats in the form of pronouncements from Bloomington's new mayor. After all, aren't Democrats supposed to be the party of the working man? What happens when they lose even that distinction between themselves and Republicans?

March 27, 2004

I've been trying to figure out exactly why so much time and energy is being directed against Bloomington's proposed "living wage" ordinance. I understand that anything that proposes to deal with the systemic realities of low-wage employment by, hold onto your seats, raising wages is always going to be met with predictable opposition from predictable camps. That said, I'm a little surprised by the tenacity of the opposition to what is, in reality, a low-risk and low-impact proposition based on the revolutionary notion that everyone does better when everyone does better.

March 6, 2004

Yesterday, a cold that's been lurking around for a few days finally decided it was showtime. As a result, I've been holed up in bed with my laptop, a pile of disgusting tissues, and my trusty wireless Internet connection. And, between periods of unconsciousness, feverish hallucinations, and yelling at the dogs, I've managed to get in some e-mail correspondence.

One string of conversation took place between myself and a friend who's a transportation consultant. He and I have different views regarding transportation planning, but we always have respectful disagreements, and I always enjoy throwing out my perspective to see how it sticks to his intellectual kitchen wall. Feeling weak and lazy, I thought that I might use our most recent discussion as fodder for this week's column.

February 28, 2004

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 14, 2004

Bloomington's medical community has a long and (generally) entertaining history of providing area residents with an ongoing real-life hospital soap opera. Years, even decades, of this 24-hour serial have titillated and amused us with plotlines involving strong characters, shady real estate deals, backroom eminence grise machinations, and youthful quests for power, prestige, and fortune. Oh, and let's not forget the boilerplate of any successful soap opera: the deep personality conflicts, individual agendas, and all-too-human vendettas.

Bloomington's real-life hospital soap opera usually puts on a decent show. But recently things have been so good with the quality of the writing, the depth of the characters involved, and the intensity that I believe we must be in the middle of sweeps week. What the heck am I talking about? Put your hair in curlers, grab the ironing, pour yourself a late-morning Bloody Mary and tune in to this week's CIVITAS to find out. Oh, don't worry, I promise to finish the episode before the cable guy shows up.

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