Gregory Travis


July 12, 2008

I ran across a graph the other day, posted on an Internet forum. It showed, in stark form, the juxtaposition between what we (meaning our federal government) spent last year on research and development of differing types of energy vs. what we spent prosecuting the war in Iraq.

Along the bottom of the graph were little centimeter-high bars representing solar, nuclear, coal and other fossil fuel research. And then there was another bar, about 2 feet tall (at least on my Apple laptop), and that bar was Iraq. (See Solar Power Rocks).

The war in Iraq is costing us about $120 billion dollars a year. In contrast, we spend less than $500 million a year on finding ways of powering the world without having to resort to using oil, purchased from people who hate us.


June 28, 2008

Lately I've been feeling like a pre-creepy Michael Jackson. You know, the dude with the Afro who could Moonwalk.

The planning and the damage done

Half a century ago, California realized it had created a problem. Through an intensive system of government suburban-automotive subsidies, lawmakers had created an intensely lucrative market for land speculation -- far beyond the traditional cores of California's cities. In the hopes of efficiently channeling rural residents into the city for shopping, cultural activities and employment, they began building an elaborate network of automotive highways.

And, in the hope of building that rural population base, which would come into the city and thereby vitalize both, they extended traditional urban services, such as water and sewer, far beyond the city center.

The result was a love-letter to the God of Unintended Consequences. The highways, instead of funneling people into the cities, became a backwards conduit out of the cities, particularly for middle class and affluent white Americans.


May 31, 2008

Civitas’ title is also that of a 2005 monograph by James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler’s thesis was simple: as a species we are reluctant to abandon any path we’ve set down, once we’ve made the commitment to set down the path.

And no matter how clear it becomes that the path leads to nowhere.

Indeed, we’ve romanticized the image of the stick-to-it hero who, damn the torpedoes, forges full-speed-ahead. And we’ve demonized those who, once committed to a path, subsequently choose another -- John Kerry wasn’t lionized for keeping his head up and alert, he was criticized for being a “flip-flopper.”

Which is nonsense, of course. The flip-side of staying the course is bullheaded stubbornness. Once, when criticized for changing his position on monetary policy, the great economist John Maynard Keynes shot backl, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”


May 17, 2008

Long before they set words to paper, humans drew maps -- pictures that told a thousand stories about human’s spatial relationship to the world and to each other. A collection of boundaries, some real, like lakes and rivers, some mythological, like Dante’s cosmology, and some cultural.

And some boundaries, political.

The boundaries on a map describe a philosophy of meaning. Things that mean one thing on one side of a boundary can mean another thing altogether on the other side of the boundary. And when the boundaries depicted are political boundaries, the map describes places where politics change.

A map defines a city, it shows us where the spatial extent of the city begins and where it ends. The municipal boundary tells us, “Here the city, be,” and where the city not be. Where politics change from the rural, to the urban – and vice-versa.


May 3, 2008

It's three days until the 2008 primary election, an election that promises to be one of the more exciting ones we've had here in Indiana, since at least 1968 for us Democrats, when Robert Kennedy came here to square off against Eugene McCarthy.

But that was a different kind of primary from the one we're seeing here today. It was a primary that started in the fall of 1967 with the incumbent Lyndon Johnson intending to run for re-election. But McCarthy soon thereafter launched a primary challenge to Johnson, entering the race as an anti-war dark horse in November 1967.

Kennedy waited until March 1968 to enter the primary, in a move that enraged McCarthy's supporters while simultaneously creating the spectacle of not one, but two high-profile Democrats challenging an incumbent Democratic president. It proved too much for Johnson who, seeing the writing on the wall, exited his bid for re-election just two weeks after Kennedy announced his bid for the ticket.

And so they came, Kennedy and McCarthy to Indiana where, on April 4, Kennedy delivered his famous speech in Indianapolis, at what was to be a bread-and-butter campaign stop, and which turned instead into one of the most famous extemporaneous eulogistical evocations in history.


April 19, 2008

Oil managed to hit over $117 a barrel yesterday, nearly twice as expensive as it had been as early as just a year-and-a-half ago. And it shows no signs of slowing down its meteoric rise in price.

And as it rises, it's bringing the prices of virtually everything else with it, like a giant trawler net scooping up the ocean's bounty, and lifting it out of reach.

The "green revolution" of the 1960s increased average crop yields per acre by three times. It did that through the miracle of petrochemicals. Fossil fuels, not animal or human labor, are the primary inputs to farming today.

On average, for every calorie of food we grow, we have to burn 10 calories of fossil fuels.

Oil is more than just the fuel that powers our cars, our trucks and our airplanes. It is the fuel that powers us. It is the food that we eat.


April 6, 2008

Political parties are private clubs, unions of like-minded individuals who combine resources, energy and ideology to help increase the chances of election to public office persons who embody the institutional character, values and qualities of the party membership.

It’s fashionable for some to claim themselves above the hew-and-fray of partisan politics. Perhaps, in the sense of not wanting to belong to any club that would have them, some claim independence from any particular political organization, or ideology. “I vote for the best candidate, not along party lines” goes the refrain; an expression of implicit superiority sometimes boosted in its rhetorical legitimacy with an added flourish, such as “I’ve voted for both Republicans and Democrats,” uttered not in shame, but pridefully.

Private clubs, yes, but private clubs with ridiculously lax standards of membership. In a few states, membership to one of the clubs requires you do nothing more than declare on a form to which club you wish to belong, making you a “registered” Democrat, or a “registered” Republican (for example).

In other states, membership is even more lax. In Indiana, for example, membership in one or the other club is as much a state of mind as anything else. But, even then, there are some rules.


March 22, 2008

So there I was the other morning, drinking coffee, listening to the radio and generally minding my own business when, on the radio, comes WFIU's "Speak your Mind" segment.

The segment, a kind of "letters to the editor" for the wireless, allows citizens a couple of minutes of airtime to vent on a topic of their choice. A lot of stations do it, including WFHB here, ton whose "Firehouse Feedback" I myself contribute a monthly caterwauling.

Anyways, the segment started with a bang, with the guest editorialist leading off with a confident and brash, "This is Kevin Sears."

Nothing wrong with that, a good lead to get the listener's attention and it got mine. London calling, time to pay attention.


March 8, 2008

If you’re an average American, you have a car. You drive it an average of 15,000 miles every year, and it gets an average of 25 miles per gallon. That means, in an average year, you go through about 600 gallons of fuel.

Ten years ago, that 600 gallons of fuel could be bought for an average of $1.71 a gallon, meaning it cost you an average of $1,026 a year to fuel your car. Oh, and another average (a median, actually) from 10 years ago, was $33,850 -- that’s the average (median) wage per-person in 1997.

After you bought all your gas, you still had $32,824 for the rest of your bills (all dollar figures are adjusted to 2008 values, by the way).

Today, that same 600 gallons of fuel costs not $1,026 but $1,980 (at $3.30 a gallon), nearly double. But Indiana’s median wage hasn’t budged, it’s still about $32,000 a year. Now, instead of having $33K left over, after paying the gas bill you’ve only got $30K.


February 24, 2008

Dear Jill,

It's us, again. You know, the coalition from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. We don't know why you won't return our calls, but we'd just like to say how much we like and admire you, and how much we'd like to get fired up about your candidacy for governor.

We're already getting fired up for the presidential race. It's been a long time since we had one candidate, much less two, as exciting and different as the two now vying for our party's nomination. And, not since JFK, have we seen the machine offer up anything as exciting as Obama. Could it be possible in our wildest dreams that we Hoosier Democrats are actually going to be given a meaningful chance at shaping that nomination?

Fantastic.

Yes we can. Change. Those are the words and sentiments that resonate among us and our party. Those are the words and sentiments that will bring a wave of the young, the hopeful and the willing into the voting booths this spring and fall.

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