Gregory Travis

February 9, 2008

The airline industry is a funny thing. It's one of the few professions where the least experienced practitioner is given the most difficult task, while its most seasoned members are challenged so little that the biggest worry they have is that of falling asleep in the cockpit.

The newest recruit out of flight school is the one who, with perhaps a couple of hundred hours of experience, is put behind the controls of a small turboprop to hand-fly passengers across the Rockies, in a blizzard. The veteran pilot, with decades of seeing it all, has to do nothing but strap himself into his seat in his 747, a machine with more redundancy than an Escher lithograph, and push the button with the name of his destination airport on it.

It's as if the first thing a new doctor out of medical school did was brain surgery, while being paid $20K a year, and the last thing he did, before retirement, was wart removal, while being paid $500K.

January 26, 2008

You've no doubt heard of the General Electric Corp.'s plans to shutter its refrigerator plant, located on the far west side of Bloomington. The shutdown would eliminate the remaining 900 or so workers (down from a high of over 3,000 just a few years ago) and mothball the giant factory complex.

It's really no surprise in a community and nation that has seen a steady erosion in its manufacturing base over the past 40 years, and especially since passage of 1994's North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the permanent granting of Most Favored Nation status to China in 2000.

And it's a path that Monroe County has been down a number of times before. Our electrical-industry-based manufacturing sector, once a dominant economic force, has withered away with the closings of the RCA/Thomson television plant (the largest in the world at the time of its 1998 move from Bloomington to Mexico); the eliminating of manufacturing at the Otis Elevator plant; the closing of the giant, and wholly contaminated, Westinghouse/ABB plant; and dozens of others from ATR Coil to Sarkes Tarzian.

January 12, 2008

"Make getting welfare as hard as getting a building permit" -- bumper sticker seen on a car in downtown Bloomington.

A ridiculous notion, of course. A building permit is obtained in an hour or so with no more than a visit to downtown Bloomington and the county's building department. Welfare, of which the overwhelming portion is dispensed to children, is immeasurably less available.

But the impression left by the bumper sticker is a common and widely held, if wildly inaccurate, one. The impression that, even here in Indiana, a faceless cabal of bureaucrats, liberals and fellow-travelers sit astride a giant machine of development impermission, dictating how and when the built environment can happen, but mostly dictating that it can't.


December 15, 2007

One of the most remarkable things about the T.C. Steele Historic Site, in the T.C. Steele state park, are the trees. That is, when one considers that the remarkable thing about Steele’s landscape paintings, made at the same site, is the utter lack of trees in them.

From his home, high atop his ridge, Steele had a clear view of his 2,000 acres, and then some. And from there, a century ago, Steele painted landscape after landscape of Indiana big-sky country where, from knob to holler, topography was king.

For the first wave of white settlers had cut down every tree they saw. Whether to make room for agricultural fields, to supply lumber to build their shelters or to burn for warmth, it made little difference. All fell before the axe and the saw. Within two centuries of our arriving, this country’s landscape had been transformed from an endless canopy of trees and into a rolling sea of dirt.

December 4, 2007

I’m reading a book, The World Without Us . The premise is simple: what if, suddenly, humans were to disappear from the face of the earth? The mechanism for that disappearance, whether it’s sickness, suicide or mass exodus (voluntary or involuntary) is immaterial.

What matters is what happens afterward.

What happens here on Earth, that is. With humans gone, how do ecosystems continue? What happens to our cultural artifacts, once we’re no longer around to tend to them? What things last, and what things rot?

November 20, 2007

One morning in Mesopotamia, a handful of centuries before Jesus was born, man woke up and discovered he hadn't eaten all of last night's dinner. He discovered leftovers.

So was born the agricultural surplus. A man could sow, grow and harvest in a year more than the man himself could eat. It became possible to free some men from work in the fields, so that they could do other things. And it became possible to stockpile the surplus, a hedge against disaster, a stockpile that could be drawn upon should the surplus temporarily falter.

Stockpiling required two things. It required structures, built things, silos, in which to store the stockpile and protect it from rot and vermin. And it required a place to put those silos.

November 6, 2007

Editor's note: Gregory Travis is off celebrating his 10th wedding anniversary and chose to rerun this column from March 12, 2006. "... seems apropos in light of the housing meltdown," he said.


Indiana is the trucking "Crossroads of America," where, apparently, an economy based on little more than storing-and-forwarding stuff made elsewhere can be a healthy and sustainable economy. At least if you believe Morton Marcus.

A couple of weeks ago Marcus wrote of Hendricks County, located to Indianapolis' west, as a place booming with both the second-highest population and the second-highest median income growth in the state.

How did it get that way? By being a warehousing "Mecca," hard against the Indianapolis airport and ready-made to store and forward goods produced in one place to consumers located in another.

October 23, 2007

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” said Shakespeare, while T.S. Eliot wrote, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter,” and Nietzsche declared, “It is my ambition to say in 10 sentences what everyone else says in a whole book – what everyone else does not say in a whole book.”

The power of brevity, ironically overstated by me above, as if to illuminate my own shortcomings in that regard. Nevertheless, I do try, as I did a couple of weeks ago when I tried to think of the briefest, most succinct and most incisive question that I could ask of Bloomington’s mayoral candidates.

An inquiry most laconic, producing a reply most discreet. A litmus test in 15 words: “Four years from now, should Bloomington have fewer, the same or more people, and why?”

October 9, 2007

Circulating through the community is a mailing called "Democrats for David Sabbagh." A curious instrument, it lists 18 individuals, all self-proclaimed Democrats, who nonetheless feel the need to throw off the yoke of political party identity and cross the street to cast a vote for the candidate from the other side.

And they want to tell you about it, in the hopes of getting you to do likewise.

Linguist George Lakoff (pronounced "Jackoff," by Rush Limbaugh) describes the difference between the conservative and liberal mindset and the ways the two outlooks tend to frame the world around them.

Conservatives place the world into an authoritarian frame, preferring to understand truth as an absolute and something that can be revealed directly by one's superior. The dictates of an angry father, a book of supernatural and eternal rules discovered in a middle-eastern cave.

September 25, 2007

Tomorrow (Sunday) is the equinox. It comes twice a year, when the sun crosses the equator, and night is, for all intents and purposes, the same length as day. This equinox heralds the death of summer and the birth of autumn, my favorite season.

It heralds something else, as it does three years out of every four, the closing stretches of the ultimate in popularity contests – political elections. What’s more, odd-year elections, like this one, are distinguished by their relentlessly local nature. No federal, no state, not even any county offices are up for grabs.

Only municipal offices, those of the incorporated towns and cities.

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