Gregory Travis

June 18, 2006

The left is often accused, on talk radio and elsewhere, of "elitism." Hillary Clinton's health care reform was widely vilified as a top-down diktat, as was much of John Kerry's presidential platform. And, locally, who can forget Commissioner Brian O'Neill's initiative to increase local fiscal home rule — only to have it skewered by the establishment media as a "sneaky tax?"

Now it's true that the left, as the ideology of ideas, tends to come up with bold plans (that's the nature of progressive politics). And it's true that the left usually shoots itself in the foot in the execution of those plans, coming off as aloof know-it-alls who would elevate the hoi polloi if only the great unwashed would let them.

But I think the label of elitism is unfair, at least in practice. I think there's another current, another set of real elites, that have for decades effectively distracted the public, even as they put forth, and execute on, their own agenda.

June 4, 2006

Last week, while sitting in the Miami airport, I watched two individuals dismantling a cell phone kiosk. And, as I watched them, I was reminded of R. Buckminster Fuller's observation that "about 60 percent of all human activity in America is not producing any life protection, life support or development accommodation, which physical life support alone constitutes real wealth."

The passage, from Fuller's Critical Path, was part of a longer exposition on what, for lack of a better term, I will call busywork. Fuller's thesis in a nutshell: the majority of us are daily employed at tasks that create no wealth on a net basis.

That society, us, and the other 40 percent that are engaged at wealth-producing activities would actually be better off if the 60 percent engaged in busywork were simply allowed to go home.

May 21, 2006

Okay, so I've been talking an awful lot about energy lately. You're probably sick to death of it and, maybe, so am I. No, scratch that, I'm not. I've got a few more things to say and, judging by the attention the subject's been getting in the rest of the media, I'm not alone.

You're going to have to slog through another episode this week; maybe next time I'll write something a little less disquieting. Something about fluffy bunnies.

Or something. But this time it's about energy, and what it all means, again.

May 7, 2006

Halfway between Honolulu and Sydney lies the tiny island nation of Nauru, the smallest country in the United Nations. Nauru is a "phosphate" island, created when just enough coral reached just high enough to the ocean surface in an area just close enough to migratory bird paths.

Birds that fished and crapped around the coral long enough for the guano to rise and so birth the island.

Nauru is, literally, made of shit. Or was.

April 23, 2006

Not only does Monroe County sport more TIFs (Tax Increment Finance) districts than any other county in the state, but it's just about to get another.

The process is secretive, the process is furtive, and the process is entirely opaque to the general public — and for good reason. Because if they had an inkling of what was going on behind the curtains, the public might just get uppity and say what no establishment ear wants to hear.

The public might say "Why?"

April 9, 2006

You can't go home again, or so said Tom Wolfe in his novel by the same name. The thesis was simple: you can't recover the past, so you might as well stop trying. Fair enough, but what if it's not us trying to reclaim the past? What if it's the past coming forward to reclaim us — irrespective of whether we're onboard with the plan?

Taking the Paul Klee painting Angelus Novus as his muse, the philosopher Walter Benjamin developed a theory of the future (it's a train wreck) and of the past (the skyward-building and ever-accumulating debris of that unending wreck).

And, between the future and the past, Angelus Novus had the Angel of History, facing the past and desperately trying to make right what had happened, desperately trying to clean up history.

March 25, 2006

Okay, I'm going to commit heresy. My liberal friends aren't going to like this one bit, but I'm gonna say it: the toll road deal, where we leased the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign consortium, was a good idea. A really good idea.

And I hope it doesn't end there. I'm not a fan of wanton privatization, far from it, but I am a fan of getting rid of assets that have no future, especially when you can do it at the top of the market — i.e. before the future arrives.

So keep lookin', Governor Daniels, and keep flippin' Indiana roads for Bourbon euros and Aussie dollars. We don't want to hold onto those turkeys, and we can certainly use the cash.

March 12, 2006

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.

February 26, 2006

As I've written before, government is inept by design. Its foibles, inefficiencies, and incompetence aren't there by accident. They were imposed on it by those who engineered government in the first place. "The government that governs least, governs best" isn't just a manifesto to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) -- it's also an admonition, to those who run governments, to run them into the ground.

Indiana trails the country in just about every qualitative indicator, but there is one area where we excel. That's in the area of incompetent and ineffective government.

From our Constitution, through our legislature and down to the townships and precincts is everywhere codified a relentless credo: whatever you do make sure that, by statute, by structure, by empowerment, and by funding, that this thing called government ain't gonna work.

February 12, 2006

It's just after noon on Amtrak's Southwest Chief and I'm back from lunch and watching the world go by outside my bedroom window. The trip has taken me from Indiana to America's Southwest and back and, like all trips through rideover country, it's given me plenty to think about.

As the Chief whizzes through the backyards of scores of tiny towns, through their industrial parks, and over their highways I see the physical imprint of a promise between people. A promise signed and inked by their laws, by their infrastructure, by their society, and by their government. The promise of a union. A promise called civilization.

A promise is based upon trust, and trust is based on telling the truth. No truth, no trust. No trust, no civilization. And as my train sped through the countryside I saw something else, something that made me worry about my trust in our institutions and made me worry about our civilization.

That thing was oil.

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