CIVITAS by Gregory Travis
The Dilbertization of discourse
What's the nature of professionalism? What does it mean to "act professionally?"
My dictionary defines "professional" as one engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime. In other words, the primary definition of "professionalism" is pecuniary. It's a link with money. Specifically, how to get it and how to keep on getting it.
Professional is often contrasted with "amateur." Particularly where the latter term is use pejoratively as in, "He's just an amateur."
I sit on something called the Monroe County Economic Development Commission -- a (mostly) advisory commission to the county government's fiscal body, the county council, on matters of local economic development. In fact, I'm currently the commission's president -- a title that carries no additional powers or responsibilities but, like so much born of the state legislature, exists for existence's sake.
Every year around this time the economic development commission reviews the status of all of the county's tax abatements. A tax abatement is simply a grant by the local government to rebate all or a portion of a property owner's property taxes, in the hope of fostering some degree of economic development that wouldn't exist otherwise.
And every year we try and take some measure of whether or not that spirit of development is holding.
Dennis Hopper died today falling, at the ripe old age of 74, to prostate cancer. Hopper, a protege' of Indiana's own James dean, burst into the public consciousness with this 1969 film Easy Rider, a film about a drug-financed journey across the country, from Los Angeles to New Orleans, to find an America that didn't exist.
1969 was a remarkable year in many ways. It was the year Led Zeppelin's first album, the year of Elvis' comeback, the year of Concorde, the year of the first manned landing on the moon, and a year of oil.
It was the year of the 1969 oil well blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel, just offshore from the Los Angeles departed by Easy Rider's protagonists in their search for a country that didn't exist. It was my first year as a young boy in Southern California.
I was talking politics the other day, talking politics with a real politician. He and I, both amateur radio operators, were making a pilgrimage to Dayton for that city's annual "Hamfest" and the two-plus-hour drive each way afforded lots of opportunity to gab radios and realpolitik.
Much of my interest was on the recent party primaries and what the results, particularly in the far more interesting Republican contests, might mean about national sentiment and the situation going into next fall's elections. Was the hyper-reactionary "tea party" movement real? If it was real, had it peaked too early? Where was it all going?
Notwithstanding John Mellencamp's paeans to its small-towns, Indiana's reputation as a rural state just isn't that well supported by its demographics. For instance, although Illinois has a population of 13 million people, to Indiana's six, the vast majority of the Illini population is concentrated in the immediate area of Chicago.
Take out Chicago, Aurora, Elgin, Joliet and Waukegan and Illinois' population drops to 5 million people. Take out Indianapolis and its surrounding cities, and the population of Indiana drops only to four-and-a-half million, just half a million less than Illinois.
Now factor back in the greater land area of Illinois (53,000 square miles (again, removing Chicago and its environs from the calculation)) versus that of Indiana (33,000 square miles (not counting Indianapolis or its satellites)) and you get a population density of 95 people per square mile for Illinois versus 136 for Indiana.
You wouldn't know it from the propaganda emanating from the Statehouse, but things are bad in Indiana. Like real bad. Indiana is among the top-tier states in both mortgage delinquency and mortgage foreclosure rates (a strong indicator of economic distress) and is absolutely hemorrhaging jobs. As Morton Marcus pointed out in his column today, in 2008 and 2009 Indiana lost over a quarter of a million jobs -- the third worst percentage decline in the nation.
But the governor seems to be either (blissfully?) unaware of the state's true situation, or he's purposefully ignoring it. Listening to his state-of-the-state speech, I couldn't help but feel I'd been transported to an Orwellian neverland, where bad is good and good is all around.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said I-69 is on the fast track to be completed by 2012.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says the first three sections will be completed three years ahead of schedule.
The governor says all of this could be done within the interstate's $700 million budget. -- Evansville's WFIE, Channel 14. Oct. 23, 2009
Mitch Daniels has a problem. A big problem. His dream of a well-funded patronage machine, in the form of the I-69 extension from Evansville to Crane, is in trouble.
It's apocryphal, but the urban legend goes that Albert Einstein was once asked for his opinion of mankind's greatest invention, to which he curtly replied "compound interest." Compound interest, the underpinning of economic exponential growth and an utterly necessary device for the proper functioning of any economy hardwired for exponential growth, the simultaneously simple and devilishly complicated instrument that is the beating heart of the industrialized world.
Every economic transaction we make is colored by compound interest. We borrow a couple hundred grand to buy a house, make a two grand a month payment on it, yet still owe more than a two grand difference between this and the last payment. Why?
In 1964 (the year I was born, coincidentally), Richard Hofstadter published, in Harper's Magazine, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." It opened like this:
"American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority."
If it sounds familiar, that's because it is. But more on that later.
I've written about this before, and it's time to write again. As predicted, the state (as in Indiana) has decided to petulantly go forward with officially punishing Bloomington and Monroe County for being anything but grease on the I-69 skids.
But first, a quick redux. There exists something called a Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO. There exists also something called the Indiana Department of Transportation, or INDOT. And there exist local, state and federal governments.
Some time ago, the federal government decided that it wasn't going to give out money to the states, for road projects, unless it could be assured that it would be money well spent. Toward that goal the feds wanted to make sure that the money was needed, that it was wanted, and that it would be spent efficiently and effectively.