“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?”
The venue was the Herald-Times’ online “chat” with the candidates. On Tuesday morning, while sitting in my dermatologist’s office, waiting to have something horrible removed from somewhere horrible, I fired it off from my iPhone to first-up David Sabbagh.
And waited. 11 a.m. came, and went. Noon came, and went. Question asked, not answered.
Fearing an iGlitch, I dashed off a question to the H-T’s Web staff: “Did they not receive the question, or had there just not been enough time?” I asked. “Question received,” came the answer (whew! That phone was expensive). “Received, but ignored.”
What? Until then it had never occurred to me that candidates, and others, were free to cherry-pick which questions they would, and which questions they wouldn’t, answer. I’d assumed they were selected by the H-T staff and curtailed only if time didn’t allow.
The next day was Kruzan’s time. I fired off the same question, pre-pended with a snotty note that his opponent had ducked the question (I was still angry that stealth ducking was even possible).
I thought I’d been blown off a second time, but, when I’d just about given up hope, there it was. Well, a truncated version at least. Someone (I don’t know who) exorcised my snotty note about the question having been blown off by Sabbagh. Oh, well.
Kruzan’s answer was the better of the two (i.e. better than nothing). But it illustrated, in its own way, and through the same mechanism (the sin of omission) the issue with my question. Namely that it was innocuous on the surface but toxic in its composition.
Things better left unsaid
Sabbagh would have liked to have said “more people! We need more people!” as he’s always expressed his desire to live in a bigger city, while being too lazy to move to one – as well as knowing that those socially and occupationally most part of his cohort, i.e., developers, are one of the few segments of our community for whom bigger really is better.
But he realized that, politically, he couldn’t say that. He’d come off as a crank and very possibly detonate the tenuous support he has among academics and establishment Democrats.
Nor could he say “the same” or even, heavens, “less.” If he had, every fraud detector in the city would have gone off.
A toxic question, so toxic it couldn’t even be acknowledged.
Like I said, Kruzan’s answer was better. It was basically: “The population isn’t really growing now, and that’s okay.” And then he went to hammer home one of the core themes of his campaign (which I like very much), which is essentially a conservative presumption: “I want to keep Bloomington – Bloomington.”
But my question wasn’t, “What are the trends?” It was, “What should the trends be?” Kruzan enumerated some communities that were “bigger” than ours and said that we shouldn’t strive to be like them. But he didn’t really say why we shouldn’t.
But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. That the venue just wasn’t conducive to a lengthy reply.
Or that brevity is the soul of wit.
Speaking of which, the next week offered another opportunity to pose a question. This time to Susie Johnson, Bloomington’s director of public works.
Coming off of my week-before worries of a growing population was a new worry of a declining resource. Oil had just shot to its all-time inflation-adjusted high, and the smart money, from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s chief economist to oilman T. Boone Pickens, was unanimous as to the reason: the shit’s running out, fast.
So the question: “What plans are public works making to mitigate the problems of increasing oil scarcity as they relate to city infrastructure?”
And I waited. But I never saw an answer. Perhaps it wasn’t delivered, although the iPhone seems to be firing on all fours.
Maybe, like my earlier questions, it just wasn’t answerable?
Which is too bad, and more than just a little bit frightening. Because it is answerable, just like the population question. That we choose not to answer, nor even to have the discussion, is the problem. Not the people, or the oil, itself.
I had the pleasure of attending the Cornelius O’Brien Indiana Mainstreet Conference this week. The program was simply outstanding, and in it were exactly those needed discussions and the hopes of the needed answers.
And if I had more time, this column would be shorter, and I would have said in 900 words what it takes a whole book to say. But twitless witlings go over count, and I’m sorry to say, those answers will have to wait for another day.
Gregory Travis can be reached at email@example.com.