September 20, 2009

Somewhere between faith and reason lies the power of the public imagination to shape society, for good or for ill. There was a time, not that long ago, when artists and writers, orators and visionaries, fueled the public imagination. Today, the public imagination is mass-produced and distributed by a handful of media conglomerates whose principle goal is neither inspiration nor enlightenment, but private profit and control.

This is not to say that commercial media are incapable of producing exceptional news, information and entertainment fare from time to time. Lately, however, its seems that for all of the media that is available to us 24/7 -- the printed word, film, broadcast radio and television, cable, satellite and internet communication -- the public imagination is suffering from a chronic case of arrested development.

This condition has reached epidemic proportions in recent weeks. Consider the media spectacle surrounding U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) outburst during President Obama's address before a joint session of Congress or, for that matter, press coverage of Kanye West's schoolyard antics at the Video Music Awards.

September 6, 2009

In addition to being one of my busiest of the year, this past week has been one that I haven’t been able to get away from I-69 and, in a related matter, just how poorly the Bloomington community is served by its local “news media,” in this case WFIU radio. The connection between the two goes a long way to explain why more than 500 Indiana families and small businesses stand to have their homes, dreams and livelihoods destroyed in the near future by a political system that, free from the constraints of true journalism, thrives on graft and corruption.

It was a week in which I didn’t have time to do any reporting or real writing, in part due to a deadline on a months-long I-69 writing project that I will talk about at a later time. I had hoped to update readers on a watershed confrontation between I-69 supporters and opponents scheduled for 1:30 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 11, in City Hall. But e-mails asking for an update sent to the four members of the Bloomington-Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) produced only one response, from Andy Ruff, who said he didn’t know.

So, I’m left with no alternative but to recap and editorialize this week. I hate it when that happens, but so it goes.

August 9, 2009

When the Bloomington City Council met in June 2008 to hear from citizens and Bloomington Hospital officials about the hospital's proposed move, Jim Allison suggested that moving the hospital from our center city to the county suburbs deserved to be in the Museum of Stupid Ideas. There it would join ideas that the citizens of Bloomington had thankfully not embraced, such as tearing down the Courthouse or moving the library to the suburbs. Well, I want to nominate the Indiana Department of Transportation's (INDOT) State Road 45/46 Bypass widening for inclusion in this pantheon of foolishness.

As for the museum, I want to curate this particular exhibit. At the center I shall have a squawking Chicken Little, predicting not only that the sky is falling, but also that, as Christy Gillenwater of the Bloomington Area Chamber of Commerce put it, "The Bypass expansion project is critical to the future of the community." Hearken, her right-hand man has warned without the widening, Bloomington commerce will suffer.

Let's throw in a few other dire predictions for good measure. IU's North Campus will be a disastrous failure without this proposed widening. Plus, in the words of Ron Walker, of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. (BEDC), "Failure to move forward on the Bypass expansion could be a monumental setback for our community's economic development efforts."

July 26, 2009

As healthcare deliberations intensify on Capitol Hill, the American people are confronted with a bewildering array of information, opinion and analysis regarding the Obama administration’s plan to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system. In the spirit of public service, The Bloomington Alternative offers the following glossary of terms used by politicians, public relations professionals and pundits to “debate” healthcare reform.

Following a brief definition, the word or phrase is illustrated in common usage. Examples are taken from recent public statements regarding the President’s reform effort and the crisis of U.S. healthcare.

Blue Dog Democrats

See also Corporate Democrats

A coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

July 12, 2009

A front-page story in the July 8, 2009, edition of the New York Times reported that the Obama administration is cutting deals with health industry groups in an effort to gain support for the president's healthcare reform initiative. "Rather than running advertisements against the White House," the Times notes, "the most influential players in the industry are inside the room negotiating with administration officials and leading lawmakers."

Of course, deal making is at the heart of all political processes, but lately it seems that corporate interests -- the banking industry, automakers, coal companies and the lobbyists who love them -- are the only ones with seats at the table.

June 28, 2009

If there is an upside to news of Michael Jackson's sudden and unexpected death it is this: wall-to-wall press coverage of the pop star's passing has put the brakes on Western media's propaganda campaign over street protests in Iran -- at least for the time being.

For the better part of two weeks, U.S. and UK news outlets have been spinning the disputed outcome of recent Iranian elections in a manner that supports the strategic aims of Washington, London and Tel Aviv: to discredit the Iranian leadership and legitimate calls for "regime change" in Tehran.

While images of the Iranian people demanding greater transparency and accountability from their government are undeniably moving, if not downright inspiring, press coverage of these spontaneous expressions of democracy reveal the double standards of both the political and media establishment.

June 28, 2009

Twenty years ago the atmosphere of Monroe County and Bloomington gained a backbeat right out of a Buffalo Springfield Lyric: "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." And, yes, there were battle lines being drawn. Maybe nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

Bloomington had survived the iconic 1970s, with a character and ethos frozen in time by movies like Breaking Away. But by 1990 some of us started to worry that instead of a happy time capsule, Breaking Away had become an ominous, if still nostalgic, totem to a past now gone replaced by a future not as good.

For while most of us knew what "Bloomington" meant, reality was far more harsh. During the 1980s, IU's financial minister John Hackett had dictated that every university unit become a cost center, had to earn its own way and, with that dictate, were swept away anything not amortizable no matter what the sentimental, institutional or historic value.

June 14, 2009

In June of 1958, police broke down the door to Richard and Mildred Loving in the hope of catching them in the act of sexual intercourse. Why? Because Richard Loving was a white man and Mildred Loving was a black woman, and Virginia’s laws, based on long-discredited theories of eugenics, prohibited sexual intercourse between members of different races.

The police didn’t manage to catch Richard and Mildred en flagrante. But they did catch something else, a marriage certificate hanging on the wall of the Lovings’ bedroom. That, too, was something illegal in Virginia. The Lovings were married in the District of Columbia, which allowed mixed-race couples to marry. But they had returned to their home in Virginia, whose state code made mixed-race couples returning to the state after being married criminals.

The Lovings were subsequently sentenced to a year in prison with the sentence suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia.

May 31, 2009

I was in Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend attending a meeting and taking advantage of all the Windy City had to offer. Among other things, I happened upon an exhibition of "inspired art for Obama." Titled Officially Unofficial, the show featured posters, prints, photography and video that supported Barack Obama's historic bid for the presidency.

In addition to "official art" produced by the Obama campaign, the exhibition at the Chicago Tourism Center also featured independently produced work that was, in turns, stark and celebratory, whimsical and incisive. Alongside Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Obama Hope poster and Ron English's Abraham Obama were less-well-known, but equally affective pieces by less-established artists. For instance, one rather disturbing but revealing graphic featured a gun aimed at two bloodied feet, labeled 2000 and 2004 respectively.

May 17, 2009

I remember August of 1974 almost like it was yesterday. I was a young boy, spending the summer at my grandparent’s compound on Martha’s Vineyard, as I did every year. As I read Richard Adams’ Watership Down, a novel about rabbits on an odyssey to find a new home while, in the background, my Republican grandparents cried and my father cheered as they watched, for the last time, Richard Nixon alight Marine One on the White House lawn.

It was the last summer my father ever spent at the compound.

Watership Down was published in 1972, the same year in which a couple of bungling ex-CIA men got caught trying to burglarize the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, a headquarters located in one of Washington’s most prestigious addresses: the Watergate complex.

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