Monday, November 29, 2004

CJ's ShopLocal isn't shopping local, but it is Orwellian

During the course of an evening conversation at Destinations, New Albany’s fine new bookseller, it was brought to my attention that the Louisville Courier-Journal’s web site prominently displays a link to something called ShopLocal, which purports to be “the fastest way to find the best deals at stores near you.”

Taking the bait, I walked back home and visited the Courier-Journal on line. The simple act of entering my zip code into the ShopLocal prompt turned up dozens of shopping options within a twenty-five mile radius, all of them available for browsing by type, store and brand.

Among the many “local” stores listed are Target, Home Depot, Radio Shack and Pep Boys. “Local” brands include Sony, Ralph Lauren and Dockers.

The entity responsible for this celebration of “local” consumerism is called CrossMedia Services. And who is CrossMedia Services? Here’s a press release from August, 2004, that explains everything:

“CrossMedia Services, Inc., a leading provider of Web-based marketing solutions for national and local retailers, today announced the launch of ShopLocal, an online resource that allows shoppers to research local specials and sale items at stores close to home. ShopLocal consists of a national website, www.ShopLocal.com, and a nationwide network of co-branded ShopLocal websites, initially including more than 140 Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI), Knight Ridder, Inc. (NYSE: KRI) and Tribune Company (NYSE: TRB) websites.”

ShopLocal’s particular twist is that it directs web shoppers to brick and mortar stores situated near their homes, with the incessant “local” mantra presumably providing reinforcement for those who eschew buying on-line under the peculiar reasoning that spending their money at the Wal-Mart down the street is better than sending it directly to Wal-Mart’s on-line arm.

So, let’s review.

The nationwide media conglomerate Gannett -- as in “net” profit -- owns the Louisville Courier-Journal, a “local” newspaper. By means of the national marketing company CrossMedia, which Gannett jointly owns with two fellow media conglomerates, “local” newspapers steer shoppers to “local” big box and chain retail stores, which in turn (and quite a big assumption on my part here) pay in some way, shape of form for the privilege.

Of course, hardly any aspect of the Courier-Journal’s ShopLocal link bears the slightest resemblance to “local” in any genuinely meaningful sense.

At the same time, the Courier-Journal is responsible for Velocity, which boasts local content galore, and is utter and unmitigated dreck.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, but I’m too annoyed to learn it.

The Tribune's Sunday running scene

Thanksgiving has passed, and a brief period of normalcy returns until the low-pitched rumble of cash registers rises to the level of an airliner ascending, and we know that Christmas has arrived.

Looking back on the topics of recent weeks, I see that the Tribune's managing editor, Chris Morris, has not responded to my notes about the newspaper's stable of syndicated columnists. He did not respond to my comments about his city editor. There has been no word from him about my most recent letter to the editor on the topic of architecture, redevelopment and the culpability of past community pillars.

However, Chris did contribute a (what else?) sports commentary yesterday. It was inserted somewhat inelegantly into the editorial slot and dealt with the annual Thanksgiving Day mini-marathon. Chris recounted his participation in the footrace, and paid tribute to the late Denny Inzer, a former Tribune co-worker who died earlier this year.

In fact, Chris's commentary was a good read, but its placement reinforced the sad truth that the Tribune's managing editor is unable or unwilling to editorialize about anything other than sports. The column should have been placed in the sports section, where it really belonged, and not in the editorial slot, which should be reserved for other things.

What other things? Isn't sports the only thing?

It isn't. I'm sorry. Frank Zappa once said*:

"Every major industrialized nation has A BEER (you can't be a Real Country unless you have A BEER and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need A BEER."

I think that every real city has a newspaper ... and New Albany's newspaper needs retooling (or a major injection of beer) to be real.

*This is the exact quote from "The Real Frank Zappa Book."

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Should have known better: Philistines, purse strings and postcards in New Albany

In today’s Louisville Courier-Journal, reporter Ben Zion Hershberg describes “New Albany, Indiana: A Postcard History,” a soon-to-be-published book that will feature views of more than 200 historical postcards collected by David Barksdale, Floyd County’s official historian and the President of the Floyd County Historical Society.

Barksdale’s collaborator on the project is writer Robyn Sekula, who notes the importance of what remains of the city’s architectural heritage, but laments the loss of so many other “gems” such as the Federal Court House and the Post Office, both gone from the local scene by 1970.

“By that time,” Barksdale adds, in what NA Confidential has selected for its Thanksgiving 2004 Quote of the Day, “we should have known better.”

By now, in 2004, we should know better, but as one surveys the state of New Albany, this is open to sincere debate.

In fact, Barksdale provides a timely reminder that while millenniums come and go, New Albany’s political and civic leaders remain utterly bereft of forward-thinking vision when it comes to making use of the part of the city that once was its vibrant commercial center.

Politics in the local sense ceases to be the art of the possible, and instead displays a congenital inclination for business as usual. Business as usual prefaces insularity, and insularity dooms us to repeat past mistakes because as a reflexive habit, it stubbornly fails to acknowledge (and in fact actively fears) modes of thought that splash outside the lines.

And yet, creative thinking outside the accepted boundaries is precisely what New Albany and cities like it need to reverse decades of chronic neglect.

Evil and malevolence are not at the heart of this neglect. It is institutional, persisting because it is rewarded by political and civic elites for whom the elements of business as usual are more predictably profitable than the alternatives, which would require the elites to surrender some measure of their control, financial or otherwise.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and in some places, it isn’t.

Compare New Albany’s record with that of Columbus, Indiana, a community of similar population. For a half-century, Columbus has pursued an enlightened urban development strategy that is the envy of cities many times its size.

Meanwhile, in New Albany …

In the late 1960’s, New Albany undertook an aggressive, thoughtless program of historical demolition, erasing key components of the city’s architectural legacy and replacing these priceless structures not with ambitious modern architecture, as in the case of Columbus, but with a series of drab, gray and downright atrocious public buildings that might have sprung from a central planner’s drawing board in Communist Eastern Europe.

Where the Court House stood at the corner of Spring and State? A bank building that was laughably obsolete before the glue on the Formica had dried. The post office? A parking lot.

One questions how the important buildings still standing managed to survive this architectural Holocaust, which was authored by local luminaries according to a terminally shortsighted policy of civic and cultural assassination masquerading as fiscal rectitude.

There should be no statute of limitations governing the culpability of these pillars, who if still living, should be apprehended, charged and pilloried publicly.

Their successors still reign. As noted here previously, the current administration’s sliced ‘n’ diced first phase of the Scribner Place/YMCA project, while attainable by New Albany’s standards of foot-dragging, itself springs from the same ingrained habit of community pillar-led conventional thinking with respect to development that resulted in a previous generation not having “known better” as it joyfully bulldozed the old quarter.

Here’s the link to Ben Hershberg’s article:

http://www.courier-journal.com/localnews/2004/11/25in/B1-hist1125-7827.html

NA Confidential goes troubleshooting, enjoys dessert, and visits the Calumet Club

Tuesday was a busy day, and only now have I found the time to describe the evening’s stroll from our home to three neighborhood functions taking place nearby on Spring Street in New Albany.

First stop was the Carnegie Center for Art and History, where WAVE-TV’s Troubleshooter Informational Seminar took place. Several local agencies were present, along with representatives of neighborhood associations and at least one city council member, Steve Price.

Our East Spring Street Neighborhood Association’s relentless leader, Greg Roberts, was holding court when we arrived, showing photos of neighborhood properties that are in violation of ordinances with respect to appearance and upkeep. Ordinances regulate these aspects of ownership, but the ordinances are not enforced, and enforcement is the gist of the association’s current activities.

While there, we learned that the house for sale across the street no longer houses tenants because one of them had been running a meth lab from the kitchen and washing hazardous chemicals down the drains. It isn’t clear whether the tenant fled or was arrested, and we don’t know what the future holds for the property.

We also learned that the fascinating but condemned house on 11th Street (between Market and Spring) once was an elegant mansion before being purchased by a landlord little interested in maintenance. Is there hope for the building? Greg Roberts is investigating.

Next was the short walk to Destinations Booksellers for the new shop’s inaugural dessert night. I chatted with owners Randy and Ann, and with Brandon, a recent aquaintance and pub customer who has posted his thoughts several times on NA Confidential.

At seven, the Floyd County Historical Society met at the Calumet (cal-you-MAY) Club, a restoration-work-in-progress owned by the Bliss family.

Dick Bliss is pouring money and soul into a loving remodeling of the building into a home for his wife Mary Pat’s travel business, and also a banquet and conference center. The family was out in force for the occasion, and of course it was marvelous seeing all of them.

The building itself was constructed in the 1920’s, and was the home of a post-Great War meeting place for returning servicemen. Bankrupted by the Depression, the group sold out to the local textile workers union, which leased part of it to the federal government for use as New Albany’s military induction center.

In turn, with no union shops remaining hereabouts, the union cashed in its chips a few years back and sold the building to Bliss, who has been working ever since to return it to viability, and is succeeding magnificently.

Diana and I joined the Floyd County Historical Society for the very fair price of $2.00 per year, each, and returned home for a nightcap. Sometimes, even if only for a moment, New Albany seems to make sense.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Today in New Albany

At last week's monthly meeting of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, we were informed that today there will be a "Troubleshooter Informational Seminar" from 4 to 7 at the Carnegie Center for Art and History at 201 East Spring Street in New Albany. The seminar is sponsored by WAVE-TV's "Troubleshooter" news segment.

It is promised that a variety of public offices, police, social service agencies, banks and the like will be represented at the seminar, and that the public can have at 'em.

I'm curious to see who shows up from the city of New Albany other than someone predictable like Tony Toran.

Later tonight, the Floyd County Historical Society meets at the Calumet Club, a restoration-work-in-progress located just up the street from my home.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Windowless views of Scribner Place

As previously noted, I attended the outdoor press conference in early October during which New Albany Mayor James Garner unveiled plans for Phase I of the Scribner Place downtown redevelopment project.

Envisioned by Garner’s predecessor as a bold stroke on a grand scale, the Scribner Place project has been subjected by the incoming regime to a stringent editing process that has left much of the original proposal on the cutting room floor.

All portions of the Scribner Place plan that might require heavy lifting (i.e., hotel, retail, condominiums) have been discarded or deferred, rendering it fiscally responsible and far better suited to the current administration’s signature lack of imagination.

The YMCA, swimming center and parking garage slated for the first phase can be financed in large measure by annually mandated guilt abatement kickbacks from Caesar’s Indiana, whose million-a-day gross continually reminds us (a) that we’re all in the wrong business, and (b) that ordinary people are incredibly stupid.

In a press conference replete with unintentional humor, one of the funniest moments came when a representative of the Louisville media grew tired of waiting for the New Albany Tribune’s Amany Ali to ask a significant question and quizzed Mayor Garner as to his comments to the effect that that Scribner Place would bring people to live downtown.

With no housing plan in sight, where will these new residents live?

A confused Garner could do no more than mumble and point to the perennially unoccupied second and third floors of nearby buildings as if to suggest that their owners would miraculously see the light after decades of willful negligence and begin creating condos overnight.

It so happens that one of the structures standing behind Garner was the majestic Schmitt Furniture building, which hasn’t had windows above the ground floor since some time during the Johnson administration. In fact, on the entire length of the Schmitt Furniture block running along Main Street, there are no windows above the ground floor on any of the buildings.

If anyone is to live there, they’ll not be enjoying a very good view of Scriber Place.

During his speech, Garner insisted that the citizens pf New Albany should be thankful for certain “families” (among them the owners of Schmitt Furniture) who agreed to sell their properties to make space for the Scribner Place project.

These properties, located between Main Street and the flood wall, contain warehouses of no architectural value built atop brownfield areas where forges and other 19th-century industrial enterprises once operated.

So, if we are to believe Garner, families running businesses in buildings without windows, and who sell virtually worthless properties in need of some measure of toxic clean-up to the city at somewhere close to market value are patriotic.

Opportunistic businessmen, perhaps. Patriots? Name a street after them, and get on with it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Beer and an imagination running rampant

Louisville was the inspiration for the following rumination, which I wrote some time back, but New Albany's history parallels it. Our most famous brewery was Paul Reising's, located on what is now West Spring Street at the current site of the Holiday Inn Express. Reising's brewery didn't have its own tap room or pub, but a tavern called Armbruster's across the street served the brewery's beer and doubled as the unofficial welcoming center for incoming German immigrants. The brewery ceased operations prior to the Great War, although there was a short-lived post-Prohibition revival in the same building. The tavern building was demolished to make way for Interstate 64.

I am emerging from a horse-drawn streetcar onto a cobblestone alley shaded by huge trees that block the summertime heat and humidity. My fellow travelers wear jackets and ties, carry newspapers, and talk about baseball, politics and the girl (or boy) next door. Many of us are walking in the same direction, around the corner from the trolley stop, and with each step toward the gates of a huge complex of brick buildings that occupy most of the city block before us, clues as to our destination fill the early evening air.

There are voices from the vast open garden atop the hill, and the pungent smell of tobacco hanging like fog around the second story windows. My nose twitches uncontrollably with the scents of baking bread, roasting pork and curing kraut. Glasses clink as they are removed from tables, and the mustiness of souring beer in slop buckets pervades the countertops in the staging area, where waiters gather to collect glasses of fresh brew drawn from massive wooden barrels, then scatter ant-like to serve them to people seated at the oversized tables.

Across the railing, looking west, there is a heaving vista of church steeples, clattering train yards, staid commercial structures, and the respiration of the city. I’ve been to this place numerous times, and when the wind is curling down from the river, the stockyards seem a lot closer than they actually are.

I sit across from an old man with a flowing white beard, and the crisply attired server heeds my instructions to the letter, cutting and depositing a sleek, chocolate-colored Havana before me, and pushing a foaming mug of house beer across the table. The old man points to a pin on his chest, and in heavily accented English that bears the traces of his European upbringing decades before, regales me with stories of the Civil War.

Much later, after my new friend Friedrich has stumbled home to soak the stump where his peg leg rests … it was a Minie ball in Nashville in 1864 … and the bones of a whole chicken are mingled with the ashes of the spent cigar … after I’ve had more servings of the dark and tangy Kommon beer than I intended … a brass band takes to the stand and begins playing sentimental versions of the popular marches and waltzes that play constantly in my head, even when I’m not drinking.

There’s a girl across the way. Do you think she’d like to dance? Doesn’t matter, because I never do. Wouldn’t know where to put my feet, but maybe she doesn’t care. Or maybe the best bet would be to have another. There are no more streetcars running, anyway, so it stands to be a long walk home. If I’d have brought my bicycle …

---

It was while riding my bike in the year 2002 that these thoughts were prompted. Peddling uphill on Baxter Avenue, I stopped to inspect the old building that now houses Acme Auto Electric.

As explained by Conrad Selle and Peter Guetig in their “Louisville Breweries” book, this particular structure is all that remains of the renowned Phoenix Brewery. It was part of the brewery stables. Adjacent to the brewery was the Phoenix Hill Park, site of the beer garden, a wooded area, a bandstand, dance hall, bike track, and bowling alley. Long before Oldenberg or BrewWorks set forth the idea of an “entertainment complex,” there was one in Louisville, sprawling from the corner of Baxter and Barret.

As noted in “Louisville Breweries,” the brewery and the park were situated on a hilltop, which was leveled along with most of the rest of the complex in the late 1930s. Originally the hill afforded an unimpeded view of downtown, and must have been spectacular in its day. The Spezial brewery’s lovely, scenic, hilltop beer garden in Bamberg, Germany springs to mind when I try to picture the ambience of Phoenix Hill Park in Louisville, circa 1900.

We have nothing like it now, and yet we insist on believing that we’ve made “progress.” Taken in context, it’s a funny notion.

You’ve probably driven past Acme Auto Electric many times and may have glimpsed the colorful murals that decorate the exterior of the former Phoenix outbuilding. The murals depict century-old scenes of the brewery and the park, including the bicycle races and a long-forgotten speech in the dancehall by Theodore Roosevelt. There is a plat plan of the area that shows just how large the brewery and park area was, and upon further reflection, it seems a shame that something as relentlessly tawdry as the current Phoenix Hill Tavern should bear the same name as the brewery and park of old.

The reality depicted in these paintings might just as easily be from another planet as from the Louisville of 2002, but the vicissitude of human nature probably differs little from what was on display a century before. There is something universal in the thoughts and feeling engendered by a brewery and a beer garden, and something that unites generations, especially if the beer is locally brewed, distinctive and unique.

The person sitting across from you now may be Friedrich’s great, great grandson.

Hard to believe? Just have another one, and it will become clearer and clearer.

Why trees cry, Vol. 2: No touchy feely fish tales for the Bune's Amany Ali

By her own admission, Tribune city editor Amany Ali has been gazing at the office computer screen again, and this can only mean that the newspaper’s long-suffering Sunday readers are about to be taken on another bullet-train excursion to the very heart of journalistic banality.

“Fish are meant to be eaten,” chortles the headline above today’s “tirade,” during which Ali titters like a school girl through 16 paragraphs of depressingly stillborn sarcasm on the pressing topic of the Fish Empathy Project, a campaign against eating marine life masterminded by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Dismissing PETA with all the wit and grace of talk radio caller, Ali’s offers an argument against empathy for fish that goes something like this: As a diet component, fish are “nutritious and uncontroversial,” and like other animals that God placed on the planet, they taste great “after a few flips on the barbecue grill.”

Fish are neither “interesting’ nor “fascinating,” and they merit no time for discussion beyond that required to locate healthy and good tasting examples at the “cheapest price” for cooking in some way that doesn’t stink up the kitchen too much.

In closing, Ali declares, “Salmon, and every other kind of fish, was meant to be eaten,” even invoking God as proof of her assertion, but providing no testimony as to which of the many Gods worshipped hereabouts has clued her in to this truth, and by which means of communication the press release was conveyed.

Tellingly, Ali briefly mentions PETA’s objections to commercial fishing practices, which indeed are extremely controversial throughout the carnivorous world irrespective of the nutrient value of the factory ship catch, but predictably she possesses not a sliver of willingness to give this aspect of the topic its due, because to do so would require thinking, reading, asking questions and working at it – and it’s much easier to take sophomoric potshots at those strange PETA people than to refute their platform.

Of course, debatable notions of fish empathy aren’t really the central point in all this. I’ve continued to eat meat and fish even after a close reading of PETA’s platform. Also, the organization is as deserving of incisive, clever, pointed satire as any other lobby group operating in the public arena. It’s even possible that Ali thought she was writing such a piece prior to the “we don’t need no education” primal scream that was committed to paper.

The point is that PETA espouses a worldview and advances a position that itself represents a thoughtful synthesis of scientific research, reasoned argumentation, and philosophical speculation. PETA has done its homework, and one doesn’t have to agree with the group’s conclusions to instinctively recognize that it is deserving of a response in like fashion, one emanating from a higher plane than that of hurling anti-intellectual brickbats at something that a person is unwilling or unable to understand.

Call me old fashioned, but journalists are obliged to play by different, more stringent standards.

This, in turn, leads us to the larger issue for Tribune readers. It is widely understood that the Tribune is a small newspaper with limited resources, one devoted primarily to producing an acceptable profit margin for its corporate ownership by running items of local interest – sports, wedding, legal announcements and the like – in between as many advertisements as possible.

However, being instructed to write at an 8th-grade level for a semi-literate readership is one thing, but doing so doesn’t necessarily imply that the thoughts expressed therein are condemned to be 8th-grade ideas.

We don’t read the Tribune expecting to find “War and Peace” inexplicably lurking within, but by the same token, why must articles like Ali’s PETA screed openly and unapologetically advocate the sort of sneering, fear-mongering, anti-intellectual mediocrity that has afflicted this city for so long?

Just below Ali’s lamentable “tirade” is a short but intelligent and well-written survey of Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas traditions by guest columnist Terry Cummins, a retired high school educator.

The contrast is vivid. One thinks, one doesn’t.

One gets paid.

One doesn’t.

That, my friends, is the real problem.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Velocity's Nord responds ... sorta

In response to my note, Velocity's Thomas Nord asked if I minded it being used as a letter to the editor. To which I replied, of course.

And there it stands. This won't ruin my reputation, will it?

Friday, November 19, 2004

Make New Albany weird?

Here's one we'll return to later, but for now, an introduction is in order.

Our local book dealer, Destinations, referred me to a web site detailing community action in Austin, Texas, that brought together locally owned businesses to defeat a proposal to develop a downtown shopping complex with Borders as anchor.

A book store and music shop combined to create the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign, which became a rallying cry for unique, local businesses.

In Louisville, several locally owned merchants have adopted this slogan, and we're beginning to see "Keep Louisville Weird" posters and shirts. No doubt this is in response to the Cordish-mandated excesses of Fourth Street Live.

It makes me think: Such a slogan would not work in New Albany. We'd have to start with "Make New Albany Weird" before moving on to "keeping" it that way.

In turn, this points to what would be one of the major flaws in current proposals to redevelop downtown New Albany (if there really were plans, which there aren't): No one involved with such a redevelopment effort would have any clue what keeping something weird actually implies.

The proposed YMCA is not weird.

Kelsey's vs. Applebee's

I missed the planning commission meeting that may or may not have ended with first-stage approval for the proposed Applebee's on Grant Line Road.

Yesterday in the Tribune, there was one of the infuriatingly trite paid ads made up to look like a news story, this one on Kelsey's.

In large measure, with live music being the exception, Kelsey's is a locally owned Applebee's. Same concept, same menu, same target audience, and located a block away from the incoming chain menace.

Looks to me like a dagger poised to rip through Kelsey's sternum. Kelsey's means nothing to me, but I'm honor-bound to defend it as a local business threatened by a monoculture. Never mind that Kelsey's imitates monoculture. Strange bedfellows, and all that.


Velocity's Thomas Nord caught thinking in print; job as cultural arbiter jeopardized?

In the beginning, there was the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Then, during the reign of King Ronald, it came to pass that the much-esteemed journalism magnate Barry Bingham, Sr., surveying the sad state of his feuding and petty progeny, decided it was time to cash in on his investment while he was alive to enjoy the money.

In due time the new owner, Gannett (as in “net profit”), rode into Louisville and set up shop in the former Bingham workplace. Standards began to change as the inexorable dumbing-down effects of corporate profiteering functioned as a sort of long-term, tubercular, wasting disease.

Imagine your favorite unique, singular, family-run pub purchased, gutted and re-packaged by Hooter’s or Applebee’s, and you’ll have some idea as to the long-term results of Gannett’s purchase.

A year or so ago, Gannett unveiled Velocity, a splashy new tabloid designed to put the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO), a decade-old “alternative” weekly, out of business and afterwards corner the lucrative entertainment (food, dining, movies, etc.) advertising market.

Just as Michelob Amber Bock earns classification as a mockrobrew (a mass-market beer packaged to look like a legitimate microbrew), Velocity is a fine looking publication that maintains a rigorous negligibility in any sense of progressive, literate journalistic standards.

The articles on Velocity’s pages are kept short, with simple words, and are arranged in such a way as to avoid interfering with the multi-colored, profuse advertising copy that is the paper’s only real reason for being.

Velocity’s editorial policy can be fairly summarized thusly: This week our edgy attitudinal arbiters of style will tell you what’s hot, and they’ll direct your attention to an advertiser so you can show the world you’re hip by spending money there.

Next week, we’ll do the same thing again. The week after that … you guessed it. You’re smarter than you look.

And all this comes with the Velocity Pledge: We promise not to make you think very much because we know how hard that can be when all you want to do is find a cheap cocktail, be seen at the right place, and get laid.

Imagine my surprise when I picked up this week’s Velocity and saw a commentary (written by a high ranking staffer, no less) on the topic of the American presidential election.

Thomas Nord offers his take on the blue-red cultural divide, expressing his view that in the end, it’s a purple country after all, and while this isn’t the most original of ideas to emerge from the recently concluded campaign, for Velocity it’s tantamount to revolutionary theses nailed on the front door.

I wonder if Nord will be able to keep his job.

Confused by the appearance of such an article in the safely apolitical pages of Velocity, I wrote to Nord:

"Am I the only casual observer of Velocity to detect a note of the bizarre in your post-election commentary, “America is more colorful than blue and red?”

"Do you sense any degree of schizoid disconnect between your thoughtful, intelligent commentary and the stylistic philosophy of the publication in which it appeared?

"Let’s see, Velocity … a colorful weekly publication created by a bottom line corporate news factory, and imbued with the narrowest demographic focus available to devotees of statistical analysis. Staffers advised to pursue any and all red-hot trends with a shelf life equal to the lifespan of a fruit fly (or one week, whichever comes first). Relentless flippant attitude, in some cases so transparently forced as to suggest stylistic templates grafted directly onto the quivering skin of writers.

"The ephemeral is repackaged as gospel. The masses gather at Fourth Street Live to celebrate. Louisville finally has arrived.

"But then, after an important election campaign that was acknowledged by Velocity only in the most grudging of voids (“go out and vote, then visit this week’s red-hot advertiser”), there appears a column detached from the prevailing template, seemingly written by a human being with more on his mind than the appeasement of a clueless target demographic .

"Something about something? How’d you get it past your boss, Gail Wynand?

"Just curious.


"And thank you for it."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Tribune's roster of nationally syndicated columnists (2)

Here's the second of my notes to the Tribune's managing editor, Chris Morris. We're continuing to seek clues as the newspaper's method of operations.

Chris

With considerable difficulty, owing to the various portions of the United Media Services web site that were down or throwing back “error” messages, I finally was able to track down a list of columnists that are offered.

Here's the site:
http://www.unitedfeatures.com/ufsapp/viewFeatureList.do?typeId=1&syndicate=NEA

As you said (not that I doubted you), they’re primarily swinging from the right side.

And, naturally, I bat left-handed.

At least three columnists openly identify themselves with Conservatism and unabashedly pimped for George W. Bush during the recently concluded presidential campaign: William Rusher, Diana West and Joseph Perkins.

Morton Kondracke leans that way, but can be even-handed on occasion.

Nat Hentoff probably is the most provocative of the bunch, but confines himself to matters of First Amendment rights and civil liberties.

Roberts and Roberts probably are viewed by some as liberals, but in fact both are reporters who generally stick to straight reporting.

Joan Ryan fits better in the reportorial Roberts/Roberts category than anywhere. So do the Dan Rather pieces I’ve read so far.

That leaves Gene Lyons. We should be reading more of him, as he’s the only one even close to left of center.

Perhaps these things bother me too much, but throughout the autumn campaign, two or three times a week, the three unapologetically conservative columnists listed above didn’t just bang the drum for the incumbent – they beat it to shreds with a baseball bat.

There was almost no liberal counterpoint in the pages of the Tribune. I concede that it always has been the right of a newspaper to take a stand in editorial terms and define itself one way or another; the Courier-Journal is left leaning, but high-powered conservative columnists appear there on a daily basis. There is at least some effort at counterpoint.

You may not have made a conscious decision to state the Tribune’s preferences, but this was the de facto result of allowing your syndicated slate of conservative political commentators to do all the talking while the local staff seldom ventured an opinion on the race save for properly urging people to vote.

If that’s what you want, that’s okay, just count me as one who opposes it and we can move on to other things.

But make no mistake, I do oppose it. Of course, I have a long history spent offering opinions to various management figures at the Tribune, with widely varying results.

The thing is, I get passionate about it. For whatever reason, I grew up with a deep and abiding interest in what even the tiniest hometown daily might strive to be – not just a repository for syndicated blather and wire service reports, but a community force, a watchdog, the basic unit in the nation’s free press.

Furthermore, I want this town to be something unique, not just a place with a McDonald’s and a Wal-Mart and an Applebee’s like every other like-sized community in America, but a place with an identity all its own. That’s why I dreamed of having a brewery that would make beer available nowhere else, which runs counter to the supposed American “ideal” of inventing a better mousetrap and selling millions to people all across the country.

People ask me every day, “why not brew in Louisville?” My answer? “Because New Albany is where I live.”

It’s where I’ve chosen to stay. And I’m a selfish bastard, because I want Chris Morris’s newspaper to be just as special, just as unique, just as singular as all the other aspects of life’s rich pageant for which I campaign on a daily basis.

Can’t someone ask, is it really good to have a Wal-Mart, a McDonald’s, an Applebee’s here? Can’t we decide to define ourselves differently from the norm? Must there be the same sprawl, the same plastic, the same soulless repetition? Who better to ask the question than the local newspaper?

Hey, a guy can dream. Appreciate your time, as always (and really, I haven’t had a drop of beer tonight – just hot tea).

Roger

No response from Chris yet, but check back later.

The Tribune's roster of nationally syndicated columnists (1)

Let's check in with Chris Morris, managing editor of the New Albany Tribune, and a former schoolmate of mine at Indiana University Southeast. We're looking for clues as to how the Tribune "thinks":

Hello, Chris:

I'm assuming that the Tribune still is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., which has a listed web site at www.cnhi.com, although this hasn't been connecting all morning.

I've been doing some reading about the topic of newspaper "chain store" ownership, particularly a very good article in the American Journalism Review, available on-line at: http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3245

I don't think that I'd be overstating the case if I were to suggest that the Tribune generally avoids taking sides in local controversies. Not that this
necessarily is a bad thing, although the conscious avoidance of such does raise certain concerns about the newspaper as a community watchdog and whether in fact the right questions are being asked.

Given that the Tribune tends to aim for a "feel good" approach in the local sense of news coverage, and for the time being accepting this without complaint, might I ask who makes decisions with respect to your nationally syndicated columnists?

Taken together, it cannot be denied by any impartial observer that the slate of syndicated columnists appearing weekly in the Tribune is dominated by
Conservative writers: William A. Rusher, Joseph Perkins, Diana West and Morton Kondracke regular among them. The column by Steve and Cokie Roberts might be said by some to be left leaning, but their tone is reportorial, as opposed to the strident rhetoric offered by Perkins and Rusher (most prominently).

I merely want to know who makes this decision, and why there is not attempt at balance. Does this emanate from cnhi? Is this the norm with the chain's properties?

Feel free to refer me to a higher-up if it makes this easier for you. By the way, I enjoy the local columnists, especially Terry Cummins and C.R. Reagan. Good stuff from them.

Thanks

Roger

(Here is the response from Chris Morris)

Roger

Through United Media Services, I am limited when it comes to
columnists. You are right, more tend to swing from the right. I recently purchased Dan Rather's column through an outside source but it has been hit and miss. I am glad you like the local columnists.

Chris

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The case for Eddie Hancock's qualifications

If any semblance of change is to come to the somnolent riverside community of New Albany, it is crucial that a dialogue be encouraged. Since the city does not have a newspaper willing or able to undertake this, we are here.

The major controversy of Mayor Garner's first year in office has been the ongoing progress (or regress) of building inspections in New Albany.

In the beginning, the Mayor appointed Eddie Hancock to the post of chief of inspector, and chaos ensued within the department, resulting in regulatory eggs on the face of New Albany. This farce may have been the fault of the appointee, or it may have been the result of a mutiny within the department.

The aspect of this controversy that has been of most interest to me is the rather audacious conclusion drawn from it by a semantics-challenged Mayor, who wrote to the Louisville Courier-Journal to advance his theory that media scrutiny of his office is improper.

As I'm reminded by a friendly contributor, lost in all this is the question of the Mayor's original motives in appointing Hancock (who was transferred to a different position before retiring from government service) and whether Hancock was qualified to perform the job.

Was Hancock, an older gentleman with nothing to lose, intended to be the Rumsfeldesque tool of reform within a hidebound department that had careened out of governmental control?

Or, was he a political patronage appointee entirely out of his element, overtaken by events?

With respect to Hancock's qualifications, here's more food for thought from the downtowner quoted yesterday:

"For the past 18 years, Eddie Hancock, as a licensed contractor in the city of New Albany, has met all of the requirements of the code … maybe not first time out, but ultimately. In performing such work, isn’t it likely that Mr. Hancock became qualified to know what’s required? Becoming a licensed contractor in New Albany is, in fact, a little harder than passing the test to become an inspector. That test is an open book test that you or I could go take tomorrow and probably pass.

"Who do you trust? Someone who works successfully under the stern gaze of an inspector for 18 years and more, or an inspector who can’t have legally done any outside work for the last 18 years? Granted, the inspectors get together once a month and trade war stories and anecdotes about crazy contractors, but I can assure you the contractors have just as many stories about crazy and or corrupt inspectors who don’t know a nail from a hammer.

"Query: How many developers and contractors would ever bother to take the test to become an inspector, since the jobs are filled with lifers? A few have done so to supplement their incomes as contract inspectors, but there’s really nothing magic about becoming an inspector. I expect most of them have never even considered it. Being a building inspector, or commissioner, ain’t brain surgery. I, for one, don’t buy the line that Mr. Hancock’s failure to become an inspector put the public in danger for one minute."

I'm sure there'll be more to this thread in the weeks to come.

Berzerk homeless terrorists strike downtown NA

Last evening as I filled the trash can, one of our neighbors across the alleyway hailed me.

"Better lock your doors tonight," she said. "The police chased all the homeless people away from the riverfront, and they're roaming the streets."

Instantly I was possessed with a vision from "Night of the Living Dead," with the homeless taking the place of zombies lurching through downtown, terrorizing fair citizens and releasing David Camm from prison.

Things became a bit more prosaic after the initial rush. How did she know about the police sweep? Had a homeless person approached her with the words, "now that we've been rudely chased from our nests beneath the K & I bridge, we'll be testing neighborhood doors in search of possible entry and the seizure of your couches and armchairs."

If you're homeless and have no place to call your own, where do you put the things you steal?

My revised opinion of my neighbor is best left unrecorded.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Mayor Garner's reforming zeal?

To this morning’s correspondent:

I wasn’t sure whether your thoughts were intended for posting in their entirety, so I erred on the side of caution and did not do so. Your argument is appreciated.

I’ve carefully re-read my postings on the broad topic of the city of New Albany, its Mayor, his appointments and the building inspection process, and have concluded that you must have read the Courier-Journal’s editorial on the recent “unpleasantness” and based your observations on this, not anything I’ve written.

That’s certainly fair, as I wouldn’t have reprinted the CJ editorial if I didn’t see merit in it.

My questions would be:

If reform of the inspections department “mess” were Mayor Garner’s original intent, then why proceed toward this worthy goal of attacking entrenched interests (and “business” as usual) by appointing a 71-year-old builder who by all accounts lacks proper inspection certification and won’t any time soon be confused with Donald Rumsfeld in terms of revolutionary qualifications on the part of the elderly?

Wouldn’t a younger (educated, certified, perhaps with a legal background) make more sense?

With respect to Mr. Hancock’s mode of departure, I believe that he first was transferred from his original position to one that did not exist as the Mayor hastily reshuffled the deck. The new position was to have something to do with keeping alleyways clean, but before any of this could be finalized, Hancock quit to return to private practice.

If the Mayor’s original plan was to freshen the inspections department, why did he move from “cleaning house” there to cleaning alleyways before allowing the whole thing to be chucked?

Doesn’t it appear that the Mayor is making sloppy use of the political capital he gained from the overwhelming victory at the polls last year?

At no point in any of this have I suggested that the “mutineers” in the building inspections department are blameless. Someone such as yourself who has had more recent experience with them is a better judge of this than I can be at present. I’ve no doubt that new approaches would be useful.

It’s just that I’ve seen nothing to indicate that the current Mayor has the ability to accomplish any of this. And, I remain offended that his reaction to criticism in this matter has been to suggest that words don’t mean what they do, and that newspapers have no business questioning moves made by elected officials.

If the Mayor’s intentions are as you suggest, he’s doing a poor job of conveying them.

Whither the "Bune, its ownership, and related topics

It's an old article, but one worth reading:

"The State of The American Newspaper; The Selling of Small Town America," from American Journalism Review:

http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3245

It would appear that the 'Bune's owner is Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., which is discussed in the article.

Inquiries have been made. Now, let's see what comes back.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Why trees cry: The Sunday ‘Bune

A sunny, chilly November morning.

The Bune's city editor Amany Ali contributes a front-page report on the prosecutor’s impending decision on whether to bring David Camm back to trial for the murder of his family. Camm’s previous murder conviction recently was thrown out by the Indiana Supreme Court, which took issue with evidence submitted by the former prosecutor.

While justice presumably remains blind, it isn’t cheap, and the only real question here is whether anyone is whispering into the prosecutor’s ear with respect to Floyd County’s ability to withstand another million-dollar trial.

Ali does not ask this question.

Rather, her weekly column contains no thoughts whatsoever about the re-emergence of the controversial Camm case – the one unfolding right here in New Albany, Ali’s own bailiwick as city editor.

Instead, she chooses to offer thoughts on the Scott Peterson trial in far-off California, most of which are confined to the type of observations that anyone watching too much television might conclude in like fashion.

Ali’s justification in condemning Peterson is that his errant behavior following his wife’s death is sufficient proof of his guilt, but does she understand the implications given that the prosecution in the Peterson case never found a murder weapon? The original Camm verdict was reached with the help of forensic evidence, but the conviction was overturned owing to the introduction of circumstantial evidence (i.e., Camm’s extramarital affairs) that differs little from what the Peterson prosecutors offered.

Isn’t this interesting? Has Ali compared and contrasted the two cases?

There is no available published forensic evidence to indicate such a thought process.

Meanwhile, managing editor Chris Morris quite properly decries an outbreak of vandalism at Holy Trinity cemetery, but not until he describes the 36th annual mayor’s prayer breakfast as an outstanding example of the quality that makes New Albany such a great place to live.

It remains that a gourmet coffee shop downtown, one keeping real-world hours, would do far more to improve the quality of life in New Albany than an annual ecumenical photo opportunity … but maybe Chris doesn’t do espresso.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Damned blue state Target stores nix a million-dollar missionary racket

Yes, New Albany, there really is a Scrooge.

Last week we learned that the dastardly folks at Target have served notice to the Salvation Army that bell ringers are no longer allowed on company property.

The announcement prompted a predictable outpouring of indignant schmaltz from commentators unwilling or unable to avoid aiming for the center of such an inviting, uh, target, like the Indy Star’s Ruth Holladay:

“Call it a safe bet -- maybe even a bright-red, bull's-eye, fashionable, smartly priced bet -- that American life has become too corporate or complex when Target banishes the Salvation Army's bell ringers.”

Holladay notes that the holiday season, 2003 – which according to my recollection must have begun just after Labor Day judging from the seemingly incessant bell ringing across the street at the still-good-guy Kroger supermarket – brought the Salvation Army $90 million nationwide, with roughly 10% of the total coming from Target buckets.

Target management apparently has said little other than to suggest that other organizations solicit similar privileges, and consequently, there must be a standard to judge such requests.

While people like the Star’s Holladay gleefully puncture the oversized straw man clothed in Target duds, the rest of us might contemplate the company's very genuine dilemma. What’s to stop other charitable organizations from ringing bells during June, or April, or year round? Who’s to say which of the charities are the most worthy? Exactly how did the Salvation Army score the lucrative doorway postings in the first place?

Holladay dutifully lists the many programs funded by the bell ringers in the Indianapolis area:

“The organization runs a domestic violence shelter, after-school programs at five community centers, drug and alcohol rehab services, and transitional housing.”

At the same time, a visit to the Salvation Army’s web site (http://www1.salvationarmy.org/) reveals the other, generally forgotten reason for being:

“The Salvation Army is a truly international movement, sharing in the mission of Christ for the salvation and transformation of the world. Its members are at worship and at work in over a hundred countries.”

Why must Target or anyone else choose one Christian missionary over the other?

Holladay closes with a verse from the immortal pop song, “Chains Rush In, Where Other Chains Fear to Tread”:

“The Salvation Army here is moving forward. Thursday at lunchtime, it will hold an apple festival on Monument Circle, with Applebee's restaurants and other sponsors. A free-will donation will get you hot apple cobbler, and proceeds will benefit the charity.”

The Holladay article is at:
http://www.indystar.com/articles/2/183954-6622-009.html

Friday, November 12, 2004

Exurbians need not apply

Once again I've been reading about the expanding influence of exurbia, which is defined relatively simply as a residential area outside the city and beyond subrurbia. It emerges that liberals have ignored exurbia for too long, to their electoral detriment, while socio-cultural exurbia's mix of evangelicals, urban refugees, Wal-Mart fan club devotees and reality television aficionados represent the apogee of the GOP red-state political aspiration.

Previously I've noted that in this event, and as a permanent member of America's most downtrodden minority (the thinking, drinking class), I choose to retain my contempt for exurbia and its anti-rationalist worldview.

It now occurs to me that the rise of exurbia actually is a liberating force for those of us who to continue to embrace urban values. While Philistinism thrives in the churches and strip malls (the same thing, really) of exurbia, diversity and human interaction can flower here in the old part of town.

As the sainted Hoosier bard John Mellencamp once noted, likely in a context far different from mine, you gotta stand for something - or you're gonna fall for anything.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Help! Homebuilder mafioso seizes control of county government

The rolling hills that begin where the city of New Albany ends are called the Knobs.

Native American wisdom has it that a Knob is a place where Louisville bedroom communities sprout like dandelions in an eroded gully.

One morning earlier this year I was biking in the Knobs, navigating Skyline Drive in a profuse yet satisfying lather, when to my left opened a vista of frantic activity, with muddied earthmovers maneuvering through the open, formerly green pasture like tanks in wartime. Elsewhere, sullen Hispanic conscripts dug with shovels, landscaping right next to the road I was traveling.

Glancing over, I spotted a man wearing a pith helmet who looked to be in charge of the proceedings, conjuring images from colonial India. It was all I could do to avoid saluting and offering to make tea. At the last minute I realized that the man was in fact an acquaintance from school days past, graduated now to a position as a moving, shaking pillar of the homebuilding community.

His job title says it all: Developer.

He is a generator of property taxes, employer of contractors, provider of domiciles to those seeking homes … and since home ownership is reckoned to be one of the founding, guiding principles of the Republic, then those who build the nation’s homes apparently are among the very highest priests of capitalism.

It is certain that Ayn Rand, apostle of egoism and the only known author to build a seduction scene around a piece of steel, would approve of the many subdivisions dotting the overwhelmed side roads of Floyd County.

Did I mention that Floyd County is one of Indiana’s smallest?

Hardly a week passes without a news item detailing the latest instance of Floyd County’s land developers and homebuilders challenging zoning restrictions that only now, two decades after the barn door was opened and the paving commenced, are so much as being considered, much less implemented in any meaningful sense.

Thinking back to the last election, I’m struggling to remember if the names I saw on the ballot were those of the home builder/land developer politburo that seems to have decided that it, not local elected officials and civil servants, runs the county.

These non-elected pillars of development generally hold a lawsuit in one hand and a gasoline can in the other, the first for wielding as a club against those foolish enough to disagree, and should that strategy of intimidation fail, the second for dousing themselves and flicking their Bics on the courthouse steps.

Homebuilder self-immolation has cheerful and poetic aspects, but we mustn’t forget that these people are developers, not poets, unless chainsaws can be said to hum in iambic pentameter.

Readers younger than forty might not remember the time not so long ago when there actually were shady oak groves in Floyd County, and not just garish signs on gaudy brick subdivision entrance walls suggesting that the area filled by all the cookie-cutter homes without adequate sewage disposal actually occupies a site where oak trees once stood.

I must concede that in terms of marketing potential, it’s probably a better idea to name a subdivision for the natural feature obliterated to make room for the houses (Oak Grove Manor) than to name it after the developer (Philistine Parasitic Capitalist Acres).

Call me a sentimentalist, a literalist, perhaps even a Communist, but when I see a pasture or woodland, I see grass and trees. My view of this landscape does not automatically morph into geometric considerations of development potential. My tastes run more toward reviving communities that already are here.

Of course, this is a conundrum. Grass and trees originally covered the city block where I live in a century-old house. Someone a long, long time ago took the lead in developing the properties that now make up this city block. Someone made money doing it.

Nevertheless, my conceptual wheels turn not at the thought of converting a pasture into a subdivision, but at the sight of a building in need of remodeling and a plot of land requiring development. I imagine developers hard at work in the urban setting, making fresh opportunities out of venerable, sometimes dying areas rather than chewing up and spitting out the last of Floyd County’s dwindling open spaces.

My school chum in the pith helmet knows the economics of his profession, just as I know the ones of mine. Perhaps this is why he’s not often seen standing at a job site downtown. I understand he makes plenty of money, and I’m sure that he’s quite good at what he does.

This doesn’t mean that I’m under any obligation to respect him for it.

And I don’t. The first round of petrol’s on me, mate.

http://www.orchardsmk.com/home.html

Package store veterans day

My period of employment at the “old” Scoreboard Liquors in downtown New Albany lasted from 1982 to 1988. Scoreboard’s front door opened onto West Spring Street, facing the courthouse, and it was within spitting distance of numerous bankers, lawyers, title abstractors and others feeding at the government trough.

In the back part of the building was the famous Cadillac Lanes bowling alley, so named because in quaint times previous, the liquor store’s retail space in front was an automobile dealership. No one then or now knows why the store was named Scoreboard.

In figurative terms, to be taken “out behind the bowling alley” meant to be blindfolded, stood against the wall and shot. In retrospect, the phrase is tactless, but it certainly was used quite often, especially in conjunction with car salesmen from Coyle Chevrolet a few blocks away. I always wondered whether the Caddy people of old were as relentlessly obnoxious.

In the summer of 1988, I took a week off from my “real” job to help Jim and Ed move the store to a worse but cheaper former Night Owl food store location on the largely inaccessible corner of Spring and Beharell.

In fairness to the owners, business had declined at the old site owing to competition and changing tastes. The lease expired, the building was slated for demolition, and there were few good choices. I continued working evenings off and on until 1992, but it never was the same for me at the “new” store.

More than a decade and a half later, I think back to the downtown stalwarts who were older, and it occurs to me that many of them have died. Here are my memories of a few of them.

Gin Lady.
At first Gin Lady was of indeterminate age, maybe 50, probably closer to 60, but when it finally was determined that she walked to the liquor store from the bar-none, ugliest, Communist Bulgarian-designed senior citizen housing tower in the metro area -- two short blocks away -- she came to be at least in her seventies.

Originally she was known as Mother Gargle, from the “Born Loser” comic strip. As a typical day progressed and she’d visit for the second or even third time, her breath would grow increasingly foul, and her hair would become more and more frizzy. Eventually, by late afternoon, her hair would be standing straight up almost like an Afro.

Gin Lady wasn’t black.

In spite of any presumptions to the contrary, which we’d be reminded of each time she came into the store, the Seagram’s Gin was never for her; rather it was for her gentleman friend Charles, who’d be calling that particular morning, or afternoon, or evening, or all three.

Charles was never seen then or any other time, and neither has Gin Lady since the store changed locations in 1988.

Chemical Man.
Another regular customer was Carl, otherwise known as "Chemical Man” for the spectacular lack of nutrients in his bloodstream and our certainty that the only thing keeping him alive was formaldehyde.

If not raw preservative chemicals, then the processed variety sufficed: Kessler whiskey and Sterling beer … and keep ‘em coming. Early on, when I’d just started working at the store and hadn’t come to understand the subtle nuances of alcoholism, it struck me as senseless that Carl would visit the store three times a day for a half pint of Kessler.

Why not buy a liter first thing in the morning? After all, it was a far better price.

To this comment, Chemical Man sputtered indignantly that my college education had taught me absolutely nothing, because any fool knows that if you start the day with a big bottle, you’ll just go and drink it before lunch – and then what?

Later, in the waning days of the store’s tenure downtown, Chemical Man grew too weak to carry the daily case of Sterling to his house, which was no more than fifty yards from the store’s front door. I’d carry it over and put it on the porch for him.

A year or so later, I read Carl’s obituary in the newspaper. I’d have bet money that he was 70 or older, but he was only 59 at the time of his death in 1989.

Snake.
In later years, after Jim sold the liquor store and the new owner promptly closed it for good, Snake started coming by my pub to pick up the cardboard.

For two decades he kept a series of decrepit pick-ups alive long enough to run a regular route through New Albany, collecting cardboard and taking the stack to Riverside Recycling for a few bucks, which went into the jar and paid for season tickets to the Louisville Redbirds games at the Fairgrounds.

Beginning in the late 1980’s, I prepared Snake’s taxes every year - not that I know much about the tax code, but he and his wife (who worked at the New Albany Box and Basket factory until it closed in 1998) didn’t make much money, so it wasn’t really hard when the numbers weren’t that big. He always wanted to pay me, and I never let him, because I considered myself fortunate for having made his acquaintance.

Admittedly, there always was a thinly veiled bitterness to the testimony offered by Snake, although he generally kept it down beneath a cheery fa├žade. His nickname came from a tattoo on his right arm, the one that ended just below the elbow, that part removed by a small town Eastern Kentucky doctor after a hunting accident in early youth, when Snake was just plain Curtis.

Snake’s life was never really easy, but it could have been worse. In a time preceding consideration for the disabled, he worked hard as a bartender, and drank just as hard until swearing off the bottle in the early 1960’s. He didn’t drink again for the rest of his life.

For a number of years he bartended for a fellow named Smitty, until Smitty died. Snake’s tenure at another hole in the wall tavern down the street ended after a dispute with the late owner’s woebegone son. He turned to cardboard full time, and occasionally filled a shift at the liquor store when it was downtown.

Years later, in 2001, Snake’s last truck died for the last time, and since those unmentionables at Riverside weren’t paying squat, anyway, it was time to get out of cardboard. He’d already gotten out of baseball, having decided that ballgames were too expensive and the team’s management too arrogant.

In February of 2003, Snake stopped by to pick up his wife’s taxes. She’d found another job and simply didn’t want to quit working. It was the last time I saw him, for he died later that year on the day before my birthday.

The timing of Snake’s death meant that he was unable to make good on a final, cherished wish, something he’d been talking about for years. In no uncertain terms, Snake hated New Albany’s newspaper, the Tribune, but grudgingly continued subscribing to it because his wife insisted.

“When she dies, you know what I’m going to do first thing? Nah, I’m not calling the doctor, and I’m not calling the hospital, and I’m not calling the relatives. I’m gonna call the Tribune and cancel that god-damned newspaper for good!”

Duck.
Like Snake, Duck had a bum arm, shriveled at birth and only barely functional, and also like Snake, he bartended and did odd jobs. Eventually he landed as the manager of Scoreboard Liquors, working for the people who owned it before Jim and Ed, neither of whom had any idea how to run their purchase, so Duck stayed on. When moving time approached in 1988, Duck announced that he was retiring to Florida. I’ve not seen him since.

Those seeking a dictionary definition of “crusty curmudgeon with a heart of gold” would find Duck’s (birth name, Lloyd’s) photograph. He could be masterfully dry with the drunks, who of course never knew he was toying with them, and just as quickly be spotted committing an act of kindness that he definitely did not want to be reported to the outside world.

An evening at home with six to twelve Schaefer beers might result in Duck becoming “blow’d completely out of my mind.” Requests for the time of day might be greeted by “am I a clock?” or a disgusted glance at a far-off horizon, silence, and a left-hand index finger pointing at the clock on the wall.

One time the front door opened and a well-dressed stranger entered. He looked at Duck and asked: “Is it okay if I go in the back room and change my pants?” Duck responded with vigorous one-armed threats and loud obscenities, and the man retreated headlong onto the sidewalk.

I would have suggested he go out behind the bowling alley.

Behind the mask. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Hearts and minds are for the weak

(response to message)

It's too early to tell which direction this will go, but I'm hoping that there can be some form of interactive spin-off covering all elements of the NA experience.

Gotta start somewhere ... and here, that means waaaaay out of the loop.

Porn merchants need economic development, too

A dozing U.S. District Court in Indianapolis hosted yesterday’s “dueling mouthpiece” New Albanian porno/zoning extravaganza. The topic was New Albany DVD, the seemingly ill-fated adult bookstore that hasn’t been able to open its doors owing to the city’s nimble legal footwork in delaying the store’s required site inspection until after a prohibitory ordinance was passed.

The judge may yet rule against the city, but although it is difficult to work up much in the way of feeling for the business and its owners, the local media has failed to ask important questions.

First, conceding that crime statistics are indeed admissible with respect to zoning decision-making and the ordinances that spring from such thinking, is it at all relevant that there’s a church right across the street? As a strict church-state separationist, I must answer the question with a tittering “no.” As my friend Boris (a resident of the Netherlands) has pointed out, where he lives you’ll always find the red light district right next to the city’s oldest church. That way, they can keep close tabs on one another. Sounds reasonable to me. If this were true in N.A., I’m guessing the store would have to be located more centrally on Main Street, opposite the Civil War-era Baptist church.

Second, given that the residents of New Albany’s west end are statistically not as well off as those in other areas (for instance, areas like Silver Hills that tower above and behind them – coincidentally, the home of Mayor Garner), shouldn’t the city’s attempt to squelch New Albany DVD be viewed as discriminatory on economic grounds? After all, wealthier New Albanians can get all the porn they need from the Internet, while those in lower income levels need a bricks-and-mortar venue. Furthermore, this is income lost to places like the venerable Theater-X superstore in Clarksville

Third, if our current city government were really serious about supporting local businesses, existing video stores that carry adult selections would have had access to capital to improve their selections of adult DVDs, especially for upgrading from the archaic VHS modes. In such a manner, there would be no demand for New Albany DVD’s product, and by extension, no need for an ordinance that still might be found to possess serious First Amendment deficiencies, the city attorney’s claim to the contrary.

You know what they say: Rent a smutty DVD, and the terrorists win.

The Applebee's of our civic eye

Just before the election, a front page news story in the Tribune brought New Albanians the joyous news that after decades without a true Neighborhood Bar & Grill, the city finally had been selected to host an Applebee's. It will be constructed adjacent to the Grant Line Road location of Wal-Mart, another cultural landmark in the history of the area.

As a prelude to the following, it will help casual readers to know that Mayor Garner’s administrative wunderkind is Tony Toran, an efficient and caring fellow who seems like a good all-around guy, albeit a functionary forced to quickly learn as much as possible about damage control if he is to succeed in the gaffe-ridden Garner administration.

At the October meeting of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, Toran recited a list of the administration’s achievements, and included among them the arrival of the Applebee’s.

Ever sensitive to the fawning largesse that seems to be forthcoming when anyone outside of town “creates jobs,” i.e., council members and public officials rush to offer first-borns and wads of unmarked bills to predatory companies in a ritual similar to the peddling of indulgences in medieval Europe, I sent this note to Toran:

"We much enjoyed your comments to the neighborhood association last evening. Your sincerity is refreshing and engaging. While it is impossible for me to completely disengage myself from being identified as a local business owner, permit me to stress that I speak as a proud citizen of the city who genuinely believes -- like you -- that good things are on the horizon.

"Last night, I noticed that when speaking of the current administration's record, you included the imminent arrival of an Applebee's, as though to imply that this owes to governmental action in some manner. While the advent of a chain restaurant on our already impossibly overcrowded
stretch of Grant Line Road may well prompt dancing in the streets a full decade after such a phenomenon ceased to be of significance anywhere else in America, it also suggests several questions.

"Was this something that the mayor's office actively courted in the fashion of the auto parts firm from Missouri? If so, was the Applebee's franchise operator (is it Whit-Mart?) provided with inducements to build an outlet in New Albany? If so, will similar inducements be offered to locally owned and operated businesses to expand, especially when retail spaces for downtown New Albany are available?

"In my last note, I included a link to an article on chain restaurants and monoculture. Here it is again for the benefit of the cc'ed recipients of this note:
http://www.lewbryson.com/other_chains.htm

"(With respect to the forthcoming Scriber Place redevelopment project), understanding that a plan for this projected downtown retail flowering has yet to be offered, will it include a position on the part of city government with respect to the type of development downtown? Will major
corporations based far outside New Albany be awarded inducements to operate, or will city
government assist locally owned and operated businesses that reflect the true history and character of our community?"

In due time I received a pleasant response, in which Toran first indicated that he didn't understand my questions, then answered the first one anyway: The city did not "court" Applebee's, but approval would go through the mayoral apparatus as it always does. The remainder he offered to discuss by phone.

When and if I get around to the phone call, I'll discuss the results here.




Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Today we learn about exurbia & the Marx Brothers

Today David Brooks of the New York Times writes about exurbia, the anthropological concept embraced by George W. Bush and his puppet master, Karl Rove.

Exurbia is the result of urban decentralization, a phenomenon whereby populations shift past existing suburbs into new exurbs, the faceless sprawl of subdivisions named for the physical features obliterated by their builders, tracts of strip malls, evangelical churches big enough to host the Super Bowl, pitilessly standardized chain restaurants and look-alike office parks.

According to Brooks, if there is any underlying philosophical basis for exurbia, it is a conscious rejection of all things urban. He describes them as “conservative but utopian,” and places where an entirely different conversation is taking place, one ignored by mainstream politicians but seized upon by Rove and like-minded strategists.

Contemplating this, I stumbled upon an article that referenced sociological research on the topic of brand loyalty. To simplify, the theory is that in a time of the post-neighborhood, where people live places but not in communities, brand loyalty takes the place of the neighborhood and the community. In other words, your neighbors are those folks anywhere in the country who follow NASCAR, are devoted to Craftsman Shop-Vacs or subscribe to Jerry Falwell.

Brand-loyal exurbians – can they be something other than Philistines? If so, I’m interested. If not, they’re simply a canvas that doesn’t interest me, and since I’m not a Democrat and care not one jot for the travail of one major political party in a two-party system to which I object in very fundamental terms, I’m under no obligation to make peace with the exurbian evangelical etceteras that are so resentful of being looked down upon by people like me.

Brooks is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/09/opinion/09brooks.html?th

Monday, November 08, 2004

Here it is - in my other pocket

Locals with achingly long long memories will recall that Mayor James Garner began his term of office in January, 2004 by advocating a reorganized sewer board with himself as chairman, and a commensurately huge increase in the chairman’s rate of pay.

Amid much tumult, the board was indeed reorganized, but without the pay hike sought so grubbily and superficially by the Mayor, who insisted at the time that the “people of New Albany want to see their mayor paid for the job he does."

We must always remember that the first official act of New Albany’s “different kind of” mayor was to advocate an increase in his own remuneration.

In October, the city’s sanitation department was discovered to be more than $600,000 in the red. Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Ben Hershberg apparently had learned that the deficit was being covered by the sewer department, and asked Garner to comment. Until this question was asked, Garner did not know where the money was coming from, and only then, scurrying off to look into it, was he able to verify what the reporter already had determined.

Two reminders for the future study guide.

First, Mayor Garner is president of the sewer board.

Second, would any of this be known had not a reporter asked a question?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Soaring Sunday 'Bune

Why does it take until the Sunday edition following the election for the Tribune to feature an in-house editorial that is thoughtful, coherent and actually makes a point about something other than sports?

The staffer chosen for this auspicious task is Dave Davis, who it might be noted is the newspaper’s Internet columnist and normally has almost nothing to say about politics. Davis’s thoughts are appreciated, but ultimately they’re less important than the fact that he is the one chosen to air them, while the Tribune’s various editors are once again silent.

Chris Morris presumably remains preoccupied with his daughter’s volleyball tournament in Indianapolis, itself inexplicably the subject of a rare Morris-written lead editorial this week … that’d be the week of the most important election in a generation, etc., etc.

Today, as Davis discusses the aftermath of this vital election, Amany Ali contributes yet another stream of consciousness column, this time concerning the softening of her far too hard character after the death of a friend’s dog. Her column asks, “Is there hope for me?” I respond with another question: “As a person, or as a journalist?”

This follows previous pieces that scolded downtown movershakers for spreading rumors about her love life, expressed dismay over seeing the high price of gas posted high above stop ‘n’ robs, and offered common sense precautions for colds and flu.

One of my favorites was a column lamenting the lack of redevelopment activity in downtown. Who better than a newspaper reporter to ask the questions that might lead to the answer? For instance, Ali might devote time to researching why building owners find it in their interest to let their buildings rot rather than invest in them. But this would imply doing a newspaper reporter’s work, which it would seem is institutionally prohibited at the Tribune unless the topic is sports or a local fluff issue so innocuous that the newspaper’s few remaining subscribers won’t notice.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Mike Sodrel, lend me your ear

Hey, Mike Sodrel … is that you?

Not sure if you remember me from the Harvest Homecoming Parade, but I was the one sitting on the porch, drinking the Zum Uerige Altbier, and holding the sign showing the “W” with the slash through it.

I’m sure you said to yourself, hmm, wonder what that guy’s doing holding the “no M” sign – admit it, Mike, you just didn’t catch my drift, even though you smiled and waved at me.

Anyway, here’s what the Louisville Courier-Journal had to say about the aftermath of your victory over Baron Hill in the 9th District congressional race:

“At a victory rally in Jeffersonville, a crowd of several hundred supporters chanted (Mike) Sodrel's name and listened as ‘God Bless America’ was sung. Sodrel made a short speech to thank supporters, and also emphasized his Christian values and patriotism. He said he plans ‘to fully represent’ residents of all political stripes in the district.”

Okay, Mike, I’ll take you up on that one.

I’m 44, white, a Social Democrat leaning fairly far left by the pathetic two-party standards of the USA, and I read the New York Times. I watch public television and the NBA, not Fox News and NASCAR; drink espresso and microbrewed beer, not Folger’s and Miller Lite; and support pre-emptive measures to end tax-exempt status for all churches rather than tolerate faith-based initiatives of any sort or risk that the churches might become involved in politics.

While we’re on the topic of religion, I’m a secular humanist and an atheist. While numerous others are advising the Democratic Party to detach itself from its brazen contempt for the values of the countryside, I’m advising the countryside to look at itself and ask, “why do our children decamp for the city the first chance they get?”

I rather like France and always have. There's just something about an overweight American sitting in a garish Hummer in the Wal-Mart parking lot, drinking a 64-ounce Pepsi, chortling at the antics of Donald Trump, and pausing only to laugh at the anti-French jokes on the local Clear Channel outlet that makes me wonder exactly why we would allow such an outrage … to reproduce.

So, Mike, tell me how you’re planning on representing me in Congress without alienating the cadres of fundamentalist bigotry, or more importantly, those people from far, far away who sent you all that money to contest the race here in lonely Southern Indiana. Don’t those folks want a return on their investment, and isn’t that return going to be a bit different conceptually than the place I’m standing?

Self-made businessmen do repay debts, don’t they?

Let me know.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thanks but no thanks

Mayor Garner limited himself to one public pronouncement with respect to the election, writing a stiffly formal, stylistically challenged letter to the Tribune endorsing fellow Democrat Mike Mills for the Board of Commissioners.

Very few Democrats lost in Floyd County in spite of the Republican tidal wave, but wouldn't you know it - Mills was one of them.

Wonder what Garner had against him?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Home cooking, New Albany style

Diana worked the polls at Pine View elementary school on Corydon Pike, which is an excellent WPA building dating back to the thirties.

She reports that one helper there informed her that Mayor Garner’s own precinct was the only one in New Albany to vote against him in 2003, when he was elected in a landslide over Regina Overton. Overton had done a fairly good job, but (it is said) annoyed many residents with her overbearing attitude. Translation: She was an uppity woman, and people here don’t like that.

You can be an uppity man like another ex-Mayor, Doug England, and get away with it; just recently, ex-mayor Doug got in trouble because he chased down a motorist, flashed a dime-store police badge and made threats that he later (when caught) felt awful about. However, if you’re female, they’ll run you out of town, like they did Overton.

She actually moved to Clark County following the loss.

Meanwhile, the poll worker explained Garner’s lack of success in his own neighborhood: “What would you expect? They know him there.”

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Don't worry, the 'Bune won't out you

A day otherwise known as Election Day, but for our purposes here one for ruminating on the City Council meeting on Monday night.

Area newspapers had billed the meeting as important because city attorney Shane Gibson would be introducing his plan for combating adult video stores, but instead almost three hours were spent in a captivating, such-exquisite-human-drama debate over a proposal to rezone a small portion of Green Valley Road so as to allow a pediatrician to build offices there.

Given that this portion of Green Valley Road (between State and Daisy Lane, in the vicinity of the hospital) had been abandoned to commercialism by several generations of zoning and council occupants, it seemed a simple proposition. Alas, no. It turns out that the residents of the four-decade-old subdivision (Ellen Court) lying behind the proposed office were mad as hell and not taking it any more, which would have insured them of five minutes and some bad coffee had not so many current and former movers and shakers chosen years ago to live there. An ex-Mayor (Nash) and the current Council President (Schmidt) are among them.

An epic struggle between dueling lawyers (Naville, Vissing) soon broke out, with the attending crowd fairly evenly balanced between pros and cons, and as the clock ticked away, the faces of the Council members became longer and longer. Most looked as though they had been sentenced to death and were being offered a final cigarette before the main event. The final vote was 6-2 for the development, with the President forced to recuse himself and two Council members (Gahan and Price) opting for greasy semantics to wiggle out of approval.

By the time this zoning debate was concluded, almost no one remained for the obligatory roll calls, including one for Gibson’s porno ordinance, which was not read for the public or discussed in any manner (it will return at a later meeting).

I saw Shane in the corridor afterwards. He was being interviewed by the New Albany Tribune’s city editor, Amany Ali. I asked him which hidden assaults on the First Amendment were to be included in the ordinance, and he laughed it off (so did I), but later I reflected that it was the sort of question that Ali never would be caught dead asking.

She had spent the bulk of the council meeting glad-handing politicians and attendees, and it’s almost unthinkable that she would be a probing reporter in such a tightly knit sub-strata of New Albanian movershaker life.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Letter to the Tribune: Where's the beef in Garner's proposals for Scribner Place?

I wrote the following letter to the Tribune (published around October 19).

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THREE STRIKES?

The Tribune’s Oct. 5 editorial in support of the Scribner Place project ends with this thought: “Once Phase I is complete, more businesses will be attracted to downtown New Albany. Scribner Place will help put the downtown back on the entertainment map, and is a win/win project for New Albany residents.”

Optimism like this is uplifting, but certain realities are being omitted. While I remain optimistic about the future of downtown New Albany and supportive of the Scribner Place project, it certainly cannot have escaped the Tribune that there is no discernable plan to achieve the anticipated wave of post-Scribner Place development.

At his October 4 press conference announcing the advent of Phase I, Mayor James Garner was asked three pertinent questions, each coming not from the Tribune, but from a Louisville media representative.

When asked about the prospects for the completion of Phase II, which reportedly includes a hotel, retail space and condominiums, Garner vaguely referred to three unnamed private developers with whom negotiations are under way.

When asked to clarify his oft-repeated comments that Scribner Place would bring people to live downtown, Garner could do no more than mumble and point to the perennially unoccupied second and third floors of nearby buildings as if to suggest that their owners would miraculously see the light after decades of willful negligence.

When asked what plan was in place to achieve the ripple effects of growth that are a chief assumption of the Scribner Place project, Garner again was mute, offering pleasant platitudes along the lines of “wishing will make it so.”

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all of it. Scribner Place is a first step, nothing more, and without a plan for the second, third and even fourth steps, the Tribune’s abundant cheerfulness stands not to berewarded by concrete achievements.