Thursday, March 31, 2005

Partisan at last: I'd vote for Miller Lite before I'd vote for a Republican

Last week I received an a-mail from a high school classmate, in which he congratulated me for picking up (with NA Confidential) where I’d left off so long ago with the Weekly Wad.

For the record, the Weekly Wad was an underground “newspaper” of four mimeographed pages that a half-dozen Floyd Central freshman “published” in 1975 by stealing paper from the audio-visual department after school hours.

After a brief wrist-slapping on the part of the somewhat confused administrators, who claimed to be seeking a way to challenge our energies in more positive directions, we paid for the materials and were permitted to resume our journalistic careers so long as we had a faculty advisor and refrained from creative acquisition.

Belated thanks to you, Mr. Neely, for agreeing to sponsor our efforts.

And thanks to my mom for letting me use her 1950’s-era manual typewriter to compose screeds against cafeteria food, undemocratic cheerleader selection processes, and turncoat hall monitors.

Throughout the 1980’s, I staged periodic revivals of the Wad, sometimes with the help of my primary co-conspirator Byron, and sometimes alone. By that time, the subject matter had turned toward local issues of no particular importance, like the construction of the waterfront Trinkle Dome and our annual Vodka-Thon walkabout through Harvest Homecoming.

The reference that Joe Emerson remembers so well to the Wad headquarters high atop the glittering Elsby Building dates from this era. Consider it foreshadowing of a sort, because this Blog almost was named the Weekly Wad, but at the last minute, NA Confidential sounded better.

In his e-mail, my correspondent concluded by chiding me on the topic of politics. He noted that in spite of my periodic reminders that NA Confidential is strictly non-partisan, I’ve in fact always been a Leftist Liberal Democrat (cue the ominous music and grainy footage of the Kremlin), and as such, he thinks it is my solemn duty to come out of the closet and admit to it.

While my friend’s candor is much appreciated, I cannot comply with the terms of his request, as his diagnosis is faulty.

Leftist liberal? Guilty as charged.

Democrat? No, not exactly.

Non-partisan? Well, he might have me on that one.

My fundamental position with respect to politics in the United States is that the two-party system is completely and utterly fraudulent.

In a world that revolves around nuance and subtlety, parliamentary systems of the European model strike me as much more accurate representations of political reality than our system, which always reminds me of the joke about tunes on the barroom jukebox: “We have both kinds of music, country and western.”

Neither of which I care much for.

In point of fact, I’ve long considered myself to be a European who came to be New Albanian by a stork’s garbled delivery instructions.

As a liberal, a progressive, a reluctant capitalist, a secular humanist, and an irreligious heretic, the prevailing social order in the United States isn’t particularly friendly to me at this point in time.

However, in spite of my antipathy towards it, the American two-party system is political reality, and one I have no choice but to inhabit unless I wish to “move to France if I don’t like it,” and so I’m prepared to make the best of it in the only way that makes sense to me.

Which is to say, if you’re handed a lemon, the least you can do is squeeze it into your enemy’s eyes.

Consequently, since neither major political party represents me, I always try to vote against the one that annoys me the most.

That’d be the G.O.P., whose positions generally are the polar opposite of my own beliefs, especially now that the party’s steering wheel has been seized by the religious right and the neo-cons.

If voting against Republicans requires voting for the next best alternative that has a reasonable chance of success, which unfortunately precludes doomed third parties, then this, in most cases, will compel me to vote Democratic.

It is a tactical compromise and a maneuver that doesn’t always please me, but one that I’m resigned to accepting owing to the extreme distastefulness of the alternative.

Is it possible to be a Left Leaning Yellow Dog Independent? If so, then my picture’s in the dictionary.

Not that there haven’t been exceptions, especially in local politics, which are savage enough, but generally absent the abhorrent ideological bent of state and national politics. In local races, I will consider voting for a Republican if the candidate is competent in a technocratic sense and eschews the theocratic extremism of today’s G.O.P.

But since G.O.P. extremism in Washington is a lamentable certainty, it’s probably only a matter of time before local Republicans begin staging made-for-non-news-television demonstrations about abortion on the lawn of the City-County Building, or introducing meaningless City Council resolutions protesting NA-FC school textbooks that don’t tout creationism, or erecting tablets of Ten Commandments and inviting roving bands of professional fundamentalists to camp out, chant inanities and defend the indefensible.

As a resident of Indiana, I needn’t fall back on my anti-clerical animus to be disgusted by a state G.O.P. that currently is providing abundant proof of the nonchalant hubris of a Republican-controlled government, this coming by means of its plan to relieve certain counties of cash gained by the presence of riverboat casinos.

In effect, Republican legislators are advising citizens of counties where riverboat casinos operate, and of surrounding areas that benefit from legalized gaming, to heed the words of the exiled Bob Knight and acknowledge that Republican-inspired fiscal rape is inevitable … so just kick back and enjoy the experience.

Which means that a number of Republican legislators who play to the right by opposing riverboat casinos on “moral” grounds, presumably including the luminary from Vincennes who told his colleague from Evansville that his district doesn’t want the riverboat casino, just the money from Evansville’s riverboat casino, are determined to rip to shreds whatever “morality” was deemed applicable when riverboat casinos were legalized in 1993.

What does all this mean?

Ideologically pre-determined to run ruinous deficits, degrade the nation’s currency so as to keep our Wal-Marts afloat, and fight an illegal war against a “terrorist” state, a Republican-dominated federal government systematically starves state governments of cash.

In turn, Republican-dominated state governments in places like Indiana renege on previous agreements by picking the pockets of locales like Harrison County, and by extension, New Albany, and shrouding the whole excreable process with the sanctimonious phrase “it’s a question of fairness.”

Being on the bottom rung, this leave Harrison County with no one below it to rob, except perhaps the powerless Hispanic migrant workers ... why let them send that money back to Mexico?

My simple closing question is this: Does Floyd County’s G.O.P. support or oppose this policy of outright thievery?

Answers to this question should include a discussion of “fairness” and how the concept applies to redistributing wealth within the state (formerly the exclusive domain of leftist liberals), but not to the rights of gay couples to marry.

Extra credit goes to any Republican who can answer the question without choking on hypocrisy, but I’m not holding my breath.

To paraphrase a Republican, Honest Abe Lincoln:

If I could defeat these Republicans without voting for any Democrat I would do it, and if I could defeat them by voting for all the Democrats I would do it; and if I could defeat them by voting for some Democrats and leaving others alone I would also do that.

They just don't make Republicans like Abe any longer.

Espich: Counties will lose casino taxes, but part of revenue may be safe, for now, by Lesley Stedman Weidenbener of the Courier-Journal

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

On Main Street, the Culbertson West and the Culbertson Club

Last evening's constitutional brought us to Main Street, where we noticed the Culbertson West sign in front of the building most of us have known only as the Redmen Club.

Third Century Services strikes again ... it would appear that Sister Hicks is completely surrounded. The Third Century roster grows ever larger, with the Parthenon and adjacent Design Building, two bed and breakfasts, and now Culbertson West.

Very impressive, indeed, and it's worth noting that on April 26, the Floyd County Historical Society's guest speakers are Third Century's Steven W. Goodman and Carl Holliday, who will present "A History of the Culbertson Widow's Home on Main Street."

With the venerable Redmen neon gone, the new sign out front mentions the "Culbertson Club," but the Culbertson West web site is silent. In fact, the only Culbertson Club to be found on the web is a strip bar in Montana.

Actually, Third Century is organizing a "private club" at the new location, and a source told me today that the fee to join is $600 -- although it isn't clear what this figure entails.

I'll try to verify this, and learn whether any good beer comes with it.

Beautiful as the restored building certainly will be, it seems a shame to have a private club in a place like Culbertson West, when the community movers and shakers in other cities usually like to exercise their exclusivity from higher elevations.

For example, both the Jefferson Club in Louisville and the Petroleum Club in Evansville are located atop tall buildings near the Ohio River.

New Albany has one prime location above and beyond all others, and perhaps the former Weekly Wad office suite high atop the glittering Elsby Building might be had for the right price.

Private clubs are a ridiculously easy target, but in truth, pulling off such a venture won't be as easy as it looks. Will it work in New Albany, poster city for the lowest common denominator?

I wish them the best, and hope to attend the April 26 historical presentation.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Slow Tribune news days, front-page follies ... and Iowa Cities for $1,000, Alex

The New Albany Tribune has been fairly bland lately, especially with respect to the small number of selected articles that the newspaper chooses to publish on its web site according to no discernable time schedule.

This is why we can’t link you to Sunday’s front-page piece on last Friday's farmers' market summit conference. Coverage of the meeting was provided by county reporter Kyle Lowry, who also was the editor’s choice to interpret the March 2 “New Visions” symposium at Destinations Booksellers.

So, have we frightened off Amany Ali?

The ‘Bune’s city editor was not in attendance at the most recent City Council meeting, either. Odd, but the news isn’t all bad, as there have been fewer of her indescribably unique Sunday columns since the beginning of the year. Perhaps she’s on rotating holiday.

Yesterday we were treated to this textbook example of “slow news day” reporting by Chris Morris, the Tribune’s Managing Editor:

"Blades of Steel" will fly during Thunder

"On Thunder Day, April 23, chefs from Kobe Japanese Steak House in Jeffersonville will compete for the honor of top Hibachi chef. The event will be filmed on Thunder Day and broadcast at a later date.

"The event, named "Blades of Steel," is the brainchild of New Albany Riverfront Director Bob Trinkle."

We’re seized by the warm fuzzies, because it’s nice of Chris to provide a prime front-page slot for one of the legendary “Trinkle Down’s” self-promotional ventures.

To be sure, there’s something verging on the poetic about imagery that combines the blessedly extinct Stone Deaf Band’s guiding light with wild-eyed, cleaver-wielding Hibachi chefs during Flatulence Over Louisville.

Nonetheless, NA Confidential regrets that it’ll give that telecast a miss.

Instead, we'll be poring over the Iowa pages of our handy atlas in search of the city called DeBuke.

My closing question: Now that there has been time to consider the results, what do you think about the Tribune’s new look and publishing schedule?

Listing New Albany's eyesores (a work in progress)

Let’s talk for a moment about eyesores, specifically, those that exist in downtown New Albany.

First, an exclusion. Our candidates for NA Confidential’s "Top Five New Albany Eyesores" list cannot be examples of New Albany’s asinine lack of simple ordinance enforcement.

Junk cars, appliances, engines, garbage mounds and dilapidated houses are obviously present in abundance throughout the city, but since these problems ideally could be resolved by simple coercion, cleaning and clearing, they'll be omitted for now.

Rather, we’re looking for eyesores and tastelessness that intrude upon a broader aesthetic plane of the cityscape, and that include willful human decisions pertaining to design, construction, location and planning.

Perhaps they're all well within code and violating no regulations ... except, of course, dictates of taste and decency.

Honorable Mention

Look-alike Budweiser marketing logos (everywhere in town)
Have you noticed that just about every seedy redneck bar in downtown New Albany displays that same Budweiser advertising logos? They’re generated by the local Anheuser-Busch wholesaler and provided free of charge. Does drinking and selling this product lead to a suppression of the creative gene? Do lemmings drink bad beer?

Used house lot off I-64, westbound
Whole houses forlornly sit on blocks, awaiting settlement of challenges to the decision to move them to a public park and create low-income starter housing (subject of an extensive thread two weeks ago).

Schmitt Furniture, corner State and Main
Schmitt’s main building, which is so readily visible from the Interstate, hasn’t had a glass window above street level since NA Confidential was in diapers, and the family’s Reisz warehouse down the street has been crying out for attention for almost as long.

NAC’s Top Five Eyesores

5. Smith Furniture and Appliance, northwest corner of State and Market
They’re leaving downtown soon, and of course will be missed, but when we’re finished drying our eyes, can we acknowledge that the traditional color scheme of black paint (and white owl) is seriously unsightly, and that the building appears to be falling apart?

4. NAPA Auto Parts on East Spring Street
Every exterior surface, including bricks, windows and side doors, but not the security lights (must have been added since the last paint job) is covered in a bright, obtrusive Royal Blue. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

3. West side of Pearl Street between Main and Market (exact address unknown)
The entire façade of an old commercial building is covered with glistening sheet metal. What’s underneath it, dead bodies?

2. Parking lot, northwest corner of Pearl and Spring
This gaping hole is noteworthy because of something that was there before nothing was there: The city’s beautiful old Post Office, which a previous generation of community “leaders” demolished.

“Something, but always leading to nothing” just might be the official New Albany city motto.

1. The sweeping vista of downtown New Albany from the westbound I-64 (Elm Street) ramp
Once we’ve succeeded in getting Louisvillians to cross the bridge and visit us, what is the first thing they see as they descend the ramp and queue up at the stop light?

An abandoned gas station and former fireworks shop. A liquor store with more of the public Budweiser materials noted above. The socialist bloc-inspired dirty gray Riverview Towers. The powder blue shambles that used to be Nicholson Maytag. The Vernia Monument company’s decrepit rear annex and filthy back yard.

Folks, the view may not be representative, but it’s what we provide to visitors traveling from Louisville. At least in summer, the greenery softens the impact, but year-round, it is an exceedingly poor introduction to New Albany.

We certainly missed a few, so please, feel free to comment.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Mike Sodrel announces high school "conservative realist" art competition, bans infidels*

Congressman Mike Sodrel announced this week he is sponsoring a 9th District Congressional Arts Competition open to well-groomed, polite and politically reliable 9th through 12th grade students in his district.

All high school students, except those whose parents made the regrettable career choice of supporting John “Traitorous Massachusetts Liberal Botox” Kerry in last fall’s election, have a chance to sharpen their drawing pencils, break out the paint and brushes or mount their photographs.

High school students who report the Un-American activities of their parents to the proper authorities in the Department of Homeland Security may enter the contest, and will be awarded bonus loyalty points according to the colorized loyalty table at

Qualified students in the visual arts will have their entries displayed locally and compete for the chance to have their work praised by paid political operatives posing as art critics in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

"I have personally been in contact with the guidance counselors at all high schools in Floyd, Clark, Scott, Harrison and Washington counties," said Area Director Carl Pearcy, whose 2003 ouster from a local at-large City Council seat resulted in his handy elevation to the trucking magnate Sodrel’s inner circle, where he is in charge of dispensing the political patronage that poured into the Ninth District from GOP donors all across the country in 2004.

"Students need to apply through their guidance counselors, who will verify the party affiliation of entrants and enroll them in the Young Republican Youth organization.”

Pearcy said he is asking the Fine Arts faculty at Indiana University Southeast to assist with judging and arranging a display location, and will see to it that Sodrel immediately transfers federal education funds from IUS to Christian Academy if the university does not cooperate by turning over lists of registered Democratic faculty members in addition to the requisite wall space.

One winner will be selected from among the local entries and submitted to a district-wide judging. The overall winner will be selected by a panel of strictly constructionist judges from the Ninth District, according to Pearcy.

"The District winner will be invited to attend a mass rally, prayer meeting and ribbon cutting ceremony at the national finals in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, June 14. And winners of the national finals will have their art work reproduced into thousands of standard-sized prints suitable for hanging in a prominent position in the homes of 9th District residents who are loyal to the G.O.P., Jesus Christ and George W. Bush … although not necessarily in that order.”

Those who do not comply will forfeit their future social security earnings and can bloody well move to Kyrgyzstan, Liberia or France if they don’t like it.

Art to qualify for display in the Capitol must be one-dimensional, conservative realist, creationist, with no more depth than Bill O’Reilly and be no larger than 32 inches by 32 inches measured at the inseam of the frame.

The following categories are eligible:

- Paintings of George W. Bush -- Acrylics, Watercolor, Etc.
- Drawings of George W. Bush -- Pastels, Colored Pencil, Pencil, Charcoal, Ink, Markers, Human Blood
- Collage of George W. Bush, Grover Norquist and Dr. James Dobson.
- Prints of George W. Bush -- Lithographs, Silkscreen, Block Prints
- Mixed George W. Bush Media
- Computer Generated George W. Bush Art
- Photography of George W. Bush or egg sandwiches that miraculously look just like him.

Specific directions about framing, contest rules, which church to belong to and the personal value system that entrants should be prepared to espouse publicly are available from high school counselors and art teachers.

Congressman Sodrel's Special Projects Director Dean O'Neal is also available to answer questions from qualified askers (have your security clearance and proof of G.O.P. donations ready when phoning) at the Seymour district office.


* actually, here’s the real, unembellished press release about Mike “Big Wheel” Sodrel’s art contest, as published under the guise of news in yesterday's New Albany Tribune. The account above is satire. Get over it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A dreary day prompts frivolous ramblings about basketball, music and books

It is true that T. S. Eliot nominated April as the “cruelest month,” but speaking personally, March has proven to be a much better candidate, and this is why I’m craving the predicted temperatures (near 70 degrees) this Friday.

Somehow the rain in March seems colder than any other time, and it serves to magnify the late winter bleakness. Notwithstanding a few buds here and there, the complete absence of greenery constitutes a dull blanket that accents the garbage and litter that has accumulated during the winter months.

The streets are filthy. Half the population, including me for two whole weeks, has been sick, and if the other half hasn’t, it will. Every day I see kids and cats out on the street, and in both cases: Where are your owners? Isn’t school in session? Aren’t there leash laws?

(Ah, but somewhere off-stage the Tribune’s Chris Morris is yelling at me … what’s that? March Madness? He’s saying I should be inside watching basketball, and the sleek timelessness of Indiana’s game would transport me beyond the dull ugliness outside. Brother, did you get that from Joe Dean or Eddie LaDuke?)

Sorry, but I no longer “do” college basketball. The hypocrisy and exploitation are a bit too much, even for a hardened cynic like me. NCAA Division One basketball players generate billions of dollars of revenue. They are remunerated with wholesale-priced scholarships – all well and good, but representing what amounts to sweatshop wages. All of it is to the detriment of higher education, as Murray Sperber rightly concludes in his classic study, "Beer and Circus."

Since I watch very little television beyond professional basketball games and seldom have the patience to sit through movies (most of them wretched exercises in gore, stupidity, product placement or all three), and with the weather, pneumonia and a return to work conspiring against the inauguration of bicycling season, the focus has narrowed to reading and music.

If not for the recent illness, a few beers might enter the equation, but I’ve had to restrict myself to tapping kegs for customers and not for me. However, perhaps by Friday … we have a delicious smoked beer on draft at present.

The ravages of time, alcohol and cigars have robbed me of my singing voice, so now I’ve graduated to the status of shower stall interpreter, but more importantly, the hearing apparatus remains functional.

There isn’t a musical bone in my body when it comes to talent or aptitude at instruments, but not a moment passes without songs playing in my head.

As for the CD player, current favorites are a Rough Guide compilation called “Mediterranean Café Music,” the reconstituted Brit-pop act Duran Duran (saw them at the Louisville Palace the other night), U2’s (they’re my age, you know) latest album, and Tchaikovsky’s amazing Sixth Symphony, “Pathetique,” which I’ve listened to twice today.

Being forced to lie down for long periods of time while stricken had an upside, as there’s been more time for reading during the last two weeks that I usually have in two months.

John Barry’s exhaustive but highly readable account of the Spanish Influenza pandemic, “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History,” was followed by “Lucky Jim,” a 1950’s-era novel by British author Kingsley Amis.

Next up was “In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs," by Christopher de Bellaigue, a Tehran-based reporter for “The Economist” magazine. The book offers an unsettling elegy for Iran's own Lost Generation, the youth who overthrew the Shah and were killed and maimed during the 1980’s war with Iraq.

Sideways,” the Rex Pickett novel upon which the noteworthy movie was based, provided many laughs and more than a few somber interludes contemplating the timeless metaphorical value of learning through the process of travel.

My friend Jon gifted me with “Where Dead Voices Gather,” by Nick Tosches, whom I consider one of the finest American writers of our time. Tosches specializes in biographical portraits of entertainers (Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin) and doomed outcasts (Sonny Liston), and he also writes novels.

In “Where Dead Voices Gather,” Tosches manages to top his own lofty standard, basing an entire volume of compelling historical, musical and cultural testimony around the almost completely undocumented life of one Emmett Miller, a stalwart of blackface minstrelsy in the 1920’s. As in all his non-fiction works, Tosches does not fail to address the simultaneously disturbing and exhilarating essence of what it means to be an American.

Finally, last night I finished Hanif Kureishi’s the novel “The Buddha of Suburbia,” a coming of age story set in London during the 1970’s that highlights the immigrant’s experience in Great Britain.

It is beyond me to relate any of preceding to politics, local government, the farmers’ market, why we all should support local businesses, my contempt for the exurb and the President it elected, or the fact that the Tribune’s lead story today was about bad cable reception at the Cold War-era retirement towers around town.

When it’s bleak, dirty and cold, and when you feel badly, and when it seems like what passes for news these days is entirely depressing … you fall back on the things that comfort you, like music and books.

In the end -- and I believe this completely -- there’s only one way to compete against the forces of inertia, decay and ignorance that sometimes seem so hopelessly prevalent.

That’s by getting smarter. As individuals, as a community, and as a society.

It doesn’t mean that we'll "win," because unlike college basketball, life's not that simple.

However, it does mean that we’ll have a chance to reclaim some measure of civility and to improve the quality of life in the community.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Farmers' market meeting this Friday, 1:00 p.m., White House Center

Volunteer Hoosier has all the information here.

Susan Kaempfer is doing the heavy organizational lifting, and with the full support of Develop New Albany.

As VH notes, there are many ways you can help in this effort, ranging from volunteering (let us know, and we'll pass it on to Susan) to just showing up and patronizing the market when the time comes.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

UPDATED: Reform of the downtown farmers' market is the best response to potential exurbian competition

March 21 update: Read the correspondence between Volunteer Hoosier and Roy Ballard (Purdue Extension Educator & Agriculture and Natural Resources for Floyd County). VH reports that there may be a meeting this Friday afternoon to discuss the farmers' market issue and perhaps begin plotting solutions. More on this meeting will be posted as the news arrives.


NA Confidential is in the mood for a good-old fashioned Sunday morning rant, and providentially, here’s the tip-off from our good friend Volunteer Hoosier (full article here):

“I've learned that the county extension agent is facilitating the creation of a Saturday morning farmers’ market to be held in the parking lot of Sam's restaurant on Charlestown Road … one word is that the downtown farmers’ market is a ‘flop,’ so there's a need for a new, competing one.

“I don't know about you, but this runs counter to EVERYTHING we discussed at the symposium about reinforcing the sense of downtown as a community center. The (downtown) farmers’ market needs reinforcement, not competition. We need to draw folks to the city center to see its beauties and benefits, not encourage even more sprawl to the exurbs …

“ … I don't think it's a flop. In fact, I wish it were open more and with more vendors. But having the county/state creating and supporting a competing venue to divert traffic seems to me a foolish idea.”

NA Confidential agrees that the county and/or state should carefully consider the implications of supporting multiple venues, but we feel that the crux of the issue is that the downtown farmers’ market needs immediate “reinforcement.”

We’re sure that limiting competition is the incorrect response.

(Comrade Baylor supporting competition? How unsettling this must be for those who’ve always considered NAC a socialist just because of the random Lenin triptych, occasional journeys to the former East Bloc, and a nostalgic fondness for Trabants!)

At the symposium, there was general agreement that while the downtown farmers’ market may not be a “flop,” it would benefit from any number of positive innovations designed to “market the market” as an event as well as a place to buy local produce.

Why can’t there be coffee, pastries, arts and crafts tables, a fellow playing guitar … the list goes on and on.

Why hasn’t any of this happened? Has any of it been tried?

All these suggested enhancements have one thing in common, in that there must be some form of central, guiding intelligence to apply a scant few principles of Guerrilla Marketing 101.

In point of fact, the downtown farmers’ market has suffered from a complete absence of creativity on the part of its management, and this begs the question: Who exactly is the management of the downtown farmers’ market? Is it Develop New Albany? City Hall? Do farmers merely arrive, dispense their wares, and then leave?

As Mrs. Confidential has pointed out on more than one occasion, there seems to have been no discernable plan to do simple things that would draw attention to the downtown farmers’ market – say, a permanent banner at the venue, and perhaps another on the Trinkle Dome so that westbound Interstate 64 travelers could see it.

Meanwhile, the current management of Sam’s Food & Spirits seems to be applying perfectly sensible thinking with respect to its large customer base in the exurbs on the north side. Indeed, if there is a demand, then why not facilitate a supply, and if a few of the market customers stroll into Sam’s for lunch … well, isn’t this the way that entrepreneurial spirit is supposed to work?

The truly sad aspect of all this isn’t that someone might be contemplating an alternative, it’s that these same principles have NOT been applied to the downtown farmers’ market!

Currently, the downtown farmers’ market is yet another example of the congenital "lowest common denominator" way of thinking that seems forever to define the New Albany experience.

Like virtually every other dimension of life in New Albany, the downtown farmers’ market will require a healthy dose of progressive leadership and some semblance of a commitment to survey the potential market and determine ways to serve that market.

Like New Albany itself, the downtown farmers’ market must become smarter, or it will disappear into the Coffeyist abyss.

Now, let’s take these problems one step at a time.

First, who’s in charge of the downtown farmer’s market?

Second, does he or she have thoughts on ways to enhance the experience and by doing so, attract customers to the market?

Third, if so, then what’s the schedule of implementation? What’s needed? Sponsors? Time? Money? Celestial intervention?

Fourth, if “no” is the answer to items 2 & 3, then why is he or she still in charge of the downtown farmer’s market?

Speaking personally, neither NAC nor Mrs. Confidential have much in the way of time to devote to this, and we admit it, but we’re here to volunteer what time we have toward a plan to raise the profile of the downtown farmer’s market and to apply to it principles that have proven to be successful elsewhere.

We’d be happy to serve on the committee and donate a few hours a week.

There is nothing contradictory about harnessing the entrepreneurial self-interest of people to achieve a goal that contributes to the greater good of the community.

It’s a question of vision, the organizational skills necessary to adopt and implement a plan, and the willingness to work toward achieving it. The good news is that with ample portions of human capital, the need for cash is reduced to manageable levels.

Anyone else?

We close by echoing Volunteer Hoosier: We “invite knowledgeable comment or ignorant speculation.”

We feel much better now. Time for a walk ...

Friday, March 18, 2005

UPDATED: California's Coffee House up and running at 1515 E. Market

(20 March update: Go here to see the building, interior and exterior, before it was remodeled into California's Coffee House.)

There’s something vaguely “big city” about a coffee shop in downtown New Albany that proposes to stay open more than 30 hours a week.

Are we worthy?

Thanks to a "now open" tip from Brandon Smith, it came to pass that Mrs. Confidential and I stopped by California’s Coffee House at 1515 E. Market Street.

We find it very much to our liking … and only a few blocks from the homestead, no less.

The brick and beam interior of the 130-year-old commercial building has been extensively reworked, part of it done by the previous owners (who briefly ran The Seed Gallery there in 2003-04), and the remainder by the current owners, Rey and Valeria Espinosa.

It can’t be termed a completely faithful restoration, but it is comfortable, and the ambience is ideal for a coffee shop. There’s an upstairs room that would be good for meetings (East Spring Neighborhood Association, take note), although access is by stairs only.

Street parking (three marked spaces) is on Market, and also there are parking places behind the building. A drive-through window is being installed.

California’s offers specialty coffee and espresso-based drinks (cappuccino, etc.), pastries (carrot cake, sweet rolls), salads, sandwiches and appetizers (including tamales and chicken wings).

They seemed surprised that I prefer espresso by the “shot,” but served a proper double espresso on command. If you’re a “shot” espresso drinker like me, you may have to clarify this point when ordering.

The coffee house will be open seven days a week:

Mon. – Thur. 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Fri. 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Sat. 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Valeria originally hails from California and Rey from Mexico City, and before moving here, they lived in San Francisco, hence the bridge on the logo. In case you were wondering how the Espinosas came to New Albany, it is because of their church: Christ Gospel Church in Jeffersonville.

We were delighted by our visit, and recommend that you give this place a chance.

Coming after a warm and sunny day, afternoon conversation at Destinations Booksellers, the continuing abatement of my recent illness and another excellent meal at Federal Hill Café, the espresso was indeed encouraging.

UPDATED: For analysis and accounts of last night's City Council meeting, visit Volunteer Hoosier

Volunteer Hoosier was there, and he is providing exhaustive coverage of Thursday evening's City Council meeting, which both the Courier-Journal and the Tribune apparently declined to cover.

Before the advent of Blogging, how would you know what happened?

Here are the articles at Volunteer Hoosier, with more on the way:

New Sheriff in Town

The Skinny on New Albany's Season from Hell

Flying Monkeys and New Albanians

The Follies, Part 1

Covered in Glory

Cities Cheer U.S. Senate / Senate Restores CDBGs to Budget

Thursday, March 17, 2005

UPDATED: Did you attend tonight's City Council meeting?

If so, please give us a report.

Illness (well, how about recovery?) again precluded attendance tonight. On FRIDAY morning, we'll link to the newspaper coverage of the meeting.


The on-line edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal offers no coverage. We're awaiting the (daily?) update of the New Albany Tribune site.

This just in: City Hall confirms its commitment to code enforcement

It’s Thursday and a City Council meeting night (7:30 p.m.), and NA Confidential has received a note from Greg Roberts, president of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, who informs us that previous intelligence has been modified:

"I just talked to Mr. Tony Toran (City Operations) and he assures me that he, the mayor and the city attorney are committed to hiring the Code Enforcement Officer. They are simply waiting for the state to finalize this year's budget. Mr. Toran reassured me that the information that we received was INCORRECT. In light of this new information, we do not need anyone to speak at the council meeting tonight, but let me reassure each member of the ESNA that I will continue to watch this issue and keep you up to date on such progress."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Volunteer Hoosier reports from the Chamber of Commerce function at the White House Center

Our favorite local bookseller attended the Southeast Indiana Chamber of Commerce's "meet-and-greet" at New Albany's White House Center, and now wonders whether he understood Floyd County Council Chairman Ted Heavrin correctly when Heavrin seemed to be throwing cold water on an idea to relocate county offices to the former Fair Store downtown.

A Chill in the Air

Welcome back, Randy.

It's the Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Depot, and here's the story

Many thanks to Ted Fulmore of the New Albany Historic Preservation Commission for this note to NA Confidential, which explains what's going on down by the floodwall.


Hope I can help fill in the blanks on the questions on the Schmitt Warehouse.

The building in question is the Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Depot (c. 1886).

The Scribner Place plan does call for its demolition. However, I would ask for a little patience on this one. The New Albany Historic Preservation Commission is taking the lead on doing some research on this building. There are no plans for immediate demolition.

Believe it or not, it's a pretty sound structure. A photograph from the late 1950's shows that the depot has been butchered over the years. Arched windows have been bricked in*, a roof was cut off, some brick detailing was removed with the roof, etc.

The Commission is documenting the historical significance of the depot and obtaining estimates of restoring the depot. Historic Landmarks is researching funding options for a restoration. No date is set yet, but we are to report back to the City with our findings (hopefully within a couple of weeks).

The perfect world resolution is that the depot would be worked into existing Scribner plans at little or no extra cost. The worst case scenario is that the funding does not exist to restore and demo takes place.

A couple important notes:

1. The building is not within the districts of the Downtown Historic District.

2. The building not listed on the National Register of Historic Places - meaning an important source of funding (Federal) may not be available.

Also, listing it on the National Register may be difficult because the building has been altered so extensively.

You also had a question about why this took so long to come up. It took the Floyd County Historian to point out to us what the building was. Honestly, I'd jogged by it a 100 times and never gave it a second glance. Because of the lopped-off roof, you'd assume it was built much more recently than 1886. When I get the chance tomorrow, I'll email you a picture of the old photo. The depot has been an agenda item at the last two NAHPC meetings - which are public meetings the public generally does not attend.

We'll do our best to build a case for incorporating the depot in the Scribner project.

If you have any questions, just let me know.


* NA Confidential asks: What's with the Schmitts and windows? How did the Reisz Furniture Building get by without its windows being boarded up or bricked in? For the record, hyelophobia (or hyalophobia) is a fear of glass. I can't find "fear of windows" that doesn't refer to the Microsoft product, which is a sad reflection on the state of geekdom in the world.

CJ's Moss checks in on Rick Carmickle and the Downtown New Albany Merchants Association

In today’s Louisville Courier-Journal, columnist Dale Moss visits with photographer Rick Carmickle, who has revived the Downtown New Albany Merchants Association and is promoting the idea of self-reliance among downtown businesses.

Also quoted is Randy Smith of Destinations Booksellers, who mentions the recent symposium.

Check it out now before the C-J moves it to the $$$-only vault:

New Albany merchants unite; Strategies for downtown eyed, by Dale Moss

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Turku, Finland leads the way in reclaiming the commercial past for the drinking future

Turku, Finland (population 176,000) celebrated its 775th birthday in 2004. Located in southwestern Finland, Turku was Finland’s first capital and remains an important port and jumping off point for Sweden and other Baltic destinations.

In 1999, my good friend Barrie and I had the good fortune to spend the day in Turku while waiting for the ship to Stockholm. We wandered around the lovely and clean city, amazed at the seamless blend of new and old.

Perhaps befitting the home of two universities, Turku boasts a thriving nightlife and a series of excellent restaurants and pubs.

Even beer hunting veterans like us weren’t prepared for the extent to which Turku has grafted together yesterday’s commercial structures with today’s drinking venues.

We first became aware of this at the city’s early 20th century Pharmacy – completely restored and in us as a bar. Ditto the old Bank. The News Stand down the way has a tiny microbrewery squeezed into the back, while the impressive former girls school in the center has been refurbished into a brewpub and restaurant, with a beer garden where the playground used to be.

Crazily, Turku’s public toilet has not escaped this trend to provide historic settings for imbibing. Yes, you can have a beer at the public toilet.

I'm not making this up. It’s all here: Beer Lovers Study Tour

My point isn’t that such inspired preservationist thinking might ever seep into the conservative, clogged arterial passages of New Albany, although hope springs eternal.

Rather, it’s what can be done by thinking progressively, being unafraid to land somewhere outside the box, and having a little fun along the way.

Scenes from New Albany's railroading past

Thanks to Ed for pointing us to this link:

Wilson, Vernia and New Albany

Once the New Albany section begins, there are two photos. The one on the right is of the building I recall as the Farm Bureau building, located on the corner of Pearl and Oak (I believe) just off State Street by the old Kroger store. The sign on the building today still reads Daisy Medical Supply, although I'm not sure they're still in business.

If this building was indeed used at some point in the past by the New Albany & Salem Railroad, then the Schmitt warehouse building discussed here yesterday cannot be the only rail building remnant remaining in town.

At any rate, there are some fascinating photos at the web site, including the ones with the vaguely Bulgarian "Riverview Tower" in the background, lending a Socialist Bloc ambience to the photos's foregrounds filled with rotting rail infrastructure.

And to think that as the shutter was being squeezed on these photos, New Albany's "leadership" generation of the time was hard at work in the indescribably tasteless City-County Building plotting the transfer of vast acreages of grand old houses to the slum lords who would gird their future political campaigns ... and these faux "leaders" would someday be praised for all the "work" they put into the community ... these small-minded, largely uneducated real estate peddlers and used car salesman running the city by the lowest common denominator, which of course is the only one they could have known ... and in the end, I'm reminded of H.L. Mencken's words to the effect that sometimes one just feels like hoisting the black flag, spitting into his hands, and begin slicing throats.

But I digress. It's been that kind of March.

Have we mentioned the plan for Show Trials to be held at the Trinkle Dome?

What's good enough for aging fascist dictators should be good enough for us, shouldn't it?

Monday, March 14, 2005

State Street depot preservation - what's the story?

This may or may not be timely, as sickness is keeping us out of the loop.

We're told that the Schmitt mattress warehouse at the foot of State Street turns out to be an old depot of potential historical significance. Mentioned in the same breath as "saving" the old depot is the Historic Landmarks Foundation, which supposedly is looking for grant money. Apparently there are some who feel that the building might serve as a restaurant, but it is slated for demolition as part of the Scribner Place project.

Please fill in the blanks on this one. Do we know why it took so long for this to come up? Have the newspapers already reported it?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

National League of Cities in opposition to Bush budget

"Balking against Bush" always is in season at NA Confidential, and apparently in agreement with our default setting is the National League of Cities.

According to this AP article on Yahoo! News ... City Officials Lobby Against Bush Budget.

Gravity Head +1: Curmudgeon on the D.L.

(Cross-posted at The Potable Curmudgeon)

It is perhaps a fitting conclusion to this most surreal of weeks that I've submitted to my doctor's orders and agreed not to leave the house before Monday at the earliest.

At 1:30 p.m. Friday, having finished with Gravity Head* preparations and given the monolith a downhill push (with the beer-side help of Chris, Tim and Tim - thanks, guys), I conceded the inevitable and visited the sawbones, who listened intently to the packing bubbles popping in my lungs and pronounced a verdict of "bacterial pneumonia."

I've now been juiced with antibiotics, heavy-duty prescription cough syrup and ibuprophin, which enabled me to sleep 17 straight hours last night and this morning. A vague feeling of humanity is beginning to return.

Here's what I'll remember from all this: Yesterday morning, tapping Gravity Head beers one after the other, checking the fittings, trying to make sure everything was right, affixing labels and tap handles ... and pouring a half glass of each, which was left to sit beneath the tap. My usual routine would be to smell each and take a nip, but with my physical system screaming "TILT," I was left with exactly the same aroma for 14 different beers: Welch's Grape Juice.

Not exactly useful tasting notes, although I may have seen worse.

When we returned home from the doctor's office, Diana set off for the grocery and pharmacy, asking me what I needed for the weekend. The first thing that came into my mind?

Welch's Grape Juice. Not much hop character, but it's sufficing ...


* Gravity Head is the annual draft beer festival at Rich O's Public House. It has become the biggest event of the year and requires much attention.

Monday, March 07, 2005

UPDATED: Did you attend tonight's City Council meeting?

March 8 update - Here's the Tribune account, focusing exclusively on sewer department affairs at the meeting.

City Council passes ordinance on sewer disputes, by Amany Ali, Tribune City Editor


Previously ...

If so, please give us a report. Illness precluded attendance tonight.

On Tuesday morning, we'll link to the newspaper coverage of the meeting.

Weekend political recap: Floyd Demos, GOP select new leaders

Over the past weekend, both of Floyd County’s mainstream political parties met to select new leadership.

During the same time, NA Confidential finally succumbed to the seasonal crud bug and is continuing to convalesce. Here are the links to Tribune coverage of the party reorganization gatherings:

Stumler takes over Floyd Democrat party, by Chris Morris - Tribune Managing Editor

Stoess named chairman for Floyd GOP, by Tim Deatrick - Tribune Correspondent

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Federal Hill Cafe given excellent review in LEO

The Louisville Eccentric Observer's Marty Rosen writes glowingly about the Italian fare at Federal Hill Cafe, located on Pearl Street, downtown.

Federal Hill Café brings homestyle Italian food to New Albany

Dave Scopoletti deserves the attention!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Your dream house is our pleasure: East Cottom homes stacked at Aisle Three priced to move

In the beginning, Floyd Memorial Hospital was permitted to continue expanding in a fashion not unlike the cancer cells it has sworn to eradicate, spelling doom for another street bearing the ill fortune to be located nearby.

Then it was resolved to create a subdivision aimed at first time homebuyers of low to moderate income by moving the condemned houses from East Cottom Street to … well, uh ... to somewhere else.

One can almost visualize New Albany’s officials scratching their heads over city maps, searching for a vacant lot or three.

Eventually it was determined to deposit the vagabond homes on the grounds formerly known as Howard McLean Park, where an ill fated attempt to re-launch adult baseball was made decades ago, and to create yet another euphemistically styled development: Linden Meadows, the latter word intended as always to remind onlookers of the landscape feature obliterated to make room for the homes and their future Wal-Mart shopper occupants.

To no one’s surprise, the plan has since descended into the bottomless legal abyss of lawsuit and counter-lawsuit, with neighbors united to oppose Linden Meadows, the Community Housing Development Corporation accusing the neighbors of pre-emptive discrimination based on the likely demographic of future residents, and efforts underway to track the deed transfers and contact the original donor by Ouija Board to determine original intent.

Here at NA Confidential, we dare not hazard a guess as to the strengths and weaknesses of these arguments.

However, we can’t help noticing that from the perspective of Interstate 64, westbound travelers glancing north can see a couple of dozen houses on blocks, scattered around a field that very well may once have been a meadow, and following quite naturally that New Albany now has its very first Used House Lot.

Unfortunately, New Albany cannot lay claim to inventing the idea. We have found several Internet references to proposed “used house lots” in America, as well as to sites in Australia and New Zealand where the practice is established and thriving.

Tribune coverage:
CHDO files complaint against group opposing subdivision by Amany Ali, Tribune City Editor.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

"New Visions for Downtown" symposium an unqualified success

It was not the Boston Tea Party, the Bastille, or the Battleship Potemkin.

However, by any reckoning, it was an impressive overall turnout for last evening’s “New Visions for Downtown” public affairs symposium at Destinations Booksellers.

Including hosts, panel members and presenters, between 50 and 60 people attended the symposium.

Contrary to the overwrought fears expressed by some local movers and shakers (most of whom predictably did not attend; see below) to the effect that the symposium would constitute a non-constructive “bitch” session, the atmosphere was one of civility, courtesy, and excitement of the sort generated by the transformational power of fresh ideas.

Before summarizing the evening’s vast inventory of themes, NA Confidential wishes to recognize and commend those local leaders who took the time to attend the symposium.

From the New Albany City Council, Jack Messer.
From the Floyd County Council, Dana Fendley.
New Albany Township Trustee Tom Cannon.
Building Commission President Steve LaDuke.
Develop New Albany’s Nick Cortolillo and Jane Alcorn.

(Of course, Democratic Party stalwart and longtime Council member Maury Goldberg was a member of the panel).

Several citizens serving on various boards and commissions also were in attendance.

As for local media, County Editor Kyle Lowry of the New Albany Tribune reports on the symposium in her article today, entitled "Public gathers to discuss the future of NA downtown."

Conversely, let’s look at who was not in attendance.

Mayor James Garner could not make the symposium, and although there exists a perfectly valid argument that his presence was unnecessary, this is not an excuse for failing to dispatch an emissary from City Hall.

As noted above, out of nine elected City Council members, only Jack Messer stopped by to listen. NA Confidential will be contacting Steve Price, our district’s elected council representative, to express disappointment at his absence. You are invited to do the same with your councilperson.

The city’s freshly minted economic development director, Paul Wheatley, did not attend. In our view, this was the most disappointing absence.

As for the media, neither the Louisville Courier-Journal nor Jeff Roudenbush of the locally edited “The Forum” covered the symposium.

The panel consisted of the following people, with our brief assessment of their comments following:

Jean Caesar (J.O. Endris Jewelers)
As owner of a downtown anchor business that has been in operation for more than a century, Jean remains optimistic about her own store’s future prospects and those of downtown.

Maury Goldberg (former City Council member, DNA board member)
According to Maury, New Albany’s future will be determined by qualities like vision, the will to act, and the willingness to accept risks – and these factors apply New Albany’s citizens as well as its leaders.

Jeff Gillenwater (IT professional at Indiana University Southeast)
Downtown is a “wonderful skeleton waiting for the flesh to appear,” but this is dependent on what amounts to a reverse sales pitch during which people at the grassroots level educate the traditional leadership/business/real estate class as to what type of atmosphere the future resident and worker in New Albany will need.

Brandon W. Smith (student at Brandeis School of Law)
The work of contemporary economists like Richard Florida (“The Rise of the Creative Class”) provides clues for a new model of economic development that focuses on the presence of a specific type of worker rather than a specific type of industrial park architecture.

The moderator was Ann M. Baumgartle (Destinations Booksellers and a community investor and volunteer). Ann kept control of the program and brought the symposium in on time. For a comprehensive record of Ann’s thoughts on downtown revitalization, many of which she referenced last night, read her Blog, New Albany Renewal.

The format of the symposium called for the panel to make opening statements, followed by comments from successive, pre-selected “presenters.”

The themes offered by the presenters were subject to brief analysis by the panel, with limited audience participation also permitted.

Greg Roberts (East Spring Street Neighborhood Association)
Greg discussed the role and accomplishments of the neighborhood association. Seeing “what it can be” is motivation for tackling the problems found in New Albany’s inner city neighborhoods, which in the final analysis should compete on the same playing field as the suburbs and exurbs.

Susan Kaempfer (AAA Plumbing Doctor)
Susan proposed a conceptual upgrade for the farmer’s market (Market Street), a theme echoed later by Bonnie Thrasher, among others. According to moderator Ann Baumgartle, a model for such a project is to be found in Bloomington, Indiana.

During Susan’s comments, a side discussion arose pertaining to the old Reisz furniture building on Main Street, used by Schmitt Furniture for many years as a warehouse, but supposedly considered by the family at various junctures as an art colony or a condo development. According to Jean Caesar, the Schmitt family is ready to reconsider ideas such as these – and this is good news, indeed.

Brent Cox (PC Building Supply)
In the absence of Al Goodman, Brent offered an overview of the Loop Island Wetlands and noted potential changes in the Greenway project that might better complement Al’s ambitious efforts to open the wetlands to the public.

This led to one of the more spirited discussions of the evening, and the presence in the listening audience of tireless regional transportation advocate David Coyte accordingly was invaluable.

The overarching conclusion of Brent’s segment was that the Greenway should be redesigned for pedestrians and bicycles only, with Indianapolis’s Monon Trail serving as a template, and that increased public participation in Greenway commission meetings is essential in getting this point across.

Bonnie Thrasher (The Art Store)
Ably pinch-hitting for hubby Dave Thrasher, Bonnie enthusiastically gave a detailed perspective on downtown revitalization from the art community’s point of view. Among the many worthy notions embraced by the Thrashers is the necessarily radical view that the city should undertake an aggressive program of buying underused buildings from owners who have permitted the building to sit vacant for too long.

Allen Howie (Idealogy Design + Advertising)
Allen made several solid suggestions, including the common-sense approach of looking at existing models of revitalization and asking questions of the people who’ve successfully done it. Also, from an ad agency perspective, Allen notes an imperative for community advocates to “outshout the naysayers.”

This sentiment was encapsulated perfectly by downtown businessman Rick Carmickle, who in response to “nothing’s downtown,” proudly responds: “I’m downtown, and I’m someone!”

The panel made closing comments summarizing the evening’s thoughts, but NA Confidential will remember these primarily for Maury Goldberg’s humorous suggestion that for New Albany to inaugurate a springtime event and draw attention to the downtown area, an upscale “meatloaf festival” would be the perfect vehicle for self-deprecating but potentially newsworthy fun.

We couldn’t agree more. Jeff Gillenwater probably wasn’t considering meatloaf as a means of adding flesh to the skeleton of downtown, but the city streets could be the venue, and preliminary Googling has not uncovered anything like it on the web.

Standard meatloaf … veggie meatloaf meatloaf made with gameethnic meatloaf … the categories are endless.

Readers, what was the main theme to emerge from the symposium?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Tonight's the night: "New Visions for Downtown" symposium at Destinations Booksellers

From Destinations Booksellers:

"The store will be closing at 3 p.m. today (Wednesday) as we prepare for tonight's Public Affairs Symposium, 'New Visions for Downtown.' The event kicks off at 7 p.m. and we'll be letting attendees in about 5 minutes prior to the start. The store reopens for browsing and buying at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 3."

NA Confidential readers are encouraged to attend. See you tonight!