Thursday, January 31, 2008

New thread: North Annex, preservationists, youth shelter advocates and ... and ...

In the thread at Sekula on the North Annex: "Clarify and frame this discussion and ensure that it is portrayed accurately," NAC's Bluegill wrote:

One negative consequence of tying the youth shelter to demolition is that it unnecessarily pits two proactive, positive groups against each other.

The youth shelter folks have undoubtedly advocated long and hard for improved conditions, and rightfully so. What they've been told is that tearing down the county home is the ONLY way to get it.

It's created another fight where there really is none.

---

Precisely. And who is encouraging this fight where none should be?

The County Commissioners and the County Council, both of whom are pushing the youth shelter advocates forward and changing the topic in the process.

In the used car biz, don't they call that a bait and switch?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sekula on the North Annex: "Clarify and frame this discussion and ensure that it is portrayed accurately."

Greg Sekula, director of the Southern Regional Office of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, contributed the following to the Tribune as a guest column. It appears today. We're reprinting the piece in its entirety.

----

As has recently been reported in the media, a group of concerned citizens of Floyd County has expressed a desire to investigate the option of saving the historic two story section of the former Floyd County Home on Grant Line Road. This group has dubbed itself “The Friends of the Floyd County Home” and continues to grow in numbers as this issue garners increased public attention.

In response to the numerous articles and the Jan. 27, 2008, letter to the editor written by Pam Prince, president of Floyd County Youth Services Advisory Board, I think it is imperative that a number of points be addressed to clarify and frame this discussion and ensure that it is portrayed accurately from our viewpoint:

1. The concern for saving the former Floyd County Home is not an 11th hour revelation on the part of preservationists. The issue was raised by the New Albany Preservation Commission and Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana in letters written August 20, 2004, and May 16, 2005, respectively. The concerns went unheeded by county officials who claim that they had no knowledge of community interest in preserving the building.

2. Advocates for saving the historic building are not advocating for continued use of the annex as the youth shelter. We see the merits of constructing a new facility that is more conducive to modern day living accommodations. Our group, however, does desire to have our county officials sincerely study the costs involved in retaining the main historic sections of the former county home and utilizing this structurally sound building for office uses related to support services for the youth shelter operations or other functions as deemed fit by the county. If this option has indeed been studied, then as taxpayers of Floyd County, we respectfully request an opportunity to review those studies, including the cost estimates developed.

3. Larry McAllister, County Council President, acknowledged at a Jan. 22 site visit of the annex that there is not a statutory requirement that counties provide a youth shelter. Mr. McAllister explained that the County is providing this service to Floyd and surrounding counties because there is a recognized need for this service and the shelter creates a revenue stream for the county. Given this reality and the fact that citizens are today faced with property tax uncertainty, it is important to acknowledge that the citizens of Floyd County are being asked to support and ultimately pay for a $10 million dollar capital project that is not a required function of county government.

4. It has been stated that the existing building will likely remain standing until the new building is finished and ready for occupancy. Thus, it appears that there is time to further study re-use of this building without necessarily impacting the construction schedule of the shelter. Given what we have seen of the proposed campus plan for the annex site, it appears that the footprint of the two story section of the historic county home is outside the footprint of the proposed youth shelter building and the associated parking lot. Retention of the two story sections of the original building (main central block and wings) will undoubtedly necessitate some site plan and engineering adjustments to the campus plan. However, we would contend that such costs are potentially minimal when compared to the cost of demolishing a usable building that can continue to serve the people of Floyd County.

5. Demolition costs of the annex are conservatively estimated to be in the neighborhood of $120,000. - that is $120,000 of tax payers’ money. Could this money not be put toward the rehabilitation of this piece of our history? The demolition cost does not factor in the cost of improvements already made to the building in recent years, at tax payers’ expense, which would be wasted through demolition, nor the additional strain on our landfill that the demolition debris would provide.

In order to accurately determine the feasibility of retaining and rehabilitating portions of the county home for office use to equip our county leaders with the best information to make a fiscally responsible decision, it will be necessary to study the approach that I have outlined. Our group would like to hire an architect from outside the area to evaluate our recommended approach. The County’s cooperation in providing access to all relevant studies, reports, plans, financing, and cost estimates that have been prepared at taxpayer expense in connection with this project is needed. Additionally, access to the building by the selected architect must be granted so a rehabilitation assessment can be made. Cooperation and assistance from the County’s hired architect is also necessary to share any relevant information with the consultant architect. If the County is agreeable to this approach, The Friends of the Floyd County Home intend to pursue independent funds to cover the cost of this study without asking the county to contribute financially to the investigation.

I would, however, ask our county officials to approach the study with an open mind and to be willing to re-consider the fate of this piece of Floyd County’s heritage if the facts and figures demonstrate that retention of the building is a fiscally prudent and feasible option.

--Greg Sekula

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Other links:

Diggin' in the Dirt: 7 Million Dollars

Tribune guest column by Vincent Klein: Floyd County reader believes now is the time to proceed on youth shelter

NA Confidential: North Annex? It's time to address Floyd County's political culture and its congenital cultural amnesia.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"A greater sense of community and more civic involvement" are two prominent reasons.

It would appear that the Louisville Independent Business Alliance’s “Why Buy Local?” forum Sunday was a success. The senior editor was too ill to attend, but here’s the link to Courier-Journal coverage, with a selected excerpt.

'Buy local' wins backers; Louisville alliance launches campaign, by Laura Ungar.

Speaker Stacy Mitchell of Portland, Maine, senior researcher at the Institute for Self Reliance and author of "Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses," put the issue into a national context.

She said America has lost 400,000 independent retailers in the past 10 years. In the grocery sector, for example, the top five companies received $1 of every $4 Americans spent on groceries in 1998, compared with $1 of every $2 today. Wal-Mart stores alone, Mitchell said, capture $1 of every $10 Americans spend on goods.

"Every category is dominated by a couple of chains," she said. "We've gone too far in one direction. We need to think about rebuilding our communities and rebuilding local businesses."

Earlier in the article, Ear X-Tacy’s John Timmons makes an absolutely essential observation about the task for small businesses:

"I can't compete on price. I can't even try to do that anymore," he said. Instead, he said, he fights back with service, expertise and selection.

Yes. Yes. And, yes.

Meanwhile, at-large councilman John Gonder takes a circuitous route to the same general vicinity in his most recent blog posting, We Should Be So Lucky.

We can't shop our way out of a jam. We won't move civilization closer to perfection by leaving our problems to the ingenuity of future generations to solve, as many are trying to do now with property taxes, climate change and the growing subservience of individuals to corporate interests.

Literacy and thoughtfulness in an elected official? Unfortunately, John may come to regret attribution here in Anonymous Rights Land.

By the way, a belated happy birthday to John’s mom!

Monday, January 28, 2008

North Annex? It's time to address Floyd County's political culture and its congenital cultural amnesia.

The North Annex on Grant Line Road, current home of the Floyd County Youth Shelter, is in the news – and rightly so, if you ask me.

Every time I visit my mother in Georgetown, I drive past the despoiled site of the Collins-Yenawine house. The structure’s sad destruction at the hands of an arsonist in what remains a ludicrously “unsolved” case vibrantly illustrates an entrenched attitude of destructive and oft times condescending Philistinism toward our area’s past.*

It’s just my opinion, and no one’s put me up to saying it aloud – but this sort of “Groundhog Day” cultural amnesia in Floyd Couty should be addressed just as vigorously as racism, sexism and other manifestations of violence against people, especially when it occurs among elected officials, whom we ostensibly trust to discern higher community bars than that typically defining those who are in it for the money alone.

If you are inferring from these words that I believe the overall stance of certain local public officials in the matter of the North Annex to have been one analogous to Philistinism, then you are quite correct.

Numerous red herrings are being tossed liberally in all directions, among them the fraudulent charge that preservationists care more about buildings than kids (the Youth Shelter might plausibly ask why it has taken this long for government attention to be paid to its efforts), and my own personal favorite, the bromide most often deployed by used car salesman, who assure you that demolition offers “absolutely the best deal in town.”

Perhaps. It also might be the case that on a corridor blighted by Wal-Mart, we're missing another prime example of the high cost of low price.

Following are excerpts from three recent Tribune articles, all written by Chris Morris, that tell the story of an effort to raise consciousness about the North Annex.

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Retired teacher hopes to save North Annex

Vic Megenity remembers how the old Floyd County courthouse and post office were torn down to make room for new structures he called unsightly.

He doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to the North Annex along Grant Line Road.

Group makes pitch to save North Annex along Grant Line Road

Larry McAllister had heard enough. As a group of local historians and representatives from the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana discussed ways to save the old North Annex, home of the Floyd County Youth Shelter, McAllister quickly interrupted.

“I’m not here to make any enemies, but this is so frustrating,” said McAllister, Floyd County Council president. “It’s like all of a sudden this is being brought up. I’ve been at this four years ... I hope you understand how I feel.”

With that, McAllister left the Tuesday meeting at the North Annex, which had been organized by retired educator Vic Megenity, vice president of the Floyd County Historical Society.


Floyd County leaders asked their opinion on saving North Annex

The youth shelter has been housed at the North Annex, 3005 Grant Line Road in New Albany, since 1982. However, the building was constructed in 1878 and wings were added to the structure in 1939.

The Floyd County Commissioners, along with the County Council, approved a plan last year to build a new youth shelter on the same land and tear down the North Annex once construction is completed.

However, questions have been raised in recent weeks about the history of the North Annex, which is the only historical building left along Grant Line Road, according to Vic Megenity, vice president of the Floyd County Historical Society.


----

Readers may debate the merits of the case at their leisure, but there is one point that should be made clearly and loudly.

There is ample documentary evidence that local historical preservationists were seeking to make their opinions on the future of the Annex known through letters to Floyd County Council members and Commissioners as early as August, 2004, and into May, 2005.

You will note that the vote on the North Annex’s future occurred last year, which if memory serves, was 2007.

Do the math, Mr. McAllister. Neither has this issue come up at the last minute, nor was its mention restricted to personal communications.

A better question: Why weren't you paying attention when it did arise?

---

* Props to First Harrison Bank, which proposes to reconstruct the some semblance of the house as part of ongoing development at the site.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

FCC declares female buttocks to be sexual and excretory organs.

The ludicrousness of Puritanism never seems to abate, to which now must be added a dusting of gender-specific anatomical wrongheadedness. Here's the whole story, courtesy of the Associated Press.

----

Nude buttocks may cost ABC $1.4 million

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $1.4 million fine against 52 ABC Television Network stations over a 2003 broadcast of cop drama NYPD Blue.

The fine is for a scene where a boy surprises a woman as she prepares to take a shower. The scene depicted "multiple, close-up views" of the woman's "nude buttocks" according to an agency order issued late Friday.

ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co. The fines were issued against 52 stations either owned by or affiliated with the network.

FCC's definition of indecent content requires that the broadcast "depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities" in a "patently offensive way" and is aired between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The agency said the show was indecent because "it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs - specifically an adult woman's buttocks."

The agency rejected the network's argument that "the buttocks are not a sexual organ."

© 2008 The Associated Press.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The proper Norquist (John) to speak before Louisville Metro Council's 8664 committee.

(News release)

Visionary Mayor John Norquist to speak to Metro Council's 8664 committee

Please invite your fellow 8664 supporters and join us this Monday (28th) at 5 pm at Metro Hall. Milwaukee's former Mayor John Norquist will be in town to describe how Milwaukee overcame opposition and removed the elevated Park East Freeway from the banks of the Milwaukee River. Mayor Norquist is a big thinker and dynamic speaker you won't want to miss. He's now the CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism (www.CNU.org), a nationally recognized organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl.

Location: Metro Hall, 601 W. Jefferson Street, 3rd floor. After 5pm, use 6th Street entrance.

An editorial promoting 8664

Too bad it had to come from Sacramento, CA. Editor David Holwerk said the new Bridges Project looks like "a highway contractor's dream and a livable city's nightmare." He described 8664 as "a growing grass-roots movement in Louisville to reroute the interstates and bring the city back in touch with its river heritage."

Read the editorial: Here and elsewhere, the lure of rivers

You can help 8664 today:

Contacting your elected officials
With the Bridges funding in doubt, we need to urge our elected officials to step forward and support our plan for a better Louisville.

Donate to our campaign
Your support will help us promote our alternative to the citizens of our region.

Volunteer by emailing Joe at info@8664.org

Thanks for your time and support.

Peace,

Tyler Allen and JC Stites
www.8664.org

Friday, January 25, 2008

On property taxes and a civil society.

It has become glaringly apparent that my reckoning of the components necessary for a civil society differ somewhat from the local norm.

Accordingly, I’ve been asked on numerous occasions why I haven’t ventured an opinion on the “property tax crisis” in Indiana. The reason is quite simple.

I’ll join the discussion when there is as much emphasis on responsibilities as citizens as there is on rights as taxpayers.

Let me know when this happens, will you? Until it does, there just isn't much to say.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ignorance is neither bliss nor amusing. At least it shouldn't be.

There's a guest column in the Tribune today.

That’s a lot of lettuce in the House, by Sylvia Griggs.

I always believed the Democratic Party was progressive, but some recent news has me puzzled. Voters put a woman in charge of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and she heads to the kitchen — the so-called traditional environment for a woman. Mother Pelosi seems to be saying, I know what’s good for you, and you’re damn well going to like it!

As part of her “Green the Capitol” Initiative, the House is getting a kitchen and food service makeover.

The columnist's argument goes something like this: It isn't progressive to eat food with names the columnist can't pronounce, especially if these names have "international" origins; presumably, politicians should eat peanut butter 'n' nanner sandwiches instead, just like the all-American, dead Elvis; and if there are any concepts in cooking and cuisine to which the columnist hasn't yet been exposed -- sustainable fishing, for instance -- these are to be derided as something unfamiliar to her, and thus worthy of trashing.

Imagine how much more edifying the piece would have been had we been informed as to what these names and concepts mean, and how they may or may not be important in the larger scheme of things.

What am I missing? How does one's own ignorance about a topic qualify as knee-slapping humor?

Given that one of the Tribune's other guest columnists apparently fancies herself as some bizarre sort of Ann Coulter clone, reading the local newspaper of late is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's magnum opus, The Wall.

Hello, hello, hello ...
Is there anybody in there?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quasi-cerebral utterances.

Civilization rests on two things: the discovery that fermentation produces alcohol, and the voluntary ability to inhibit defecation. And I put it to you, where would this splendid civilization be without both?
--Robertson Davies, "The Rebel Angels"

Thanks to J for this quote. I can't put my finger on it, but it accurately captures my mood at present.

9:00 am update

With respect to our discussions the past couple of days, I understand these were topics of discomfort for some. However, I believe strongly that unless we're able to adopt an empirical approach and ask difficult questions, there'll be no substantive, lasting progress. Emotion, hope and perhaps even faith are necessary components, but in themselves, they'll not be enough to change the facts of life. The learning curve needs to be shortened, or ultimate success is going to be tragically elusive.

Given my reputation as a Commie, it's quite odd finding myself in the position of defending "survival of the fittest" in a somewhat-free-market. So be it. I have an interesting day ahead, and if there's time, I'll tell you about it later today.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Treet's Bakery Cafe thread: Hypothetically, what questions should be answered?

I'm going to play devil's advocate here, because someone needs to do it, and I’m hoping to stimulate a discussion because it might be fruitful in illustrating some of the issues involved with business start-ups and shut-downs.

Read the posting and comments here if you’re coming late to the conversation: Treet's Bakery Cafe closes.

As you’ll see in the comments, several people have asked what they might be able to do to keep Treet’s Bakery Café open. Imagine, then, that enough people pledge financial support to enable Treet's to reappear next week.

Does it reappear in the same incarnation?

Does it reappear without a thorough analysis of the plan of operation?

Does it reappear as Treet's even if Teresa somehow isn't involved?

Does it reappear as something different, with a modified concept?

In short, if investors are to be recruited, what questions are they prepared to ask?

Is there a limit to their tolerance for potential answers?

Don't take these questions the wrong way. Rest assured, I'm not trying to be a Scrooge in all this. I had my criticisms, but I like Teresa and I liked Treet’s, and we patronized it as often as practicable.

The ironic thing is that every failed restaurant in history had its fans, its regulars, and the people who liked it very much. However, it still failed. Why? The trick is to determine the reason why the restaurant failed, to avoid mistakes, to refine the product if necessary, and to find a better way of getting the word out.

Or, conversely, if these questions can't be answered, there's little sense in mobilizing to inject life into the project.

What do you think?

What are the questions that you would need answered prior to committing capital to a restaurant operator?

Monday, January 21, 2008

"A Man on the Street."

See the slide show at the New York Times website.

Here's the prologue:

In America’s poorest ghettos, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s portrait is one of the most popular subjects of public art. These images, which I have been documenting since 1977, regularly appear on the walls of the liquor stores, auto-repair shops, fast-food restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and public housing projects of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and many other cities across the country. The majority are the work of amateur artists. Though Dr. King is usually front and center, he is often accompanied by other inspirational figures: Nelson Mandela, John Paul II, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Pancho Villa. He is often accompanied by his famous phrase, “I have a dream” – a reminder that in many of the communities where these murals exist, the gulf between hope and reality remains far too wide.
-- Camilo José Vergara

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Treet's Bakery Cafe closes.

Saturday was the swan song for Treet’s Bakery Café, which opened in late February, 2007, in the Wilcox Block at 133 E. Market St.

This news comes as a disappointment, but perhaps we should begin its consideration by injecting a few drams of realism into the discussion. The average life span of restaurants is less than five years, and even more startling, roughly 90% of independent operators go out of business before their third birthday, so taken in this context, the demise of Treet’s can hardly be regarded as exceptional.

Of course, knowing the statistics does little to assuage our sadness and regret that Teresa’s efforts fell short. She worked awfully hard, and had a number of friends who worked hard helping her, and still it wasn’t enough to survive. Unfortunately, all the enthusiasm and elbow grease in the world can do no more than modify the unfavorable odds for any restaurant start-up. They cannot make the inexorable laws of business life magically irrelevant, and when it comes to restaurants, the facts of life are remarkably harsh, something that may not always be evident to the customer.

Competition is vicious and the marketplace is infuriatingly volatile. One must shape and configure a physical space, work out all the details pertaining to infrastructure, create an excellent product, price it correctly, find a competent team to help sell the product, manage that team properly, and at the end of the day, still reckon with a paper-thin margin … and all that comes before the week’s proceeds go to pay for the suddenly malfunctioning oven, without which the doors cannot be opened tomorrow.

Obviously, a multi-faceted skill set is necessary, improvisational abilities are paramount, and the testing process is merciless. Fail at any one component, and the whole edifice wobbles. Fail at two, and collapse is likely. Sometimes every single thing about it functions perfectly … and the business still doesn’t succeed owing to conditions entirely outside the operator’s control.

We’ve been here before. I wrote the following words after Bistro New Albany closed last October:

It's remarkably easy for people who can do no better than "start up" the occasional rag picker's business or do contracting work without permits to understand how difficult a genuine paradigm shift is to achieve. All of downtown New Albany currently is engaged in that paradigm shift, and it's a work in progress that unfortunately will have its ups and downs. Bistro New Albany's demise is a downer, but within it are seeds of positive developments.

Likewise, I lament the passing of Treet’s, but I view its demise in the same vein as that of BNA’s. Life itself proceeds on a multi-dimensional chessboard, and simplicities are seldom what they seem. An opportunity now exists. Someone’s loss is another’s gain.

And so on.

The very first “microbrewery” of the contemporary era was New Albion in California, and it did not survive the decade of the 1970’s, but rising from its wreckage was Mendocino Brewing Company, which has persevered in one or another incarnation ever since.

My company started brewing its own beer in its 15th year of business overall, and only after we acquired the brewing equipment at a considerable discount from the defunct Tucker/Oldenberg operation. Now, more than five years later, we're looking to repeat the Darwinian process. For a variety of reasons, the coming year stands to be a difficult one for smaller brewing companies in America. That's bad, and some of them will fold as a result. Their brewhouses will come up for sale, helping to transform what has been a premium-priced seller's market into one more favorable for buyers -- buyers like NABC, which is looking for a larger kit in order to expand.

Let’s hope for a similar break at 133 E. Market.

---

After the preceding was written, this arrived from Teresa via e-mail:

Treet’s will close its doors on Saturday, January 19,2008. We would like to thank our manyloyal customers for their support, assistance, encouragement and contributions;

the recipes,
the bus tubs,
the newspapers and magazines,
the napkins folding,
the coffee making,
the light hanging,
the schlepping,
the dishwashing,
the scrubbing and sweeping,
the advertising,
the printing,
the plants and flowers,
the errand running
etc, etc, etc.


Never has a business been so blessed with friends andsupporters. We regret that we can no longer be a part of the community and wish all of Downtown New Albany’s residents and businesses and all of our customers and friends the best of luck and a happy and prosperous future.

Sincerely,
Teresa, Terri, Annie, Stephen, Samantha, Claire,Morgan and Kaila.

"Why Buy Local?" LIBA will elaborate on January 27.

From the Louisville Independent Business Alliance (LIBA), an invitation to Keep Louisville Weird by shopping locally ... and attending a January 27 presentation by Stacy Mitchell, author of "Big Box Swindle."

Be careful with those inconvenient facts, Bluegill.

You might wake him.

(Photo credit: The senior editor, January 17, 2008)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Trogs ablaze as things they don't quite get just keep happening.

We must be doing something right.

Here's a sprinkling of anonymous opinion gleaned from the pages of another local blog, where the last original post went up on March 25, 2007 … and the comment graffiti has been indiscriminately layered ever since.

Obviously, it’s way past time for a good old-fashioned power washing, but I must admit that at some fundamental level, it simply never gets old watching my old pal “anonymous” emit all-cap primal screams.

Evidently I’m a social dysfunction fetishist. Cue Ms. Dietrich: "Nothing I can do … can’t help it."

WE URGE ALL CITIZENS OF NEW ALBANY TO BOYCOTT RICHO'S & DESTINATIONS BOOKSTORE. THE COMMUNIST & ATHEIST ARE TRYING TO TAKE OVER OUR CITY.

Tsk, tsk. Actually, the older I get, the more I begin to see H.L. Mencken’s point about the efficacy of a benevolent monarchy in keeping the booboisie in line. It bears noting that while I’ve never denied unbeliever status, the bookstore owner is neither Commie nor atheist ... and we’re not brothers, damn it!

Those progressives have all just committed political suicide.

Are you kidding? We can’t even get the progressives together in one room to discuss plans for the imminent coup d'état, much less line them up to drink the mayor's Kool-Aid.

How about a citizens revolt?

How about it?

(Crickets chirp, pins drop, crowds swell outside Wal-Mart)

Well, that works if only one or two people revolt, but if 100's of New Albany citizens revolt at the same time. Boycott those business and tell them all to go to hell downtown and consider hitting them where it hurts in the wallot.

Few people realize that the mysterious Wallot is actually Shallot’s brother, and both of them were prime ministers of Lebanon prior to being assassinated during the Reagan years. Wallot’s connection with New Albany remains unclear, although it is surmised that while still dead, he contributed illegal campaign funds to Verle Huffman’s ill-fated “bring square dancing back to downtown” mayoral candidacy.

Anyway, speaking for my “spiritual” brother in arms, we’re absolutely delighted that “100’s” of New Albanians who neither read nor consume progressive pints will commence an immediate boycott of our businesses.

Fortunately for them, I hear that Steve Price is opening a combination soup kitchen/bucket o’swill emporium downtown, to be called the Recession Cafe ("Where there's smoke, there's fire!")

Ah, the glories of unbridled competition. It’s the commie-atheist way, don't you know.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More Thursday council coverage.

NA Shadow Council's Hot Bites!, billed as "tiny nuggets of observation from Thursday's New Albany City Council meeting," is a must read.

The predominant mode of civility and reasoned discourse, with predictable lapses from the Wizard of Westendia, signaled good weather ahead. If the climate holds, there is a downside - council meetings will be far less entertaining. The greatest show in town may have moved over to Larry McAllister's County Council. The circus may have changed nights! Now, if McAllister can just declare which party he belongs to...

For more on the council's Thursday meeting:

NA Confidential's Thursday evening rundown: Where'd the city council go? Glimmers of civility and sanity peek through the Coffeyesque politics of bile and animus.

Nuts and bolts from the Courier's Dick Kaukas: New Albany OKs salary request.

From the Tribune's Chris Morris: New Albany mayor, team get raises.

Maury Goldberg at New Albany Today: Progress At Last!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Where'd the city council go? Glimmers of civility and sanity peek through the Coffeyesque politics of bile and animus.

If the council were voting on a “common sense” ordinance, would Councilmen Coffey and Price be obliged to recuse themselves?

-- graffiti on the 3rd floor bathroom wall (with apologies to J)

I know; you’re looking for a coherent city council Thursday meeting wrap, but let me tell you: I’m just plain beat. It’s been an intense past few days in my world, and I need to catch some shuteye … but here’s a brief summary with exhausted, scantly edited commentary.

A-08-01 An Ordinance To Amend Ordinance A-07-43 Setting Salaries for The Year 2008 for Non-Bargaining Unit Employees

The “salaries” ordinance, reviled by the “Grover Norquist for Emperor” crowd out in the exurb, which includes the provision for a much needed concentrated code enforcement officer – something that the city’s neighborhood associations gathered together to support, and predictably, the conjoined councilmen and Pavlovian dog poster children Dan Coffey and Steve Price loudly and illogically opposed for reasons that no sane person on earth can fathom.

It was approved on its second and third readings, although Diane McCartin Benedetti inexplicably joined Coffey and Price in opposition after voting affirmatively on the first reading, proving little other than to make it obvious that she hasn’t done her homework. Is it too much for me to expect that a person who wants to serve on the council might come to the job with sufficient knowledge of current affairs so that she doesn’t have to ask Pam Badger what her duties as OEO involve?

Or are my expectations just too high?

R-08-02 Resolution Relating to the Settlement of Litigation Pending Against The Civil City of New Albany and the Common Council Thereof

The city’s Kochert Retirement Dividend was made plain, as the previous council’s foredoomed redistricting ordinance, passed on two separate occasions primarily owing to the former Gang of Four’s undisguised personal animus toward certain of the plaintiffs in the celebrated redistricting lawsuit, and in spite of a federal judge’s explicit instructions, was rescinded by a vote of 6-3.

Council president Jeff Gahan, who might be expected to know better but seems never to have grasped the redistricting issues from the start, joined the conjoined councilman in opposing this overdue interjection of common sense (see graffiti above) into the redistricting proceedings.

In turn, this clears the way for the lawsuit’s disappearance and a return to the redistricting drawing board by a council committee and concerned citizens as specified in a proposed consent decree that might have dispensed with the unnecessary drama long ago if people like Coffey weren’t prone to misrepresentation and innuendo the way cats are prone to hairballs.

G-08-02 An Ordinance to Amend Sewer Board Membership

The first reading passed 7-2, but no seconds were forthcoming on a motion to change the rules to allow a vote on all three readings, as requested by Mayor Doug England. I’d guess the likely outcome will be approval on the 2nd and 3rd readings next time out, and then a completely new sewer board composition to be instituted in 2011, and again in 2015 … and no matter how many times the sewer board is reinvented, Coffey's knowledge will remain paramount - at least that's what it says on the Bazooka Joe degree in sanitary engineering.

R-08-03 A Resolution for $9,000 to be set aside out of Riverboat Funds to Create Digitized Zone Maps in 2008

An easy choice for unintended irony of the night, this move to provide funds to digitalize zoning maps was introduced by the thoroughly analog councilman Price. Passed.

This one could be a real barnburner.

With only one preparatory meeting under its belt, our newly minted city council bolts spring training BP for the joys of genuine major league heat.

New Albany to consider salaries; Council meeting tonight is deemed crucial by the city's new leadership, by Dick Kaukas (Courier-Journal).

The New Albany City Council will meet tonight to discuss salaries for key positions in the administration of Mayor Doug England, and whether his appointments are funded could have a long-lasting impact on the future of the city …

… Besides the pay for England's key staff, council members will be asked to resolve a long-debated issue of how to select sewer board members. Also on the agenda are proposals to withdraw a lawsuit challenging no-bid contracts awarded last year by the sewer and stormwater boards and to take another look at redrawing the boundaries of the city's six voting districts.

Seats will be going quickly for this one, so get there early. Opportunities for grandstanding on the part of conjoined councilmen Coffey and Price will be numerous, so don’t forget copious quantities of sunscreen.

Anyone know where we can find a weenie wagon?

Oh, yeah - the agenda is here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NA Shadow Council on lawlessness, modern policing and a change in civic direction.

If you’ve not done so already, jump over to the NA Shadow Council blog and read the most recent postings. The excerpts I’m quoting here are very brief, and there’s far more to consider.

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A Proposition: Manage the Crisis Instead of Surrendering to Inertia

... and Job One is to attack the culture of lawlessness. For a couple of years we've concentrated on civil regulation. We've called for a regime of enforcement of basic common standards, of economic equity, of increased property values.

I am now convinced that the most important component for revitalizing New Albany is a commitment to modern policing, a commitment to dramatically reducing crime in our neighborhoods, a dedication to making New Albany a city of lawfulness instead of an anarchic shell that residents long to flee or that residents consider as the best they can afford.

And accomplishing that revitalization will require an investment in our police force, a recalibration of our enforcement policies, and a dramatic increase in the force structure.

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A Tough One

Last Thursday I was privileged to attend what turned out to be a tremendously enlightening forum on the future of our city. In particular, the forum addressed the current state of law enforcement in New Albany and some potential solutions to the accelerating decline in public safety that we face ...

... Our lack of seriousness about making New Albany safe and law-abiding has put out the welcome mat to lawbreakers.

I think it's fair to say that in much the way that New Albany has figuratively put out a sign welcoming sprawl and another sign welcoming slumlords, it has invested in neon signage that says "Welcom Crimnals." Typo intended.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meet the candidate: Stan Robison, Floyd County Superior Court 3, Wed. Jan. 16 at NABC.

Last week, Stan Robison announced his candidacy for the new Floyd County Superior Court 3 judgeship. The election will be on Tuesday, May 6, which of course is the date for Indiana's 2008 primary, and not coincidentally, the first of two NABC Elector nights this year.

But I digress.

Speaking personally, I've known Stan since the early 1980s. He's had a successful law practice in New Albany and has served as deputy prosecutor and public defender. He has my vote, but you don't have to take my word for it.

On Wednesday, January 16, there'll be a "meet the candidate and fundraiser" beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the Prost room at New Albanian Brewing Co., 3312 Plaza Dr., in New Albany. There'll be pizza, Progressive Pints, and the opportunity to get to know Stan.

I may be a bit late; there's a funeral earlier in the afternoon near Indianapolis. Even so, hope to see readers there at some point tomorrow night.

Stan Robison for Judge

We are not the only ones ... we are not the only ones ...

Thanks to M for this link.

Muncie Politics 101: Are you ready for the first quiz?, by Larry Riley (Muncie Star-Press).

Question 9: You're CEO of a company thinking about expanding in Muncie and you attended Monday's city council meeting. Afterward, you excitedly tell local economic development officials:

a) "Don't call us, we'll call you."

b) "I deny attending the meeting and don't you dare identify me (and don't quote me)."

c) "Guess what? Our TV programming division is interested in a new, hit reality show involving your very own city council."

Perhaps more applicable to the previous council than the current one, but we shall see. Think we can come up with nine questions of our own?

Monday, January 14, 2008

ROCK's slope gets even more slippery, and Carl Booth sticks around ... with some help.

Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana's latest website update yet again confirms that the supposed anti-pornography group has a far greater interest in espousing a specific vision of evangelical Christianity than in defining pornography in any substantive way apart from its own narrow religious perspective.

The update has nothing whatsoever to do with pornography, but instead trumpets the exaltation of mass delusion in interpreting American history through the dubious proposition that the nation’s founders, if resurrected today, would all be worshipping at the same exurban megachurch as ROCK's community pillars.

We strive to inform and educate regarding America's true history and foundation so that it might be preserved for generations to come. Our modern culture has, in many instances, forgotten that our founders relied on Providence and acknowledged its role when fashioning our republic form of government. Our national motto - IN GOD WE TRUST - is an historical acknowledgment and accurate portrayal of America's heritage and what our founders deemed critical to the model of liberty and freedom the American experience has become throughout the world.

As others before me have noted, the proper question to ask any time an ecstatic theocrat introduces “In God We Trust” is this one:

"Trust in which God?"

In like fashion, the proper question to ask any time an ecstatic theocrat purports to “reclaim” culture is this:

“Reclaim which culture?”

As still others before me have noted, “reclaiming” the culture of the Founding Fathers strongly implies embracing slavery, withdrawing a woman’s right to vote, pouring sewage in a trench dug down the middle of the street and treating mental illness by chaining the patient to the wall of an asylum.

Need I point out for the benefit of One Southern Indiana members who may be reading that not a jot of ROCK’s most recent pronouncement about trusting one of the other God has the slightest relevance to the struggle against pornography – much less to economic development?

Has 1SI’s chairman Kerry Stemler yet conceded this point, one that CEO Michael Dalby at least had the grace and courage to acknowledge?

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Speaking of Kerry Stemler, did anyone read the article in Saturday’s edition of the Tribune relating the story of the Carl Booth/DeCrane Aerospace veneer company’s relocation to River Ridge in Jeffersonville?

Carl F. Booth Veneers leaving New Albany for Jeffersonville, by Eric Scott Campbell.

Carl Booth announced Friday he’s moving his growing specialty-manufacturing business to Jeffersonville’s River Ridge Commerce Center. He’ll inhabit an amount of vacant industrial space that his hometown currently lacks.

None of this comes as a surprise. It had been known for quite some time that a projected expansion of New Albany’s industrial park would come too late to keep Booth in town. Although dismayed at losing the business, elected and appointed officials in New Albany were quoted in the Tribune article as expressing happiness that Booth’s company would at least not be leaving the state of Indiana, a sentiment seconded by Governor Mitch Daniels. In particular, One Southern Indiana was singled out for effusive praise pertaining to its role in keeping Booth around.

Dan James, interim executive director of River Ridge, commended One Southern Indiana for its persistent recruitment.

“They promote this piece of property as an equal partner. These guys are great,” James said.

So, what then were the terms of the deal that drew Booth to River Ridge? The usual package of economic incentives and abatements were cited, as well as this:

… Booth’s and developer Kerry Stemler’s company, Bridgeway Development, struck a deal to build a 100,000-square-foot building at River Ridge, then lease it to DeCrane for $6 million over 15 years. Booth will add $2 million in new equipment, he said.

That's the same Kerry Stemler who is the chairman of One Southern Indiana, and it has caused me to undertake a long overdue search for deep metaphysical meaning.

To wit: Does one trust God or 1SI for that kind of bottom-line-boosting Providence?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The first of the gang to die.

My friend Jerry picked me up on a cool, sunny January morning for our monthly time-killing lunch excursion to Louisville. As is often the case, there was a song Jerry wanted me to hear, and he plugged it into the CD player.

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah


It was Jeff Buckley’s moving, ethereal version of “Hallelujah,” a song written by Leonard Cohen.

Had David Roark known that I was thinking about him while listening to “Hallelujah,” he would not have been impressed, not one little bit, but his characteristically hyperbolic objections to mawkish sentimentality had been jarringly rendered silent on Thursday. He had died, presumably of a heart attack, at the crazily premature age of 47.

Or, for those keeping count, exactly my own age.

Although I had known Roark – almost never as “David” – since some time around the 5th grade, we’d been out of touch for a few years. As I recall it, roughly six years ago the medical profession made him aware of a severe diabetic problem, and according to our mutual longtime friend Byron, it didn’t appear as if Roark stuck to the letter of his treatment instructions.

To his ultimate detriment, of course, but that would be just like him. He always wanted to be a tough guy. The first time he brought a primitive cassette player to school, the only song on it was the theme from “Hawaii 5-0,” and this set the tone for our early friendship. Like many boys of the era, we grew up emulating macho characters from television and movies like “The French Connection,” “Dirty Harry” and “The Godfather,” even if we remained genial in the hallway and physically clueless on the playground.

The school years passed by, and Roark and I were in high school, two uncoordinated, posturing and bookish only children seeking an outlet for our creativity. As freshmen, we famously published the Weekly Wad, an underground newspaper, quickly running afoul of the reigning authorities not only for the Wad’s inexcusably tasteless editorial content, but also owing to our expedient decision to steal the paper from the audio-visual department.

The Wad in turn helped bring together the gang that ran amok our junior and senior years, although in fairness, we had to wait a couple more years for all the eventual members to move into the school district, and an exact accounting of the official membership was never attempted.

The exact impetus for eight high school students, each of them a good four years removed from the proximity of the legal drinking age, to come together as the self-billed “brew crew” is completely lost these many years later, but that’s what we did, and somehow, we got away with it.

In my case – ironically, considering that beer has become my career – membership in a drinking clan wasn’t something to be owned up to at home, and yet there was an aspect to this peer group mentality that I’m sure appealed to Roark in the same way as it did to me, because we were the only ones present without siblings.

He and I always had that in common.

Growing up alone in big houses with working parents in what was then still a genuine countryside gives a person plenty of opportunities to think about life, and one of the things I though about was how growing up would be different with a brother or a sister. Chores, sports, scouting and school were supposed to fill the gap, and they did. But they didn’t. The brew crew was different. We chose ourselves as members, not primarily because we were snobs or elitists. It was all about a common attitude and shared interests, and not only drinking beer. The camaraderie was genuine, and while it lasted, those guys were my brothers. I can’t say that there has been anything quite like it for me since.

Time passes, the door slams shut, and we all know the drill. Someone dies, and the tears you cry are for you, not the departed. You feel damned guilty that you hadn’t bothered to call, and a bit miffed that he didn’t bother calling you. The “innocence lost” lament insinuates itself into your brain and is impervious to the beers.

Of course, we all intended to amount to something huge, and to be honest, none of us ever really did; in the end, all the obvious talent and unlimited potential we saw in ourselves merged seamlessly into the predictable lives of purely ordinary people, the eight of us, with little of it being of significance in the larger scheme of life … and that’s the way it usually works.

Isn’t it ironic, in the end, that the two only children in the brew crew turned out as adults to be the childless ones?

Funny. I'm feeling very alone again.

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David G. Roark 47; former New Albany resident

Funeral services for David G. Roark, 47, of Indianapolis, will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, at G.H. Herrmann Greenwood Funeral Home, State Road 135 and Olive Branch Road, Indianapolis. He died unexpectedly Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008, while in Chicago.

He was born March 30, 1960, in New Albany, graduated from Purdue University in 1986 and was a member of Theta Xi Fraternity and the John Purdue Club. He enjoyed live music, scuba diving, reading and sharing stories. He is loved and will be missed by his family and friends.

Survivors include his wife, Pamela “Shirley” Roark; parents, Glen Edward and Mary Frances Roark; three dogs, Sophie, Ripley and Rocky.

Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jack Russell Rescue League.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Making time to read.

One of the best things to come out of the mercifully concluded holiday season was the chance to catch up on some reading. The stack of books that has been accumulating since Christmas 2006 remains far too high, but at least since late November, 2007, I’ve made it through the following.

Verily, I’m a better adjusted individual when there’s time to read. Some might follow by suggesting that I take more time to read.

That Neutral Island, by Claire Wills … Chronicle of the surreal nature of official Irish neutrality during WWII, and what it implied for Irish culture – than and now.

The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer … Groundbreaking realism in a novel about the experiences of a squad of American soldiers in the Pacific during WWII.

A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage … A short and absorbing story of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola told in the contexts of history, commerce and culture.

The Russian Debutante's Handbook, by Gary Shteyngart … Broad fictional farce documenting the exploits of a maladjusted early 90’s Russian Jewish immigrant and his eventual “redemption” in an emerging Eastern Europe.

U2 by U2 … Oral history of the Irish rock band (and my chronological contemporaries) told by Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr..

(Current) Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt … In essence, how did the continent that I love so dearly go from ruins and despair to selling a Euro to Americans for $1.50?

Queued and coming soon:

God is not Great, by Christopher Hitchens … the title says it all.

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, by Bill McKibben … “An impassioned call to arms for an economy that creates community and ennobles our lives.”

Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe, by Robert Gellately … The three title despots as “founders of 20th century barbarism,” although at first I was sure that “social catastrophe” referred to Dubya.

Friday, January 11, 2008

As choreographed after last month’s judicial smackdown ...

... Louisville’s smoking ban is back.

Smoking ban passed, at the Courier-Journal’s web site.

The Metro Council passed a revised smoking-ban ordinance 23-2. The new ban did not include any exemptions for separately ventilated smoking areas.

The mayor said he will sign the ordinance at 10 a.m. (Friday).

“Louisville has placed an exclamation point on the ‘No Smoking’ sign. This vote removes the haze of confusion and makes it clear that Louisville puts a priority on the health of all people," Mayor Jerry Abramson said in a statement issued after the vote.

The Louisville Metro and Wellness Department said enforcement of the ban will probably begin this weekend.

Which reminds me …

At the conclusion of Monday’s New Albany city council meeting, former councilman Larry Kochert’s smoking ordinance was quietly struck from the lengthy list of accumulated, tabled ordinances, where it had reposed in unceremonious limbo for so long that I can’t remember when it was first proposed.

In truth, not a soul on last year’s dysfunctional council besides Kochert cared to expend a farthing of political spare change on the matter, and even Da King himself abandoned the idea almost as fast as he broached it. That’s no surprise, because as phantasmagoric Kochertian legacies go, the smoking ban ordinance was right down the center of the plate, with much puffing, posturing and pontificating, followed by serial inaction and the eventual hushed dumping of the evidence at night alongside the street spam and litter by the side of the legislative goat path.

So, what are the prospects for the issue of a smoking ban returning to the city council’s agenda during the next four years? I don’t see a smoking ban advocate among the current group, do you?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Patron Forum at Destinations Booksellers: A Night with the FOP.

(Submitted by Randy Smith, Destinations Booksellers)
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Patron Forum at Destinations Booksellers: A Night with the FOP

Thursday, January 10th, 7:00 p.m. (Thursday)

At Destinations Booksellers we are committed to offering opportunities for our patrons to connect with their community. It has been a while since we have hosted a forum, so we are pleased to invite you to join us on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. for a very special patron event. A panel from the local FOP lodge will be on hand to discuss law enforcement, crime, and justice. Bring your questions and ideas.

The question of the evening for our law enforcement officers will be:

"How would New Albany change if we could give you everything you say you need?"

The Christmas decorations are still up. We are in the middle of inventory.
The store is in complete chaos, but we think that this is so important that we are asking you to ignore the mess. Come on down to meet our "men and women in blue" and talk about the future of New Albany.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"WEAR ORANGE to symbolize sadness and disgust with the national shame that is Guantánamo Bay."

I received the link to this information from a U.S. Army veteran who was posted to the Pentagon in Washington D.C. in 2001, and was driving to work when the building was struck on Sept. 11.

Her definition of patriotism does not exclude a firm commitment to civil liberties.

If only George W. Bush, serial despoiler of the Constitution, were capable of possessing such a reasoned clue as to what he was sworn to protect.

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This January 11, 2008 [that's this friday] marks 6 years since the first prisoners arrived at Guantánamo Bay. The ACLU is calling on everyone opposed to torture and indefinite detention to WEAR ORANGE to symbolize their sadness and disgust with the national shame that is Guantánamo Bay.

Here's just a few reasons I will be wearing orange this January 11th.

Because January 11, 2008 marks six years since the first prisoners arrived at Guantánamo Bay.

Because the Founders rejected dungeons and chose due process—and so do I.

Because no president should ever be given the unchecked power to call someone an enemy and lock him away indefinitely.

Because I know the difference between fairness and persecution.

Because Guantánamo is an international embarrassment and is damaging our country’s reputation in the world.

Because I believe in habeas corpus and fair trials.

Because Guantánamo is illegal.

Because I believe torture is immoral, illegal, and un-American.

Because I want the U.S. government to Close Guantánamo.

Good ethical judgment and strict legalism: Not necessarily the same thing.

Over at New Albany 15A, Coop makes the right call. His piece is reprinted here in its entirety (italics are mine):

Benedetti-Recuse?

Concerning the vote on Gary McCartin's Charlestown Rd. development ...

Just got off the phone with Mrs. Benedetti. She was very direct and to the point. She states she does not have to recuse if there is no capital gain for her.

She did not abstain because she said she was well informed, had done her homework, had her facts straight and made an informed decision.

She insists her decisions will be made for the interest of New Albany, not for any developer.

I have to agree with her statement legally, but personally for ethical reasons I would abstain, because I would not even be addressing a close relative’s issues with my council. The last thing I would want is for someone to have reason to be investigating if there are capital gains to be made by my vote.

There are going to be several people
watching her votes very closely concerning development issues. I guess I'll wait and see about her integrity as I will do with all new members of council and the re-new mayor.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Say kids, what time is it? Why, it's time for Steve Price to begin embarrassing himself publicly ... again.

Monday’s first city council meeting of 2008 quite possibly was the most “covered” in recent history, as the blog and media links provided below will attest. Taken together, these are ample to convey the spirit of the gathering, especially on a day when work (it’s inventory time!) beckons at an obscenely early hour.

But it’s never too early to begin documenting the myriad inadequacies and sheer cerebral vacancy of my 3rd district councilman, Steve "Spawn of Buffalo Bob" Price.

Much as one might expect, Price continued his long rearguard action against code enforcement as the only council representative to vote against Mayor Doug England’s omnibus city government remodeling ordinance, which includes the new position of “concentrated code enforcement officer.”

Price also reaffirmed his commitment to unprincipled NIMBY-ism; as best articulated in the NA Shadow Council post “Shallower and Shallower”:

He stated (and I'll paraphrase) that his default position on all zoning and planning matters destined to come before the council would be to oppose any plan that draws opposition from the closest neighbors. One assumes that includes futile stances that will subject the city to great expense when the council rebuffs strictly legal proposals.

One observer noted that Mr. Price was a bold defender of the status quo for Monday night's Sixth District NIMBYs, and wondered why he wasn't equally bold in defending his own district against decay and infestation by a slumlord/crackhouse mentality.


With Dan Coffey still groveling for crumbs at the new mayor’s table, Price is left as the council’s premier Luddite voice. We suspect Price will not be hesitant to appeal to his Neanderthal bloc – a group that has nothing whatsoever to offer as to the future of this city – by baying at the moon while carelessly ignoring the best interests of his own district … and we also suspect we’ll spend the remaining four years of his final term in documenting this pathetic record for posterity.

NA Confidential:
Just one question: Wasn't recusal, or at the very least abstention, the ethical course?

NA Shadow Council:
Wouldn't It Have Been Cool If...
Shinin and Snubbin
Sleight of Hand
Parade of Ignorance
Caffeynated Four Years?
Shallower and Shallower
He-Earned-It, But-How, Precisely?
Denison Making Mark

New Albany 15A:
Council Meeting Jan 7th, Some comments to revisit?

New Albany Today:
New City Council Meets Tonight

Courier-Journal:
Gahan elected to lead council

Tribune (later this afternoon):

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Just one question: Wasn't recusal, or at the very least abstention, the ethical course?

re·cuse
tr.v. re·cused, re·cus·ing, re·cus·es
To disqualify or seek to disqualify from participation in a decision on grounds such as prejudice or personal involvement.

The fact that the 5th district's Diane McCartin Benedetti tonight voted twice against approval of one of her brother's greenfield development projects isn't really the issue, is it?

After all, it's easy to feign independence when the results are preordained.

My question: Should she vote at all on matters that pertain to her brother?

Jeff Gahan's the president, the honeymoon is in effect, and I'll be back tomorrow with more on the year's first council meeting.

REWIND ... From Norquist to Torquemada to Brambleberry: Pathologies of tax "reform."

This piece is the second of two being republished tonight, and it goes out to Daniel in the "small government" exurb. It was originally published on August 13, 2006.

Here's the other: REWIND: Bile, loathing and a civil society.

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Grover Norquist, who famously seeks to reduce government to a size that can be conveniently drowned in William Howard Taft’s supersized bathtub, and who once compared the morality of the estate tax to that of the Holocaust, founded the Americans for Tax Reform organization during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

If the sum of words written about ATR since that time were calculated in dollars, it probably would be equivalent to several times Bill Gates’s elongated fortune, but it seems to me that the organization’s own oft-repeated credo should suffice to tell us most of what we need to know about it.

“ATR opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle.”

Speaking personally, I interpret this as the fervent desire to take a blue pencil to the Constitution, substituting “I the individual” for “we the people.”

And I find it unacceptable in a civil society. In fact, I oppose ATR as a matter of principle.

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Turning to the dictionary …

pa·thol·o·gyn. pl. pa·thol·o·gies

1. The scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences. Also called pathobiology.

2. The anatomic or functional manifestations of a disease: the pathology of cancer.

3. A departure or deviation from a normal condition: “Neighborhoods plagued by a self-perpetuating pathology of joblessness, welfare dependency, crime” (Time).

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What, then, is the pathology of tax reform?

What is it that leads to the single-minded obsession, to the snarling condescension, and to the anti-communal narcissism so obviously inherent in the genre?

Finding an answer is important to me, because I’ve decided that I’m a taxpayer advocate, too, and furthermore, I’m no longer willing to permit my “anti-everything” crusading brethren to define the terms of taxpayer advocacy without a struggle.

Of course none of us actively seeks to pay more tax than we feel is justified, but apparently we differ significantly with regard to the tipping point that compels us to paint our faces, converge on Boston harbor to dump tea into the drink, and vote for Norquist-sanctioned candidates.

Moreover, I believe that taxation is not something that can be defined in the numerological sense – in dry, neutral, technocratic terms, although economists undoubtedly try their best.

Rather, it’s an intrinsically political issue with implications pertaining to power and financial decision-making that are pursued not in a detached laboratory, but in the real world of human society. One’s views on taxation undoubtedly bear a close relationship to one’s views on politics, society and even religion.

Although I’ve no intention of contesting that Norquist and his ATR claim allegiance from people across the political spectrum, it remains the case that the hardest core of the movement’s hardcore support comes from self-identified conservatives … and if one stalks the dark corridors of the right wing with a consistently stated aim of starving a “beast” into submission, it logically follows that this beastly straw man targeted in the anti-tax crosshairs stands somewhere to the left.

After all, if the beast is not an “enemy,” then why bother starving it in the first place?

Moreover, most people don’t propose to kill their own – only the “others.”

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I believe that the existence of people living and working together in the evolving construct of human society is a state of being implicit in the art and practice of politics, which itself is necessary to negotiate matters of power, and insofar as we are human beings voluntarily living in communities with one another and deriving benefits from shared expenditures, I’m an unrepentant advocate of taxation as the necessary underpinning of a truly civil and functional society.

By writing these words in a public forum, I fully expect to be lashed by those local Torquemadas, particularly those of the Brambleberry “those who cannot do, prevent others from doing, too” persuasion, whose viewpoints with respect to strictly local taxes and fees mirrors the rabidity of Grover Norquist’s.

So be it. I simply don’t believe that our local government as presently constituted is a beast begging for euthanizing. Imperfect, perhaps, and as such reflecting the imperfections of its inhabitants and of the citizenry as a whole … but not a beast.

In fact, I believe it should be even more pervasive, and that we should pay our share to make it so.

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Since you’ve asked, permit me to add that from my point of view, when Norquist’s hopping mad adherents speak specifically of taxation-related issues, I believe they’re actually speaking of just one component, albeit it vital, that ultimately is tied to the many planks of the conservative movement’s overall rightward march in America.

That zealous mission was elegantly summarized by the inimitable William Greider in a 2003 article in The Nation entitled “Rolling Back the 20th Century.”

Here are excerpts.

The movement's grand ambition--one can no longer say grandiose--is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal's centralization. With that accomplished, movement conservatives envision a restored society in which the prevailing values and power relationships resemble the America that existed around 1900, when William McKinley was President. Governing authority and resources are dispersed from Washington, returned to local levels and also to individuals and private institutions, most notably corporations and religious organizations. The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth--both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes--are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.

These broad objectives may sound reactionary and destructive (in historical terms they are), but hard-right conservatives see themselves as liberating reformers, not destroyers, who are rescuing old American virtues of self-reliance and individual autonomy from the clutches of collective action and "statist" left-wingers. They do not expect any of these far-reaching goals to be fulfilled during Bush's tenure, but they do assume that history is on their side and that the next wave will come along soon (not an unreasonable expectation, given their great gains during the past thirty years). Right-wingers--who once seemed frothy and fratricidal--now understand that three steps forward, two steps back still adds up to forward progress. It's a long march, they say.


We all know the planks of the platform, as enumerated by Greider.

Gradually phase out the pension-fund retirement system as we know it.

Eliminate federal taxation of private capital, as the essential predicate for dismantling the progressive income tax.

Withdraw the federal government from a direct role in housing, healthcare, assistance to the poor and many other long-established social priorities.

Withdraw the federal government from a direct role in housing, healthcare, assistance to the poor and many other long-established social priorities.

Restore churches, families and private education to a more influential role in the nation's cultural life by giving them a significant new base of income--public money.

Strengthen the hand of business enterprise against burdensome regulatory obligations, especially environmental protection, by introducing voluntary goals and "market-driven" solutions.

Smash organized labor.


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If this Federal beast is to be drowned, then there is no alternative to supporting a higher degree of decision making at local levels, but it should be obvious that starving the Federal “beast” translates directly and inescapably into starving ourselves, which in turn suggests that to some degree, we’ll have to pay more to maintain our standard of living, our infrastructure, and some semblance of a civil society, right here at home.

Speaking personally, I’d like to see this trend of beast eradication extended to my having the option to withhold federal tax revenue from wars that I believe to be unjust, illegal, or figments of George W. Bush’s restive imagination, but that improbability aside, how do we propose to pave and stripe the streets, keep the alleys clean, remunerate the police and fire departments, and perform the tasks that we take for granted as necessary components of local self-rule, when we simultaneously insist on voting for politicians who’ve consumed copious quantities of Norquist’s fascist Kool-Aid, and refuse to pay what it takes for local services when the same politician obeys his handler and denies us funding?

What are we supposed to do, beg funds from the local mega-church according to the principle of faith-based reverse Caesar – which I could have sworn was either a salad dressing or a pro wrestling hold?

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Me?

I’m willing to pay my share to save my neighborhood and to ensure New Albany has a future. That’s more than can be said for the many “whatever it is, we’re against it” grandparents hereabouts, who continue to insist that Norquist’s starvation diet provides the perfect platform for the future interests of their grandchildren, something that is counterintuitive at best and purely insane at worst -- hence our bizarre and so characteristically New Albanian phenomenon of the Coup d’Geriatrique, an ongoing cabal conducted by so-called Democrats. It is directed not against Republicans, but deploys the Norquist playbook to savage the capable of all political and religious persuasions.

My 3rd District councilman – who insists against all prevailing evidence that he’s a Democrat, but whose right-wing pathologies are never hidden from view – is the prime example of this reaction against modernity even if he’s two decades younger than most other participants. Steve Price joyfully espouses the ATR party line, shrieking like a goosed banshee that errant nickels, misspent dimes and the perpetual tightening of belts will magically produce the revenue necessary to offset those monies being lost each time we gleefully vote for a pledged Norquistian, and incessantly associating the majority of governmental expenditures with frivolity and those aspects of human life with which he disagrees, misunderstands, detests and wishes to eradicate.

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Progress, not regress. Progressive, not regressive. Forward, not backward.

That’s all I have to say on the matter, although there’s a chance that some of you will disagree.

Hit it ...

REWIND: Bile, loathing and a civil society.

The following, the first of two going out to Daniel in the "small government" exurb, was originally published in April, 2006 under the title: Goodbye, Main Street Grind ... maybe in another 12 years, your view might have improved. Or not. The part of current interest to me is the mention of a "civil society." I've omitted the photos that originally were attached.

See also: REWIND ... From Norquist to Torquemada to Brambleberry: Pathologies of tax "reform."

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I learned over the weekend that New Albany’s Main Street Grind coffee shop plans to wind down operations at the beginning of April after 12 years in business.

That’s quite a run, and it’s a shame for it to end. The way you feel when you read an obituary -- that's the way a small business owner reacts to word that a fellow operator is folding up his tent. I look into the mirror, and say to myself: I'm still standing – at least for now ... but tomorrow may be very different.

Although we have mutual friends, I’m not well acquainted with the owners, who’ve always been hospitable and friendly during my infrequent visits.

Especially since moving into downtown in 2003, D and I have eagerly sought a “third place” to pass time near our home, but since our working hours are during the day and Main Street Grind’s hours were geared to lunchtime, it wasn’t possible to go as often as we’d have liked.

Yesterday I was corresponding with a friend and discussing the impending departure of the Main Street Grind, and she wrote:

I've been going to the Grind for 12 long years, and I've watched those buildings across the street from it decay for 12 long years and then some.

I've watched other businesses open in other parts of town, struggle and finally close because of the lack of leadership, vision and management in this city. It's sad, it's disgusting and who the hell do you blame when there are so many people responsible for the mess? City planners? Mayors? Develop New Albany? Building Commissioners?

Is there anybody in there?

Lamentable, but very true, although she omitted a key player: We the people – the residents of New Albany. "We" have just the sort of town "we" want, because if we didn't, would it be like this?

The inescapable conclusion is that "we've met the enemy ... "

You know the rest of Pogo's Axiom.

In the end, leadership is meaningless unless one consents to being led, and vision optional in the absence of a desire to clearly see.

Management? That’s merely an impediment to the profits to be accrued in the preferred vacuum of non-enforcement and apathy.

At the conclusion of the Communist era in Czechoslovakia, the dissident writer and playwright Vaclav Havel was elected president of the country that less than a year before had imprisoned him. Havel's government faced an exceedingly difficult necessity of finding ways to reverse four decades of economic stagnation brought about by the outmoded, state-owned economy, and doing so without societal chaos.

After all that time, the intrinsic absurdities of the command economy were evident, but people were accustomed to them. Suddenly, things had to change.

President Havel offered few concrete ideas as to how the government might retool his country’s uncompetitive economy. Instead, and significantly, he focused on what he perceived was necessary at a more fundamental and human level, something without which the economic reform program would have little chance of succeeding.

Havel theorized that the chief legacy of Communism was a degradation of the core of Czechoslovak society itself, and consequently, before economic rationalization could succeed, a “civil society” would have to be defined and rebuilt from the ground up.

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As events of the past week have amply illustrated, Havel’s analysis applies foursquare to New Albany, and this is why events like the forthcoming neighborhoods forum are so important. Without a firm perimeter established in the places where we live, it is unlikely that citywide redemption can succeed.

Currently there are pockets of worthwhile activism scattered throughout the city, but owing to longstanding patterns of mistrust and a general lack of communication, there is no cooperation between them.

Unfortunately, there is an attitude of persecution and secrecy on the part of many who fear that communication and cooperation might somehow provide succor to the political enemy of this moment or the next – and this is profoundly shortsighted, although understandable in the present context of bile and loathing.

To be truthful, the beneficiaries of non-cooperation aren’t so much political in nature as they are social. Non-cooperation nurtures the same deleterious conditions of incivility and inertia within the same vacuum of unaccountability that we all claim to abhor and seek to terminate.

As my friend noted above, whom do you blame when there are so many to blame?

Vaclav Havel provides the answer: We must remove ourselves from the cycle of blame and get on with the process of building a civil society with a firm foundation that prefaces future progress.

New Albany is profoundly dysfunctional. We’ve all acquiesced in various and sundry ways in permitting the city to become dysfunctional. The only hope of reversing this dysfunction is to join together in a workable coalition that suspends partisan wrangling, concedes the immensity of the task, formulates sustainable strategies, and gets to work.

Money would help, too, but unity is far more important.

So, who among us wishes to abandon his or her laboriously crafted straw man first, and get on with the task of reconstituting New Albany’s lost civility?

Did I just hear another pin drop?

The old rugged dross: Councilman Cappuccino opens in the chair as an otherwise hopeful new council convenes.

Ready or not … here they come.

New city council debuts Monday in New Albany; Two returning members vie for presidency, by Eric Scott Campbell:

The two biggest issues on a short agenda are the consideration of payroll additions and the election of a council president and vice president. Incumbents Jeff Gahan and Jack Messer are considered likely candidates to be nominated to the top seat, one Gahan held in 2005 and 2006.

The payroll changes would add a deputy mayor/development director and a deputy director of operations to England’s staff. Carl Malysz and Matt Denison would fill those positions.


Verily, some things may well change, while others stay forever the same.

Asked by reporter Campbell to comment on the new council’s legislative agenda, returning 3rd district embarrassment Steve Price indicated that he remains, as always, woefully uninformed:

Price said he hadn’t heard much about legislative plans, other than the possible resolution of a court case over the relative size of council districts: “I don’t know what they’re going to be going through.”


Is the accidental councilman’s use of “they’re” meant to imply that he doesn’t see himself as being part of the group? If so, it would appear that the 3rd district is destined to suffer through four more years of flagrant under-performance.

And yet, in fairness, the performance of this or any other legislative body is but a small piece in the bigger puzzle of a community's daily existence. However, if there is to be any substantive discussion of something approximating a civil society in this town, the council itself needs to do its part in conjuring a few more of the better angels of our natures, and pandering to fewer of the nasty ones.

We begin the year with limitless optimism ... and now, the clock starts ticking.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The invisible hand: Is there such a thing in New Albany?

On Friday, I wrote:

Even if local newspapers won't be what I'd like them to be, there isn't much I can do about it, and while I remain intrigued by the possibilities of blogs and blogging, my profession is beer, not journalism. Mind you, there is no desire here to forsake the editorial soapbox with regard to local politics and civic affairs; rather, there's a desire to place these into an overall context, and one way to do that is to continue writing and trusting my own instincts when it comes to what might be interesting for readers.

As you might imagine, I’m speaking of the Tribune as the journalistic entity in question.

While the case can be made, and I agree with it, that the newspaper is far better than it was before the current management team came aboard, the fact that it spent the month of December steadfastly refusing to touch the 1SI/ROCK story that we chased here for more than a month, choosing instead to do things like devote today’s front page to the story of how a family of west end hillbillies are quartering a horse in their undersized backyard, tells you much of what you need to know about the paper’s ongoing failure – not a failure to improve overall, and not a failure to generate worthy content, but a failure to institute a substantive editorial policy, something that I vaguely recall the publisher vowing would occur before the end of 2006.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

Of course, in New Albanian terms, being just a year late is tantamount to finishing far ahead of schedule. That’s how we tell time in the land that its citizens seem to have forgotten.

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Not unexpectedly, my only New Year’s “resolution” that has a chance of success in 2008 is to become less reticent about telling the world what I really think.

Scary, eh?

Knowing that it stands to mightily annoy the trogs is reward enough for persevering, don't you think?

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Having weathered the lengthy period required to have 1SI publicly concede my point about slippery slopes (acidly: did I remember to thank the Tribune for its help in achieving this?), I remain a board member of Develop New Albany, a non-profit organization that exists to assist in the rehabilitation of downtown New Albany in the context of precepts espoused by the national Main Street group.

I write the newsletter, and my committee assignment is Economic Restructuring. At one lunch meeting roughly six months ago, a discussion was held pertaining to the ways that Develop New Albany might help small business people downtown succeed. The give and take was valuable, and many fine ideas were advanced by the participants, and yet it occurred to me at some point that much of what we were saying was largely irrelevant, in the sense that if an entrepreneur needs to be educated about certain realities only after he or she has invested in a small business, it’s probably too late to be of any real help. Rather, it becomes sink-or-swim time.

I don’t mean for this to sound harsh, and permit me to stress that my thoughts are not being aimed in any specific direction or toward any individual, but after a while it just becomes surreal to fathom that retail establishments (for instance) must be counseled to do things like hold to consistent opening hours, to not try to be everything to everyone, and to know something about the potential market for their products.

It seems axiomatic to me that if you want to run a successful coffee shop (for instance), the absolute founding principle must be superior knowledge of coffee and the desire that your coffee is the best it can possibly be, as well as the recognition that if your doors are locked, customers cannot spend their money with you, and yet time and again we see that folks willing to stake it all on a dream don't even have that much of the fundamental mission statement in line.

So, I’ve spent chunks of time for more than a year earnestly attempting to make examples like this clear, and seeking to pass along some of what I’ve learned from 15 years of running my own business. More often than not, it is though I’m speaking a foreign language. Why seek advice if you have no intention of profiting from it? Forget me for a moment: Isn't it the case that merely observing a successful business and taking notes might lead to worthwhile insights, and to reforms that might push the endeavor over the top?

It is not my preference to shrug and permit marketplace Darwinism to run its inevitable course without at least trying to be of service … but I’m almost forced to do so in the absence of comprehension, so allow me to conclude by saying this: I believe that the coming year will be pivotal in terms of small business in downtown New Albany, and that it also might well be the perfect chance for savvy opportunists (don't worry; they're out there), to make the necessary market corrections. There’ll be steps backward, but there’ll also be steps forward.

Stay alert. Things may soon be getting quite interesting.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The myriad joys of detesting Anheuser-Busch.

At another on-line venue, I spent the past weekend making the case for beer as a beverage just as suitable as wine for pairing with fine food, and arguing that if a “top table” seeks to maintain its status, stocking inferior alcoholic beverages ideally should lead to the loss of a half-star in the ratings game.

The furies of the uncomprehending were unleashed, and so it goes, although it must be confessed that my protégé Shawn Vest at Charlestown Pizza Company took more hits per square byte than the Curmudgeon.

During the course of this discussion, I was asked in a private mail to explain why I detest Budweiser and its corporate creator. The following rant, excerpted from a piece I wrote ten years ago, provides a mild-manner encapsulation of the answer to this question.

Attention, Bud drinkers: You might want to pull out now and head over to Budweiser.com for Bud Bowl previews.

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To millions of Americans, it is an article of faith beyond any question that Anheuser-Busch exists somewhere in a rarefied utopia of patriotic, mythological symbols that include Ozzie, Harriet, apple pie, baseball when Kennesaw Mountain Landis called the shots, Abraham Lincoln, Manifest Destiny and eagerly scoring with a nubile cheerleader in the frigid back seat of a ‘57 Chevy parked by a barn following the homecoming basketball game … and being utterly unrepentant about it during Sunday School the following morning.

Millions effortlessly accept this image of Anheuser-Busch, one that is enforced by the incessant, digitally-enhanced clatter of the brewer’s public relations and marketing mega-machine, one whose expenditures exceed the gross national product of most Third World nations, and which contributes mightily to the price of a "beer" that is filled to the brim with rice, fermented in a couple of hours, lagered for less than the two weeks meekly accepted by entry level American workers as the duration of their paid vacations until they’ve somehow managed to avoid termination for ten to fifteen years, and finally elevated to the status of reigning religious trademark icon for little other reason than a cacophony of advertising so unapologetically venal and patronizingly pervasive that Josef Goebbels surely spins in his grave at the recognition that his notion of the Big Lie has been so brutally corrupted by these robber barons of the buzz biz.

However, in a perverse and backhanded sort of way, perhaps Anheuser-Busch does indeed symbolize the so-called American Dream, in the sense that the idealized, sanitized American Dream is a tricky coin with two radically different sides. On one side the familiar platitudes are arrayed: purple mountain majesty, pursuit of happiness, we the people, the amber waves of grain, and so on.

On the other side, uncomfortable realities intrude, and by dawn’s early light we see the malignant, slimy, exploitative underbelly: The glorification of ends achieved by any means, the corruption engendered by power for the sake of power, the cancerous ideology of growth for the sake of growth.

To be sure, Anheuser-Busch isn’t the only company that rose to a position of prominence by destroying its competitors, by bribing, by threatening, by extorting, by fixing prices, and by caring not one jot about the destruction -- and the utterly vapid sterility -- left in its bullying and arrogant wake. Not the only one … but the best example that we have in the world of American beer, which A-B dominates like a mutant Godzilla.

Of course, the ultimate irony is that the vise-grip of A-B’s market share is perpetually tightened by the brand loyalty of those who aren’t able, or interested, or willing, to try and look past the shameless propaganda blitzkrieg to glimpse the savage realities -- the exceedingly relevant truths -- that lurk beneath the motifs of Americana that are exalted and perpetuated by the company’s public relations machine.

Which Bud’s for you?

All I want to know is this: How many of the people -- the common people, just plain folks, the silent majority, the man in the street -- who lift Budweiser to their lips in a daily ritual of patriotic affirmation are using the Busch family’s alcoholic soda pop as a medicinal salve; a few cold beers to wash away the frustration of another long working day caught in the tentacles of regimented, corporate America, at the mercy of tyrannical multinational corporations who can buy and sell them a billion times over, chew them up, spit them out, run rampant, fill the pockets of upper management even as the individual is being down sized into a taco-slinging, minimum-wage nonentity ... and yes, that would be the very same sort of bloated, multinational corporation that has created the blessed, nearly frozen medicine, the aluminum-clad balm, and has done so by way of a cynical agro-industrial process, and now the drinker is angrily slamming the fragile can to the unsuspecting surface of the bar top in a fit of impassioned rage at the economic injustice of the evil multinational corporations without ever grasping that the product in his hand is part and parcel of it, a bulwark against the intrusion of craft-anything, and inexorably woven into the fabric of the evil that he so loudly detests.

The cure is the disease ... but just try making the point to someone who is convinced that the eagle on the dollar bill is the same one on the Anheuser-Busch logo, and that both cozily nest in the nostrils of George Washington’s nose on the face of Mt. Rushmore.

As H. L. Mencken said, "Human beings never welcome the news that something they have long cherished is untrue: they almost always reply to that news by reviling its promulgator."

I’ll consider myself reviled.