Friday, December 30, 2011

Whither Little Chef?

It's unverified, but when I was walking downtown earlier, a customer of Little Chef just told me the diner will be closing for good this weekend. If so, it would be a great loss for downtown New Albany.

December 31 update: Closing is verified at OSIN.

What we need: The New Albany Bicentennial Writers' Project.

Books don’t seem to matter as much as they used to, and so it was instructive to witness a generally annoyed reaction to the Bicentennial commission’s non-transparent decision (itself so indicative of the city’s generational tendencies) to ingloriously import a freelancer from Tennessee to “write the book” on New Albany.

Both here, at the newspaper and on Facebook, savvy readers immediately grasped the obvious: It makes no sense to employ a freelancer from afar when the writers we already have can do the job.

New Albany’s history reads like any other city’s record, in the sense that it boasts the sublime and the ridiculous in roughly equal measure. The commission’s aim in producing a coffee table book for fund-raising purposes undoubtedly is to render the standard, glowing and heroic account of numerous bearded white folks defying the odds to raise a city from the flood plain – when, of course, it would have been far more sensible of them to leave the bottomland be and place it on the non-tubercular hillside.

Respectable history is one thing, and daily life something else entirely. To me, the ideal Bicentennial book would be a written snapshot of New Albany at 200, looking back and ahead, inclusive of a number of perspectives, and unafraid both to celebrate the victories and to dissect the warts.

What is needed is a New Albany Bicentennial Writers' Project (BWP), with a goal of producing “The People’s History of New Albany”, nodding toward historians like the late Howard Zinn, and his life’s work of balancing the talking points of officialdom. New Albany is a place filled with numerous instructive and entertaining stories, most of which would have no place in the Babbitt History of New Albany (thank you, Sinclair Lewis). That’s all the more reason to pursue them.

Know from the very start that this is going to be hard, hard work. First, what are the major themes in the New Albany historical narrative worthy of examination? Who’ll be doing the writing, and when is the work due? How do we pay for it, with local government already stating its inexplicable preference for the “infallible fatherland version” of the past?

Well, I’m willing to put in the time, and as for the money ... we'll figure it out.

Let them have their “official” volume. Conversely, let’s aim to create a thought-provoking counterweight. Who knows? It might turn into a permanent feature of the New Albanian landscape.

Lucky he isn't sleeping with the fishes.

The 11th commandment in the Book of Troglodyte foresees a settling of scores, otherwise known as the Heavenly AW-dit, and finally the audit has been performed, but unfortunately, it was not conducted at the city of New Albany.

It’s hard to believe that someone would dare to misappropriate Floyd County funds during Ted Heavrin’s watch on the County Council.

Heavrin could have been using those greenbacks to run real estate ads in the Wall Street Journal: “Useless Grant Line Road parkland frontage for sale. Ideal for plasticized strip mall. Make offer to Cool Papa.”

Geez, with all this thievery going on, small wonder we can’t afford another Camm trial.

Civil action taken against former Floyd highway department head; Audit forwarded to prosecutor’s office for review, by Matt Thacker (OSIN Pop-Up Generator)

NEW ALBANY — Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a lawsuit Thursday in Floyd County Circuit Court seeking to recover missing highway funds.

The suit names Ronald Quakenbush, who recently retired as Floyd County Highway Department superintendent, and Western Surety Co., which wrote a $15,000 surety bond covering county government employees.

The state is seeking $17,745.34 to reimburse the public treasury for funds the attorney general alleges were misappropriated, plus the costs incurred by the State Board of Accounts in conducting the audit.

Of the errant forks.

Lest there be any misunderstandings, I personally view those painted forks in the road as one of Dave Thrasher’s best ever ideas, period. They’ve been on the back burner for years, and it hurts no one, least of all the streets, to have the forks there.

Having said this, I join many others in being a bit baffled as to why forks have appeared in places where there are no eateries, seeing as the stated intent from the very beginning was to use the painted forks to indicate food and drink establishments. Doesn't it confuse matters to put them elsewhere? Couldn't a another symbol in a different color mark non-culinary attractions?

The history of the fork in the road is very clear. On November 29, NAC explained the project, which had been outlined by Thrasher at a Merchant Mixer meeting held earlier the same day.

Minutes from recent Board of Public Works tell the rest of the story.


David Thrasher 205 E. Market explained that he is getting ready to do a city-wide promotion for downtown and part of it involves some public art. He stated that it is called “Fork in the Road” and it is to promote local restaurants and there will be a fork painted in front of each business that participates. He stated that they would like to get started as soon as possible.

Mr. Denison stated that they have met with the businesses downtown and they are very excited, but the board will have to discuss the paint and the aesthetics. He suggested that they table this item and then keep it on the agenda for next week to work out the details.

Mrs. Wilkinson moved to table the item until next week, Mrs. Garry second, all voted in favor.

November 15, 2011

Item #4 - “Fork in the Road” art project

Mr. Denison stated that he has looked into this and he would recommend the board’s full approval.

Mrs. Wilkinson moved to approve, Mrs. Garry second, all voted in favor.

So, what’s the reason for the misplaced forking mystery?

The Green Mouse guesses that it owes to political expediencies ... but from whom and where? None of the usual suspects is taking credit -- and they always take credit. Perhaps the Ritter House is a clue, and because of that, we suggest following the project’s patronage trail. Is it Indiana R-72? Only the Shadow and St. Daniels know for sure, and they're busy plotting bridge tolls.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New surge of toll-o-philia grips and debilitates ORBP backers.

This comment on Facebook sums it up.

Here's my prediction... Indiana will complete the east end bridge before Kentucky even thinks about the new downtown bridge and interstate re-working. At that point Kentucky will realize the east end bridge fixed the downtown bridge situation and, the downtown bridge will never be built!

For me, it is simple. I can no longer trust any public official or Bridges Authority member, ever again. That's why I fully expect them to cynically reverse field and toll the bandaged Sherman Minton Bridge, because after all, they've continually altered what was said to be inalterable. Up until the first coin hits the slot, I will continue to oppose the tolling of any bridge, and the construction of a downtown bridge.

The next Bridges Authority meeting is January 5, 2012, 10 a.m., at the Kentucky International Convention Center (221 S. 4th St., Louisville, KY). Anyone know where bulk cream pies might be purchased?

States reach deal on bridges, from wire service reports at OSIN

... Indiana would be responsible for constructing a new bridge across the river at Utica and Prospect, Ky., a new highway linking the Lee Hamilton Expressway and Gene Snyder Freeway, and a tunnel in eastern Jefferson County.

Kentucky would be responsible for building a new Interstate 65 bridge, refurbishing the Kennedy Bridge, modernizing the Kennedy Interchange and expanding the I-65 approach in Indiana.

Tolls would help to cover the cost of construction.

Another round of one-way street art.

Interior design from a council point of view.

Several current and former council persons submitted designs for the long-awaited refurbishment of the 3rd floor meeting room at the City County Building. First, Bob Caesar's "The 50's Are Forever":

Larry Kochert suggested a tasteful, understated space suitable for a Kink ... or even a King:

Pickin' and grinnin' to the last, Steve Price channeled the Darlings:

Finally, there's Diane Benedetti's plan:

Harold Adams of the Courier tells the "real" story here.

ON THE AVENUES: The musical year 2011, Part Two.

ON THE AVENUES: The musical year 2011, Part Two.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Part one here)

Expanding one’s horizons does not preclude rediscovering old ones, or uncovering music previously ignored.

Appropriately, 2011 was the year I finally “got” Rush, the venerable Canadian trio that we saw perform at Louisville’s Yum Center in April. Where once there were two Rush CDs on the shelf, there now are 14. Belatedly, I see Rush’s music as both rocking and intelligent … and jeez, the dude sure can play the drums.

In early spring, a reading of Keith Richards’ rollicking autobiography prompted a brief revival of the Rolling Stones oeuvre, alongside the dissipated guitarist’s soulful solo recordings.

Similarly, a full-fledged re-examination of Pearl Jam’s body of work ensued after viewing Cameron Crowe’s hagiographic 20th anniversary rockumentary. While I hadn’t forgotten the group’s remarkable 1994 live performance backing Neil Young on his classic "Rockin’ in the Free World", their subsequent collaboration on Mirror Ball came out of the sleeve for the first time in a decade or longer, and impressed.

The year concluded with bundles of reissued joy: National Treasures: The Complete Singles, by Manic Street Preachers, and The Smiths Complete box set. These followed on the heels of U2’s remastered Achtung Baby; I opted for the bare bones version, not the budget-breaker with Bono’s facsimile sunglasses included as a bonus.

As for new releases I enjoyed this year, following is a semi-chronological rendering.

Guster … Easy Wonderful
Neon Trees … Habits

Two late breaking releases from 2010 kicked off my year. Guster has been around a while, and plays lighter, melodic adult contemporary fare. Neon Trees deals in a heavier brand of pop/rock, with a female drummer from New Albany and a big break opening shows for the Killers.

Twilight Singers … Dynamite Steps
Greg Dulli’s band Afghan Whigs were a 1990’s staple of mine, but even though – perhaps because – his bluesy voice seems fairly shredded at this point, the recurring themes of sex, drugs, sex, world-weariness, sex and pervasive, melancholic menace are newly compelling. While unnecessary, these days Dulli even allows an occasional ray of lyrical sunshine to peek through the angst. Just ignore it.

Decemberists … The King Is Dead
While certainly prolific, Decemberists had not previously captured my fancy, but plenty of airplay on 91.9 WFPK sold this early 2011 release, and also sent me into the back catalogue for a refresher course. Fewer, lengthier and more complex songs, plenty of the melodic hooks necessary to hold my attention, and a handful of Peter Buck guitar vignettes drew unrepentant R.E.M. comparisons -- perhaps a precursor of the latter’s overdue demise later in the year? Honestly, Collapse into Now did very little for me.

Duran Duran … All You Need Is Now
At long last, a producer (Mark Ronson) got through to the four remaining original members of Duran Duran and convinced them to commit a truly revolutionary act: Scrap the post-comeback, sub-par dance-inflected crappola, and let the band be gloriously pop again. The result is nothing short of miraculous: A latter-day sequel to the seminal 1980’s albums Rio and Seven the Ragged Tiger.

Gomez … Whatever’s On Your Mind
Ben Ottewell … Shapes and Shadows

Oddly, Ottewell’s solo album and the new Gomez collective effort both came out in the year’s first half. In basketball, that’s called bad spacing. For the uninitiated, Ottewell is one of three singers in Gomez, blessed with a distinctive voice, and who seems increasingly inclined toward ballads. These fill his solo album and are of quality, if not all exactly memorable. A handful of them also take pride of place on the more up-tempo Gomez disc, alongside some strong pieces featuring Ian Ball.

Arctic Monkeys … Suck It and See
Elbow … Build A Rocket Boys!
Radiohead … The King of Limbs

These three groups from England are great favorites. They have little in common in terms of sound, instead being united in my mind by lyrical excellence. The Arctic Monkeys conquered the UK in 2006, and only now have reached their mid-twenties, with a new set of songs that are unadorned, tight and focused. In the follow-up to its 2008 breakthrough The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow introspectively channels The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society through a halcyon sieve for a new, fresher-faced demographic. Then there’s Radiohead, its members seemingly less than the sum of their components. Is there any reason for Thom Yorke not to be the voice of the Euro’s collapse?

Beady Eye … Different Gear, Still Speeding
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Oasis broke out in 1993, broke down in the early 2000’s, and broke up in 2009. With the release of their inaugural “separate” projects, the brothers Gallagher confirmed exactly what Oasis fans suspected all along: Pick the best songs off each, and voila -- it’s a brand new Oasis album for 2011! Liam and the Oasis remnants rock harder; Noel has more melodic, far better songs … like we didn’t already know that.

Death Cab for Cutie … Codes and Keys
The CD was purchased on a whim to test the Crown Vic’s new minimalist audio system, and subsequently went on heavy rotation during July. Alternative pop with few guitars, sometimes chirpy, other times darker. Atmospheric, and suggesting that it’s time to hear what I’ve missed.

Red Hot Chili Peppers … I’m With You
A release filled with solid songs, thunderous instrumentation, periodically ludicrous lyrics and a quality roughly hinting at approaching maturity, although not just yet. “Brendan’s Death Song”, a tribute to one of the band’s early mentors, will now be standard listening for me in all funereal times. The song is a lamentation-turned-dirge, with a rousing, rocking conclusion.

My Morning Jacket … Circuital
After being only vaguely familiar with MMJ’s youthful Louisville period, I’ve gotten steadily more interested as the band has progressed. The profuse musical influences are as encyclopedic as ever, and it strikes this observer that we’re about to enter a fertile period in which Jim James functions at the peak of his powers.

Liam Finn … FOMO
Pajama Club (eponymous)

Shall we speak of familial musical talent? Bored in New Zealand, papa Neil and his wife Sharon decide to take up drums and bass, respectively, for the first time ever. They both sing, of course, and two other local musicians provide largely guitar-less electronic accompaniment to a series of pop numbers that benefit from the elder Finn’s congenital inability to write a bad song. Meanwhile, son Liam has a prime gig opening for Eddie Vedder’s ukulele shows, when not playing and recording killer tunes of his own – assuredly different from those penned by Neil and Uncle Tim, and yet retaining the quirk Finn family stamp.

Coldplay … Mylo Xyloto
These lads always have interested me, and perhaps alone among my peers, I fully appreciate Chris Martin’s pop perspective, oft repeated in interviews, that if given a choice, he always chooses the hook. However, his band now has arrived at the growth stage of importing someone called Rhianna (presumably a famous person – was she on American Idol or something?) to contribute a scant few lines to a bubbly song destined for I-pods in high schools everywhere across the nation. On the strength of a few melodies alone, this album made the usual impression despite gritted teeth, but I can feel my interest waning. Perhaps Justin Bieber can guest on the next platter?

Wild Beasts … Smother
One usually doesn’t see the words “hypnotic” and “falsetto” in a non-ironic sense, but they’re merited when considering this youthful band from obscure Cumbria. The music remains complex and theatrical, and artistic reach now is matching grasp, with an excess of overt sensuality that will envelop you if you let it.

Booker T. Jones … The Road from Memphis
Older readers will recall Booker T. and the MGs, the incredible and integrated (with Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn) house band at Stax during the record label’s heyday a million years ago. Their first hit (“Green Onions,” anyone?) came when they were in their teens and I was two. While The Road from Memphis is uneven, the instrumentals are stellar, and the blue-eyed soul of “Progress” with Jim James on vocals) is worth the price of admission.

My rock/pop songs of the year for 2011:

Neon Trees: “Animal”
Arctic Monkeys: “She’s Thunderstorms”
Fleet Foxes: “Helplessness Blues”
Decemberists: “Rox in the Box”
Twilight Singers: “On the Corner”
Duran Duran: “Leave a Light On”
Liam Finn: “Cold Feet”
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: “If I Had A Gun”
Booker T. Jones: “Progress” (with Jim James)
Gomez: “Our Goodbye”
Ry Cooder: “No Banker Left Behind”
Red Hot Chili Peppers: “Brendan’s Death Song”
Bon Iver: “Holocene”
The Feeling: “Say No”

Postscript: Yes, I realize there are no female singers or acts listed herein. The omission reflects “as the cookie crumbles,” not any variety of overt sexism. I tried to like Feist, and probably would have listed Adele’s 21, if not for the subsequent tour rider fiasco in which the British singer’s camp stupidly denigrated North American beers she/they have not ever tasted. Roger freely espouses ideology, and Adele suffers accordingly. So be it, babe.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pair of sneakers beats a full NSP house?

There has been an animated off-line discussion about this piece, which appeared in Granta way back in September, when our attention was diverted from gangs to gaping bridge holes. My guess is that Bob Caesar won't be asking Mr. Bill to write the forward for James A. Crutchfield's bicentennial book.

The Heartland: Ten Years After 9/11, by Frank Bill

 ... We drive down Vincennes Street, the main drag in New Albany, Indiana. From Vincennes, the area appears safe. But cruise the side streets around the high school and S Ellen Jones Elementary School and it’s turf. Houses are tagged with gang graffiti. Every block is marked as territory. He points out a pair of sneakers hanging from their laces on a power line. ‘It marks the area. It means a drug dealer is living at one of these houses. Sells right out here.’

‘These gangs sell meth?’ I ask.

‘They do,’ Merritt tells me. ‘And crack, marijuana, various prescription meds.’

Open thread: So, how's the newspaper doing these days?

Earlier in 2011, New Albany's Tribune and Jeffersonville's Evening News were merged into one newspaper. Now it's the News and Tribune, although we've taken to calling it One Southern Indiana Newspaper (and sometimes the Journalism Pop Up Generator).

It will not surprise you to learn that at various times, the newspaper's performance is critiqued in this space. In the context of localism, I'm forever fond of pointing to its parent, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., as perhaps the finest contemporary example of why it should be illegal for Alabama retirees to control the news we read in Indiana.

Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.(CNHI) is a publisher of newspapers and advertising-related publications throughout the eastern part of the United States. The company was formed in 1997 by Ralph Martin[1], and is based in Birmingham, Alabama. The company is financed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

We've had most of the year to observe the newspaper's performance since the merger. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Couldn't New Albany's bicentennial be themed green?

The Associated Press provides an outstanding theme for New Albany's 2013 bicentennial observance, which predates the state's by three years. Just imagine if the start of the city's natural renewal might be the bicentennial's main theme, embracing something along the lines of preparing the environment for the next hundred years.

Think about the misdirected million dollar Horseshoe Foundation "bonus" to complete the Sherman Minton Bridge's repair work, and how far that would go toward acquiring funds for the greening of New Albany.

Imagine. Think. I must be out of my mind.

Indiana seeks $10 donations to buy hardwood trees

EVANSVILLE, IND. — A state agency is seeking donations of $10 and up toward planting 1 million hardwood trees and adding 1,000 acres of new woodlands by Indiana’s bicentennial as a state in 2016.

Keep 'em guessing.

(96 + 15 = 111 hours)

I'm not being facetious when suggesting it was ingenious to paint New Albany's forks in the road in front of buildings that have nothing to do with food and drink.

Say what?

Well, it is now apparent that at some point after the initial plan was announced, it was decided to add forks to selected local attractions, like the Ritter House and the Farmers Market. How these were selected and by whom is a consideration for another day, but the sly strategy's effectiveness cannot be argued. After all, everyone -- even the oblivious non-participating troglodytes -- is talking about New Albany's street-surface forks, trying to figure out why they're painted in this or that location, and not in another, and what it all means in the end.

Assuming this was the intent, good work.

Civic embarrassment: Bicentennial Commission goes mercenary, disses localism.

So much for localism.

Bicentennial commission continues fundraising push; Book celebrating 200 years of New Albany due out in September

NEW ALBANY — The New Albany Bicentennial Commission isn’t waiting until 2013 to roll out historic memorabilia.

As the city prepares for its 200th birthday in 2013, the commission has been finalizing plans for a limited-edition book that will detail New Albany’s past in a way that officials said will hardly be dry and boring.

“It’s going to be a fascinating book,” said Bob Caesar, who is a New Albany City Councilman and a member of the committee.

Noted history author James A. Crutchfield was hired to write the book, though the narratives are only slated to comprise about one-third of the work. Color photographs will occupy most of the remaining space.

Why on earth would the New Albany Bicentennial Commission select a hired-hack author from Tennessee to “write the book” on New Albany?

Crutchfield is presently working with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Robin Hood in producing a collection of top quality, four-color, coffee table books. Crutchfield does the research and writes the historical treatises for the books. He and Hood have produced books on Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, the Tennessee Walking Horse, the University of the South at Sewanee, historic sites and buildings in Tennessee, and Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. Works in progress are a book on the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

This decision runs counter to every imaginable precept of localism, but "respectable" elements approve, so ... this is what we get.

The very first name that comes to my mind is not James A. Crutchfield, but New Albany native Gregg Seidl. He’s a local historian and a published author, who leads tours of haunted and nefarious NA, and also writes “straight” when the occasion merits.

After I read the article linked here, I messaged Gregg and asked if anyone serving on the Commission had approached him about the book idea. He replied that no one had mentioned it to him, and he’d read about it in the newspaper just like the rest of us.

Jeff Gahan, are you or your advisors reading?

Yet again, the institutionalized banality of the departing England administration’s “same few people on all committees” results in divergent voices going unheard, and an opportunity utterly wasted, except this one quite literally is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. If the “official” bicentennial celebration is going to be the same old white-bread-and-Budweiser karaoke show, it’s time for the creative class to get to work on the underground version.

James A. Crutchfield?


Monday, December 26, 2011

Lots to learn in The Economist's holiday double issue.

(Photo credit The Economist/University of Oregon)

The annual "Special Holiday Double Issue" of The Economist is much anticipated in our household. In it, the usual weekly news coverage remains intact, but it is augmented with fine feature-length essays, which provide seemingly inexhaustible end-of-year reading.

The current holiday issue seems particularly memorable, with articles about religion in America, the "servant problem" in Brazil, Cairo's venerable Cafe Riche, the failure of China to excel at soccer, hiking in England, Albrecht Durer's medieval art (and self-) marketing plan, Belgian ale ... and two pieces that have made especially deep impressions on me:

Social media in the 16th Century -- How Luther went viral; Five centuries before Facebook and the Arab spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation, in which the crude and rude illustration above is explained.

Musical history -- Seven seconds of fire; How a short burst of drumming changed the face of music ...

Seven seconds of this track were enough to guarantee its immortality. One minute and 26 seconds in, the horns, organ and bass drop out, leaving the drummer, Gregory Coleman, to pound away alone for four bars. For two bars he maintains his previous beat; in the third he delays a snare hit, agitating the groove slightly; and in the fourth he leaves the first beat empty, following up with a brief syncopated pattern that culminates in an unexpectedly early cymbal crash, heralding the band’s re-entry.

Elsewhere, Prospero provides aural accompaniment to explain the seven seconds.

Accompanying each of these two links is a listing titled "In this section," in which there are links to all the special essays in this year's special issue. They're worth reading.

"Is there anything wrong with this economy that a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course can't fix?"

The New York Times offers fascinating reading about the trials and travails of Benton Harbor, Michigan, especially for those among us who've ever asked the question, rhetorically or otherwise: "Can golf revitalize New Albany?"

Now That the Factories Are Closed, It’s Tee Time in Benton Harbor, Mich., by Jonathan Mahler

 ... Watching carpenters hammer preweathered wood shingles onto homes that wouldn’t look out of place in East Hampton, Long Island, I felt almost as if I were at a resort in a third-world Caribbean country: beyond the boundaries of Harbor Shores is the poorest city in all of Michigan.

In the state of Michigan's view, Benton Harbor is so failed that democracy must no longer be permitted to exist there -- temporarily, of course. The appointment of an "emergency manager" overrides all election results, and that chortling you're hearing may or may not be Indiana's governor, Mitch Daniels, and his henchmen (see Bennett, Tony).

Benton Harbor: An Addendum by Chris Savage, by Jonathan Mahler

... I understand that Michigan cities like Benton Harbor are struggling and help is needed. The Snyder administration’s recent cuts in revenue sharing to cities and cuts to our public schools have only made matters much worse. My contention is that we must start from the baseline that democracy, even at the local level, must be preserved. Democracy isn’t always pretty and “the people” sometimes elect unqualified representatives. But that’s not an excuse to disenfranchise our citizens and democracy should be sacrosanct, the baseline from which we evaluate any potential solution. I reject the notion that this is the only answer.
Strictly speaking, the parallels between Benton Harbor and New Albany are few in number. The Whirlpool variable alone counsels caution when making comparisons. Still, I agree with Savage: It's a chilling development indeed when nixing democracy is deemed acceptable as the best American alternative to problems with many more sources than just civic corruption. Is robber baron capitalism the solution in Benton Harbor, or was it the problem? Where did the wonderful corporate citizen Whirlpool take all those jobs, anyway?

Would this make more sense to me if I played golf with the oligarchs? I certainly hope not.

On my profound distrust of non-drinking political aspirants.

Over the weekend, I turned off the laptop for almost two full days, and caught up with some reading. The presidential election year looms, and I've been trying not to think about it. Mitt Romney's been the likely GOP nominee from the start, and I cannot support him for three reasons: First, he's a Republican, and so we have likely insurmountable policy differences. Second, he's campaigning on the basis of his business experience, and his business experience (in finance) is not an asset; it's the problem. Third ...
Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot, by Robert Draper (New York Times)

 ... Stories of Romney’s wooden people skills are legion. “The Mormon’s never going to win the who-do-you-want-to-have-a-beer-with contest,” concedes one adviser, while another acknowledges, “He’s never had the experience of sitting in a bar, and like, talking.”

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The sordid annals of beer snobbery, volume 431.

Ray Daniels and his Cicerone certification program get some cyber ink in Slate. In the spirit of evangelical outreach, I offer this link to the little people of New Albany: It's never too late to change your "piss water" ways, and have yourself a real beer.

Beer Me, Sommelier ... Why beer deserves the same kind of expertise as wine, by Mark Garrison (Slate)

 ... Engert is a character one rarely finds in the wine landscape. One of the joys of good beer is that it’s far more accessible than the sometimes elitist and expensive wine world. Before I explored the new movement in beer service, I was a bit worried that it might be taking the beverage in the direction of wine’s worst excesses. But I don’t worry about that any longer. The people who are working on upgrading service knowledge do want beer to be as respected as fine wine and spirits are. But they are also deeply committed to preserving the affordability and unpretentiousness that set beer apart and to celebrating the breathtaking range of flavors and styles that make it special.

Finally, some relief: Real basketball begins today.

See if you can guess what I'll be doing today. It's craft beer and the NBA, with the only question being which Chinese carry-out joint is open?

NBA Kicks Off Shortened Season On Christmas Day, by Linda Wertheimer and Tom Goldman (NPR; includes link to audio) 
Men's professional basketball was on a long break because of the lockout. But on Christmas Day, the NBA season begins with a five-game package featuring exciting teams and glittering superstars. There's a rematch between defending champion Dallas and everyone's favorite team to hate — the Miam Heat.

Photo credit and an excellent remembrance at The History Rat blog

Saturday, December 24, 2011

About as close to those alien words as I care to get.

Thanks to Tom Lewis for the gift of matryoshka dolls. The symbolic Saturnalia tree looms overhead, and somewhere, people are drinking their way through the weekend.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Return of "Commuting to Nowhere."

From the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Ohio River Bridges Project, and including Spring Street in New Albany, we hear the voices of those who simply cannot imagine a future world without the predominance of big-oil fueled internal combustion transport. It's an absence of imagination paralleling that of so many military leaders during the Great War, who could not fathom combat without cavalry charges and the fixing of bayonets.

Blue Ridge Parkway: Closed To Cyclists?, by Will Harlan at Blue Ridge Outdoors.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the single most popular road for bicyclists in the Blue Ridge. Cyclists cherish the Parkway’s 469 scenic miles from Shenandoah to the Smokies. Even Lance Armstrong pedaled the high-elevation road during his Tour de France championship training.

Unfortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s newly released draft management plan could limit cycling on the Parkway. The draft plan focuses exclusively on the Parkway being “actively managed as a traditional, self-contained, scenic recreational driving experience.”

Finally, we have a hymnal.

Many thanks to Bluegill for posting this video to Facebook.

Three hats withering to one?

Amid the five-days-of-Christmas religious advertisements being featured in the newspaper this week, there was space for another wave of incoming mayor Jeff Gahan's appointments.

Gahan names Knight police chief, among appointments ... Juliot will stay fire chief; more announcements coming next week, by Daniel Suddeath

Sherri Knight will be the next New Albany Police Chief, as her promotion was one of three appointments announced by Mayor-elect Jeff Gahan on Thursday.

Gahan confirmed Matt Juliot will retain his position as New Albany Fire Chief. He also announced that Scott Wood will be promoted to New Albany City Plan Commission Director from his current slot as Assistant Director and Zoning Officer.

Knight will replace Todd Bailey — who was appointed by Mayor Doug England in 2010 — as NAPD chief effective Jan. 1.

Speaking for myself, it's too bad to see Todd Bailey depart; as terms go, "modern" and "police" need not be contradictory. Meanwhile, Harold J. Adams of the C-J takes the story a wee bit further.

Among other appointments announced by Gahan, Scott Wood has been promoted to director for the New Albany City Plan Commission where he has served as assistant director over the past four years. That’s a position that had been held by current deputy mayor Carl Malysz under outgoing mayor Doug England. It was not clear Thursday whether Malysz would have a role in the Gahan administration.

In the city clerk's on-line directory these past four years, Malysz has been listed three times: Once as Deputy Mayor, and twice as Director of Community Development, the latter under both Redevelopment and the Plan Commission. City Hall consistently has pointed out that the deputy mayor/body double position was intended as  "ceremonial," without power and sans pay. The reporter Suddeath explained it in this city council preview from November 18, 2010: England: New Albany City Council should not cut salaries; Mayor says Malysz saves city $20k a year

The deputy mayor’s salary is comprised of about $40,000 in plan commission money, about $40,000 from Economic Development Income Tax proceeds and about $5,000 from redevelopment commission funds.

 ... Earlier this week, Coffey said a deputy mayor should not make more than the mayor. The 2008 ordinance that set the deputy mayor’s salary also raised the mayor’s annual pay by $11,000 to $75,000.

It also established a $43,000 a year salary for the director of city operations, a position that has not been held since John Wilcox stepped down shortly after England took office. The position has not been funded by the council the past two years.

Matt Denison is paid $35,000 a year for his role as Assistant Director of Operations ...

At the city council meeting of November 18, 2010, CM Dan Coffey introduced a largely symbolic resolution to gut both Malysz's and city attorney Shane Gibson's pay packets.

R-10-41 A Resolution To Cap Certain Salaries of Appointed City Officials Coffey and Hiring Freeze ... Mr. Coffey moved for the reading R-10-41, Mr. Price second, the vote did not pass with six no votes and 3 aye votes.

Although NAC covered the meeting, which will be remembered primarily as the culmination of Steve Price's fit of pique against historic preservation (Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee), I cannot recall who cast the third vote in favor of Coffey's resolution.

All of which points to these questions: With Gahan having stated that there'll be no deputy mayor in his administration, will Wood's elevation have the effect of depriving the soon-to-be-former deputy mayor of a revenue stream? Will the director of city operations be funded, and if so, who will serve? What happens to Denison?

And: Can't Gahan just grab some some more unguarded federal money from neighborhood stabilization and give all of us a few hundred bucks for a Christmas shopping spree at Big Lots?

Unable to attend the 1Si-supported holiday week bridge meetings? You can still comment.

(From Paul Fetter and

The Bridges Authority Public Comment meeting scheduled Christmas week had a low turnout as expected. Still, One Southern Indiana with its build the project "whatever it takes" view has increased its supporter presence. So that our community is properly represented, there needs to be a large number of "No Toll" comments. If you were unable to attend, make sure to include your comments in the process and send to both below addresses--please ask others to do the same.

  • The Ohio River Brides Project is three parts, the East End Bridge, Downtown Bridge, and Kennedy Interchange. You cannot toll I-65 if the Kennedy Interchange is not tolled. It is unfair for Indiana residents to pay tolls on Bridges if Kentucky residents do not pay tolls on a new Kennedy Interchange.
  • There is no tolling scenario that is fair for Indiana residents. Hoosiers will pay an unfair amount of tolls if either bridge is tolled. Even though tolling only the East End Bridge will still create financial inequity for Hoosiers, most will accept tolls on the East End Bridge to get a bridges project, but there must not be tolling on I-65.
  • Build what you can afford! Do not toll I-65, it will divide our community.
  • It is wrong to put new tolls on existing highways.

Bridges Project Team

Jose Sepulveda Federal Highway Administration

Thank you for your support.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

ON THE AVENUES: The musical year 2011, Part One.

ON THE AVENUES: The musical year 2011, Part One.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Part two here)

There’s no use in pretending.

Ear X-tacy’s demise is metaphorical, and the game of contemporary relevance in musical taste is almost certainly finished for me. In terms of chronology, I’ve effectively pole vaulted the shark.

Perhaps this state of irrefutable old fogeyism owes as much to technology, and my ongoing refusal to embrace it, as to any other single factor. I fail to utilize the handy mechanisms that currently exist to convey packaged music to waiting ears. I’ve no Sirius, Pandora or Spotify, and not a single song is stored on my phone or computer. You might as well bring on the 8-tracks.

Glancing at the year-end lists in the media, I’m struck by how few of the artists are familiar to me. Needless to say, I’ve heard next to none of their songs. Of those managing to strike a chord in my comfy hermetic world, most came from listening sporadically to Louisville’s 91.9 FM throughout the year.

Perhaps my current feelings mirror those of an imagined, long-forgotten devotee of the “swing era,” watching Elvis on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show in 1956, and asking himself: What on earth compelled these two dependable veterans of hot jazz, sweet pop and the Lindy Hop to feature this pouty-lipped, swivel-hipped kid from Memphis? It’s not unlike the words Archie and Edith once sang:

And you knew who you was then
Girls were girls and men were men
Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again

In point of fact, my parents raised me on these very same big bands, but when those LPs were safely put away into their dust jackets, I liked to retreat to my room to fiddle with the AM radio dial. That’s where I heard the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Doors and Beach Boys somewhere behind the pervasive static.

My conversion didn’t transpire overnight, but in due time, an immersion in rock and pop music blindingly occurred. Now it seems that rock’s dying, if not already buried, and pop is submerged somewhere beneath hip hop, electronica and a slew of performers whose names I don’t even know how to pronounce correctly, from Gaga to Kanye to Beyonce.

Still, I try mightily to resist the temptation to slip permanently into the illusory trance of the past by listening exclusively to my old favorites. Balance is difficult, but always sought. My goal remains to find the next rock band that speaks to me like the Who’s Quadrophenia did – except now, today, in the present tense. Is there music to help me feel the way I did when I was younger, when certain songs were magical talismans, and lengthy periods of life were defined almost exclusively by what I happened to be hearing at the time?

Alas, perhaps all that raw adrenalin has left the building for good, and I’m not actually supposed to feel transformed any longer. Increasingly, the daily memo suggests that instead of running over there and listening to one hugely transformative power chord, I should slowly walk, and try to absorb the subtleties of many types of different music as possible.

This I do, and yet it’s too bad the old-fashioned thrill seems gone.


In 2011, I finally installed ad-hoc audio in my office. While assuredly not made of wax cylinders, it is late model, but aurally suitable for CDs and radio. Laboriously, and over time, most of my compact discs have been hauled home from work, and accordingly, I’ve been delving back into the classical, jazz and world music collections.


The Baylor household will remember 2011 as the year we completed our long-term, chronological viewing of all eleven seasons of M*A*S*H on DVD, culminating with the series’ enduring, final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” In it, Major Winchester endeavors to teach Mozart to captive Chinese folk musicians. It is the first movement of the Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581, and it was lodged in my memory for quite some time.

The available collection includes at least a dozen compilations of music from the medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, which hold an enduring fascination. I turn back to them frequently, but cannot pick one above the rest. Of slightly more recent vintage is Music for Egon Schiele, a 1996 release from the group Rachel's. It was scored as music for a play about the Austrian painter Egon Schiele, a great personal favorite.

Across the seasons, binding 2011 together for me was a multi-disc copy of Shostakovich’s complete string quartets (1-15), which occupied numerous early mornings of solitude, writing and espresso. This is “chamber music” of a high and inspiring order, and a sublime artistic achievement.


I must confess to it being a sub-par year for me in terms of jazz listening. Local favorite Dick Sisto’s sole appearance at Bank Street Brewhouse was a high point, as was digging out the Smithsonian’s Big Band Renaissance compilation for repeated listening. Seeing Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris produced a scramble not for Cole Porter, whose music is pivotal in the narrative, but Sidney Bechet, the virtuoso soprano sax player who, like many African-American musicians, sought refuge from racism in France.

World Music

Three archival releases spoke to me in 2011.

To What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929 … A three-CD gathering of tunes recorded during the early 1902’s in New York City by immigrants of numerous nationalities, who came to America from the collapsing Ottoman empire. Spellbinding.

Bossa Nova: Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s … a wide-ranging look at bossa nova as a pathway from samba to jazz.

Funky Frauleins, Vol. 2 … West German female pop performers, also from the 1960’s, doing original material and some crazy covers, like “I Dig Rock and Roll Music.”


It’s the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, and to observe it, there is Songs of the Civil War, which I first examined in July: Civil War songs: "I’m a Good Old Rebel," but assuredly not like this. I never grow tired of these robust, poignant, devotional and confrontational tunes.

(In Part Two next Thursday, it’s from Booker T to Twilight Singers to Wild Beasts, all in the year 2011)

Equal time for the GOP's seasonal celebrants, including HD-72.

From the late, great Hitchens: "The moral and aesthetic nightmare of Christmas."

Introductory excerpts only are reprinted below, so be sure to follow the link to read the whole, glorious piece (first noted at NAC in 2008).

'Tis the Season To Be Incredulous: The moral and aesthetic nightmare of Christmas, by Christopher Hitchens (Slate; Dec. 15, 2008)

… My own wish is more ambitious: to write an anti-Christmas column that becomes fiercer every year while remaining, in essence, the same. The core objection, which I restate every December at about this time, is that for almost a whole month, the United States—a country constitutionally based on a separation between church and state—turns itself into the cultural and commercial equivalent of a one-party state.

As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda isinescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor's office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass-produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined "themes" have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader's birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring. Time that is supposed to be devoted to education is devoted instead to the celebration of mythical events ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Morrison on River Ridge: "When did we start farming brownfields?"

The newspaper dutifully “reports” a press release, while it is left to a citizen blogger to provide the background necessary to even begin asking the many obvious questions raised by the guileless stenography. So it goes in Stemlerstan.

When did we start farming brownfields?, by Curt Morrison at Louisville Courant

As a kid growing up in rural Southern Indiana, I knew the 10,000+ acre, Indiana Army Ammunition Plant was blighted by long-term pollution. My step-dad had told me. It wasn't a secret back then.

That's why I was surprised to hear in it's last meeting of 2011, the River Ridge Development Authority which has owned and controlled the former Plant since 1998, announced they're offering more than 360 acres of land to farmers. (News and Tribune: River Ridge offering land to farmers: Farm leases expected to bring in additional revenues)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This week at NABC's Bank Street Brewhouse.

  • Patio conversion is under way
  • Gumbo trial tonight
  • “Soft” 11 am – 5 pm hours on Christmas Eve
  • Solidarity Baltic Porter is being bottled today
  • Holiday hours for both NABC locations
Our friends at Resch Construction have started on Bank Street Brewhouse's long-anticipated patio build-out, and to say that we’re both excited and grateful is a profound understatement. Thanks again, Steve.

Bank Street Brewhouse will remain open throughout the process of converting our current patio area into an all-weather facility with garage doors opening into what will become a beer garden in time. Much of the work will be completed within a couple of weeks, but the new roof will have to wait for installation during warmer weather.

The wall stones were being stacked on pallets yesterday, to be put into storage and returned when the future beer garden is landscaped next spring/summer. Since the outdoor area isn’t being used very much during cold weather, this patio work will have the minor effect of causing a bit of a mess, but it will not stand in the way of doing business in the customary way.

Tonight (Tuesday the 20th) will be the first sighting of gumbo on the BSB menu. We’re thinking about making this a regular Tuesday food special, along with the reduced price session ales. Wednesday remains growler discount day. Remember that Bank Street Brewhouse now opens for lunch at 11:00 a.m. from Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday Brunch begins at 10:00 a.m., but because of this year’s dates for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, the next brunch date is January 8.

We're bottling Solidarity today, and it will be heading to the wholesalers tomorrow.

Following are the holiday hours of operation for Bank Street Brewhouse and the Pizzeria & Public House. Note that both locations will be open (reduced schedule) on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

Christmas Eve
Saturday, December 24
Pizzeria & Public House will be open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (pizzeria side only; normal menu)
Bank Street Brewhouse will be open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., with Progressive Pints, growlers and light snacks (not the everyday menu)

Christmas Day
Sunday, December 25
Both NABC locations will be closed

Boxing Day
Monday, December 26
Pizzeria & Public House will be open for normal hours (both sides)
Bank Street Brewhouse will be closed (as always on Monday)

Tuesday, December 27
In the Prost room ... contact Roger immediately if you’re interested in joining the annual Port tasting

New Year’s Eve
Saturday, December 31
Pizzeria & Public House will be open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (pizzeria side only; normal menu)
Bank Street Brewhouse will be open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., with Progressive Pints, growlers and light snacks (not the everyday menu)

New Year’s Day
Sunday, January 1 (2012)
Both NABC locations will be closed

Monday, January 2
Pizzeria & Public House will be open or normal hours (both sides)
Bank Street Brewhouse will be closed (as always on Monday)

More proof that One Southern Indiana is institutionally incapable of listening.

Not a word about tolls. Does anyone at 1Si ever listen to public opinion, or is it that they listen, but only to the reigning oligarchs who've been calling the shots at 1Si since inception? It's long past time for a general disengagement from, and disinvestment in, One Southern Indiana. Shall we make it a project for 2012?


The time is now! Support the bridges project at today's meeting in Clarksville

One Southern Indiana members are encouraged to attend this evening's Ohio River Bridges Project public meeting in Clarksville and speak favorably about its need. This meeting follows one last evening in Louisville and is being held as part of the federal government's recent approval required of the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for the amended Project that reduces the project's cost to $2.9 billion.

The doors will open at 4 pm at the Holiday Inn Lakeview located in Clarksville . Speakers can register starting at 5:45 pm. Active pro-bridge participation in the public input process is needed to ensure a strong message is heard that the modified Bridges Project should move forward to construction.

Bridges Public Hearing
Today, 4-8 PM
Holiday Inn Lakeview, located in Clarksville, Indiana

Havel: "A major dramatist as well as a major politician."

It's interesting that Billington mentions the friendship of Havel with playwright Tom Stoppard without adding that Stoppard was born in Zlín, the Czech factory town of Bata shoes, and while a small boy, escaped with his family at the last possible moment before the Nazi occupation.

Václav Havel: a major dramatist as well as a major politician, by Michael Billington (Guardian)
Havel will be remembered as a courageous world leader – but we shouldn't forget his subversive satires of Czech communist life.

We're less than two weeks away.

Or a bridges project to build in Southern Indiana.

Howey, calling right-to-work what it really is.

HOWEY: Right-to-work is more about politics than jobs, by Brian Howey (OSIN Indiana Columnist)

So there is a significant political component to right-to-work, and anyone who denies it has a bridge to sell you in the Arizona desert.

Monday, December 19, 2011

For perspective on the late Kim Jong Il, watch "The Red Chapel."

Can the Horseshoe Foundation's chief see that its stance illustrates tolling's potential harm to Southern Indiana?

Read about the Bridges Authority’s scheduled public input meetings today and tomorrow

The Sherman Minton Bridge was closed on September 9. Since that time, Horseshoe Southern Indiana has recorded significant drops in patronage and revenues, so much so that the casino’s Horseshoe Foundation recently announced a huge cash reward to the contractor for early completion of bridge repair work.

Which is to say: A variable (in this case, traffic delays owing to the bridge closure) is providing the Kentucky market with an excuse not to come to Southern Indiana, and because this variable hurts the bottom line at Horseshoe Southern Indiana, it must be eliminated.

Here, in a nutshell, is welcomed corroborating evidence offered by a bigger area business to illustrate what we’ve been saying all along: As a variable, tolls to finance the ORBP boondoggle would have a negative impact on small businesses in Southern Indiana, because tolls would be discretionary for Kentuckians. Meanwhile, working Hoosiers would pay the equivalent of a tax to reach their jobs in Kentucky.

Again and again, we’ve asked the Bridges Authority to prove us wrong. We’ve asked the Authority to conduct a study of the economic impact of tolling on small businesses in Southern Indiana, but a coherent reply has never once come from them, apart from a vague assurance that once tolling has been approved as part of the latest inviolable plan, the body would look into it in its spare time.

In refusing to take such questions seriously, the Bridges Authority is flaunting its fundamental arrogance, but far worse, it is doing an apparently intentional disservice to Southern Indiana. Revealingly, the Horseshoe Foundation’s early-completion offer, as voiced by its head, Jerry Finn, is a tacit admission of what the Authority continues to publicly deny.

Deliciously, Finn is now in the splayed position of publicly advancing a de facto case against tolling while wearing his day-job cap at Horseshoe Foundation, while continuing to mouth the flawed reasons in favor of tolling when performing his role as Bridges Authority member. As Abraham Lincoln might have observed, an argument divided against itself cannot stand. In fact, it has not stood. The only question is whether Finn himself as yet grasps the untenable conceptual space he currently occupies. In my view, he has a choice to make. Will he?

Back on November 18, 2010, my newspaper column was titled, “The Bridges Authority has no clothes.” If there’s such a thing as being more naked than naked, that’s where the collective entity finds itself now … one member more than the rest. You can reread the column here.

REWIND: The Bridges Authority has no clothes (2010).

(From the newspaper, first published on November 18, 2010)


BEER MONEY: The Bridges Authority has no clothes.

By ROGER BAYLOR, Local Columnist

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."
-- Christopher Hitchens

“The future is never more important than to a people on the verge of a cataclysm.”
-- Nathaniel Philbrick

I’m the co-owner of an independent Hoosier small business. Teaching, selling and living better beer are my workday preferences, and admittedly other “minor” details occasionally elude me. However, after two decades in the food and beer business, pristine clarity periodically emerges from the gloaming.

Based on samplings of my experience, permit me to submit the following propositions.

1. We’ve always tended to our Southern Indiana backyards, but as an independent, niche-oriented small business, we’ve found that an aggressive focus on marketing to potential customers in Louisville is necessary for survival and growth.

2. Basic metropolitan area demographics justify this approach. Better beer costs more, but it resonates with a specific (and happily, ever expanding) demographic. Large numbers of our target demographic – higher incomes, better education, more extensive travel and life experience – live in more populous Louisville.

3. Marketing to a Louisville demographic never is easy, owing primarily to ancestral assumptions and clannish prejudices of the sort common along borders. Although those not engaged in bricks and mortar retailing might dismiss such intangibles as apocryphal, they’re far from imaginary to those who actually occupy the independent small business trenches.

4. I’ve accumulated sufficient knowledge about NABC’s consumer base to know that an important segment of it comes from Louisville. I am vindicated by knowing that a plan patiently pursued over a long period of years has proven worthy. Looking around, I can see that we’re not alone, and similar strategies are working for other independent Hoosier small businesses nearby.

5. Tolls on existing Ohio River bridges absolutely would alter this playing field to the detriment of independent Hoosier small businesses. Whether a quarter or $3 each way, the sum would constitute an increase on the price of Hoosier goods and services for Louisville consumers. Hoosiers crossing the Ohio to work would have no choice except to pay tolls (and have less money to spend at home), while Louisvillians would have the option to remain at home and spend discretionary monies in Kentucky.

6. Tolling burdens absolutely are tantamount to the erection of a physical barrier to interstate commerce. Furthermore, it is quite likely that even now, the mere mention of tolling is having a measurable influence on the decision making process of Louisville consumers. Clearly, I can see how tolling will damage my independent Hoosier small business, and I can plausibly infer that it will hurt my brethren just as badly.

Why, then, are Hoosiers acting against the interests of Hoosiers?


Numerous Southern Indiana businesses just like mine have done exactly what the reigning experts at organizations like One Southern Indiana endlessly preach at their costly seminars: To gather information, know the customer, plan strategies, and over time, nurture these strategies in pursuit of success.

We’ve all done so, and we’ve all learned from these many years of experience, but suddenly, overnight, what we’ve learned apparently no longer matters. It’s a commandment-level article of 1Si faith that business owners know what’s best for them – except now, when those of among us daring to demand evidence are ignored, muzzled, and dismissed as vitriolic cranks with hidden agendas and Communist leanings.

Most ironic of all: Ever since objections have arisen and evidence has been presented as to why tolls will negatively impact independent Hoosier small businesses, certain tolling advocates with no evidence … who have not spent two decades marketing their businesses as destinations Louisville customers … who are not engaged in bricks and mortar retail … who’ve never, ever been engaged in any semblance of independent small business … haughtily roll their eyes, gazing loftily at the clouds whenever it is suggested that maybe, just maybe, independent Hoosier small business owners actually know perfectly well that tolls on existing bridges will be catastrophic for them, destroying decades of outreach to Kentucky in one, huge $4 billion swoop.

Here’s the rub: You can believe the lessons of my business experience, or you can delete them, but throughout it all, amid high-handed imperiousness and ham-fisted diversionary tactics, not once has the Bridges Authority actually offered answers to these questions, as asked by independent Hoosier small business owners.

No economic impact study has been cited. No outside information has been referenced. Pins drop, crickets chirp, and the Bridges Authority can only mumble mantras about inevitability, accuse sincere questioners of spreading myths, and when rattled, hide behind St. Daniels’ billowing robes.

And so it is my contention, borne of experience, that the imposition of tolls by an unelected body with nary an independent small business owner seated on it will have the undeniably harmful effect of indirectly taxing independent Hoosier small businesses, burdening their Louisville and Greater Kentucky customers price hikes, denying needed sales tax revenue to Indiana, and isolating a sizeable market that we’ve finally come so close to capturing in recent years.

Because the Bridges Authority refuses to answer legitimate questions, we must conclude that as an entity, quasi-evangelical construction zeal is trumping every other human concern, and that independent Hoosier small businesses soon will be expected to meekly surrender, patronizingly receive pat on their heads, ceremoniously bow to their betters, and take the full brunt of the financial hit -- for the greater “good” offered us by 1Si’s gospel of economic elitism and St. Daniels’ future D.C. job prospects.

There’s neither myth nor negativity in any of this, because after all, I have my evidence.

Where on earth is theirs?

No Tolls Supporters: Public input meetings Monday (12/19) and Tuesday (12/20); "Tell Them No Tolls."

(From Paul Fetter on behalf of


Today and Tuesday are your last chances to have your voice heard. This is VERY IMPORTANT! The tolling decisions that are made will be with us for generations. Come and represent your views for your family and community. Bring your friends, family, and neighbors!

Tell them:

1. Build what you can afford! Do not toll I-65, it will divide our community.

2. It is wrong to put new tolls on existing highways.

3. The Ohio River Brides Project is three parts: East End Bridge, Downtown Bridge, and Kennedy Interchange. You cannot toll I-65 if the Kennedy Interchange is not tolled. It is unfair for Indiana residents.

4. There is no tolling senario that is fair for Indiana residents. Hoosiers will pay an unfair amount of tolls if either bridge is tolled. Even though tolling only the East End Bridge will still create finacial inequity for Hoosiers, most will accept tolls on the East End Bridge to get a bridges project, but there must not be tolling on I-65.

Or to:
John Sacksteder
Community Transportation Solutions
305 North Hurstbourne Parkway, Suite 100
Louisville, KY 40222
(502) 394-3847

Meeting dates and times:

December 19, 2011
4:00-8:00 p.m.
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Brown & Williamson Club
2800 S. Floyd St., Gate 6
Louisville, KY

December 20, 2011
4:00-8:00 p.m.
Holiday Inn Lakeview
505 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Václav Havel, civil society and the New Albany Syndrome.

It wasn’t until I began planning European travel extravaganzas during the Ronald Reagan era that the name Václav Havel meant very much to me. Once it did, the contrasts in chosen theatricalities between the privileged, incumbent Hollywood actor and the imprisoned, dissident Czech playwright seemed to handily encapsulate the decade. They still do.

For more than a year prior to my spending five weeks in Czechoslovakia in 1989, I had a job writing abstracts of articles in periodicals, and enjoyed the good fortune of being deemed my department’s unofficial “expert” in deciphering foreign publications written in English. There was much to read in British magazines about Eastern Europe in general, and Czechoslovakia in particular. Among other topics, I learned much about Havel’s role in Charter 77. Overall, I was far better informed while visiting in ’89 than I’d been in ’87, which made quiet, substantive conversation such a joy.

In the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution, there was enough time to read Havel’s plays, essays and letters. For obvious reasons, my personal favorite piece of Havel’s work always will be the two-person play called “Audience.” It’s about an artistic, city-dwelling enemy of the totalitarian state (in essence, the author himself, based on his real-life experience) abruptly sent as punishment to the hinterlands for a term as manual laborer in a brewery. He must endure the ramblings of his boss, who cannot refrain from sampling the fermented wares, sinking into comic inebriation while haplessly pretending to interrogate the urban exile.

I’ve seen frequent parallels between the “battered city” syndrome (GC's apt usage) in New Albany, which we’ve also referred to quite often as the New Albany Syndrome, and Havel’s wide-ranging thoughts on the nature of a civil society. It reminds me of the post-communist adage that goes something like this: “It’s easier to make fish soup out of the aquarium than the other way around.” I wrote about it in a newspaper column in 2009.


Pogo and the New Albany Syndrome

“We have met the enemy … and he is us.”

According to Pogo’s Axiom, most societal ills are firmly, fatefully localized, as in New Albany’s enduring disregard for shared purpose and social cohesion.

Hereabouts, there’s always something or someone else to blame, from immigrants and property taxes to the outside world and insider corruption, and mirrors are perpetually short of supply.

Consequently, if you’re looking for absolution, you’ve come to the wrong column. We’ve all acquiesced in perpetuating the New Albany Syndrome, permitting the city to devolve and deteriorate, and the best hope of reversing this accumulated weight of bad habits and poor decision-making is unity via a grand coalition that concedes the task’s immensity, suspends partisan wrangling, formulates clear strategies, and gets down to work.

Moreover, we need to find a kennel for Pavlov’s dog, which is keeping us all awake at night. Maybe we can ship the mutt off to Central Europe.


Communism in Czechoslovakia began with a questionable election in 1948, and ended in 1989 with “Velvet Revolution.” Shortly thereafter, the dissident writer and playwright Vaclav Havel was chosen president.

It was a stunning development. Less than a year before the unraveling, Havel had been imprisoned by the seemingly impregnable regime. A humanist and intellectual, he had been denied the opportunity to work in his field, theater arts, and during the 1970’s was subjected to internal exile by being sent into the countryside to work in a brewery.

The inexperienced government faced a hitherto unprecedented task. The process of socializing a country was well documented, but what about the job of reconverting it? How do you set about reversing four decades of stagnation brought about by an outgunned, undercapitalized and outmoded state-owned economy?

The intrinsic absurdities of the Soviet-style system were evident to all, and yet ordinary people were accustomed to them. True, the system had to change quickly lest Czechoslovakia fall even further behind, but how to manage change without exacerbating human misery and risking societal chaos?

President Havel actually offered few concrete ideas as to how the country’s economy might be reinvented. However, others did, and a program of privatization was designed to quantify the value of Czechoslovakia’s state-held assets through vouchers (shares) that could be bought, sold and swapped by citizens.

The jury remains out. Posterity likely will judge the reform effort as middling in the overall context of the Warsaw Pact, and what’s more, Havel’s country split into two entities in 1993. Today the Czech Republic and Slovakia both belong to the European Union, and the ex-president is long since retired.

So, why focus on Vaclav Havel’s role in Czechoslovakia’s post-communist history when he played only a minor part in the country’s economic restructuring?

Because this isn’t about the economy, comrade.

Throughout his unforeseen political career, Havel focused his interpretive powers on matters of conscience and consciousness, which he perceived as vital at a fundamentally human level. He persistently reminded his countrymen that any reform program would have little chance of succeeding without an examination of the society’s daily psychological assumptions.

Havel theorized that the chief legacy of Communism was a trauma at the grassroots core of Czechoslovak society, something that had despoiled the very nature of daily interaction between friends, lovers, neighbors and co-workers. Persistent indoctrination in the ideology of class warfare had turned all human relationships inside out, and the cynicism of everyday reality as it operated far apart from the panaceas of official propaganda subverted all aspects of trust, caring and hope.

Havel offered a consistent, firm, but gentle remonstrance: Before post-communist revitalization could have a chance of success, a “civil society” would have to be redefined and rebuilt virtually from the ground up, and without exclusive recourse to the unfettered mercantile self-interest preferred by capitalism’s victorious adherents.

Admittedly, two decades further along, it remains unclear what effect Havel’s thoughtfully humanistic leadership had on the course of affairs in his homeland. His position was largely ceremonial, and he had neither substantive political power nor accumulated wealth to back up his words.

But, sometimes, it really isn’t whether you win or lose in the traditional all-or-nothing sense. Rather, it’s how you characterize the game, and to me, an imbibing humanist, habitual contrarian and profoundly spiritual (albeit displaced) European, Havel’s analysis applies foursquare to New Albany in the year 2009.


Truly, it isn’t about the money.

In good times or bad, the New Albany Syndrome is displayed in mistrust, inertia, secrecy and contempt on the part of those who fear the unknown future more than the dilapidated past, and who regard any sign of communication and cooperation with others as a sign of weakness that somehow provides succor to the cultural or political enemy of the moment.

From the subsequent vacuum oozes the politics of fear-mongering. Once during a heated debate, 1st district councilman Dan Coffey inadvertently revealed the obstructionist’s target, spluttering at “them people,” although in reality, “them people” want a livable city just as much as “his” people.

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

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?

R.I.P. Václav Havel.

Thought ... what a concept.

First Hitchens, and now Havel; the grim reaper is having a pre-Christmas harvest spree, taking men of letters as oblivious shoppers revel in the ephemeral.

Appropriately, the Guardian's obituary is not a casual or fast read, but rather seeks to convey the nuances and ambiguities surrounding Havel's own life and the experience of the Czech lands during the course of a tumultuous century.

Václav Havel obituary: Czech playwright and former dissident who led his nation after the collapse of communism, by WL Webb (Guardian)

... After the Soviet invasion that turned the Prague spring of 1968 to long winter, he became a leading dissident, a founder of Charter 77 and Vons (the Czech acronym of Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted), and spent much of his 40s in and out of prison. Finally, he emerged as the effective voice of the crowds that, after 20 years of sullen resentment, at last exploded in Wenceslas Square in the winter of 1989 and, having postered all of freezing Prague with the slogan Havel na Hrad! (Havel to the Castle!), did indeed send him across the river and up the hill to the castle as president of the reborn republic.