Thursday, April 30, 2015

ON THE AVENUES: Until philosophers become kings.

ON THE AVENUES: Until philosophers become kings.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Last Thursday I had the great pleasure to take a break from New Albany’s trials and tribulations and spend the day and night in Lexington, Kentucky, as the guest of Transylvania University’s philosophy department.

To be sure, there have been times in the past when Lexington wouldn’t have seemed such a savory destination for an overnight pleasure trip.

After all, I was raised in Southern Indiana, and college basketball naturally prefigured the rural moral (and genetic) code: Indiana University in Bloomington was the beneficent locale of the grail, while the University of Kentucky represented a snarling, lowdown devil. I imagine it wasn’t easy for my mother, who was a UK graduate living in a small Hoosier burg, and subject to commensurate suspicion.

Of course, it’s all bunk, and the whole point of the exercise is to show the many possibilities for mankind’s advancement, from primitive sporting totems and rituals all the way through reading actual books.

I’d been warming to Lexington for a long time, even before February of 2014, when the University of Kentucky hosted a symposium on craft beer writing. I was fortunate to be numbered among the speakers, and the experience was very rewarding.

One of the symposium’s perquisites was a pub crawl with a van and designated driver, and that’s when it became clear to me that Lexington is a fine beer and food city, with cultural enclaves, shops and historic neighborhoods for wandering, even if the prevailing one-way street grid is maddeningly archaic and begs for immediate jettisoning.

Anyway, when Professor of Philosophy Peter Fosl suggested I come visit, it was just a matter of coordinating calendars.


Transylvania University is among the nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning. For those like me who persist in associating the name with Count Dracula’s purported home base in Romania, the Latin roots are precisely the same: “Across the woods,” which in this specifically American sense means west of the Alleghenies. Prior to Kentucky’s statehood, it was called the Transylvania Colony, and belonged to Virginia.

My wife Diana accompanied me, and we arrived before noon, parking the car at the Gratz Park Inn. It was a short, pleasant walk to Peter’s office. His typically small and book-filled work space reminded me that there had been a time in my life when I assumed teaching would be my ultimate career choice, once I got around to making one.

It never happened. So it goes. There’s always professional drinking.

My eyes immediately were drawn to a framed event poster of Christopher Hitchens’s speaking appearance at Transylvania University in 2004. It was Peter’s doing, and he said that Hitchens, who remains one of my personal heroes of writing, was a model among high-profile visitors to the campus, accepting a lower than usual fee and volunteering his whole day to various activities rather than merely speaking and running.

Hitchens also stayed in the Gratz Park Inn. Granted, I’m a bush leaguer compared with Hitchens, and yet the symmetry was appreciated, and a degree of separation now has been shaved.

Peter had arranged for me to meet with philosophy majors over lunch at Transylvania’s cafeteria, the overall excellence of which conjured unsettling thoughts of the available “food service” during my own college days at IU Southeast. I certainly hope it’s better there now.

Later in the day, there was a faculty reception at the home of the humanities division chair. I concocted an impromptu beer tasting from selections they’d thoughtfully provided, including NABC and local Lexington breweries (West Sixth, Country Boy and Alltech). There was ample time to explore on foot the Lexington neighborhood around Transylvania, including the West Sixth and Blue Stallion breweries.


Getting back to my real reason for being there, Peter wanted me to share my experiences as a philosophy major in the real world, and honestly, it probably helped me as much as it did the students I met at lunch.

As the years roll past, it’s easy to forget the epiphanies and milestones that helped make us what we are today. For me, one of these was IU Southeast and my path to a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in philosophy.

My father’s goal for my post-high school career was for me to be awarded an athletic scholarship. This idea was a laughable non-starter, as I possessed considerably more skill as a clubhouse lawyer than an athlete. Eventually, out of sheer inertia, it was concluded that a semester or two at IU Southeast might lead me in a direction -- and boy, did it, though my parents probably regarded it as the proverbial wrong turn at Albuquerque.

My life in academia began with miserable failure, and I’d have flunked out entirely after a semester if not for my advisor’s suggestion of Introduction to Philosophy, a discipline he was unable to describe or explain, but recommended because after all, I’d be compelled to gather a few humanities credits for the core no matter what major eventually was to be declared – or branch of the military joined.

The instructor was an adjunct faculty member by the name of McCarthy, who by the standards of New Albany, circa 1978, was a veritable space alien who excelled in computer programming, of all things. In fact, before the semester was over, he’d gotten a job working with computers in New York State, and was given special dispensation to commute to New Albany for improvised weekend class sessions. One of them took place at the long defunct Leno’s restaurant.

But before all of that, we gathered at a classroom in Hillside Hall, and Prof. McCarthy greeted us with a warning, which I now paraphrase:

“Welcome to Philosophy 101. If you’ve chosen the university experience as a means of compiling a perfect 4.0 GPA, then I recommend you drop this class and choose another, because I do not award perfect scores. There is no such thing as perfection, and if you disagree with me, be prepared to argue your case logically. It won’t matter, because you’ll still not receive an A for this class. Would anyone like to discuss the nature of perfection?”

I was hooked. After all, it might prove to be my only class where a B was possible, much less perfection, and I was all too acutely aware of my own imperfections.

Coincidentally, a push was underway to begin a full-fledged philosophy program at IU Southeast, and soon I met Dr. Curtis Peters, a Minnesotan-turned-New Albanian who sold me on the idea of majoring in philosophy.

In 1982, I became the first IU Southeast philosophy graduate to amass all the necessary course credits while attending the New Albany campus, compiling a cumulative GPA in the vicinity of 3.0, thus handily proving the McCarthy axiom’s innate wisdom. I promptly set about answering the question, “What does a philosophy degree get you?”

For me, it was the opportunity to be a bartender, work in a package store, substitute teach and work numerous other less enriching part-time jobs in route to my eventual way station in the restaurant and brewing business.

However, as should be obvious by now, a philosophy degree has not ever been about specific vocational training. Rather, it is about learning how to think, and yet even this standard falls short in explaining the impact on me.

Philosophy reveals the primacy of knowledge itself, something not unexpectedly absent from high school, where I skated through, almost entirely unchallenged save by a handful of teachers who saw something in me that I didn’t, or couldn’t, grasp. Bookish and introspective by nature, there wasn’t much added reinforcement to high school for me.

Beginning with McCarthy’s introductory philosophy class at IU Southeast, it was like the clichéd light bulb’s illumination: Ideas really existed, and they actually mattered. Ideas had systems, and mankind would be living in metaphorical mud without them. Philosophy taught me how to think, and moreover – perhaps most importantly of all – that it was okay to think. Only then did I realize that high school choir and a brief foray into theater taught me more about life than playing competitive team sports. Muscle tone pertains to the brain, too.

These many years later, have I always live up to the promise of these youthful intellectual ideals?

Of course not. I’m human, and sometimes metaphorical mud wrestling in the marketplace of venom, if not ideas, is a great deal more fun. It remains that the study of philosophy opened my mind and changed me for the better. It cannot and probably should not be the primary course of study for all university students, but it wouldn’t hurt to be an elective for most.

Thanks to Peter, Jack and everyone at Transylvania University for a timely opportunity to re-examine my premises.


Recent columns:

April 27: ON THE AVENUES MONDAY SPECIAL: Et tu, Greg Phipps? Or: Anger and the electoral variability of transparency.

April 23: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Anachronisms and intellectuals, here and there.

April 16: ON THE AVENUES: Say a prayer for NA Confidentialas it conducts this exclusive interview with Councilman Cappuccino.

April 9: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Complexities and simplicities in Boomtown.

April 8: ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL: The proper separation of church and council.

Ed Clere instrumental as "Bill adds smoke to high-end cigar bars in Indiana."

Both Tom Uhl (Office Cigar Lounge in Floyds Knobs) and Jeff Mouttet (Riverside Cigar Shop and Match Lounge in Jeffersonville) have had to deal with more than their share of niggling laws that don't correspond with reality as we know it today.

Jeff says it best:

“We sell an experience, we don’t just sell cigars. We’re like 21st century barbershop. We’re a gathering place.”

Precisely. A doff of the chapeau to Rep. Ed Clere for being receptive and diligent in this and other matters of legislative tweaking. An exception to the statewide smoking law already was in place, and it made no sense for a grandfather clause to tilt the competitive table.

Bill adds smoke to high-end cigar bars in Indiana, by Maureen Hayden (CNHI)

INDIANAPOLIS — Inside the cozy Office Cigar Lounge in Floyds Knobs, you can buy a rare $60 Arturo Fuentes Opus X cigar, lounge in leather chairs and watch sports on big-screen televisions.

But you can’t light up.

For that, you’ll have to step outside and move at least eight feet from the door. Outdoor heaters help ward off the chill. This past winter, smokers looking to come in from the cold could repair to a Winnebago in the parking lot.

It’s not the setup that owner Tom Uhl envisioned when he opened the cigar lounge two years ago in this affluent suburban community north of New Albany.

“It’s like opening a Wendy’s and being told your customers can’t eat their burgers inside,” he said.

That’s about to change. In the waning days of the legislative session, language slipped into an obscure tobacco bill clears the way for smokers to light up inside Uhl’s establishment. And it opens the door for other cigar bars, as well.

Stella Artois still sucks, and it has nothing whatever to do with Kentucky Derby traditions.

A Derby event that's all about the beer. 
I've been so busy plotting the forthcoming civic insurrection that Kentucky Derby festival season has slipped past, all but unnoticed to me.

But don't think for a moment that you're somehow to be spared my annual Derby rant. Better late than never, and Stella as yet sucks.

However, because my bile supply is nearly exhausted by this incessant daily struggle to dismantle Jeff Jong Un's budding personality cult before he erects a colossal statue of himself atop Warren Nash, I'll restrict my outrage to a few chosen links.

For the classic Derby prose, look no further than The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,’ by Hunter S. Thompson. Some years later, a prescient denizen of the blogosphere followed up with a valuable contribution to the Derby lexicon, namely "horse pimp", in this article: "The Kentucky Derby Really Is Decadent and Depraved."

Me? I've long since resolved to be patient, because when Derby Festival begins, bad beer flows, and so we learn to wait. At the same time, it isn't easy when bad beer is involved: Tradition, Americana, Churchill Downs and Stella Artois.

As for the latter, catching sight of billboards linking the Kentucky Derby and inferior AB InBev-style international industrial lager can only remind us to Killa Stella by drinking authentic and locally-brewed beer. permit me to explain why in this column, which has not appeared previously at NAC.


Killa Stella

In his autobiographical book, “The Factory of Facts,” the Belgian-American writer Luc Sante recalls the drab post-WW II industrial reality of his childhood home of Verviers, a city in the Wallonian rustbelt. Reading Sante’s reflections on a society stratified by factory life and traumatized by its wartime experiences, my thoughts turned to lager beer, which originated in and around the German lands, to the east of Belgium.

We know that lager developed in lockstep with the industrial revolution throughout Europe, gradually departing from its original, artisanal methods to fatally embrace pure science utterly devoid of a guiding aesthetic, eventually supplanting traditional ale styles – many of which survived only in the countryside in cantankerous places like Sante’s Belgium.

By Cold War’s end, lowest common denominator lager had become perhaps the most imperialistic consumer item in world history, conquering Europe, America and the planet as a whole – taking full advantage of modern manufacturing techniques, improved distribution methods, and a consistent psychological bludgeoning sufficient to make Josef Goebbels smile with undisguised glee.

In its unprecedented trajectory to a worldwide stranglehold, mass-market lager isn’t entirely alone. Numerous parallels exist, most prominently in contemporary processed foodstuffs. The rise of mass-market lager also parallels the dissemination of cigarettes; more than one sociologist has observed that cigarettes represent the perfect adaptation of design to the necessities of time and space brought about by the industrial revolution, as well as reflecting the reduction in prices stemming from mass production.

In the beginning, cigarettes were cheap, effective conveyances for addictive nicotine, capable of being consumed in minutes while waiting for the tram. Pipes and cigars took more effort – and more leisure time to use properly.

Mass-market lager, as stripped of its more costly fundamental aesthetic (does anyone remember classic lagering times of up to 90 days?), is a quick and easy alcohol delivery device, familiar and trusted through frozen simplicity, reinforced through saturation advertising, capable of maintaining price points through multi-national economies of scale, and benefiting from "market rationalization,” which is geek-speak for “species extinction.”

But if mass-market lager didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it, seeing as something wet and yellow always must be handy to cook beer can chicken.


Through it all, and in spite of domestic consumption now favoring bland, mass-produced lagers to the tune of 70-30 or more, Belgium somehow has managed to retain a representative semblance of its diverse brewing heritage. It’s probably an accident, although it might be a miracle.

It can be argued whether the survivors of pre-industrial brewing traditions – Saisons, Lambics, Sour Reds and Trappists – are as “good” now as they used to be, but it remains that Belgium is a country where there is customary proximity to beers differing from the industrial lager norm. Importantly, just as in America, craft brewing has exploded in Belgium, and shoots of creativity eagerly rise from the burgeoning grassroots. New generations of brewers are assured, and this is comforting to know.

And then there’s Stella Artois, with an accompanying gag reflex so very hard to suppress through the years. You can lead a tourist – even a native, for that matter – to diversity, but you cannot make him think.

For this reason, American visitors to Belgium all too often fail to notice the numerous beer choices available to them, even though the country’s smallest tourist offices have long since taken to actively promoting the Belgian ale heritage. Instead, the world-renowned timidity of the American psyche is exercised by subsisting on a beer diet of Stella Artois, Jupiler and Maes Pils – mass market lagers entirely unrepresentative of the Belgian brewing heritage.

Before Stella Artois flooded the United States a few years ago in the run-up to the monolithic merger of monopolists that yielded the AB-InBev abomination, I’d often be asked to help folks find the beer they loved so much while in Belgium. I’d cringe by rote as they mispronounced Stella Artois, and then recite the familiar litany in a desperate, forlorn hope that something – anything – might come of the lesson proffered them.


So, once more … with feeling.

Stella Artois is a formless, insulting industrial lager. Specifically, it is a soft, forgettable Pilsner variant, mild and golden, complete with digestible alcohol, and mass-produced by a nefarious multinational corporation that became even nastier after it hopped into bed with Budweiser and began squeaking bed springs in the Leuven bean counter’s night.

As an import, Stella Artois is priced twice as high as American mass-market beer of the same insipid stripe, and while it is marketed as quintessentially Belgian (thus justifying the premium price), there is nothing remotely Belgian about it.

Repeat: Nothing.

If you care so little about what passes between your lips, you might as well drink another Silver Bullet. You deserve it -- even at half the price.

Just as a pound of ground chuck from Kroger somewhat vaguely hints at the many possibilities inherent in the concept of beef, Stella Artois at least makes us aware of Belgium, a country with so much more to offer in terms of the glories of beer. My favorite beer cafe in Brugge, ‘t Brugs Beertje, does not offer any Pilsner brands, because the style originated elsewhere.

Quite simply, when it comes to Belgium's considerable native brewing heritage, Stella Artois isn’t a factor worthy of consideration. The tradition does not go back “more than 600 years,” as proclaimed by one of AB-InBev’s PR flacks when Stella Artois was declared the official beer of the Kentucky Derby. It goes back all the way to 1926.

What of the unique Stella Artois chalice, glassware craft-blown to the specifications of Charlemagne, or some such nonsense? It is wasted on liquid more suitable for consumption from a red Solo cup at a fraternity kegger.

By and large, Stella Artois is a marketing concept, one pitched as “Belgian” by a parent shyster thriving on eternal deception, with the sad result that many tourists come away with an extremely misshapen impression of what Belgian beer is all about, returning home to America to find Stella Artois being further recommended to them on the basis of Belgium’s great beer reputation – which has nothing whatever to do with Stella Artois.

Come to think of it, I really, seriously dislike Stella Artois.

Now, did you get all that?

And you thought New Albany's outdated ordinances were bizarre.

Here's a case in which non-enforcement actually made sense. Perhaps some day it will again be legal to openly carry books on the streets of New Albany.

Basques safe in Iceland as district repeals decree to kill them on sight, Ashifa Kassamn (The Guardian)

Basques wanting to visit the dramatic fjords of north-western Iceland need no longer hesitate after the district of Westfjords repealed a 400-year-old decree to kill any Basque caught in the area on sight.

“The decision to do away with the decree was more symbolic than anything else,” said Westfjords district commissioner Jonas Gudmundsson. “We have laws, of course, and killing anyone– including Basques – is forbidden these days.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Only Chris Morris could transform 80,000 lbs of speeding metal into a victim.

A fully loaded tractor-trailer weighing 80,000 pounds traveling under ideal conditions at a speed of 65 miles per hour will take 525 feet to stop (almost the length of two football fields).
-- Utah Department of Transportation

I just don’t see how Spring Street can be changed to two-way after riding with Mike. It’s not a typical neighborhood street, it is a major thoroughfare through town. It just seems like it will be way too costly, and difficult, to change.
-- Chris Morris, Holiday Inn Express lifer

Chris Morris's "opinions" rarely surprise. We know he'll defend the status quo right down to the last at bat, but to make matters worse, he now has chosen to conflate criticism of his own persistent editorial ineptitude with an entire body of complete streets evidence that proves him mistaken, yet again.

Like most of you, Mike Pate goes to work every day. He doesn’t get caught up in political tug of wars or make personal attacks on social media sites against those who disagree with his views.

As always, the best way to deal with contrary evidence is to ignore it completely, and on this count, Morris succeeds. He hasn't tried to understand the transformative social impact of complete streets, or their proven record of advancing economic development and independent local business, or the way they boost quality of life in urban neighborhoods that were not built with interstates in mind.

Morris is found of saying he sees both sides. He just never presents the one that differs with his preconceived notions. Given the New Albany chain newspaper branch's consistent hostility to street grid modernity, perhaps we can petition the Jeffersonville office to send over a staffer, one who might be able to consider Jeff Speck's downtown street network proposals with an unjaundiced mind.

Wrong again

Just wait until Lee Hamilton sees the credit card bill.

We should insist that governments receiving American aid live up to standards of accountability and transparency, and we should support countries that embrace market reforms, democracy, and the rule of law.
-- Lee Hamilton

Jeff Gahan's latest mass mailer touts the mayoral candidate's endorsement by much beloved former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton. On the front, there is a Hamilton quote: "Leaders make things happen -- things that otherwise would not happen."

He probably meant to say "TIF bonds make things happen -- things that otherwise would not happen."

The implication is that Hamilton's quote refers to Gahan, but before we come back to that, let's look at an a ready illustration of the way that desperation and circular logic can invade the lives of sycophants, one of whom promptly offered this interpretation:

When Lee Hamilton speaks well of your leadership, you know you've done something right.

Which is to say, if you belong to the same political party as a former congressman and he endorses you, then you're doing something right -- something like belonging to the same political party as a former congressman ... and so on.

My first thought upon glimpsing the mailer was skepticism. Given Team Gahan's ongoing disregard for transparency and intellectual honesty, were Hamilton's actual words of endorsement to be found anywhere in the mailer? Was the quote on the front intended to apply specifically to Gahan?

In fact, Hamilton's letter of endorsement is to be found on Gahan's campaign page at Facebook, because a politician like the incumbent can be relied upon for transparency only when it involves praise and adulation.

Unfortunately, the letter is boilerplate partisanship, with interchangeable bullet points. To reference just one of them, Hamilton praises Gahan for investing "significant sums" into "aging infrastructure, including the Main Street project, "which added needed improvements to New Albany's historic district."

Uh huh.

And the Hamilton quote on the front of the mailer? It isn't to be found in the letter, although reference is made to Gahan's ability to make things "happen," which sounds suspiciously like an advertisement for a credit card.

And it is.

As time runs out, David White once again fails to understand Speck. How very frustrating.

a first coat of plaster applied to a brick or stone surface(thanks Mark)

Say what you will about David White, but when it comes to words, the man is capable of no-holds-barred torrents. He's a bright guy who could benefit from an editor -- although people have said the same of me, and they're probably right. The following passage is excerpted from an 857-word reply offered by White to a question at his Facebook campaign page.

Specifically, as the passage attests, it is quite clear that insofar as Speck's downtown street network proposals pertain to ...

desired social impact
economic development and independent local business
quality of life in the neighborhoods

... White simply does not "get" it, and that's regrettable and frankly confusing to me, because something or someone is blocking White's ability to understand that many other plausible planks in his platform might only be enhanced and improved by explicit linkage to Speck's proposals, and yet there is a disconnect.

I keep imagining that White bolts upright out of bed one morning and finally sees the Speck connections, communicates them, and enables me to cast a vote in the Democratic mayoral primary. It keeps not happening, and time is running out. Pardon the self-aggrandizement, but in the fall, you'll have precisely one candidate who favors connecting the dots.

Speck Study: I have stated publicly that I am in favor of a walk-able NA, however, it is not complete. Here are a few things I would like to continue to research and see enhanced on the current study (but not limited to): 1) No cost to implement 2) No engineering application 3) No timeline for implementation 4) Public servants, residents, business, UPS and FedEx were left out of the study. These key players must be asked and deserve a chance to respond before anything is implemented. 5) Another study to the study to the study is now under way for an additional $307K. Total spent to date is $500K. Not necessary spending. This administration has made this so problematic. The community from all corners feels this contamination and negative credibility from HOW this was done. I believe nothing good will come of this situation until a “cooling down” period has happened (let the dust settle), and trust is restored. The city is now being sued by 14 major companies as of this week regarding this issue. IF I am blessed to be our next Mayor, I will have better access to review this potential project, but I will include others to make sure it is done well prior to forcing it on all citizens. A benefit cost analysis would be a good tool to use here.

"The Here and Now of Same-Sex Marriage."

It was educational and entertaining to read Joe Dunman's and Dan Canon's tweets yesterday, as SCOTUS heard oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Commentary abounds, but I think this one summarizes the situation.

The Here and Now of Same-Sex Marriage, by Amy Davidson (New Yorker)

Why now? And why are we the ones who should make the decision? Those were the questions that the four conservative Justices on the Supreme Court and, to an extent, the presumed swing voter, Anthony Kennedy, asked early on in the oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that has the potential to establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Both questions, though, were overtaken by third: What about the children? And, in debating that, at the end of two and a half hours of back and forth, it sounded like marriage equality was headed for a win ...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

City Hall don't Google: Just look at all these anchor seals and logos and brands.

This just keeps getting better.

There are cities ...

And a bank ...

A water sealant product ...

A youth ministry ...

And, of course, a beer.

For platinum-level Team Gahan corporate members, there is now the ultimate in the anchoring of personal loyalties.

But just because New Albany's new anchor-based "Hold Down City" seal is now being seen everywhere, it doesn't mean we're using it, or anything like that.

It's just a BRANDING mechanism.

Get it?

Branding mud-struck: Why did the city of New Albany steal Anchor Brewing's seal?

Branding mud-struck: Why did the city of New Albany steal Anchor Brewing's seal?

There's a definite resemblance. Maybe the legal department should have looked a bit closer before anchoring the city to a new "branding mechanism."

We receive comments, like this one here: Seals, branding mechanisms and a city anchored into place by sheer dullness of bureaucratic intent.

It's sadly fitting they've chosen an anchor as a graphic representation of the city. An anchor fixes a potentially moving object to a place. It gets stuck in the mud and silt and keeps things from moving. That's why it's called an anchor.

This is not a "marketing piece", a "branding image" - it's not a progressive symbol, it doesn't imply a growing and vital city. An anchor? Who designed this?

This is "marketing" just like offering seven MILLION dollars to Pillsbury AFTER they said they they were leaving - that wasn't a "plan to attract businesses to the city" either. Too little and much, much too late.

And another by e-mail.

In going through files recently, I noticed that the city's new "branding logo" has replaced the old city seal on mundane printed things such as the city sewer bill.

I'v also noticed the inclusion of the city's new "branding logo" on the new street signs.

Questions abound:

1) How can the city seal be changed without public discussion and vote by council?

2) Why wasn't someone with real graphic design experience used to create versions of the logo that could be easily seen at various distances or in various uses?

The artwork is much too "thin" and confusing when seen in reverse, at a distance on street signs.

Who designed it, why and at whose request? Was a fee paid?

Sorry, but these questions are disallowed. After all, the new un-seal, as appended to metal and stone objects all across town, is temporary. Only permanent features may be questioned.

But if you persist, try sending smoke signals to the Bored of Works.

New Albany's new slogan: "Truck Through City" ... Part 87: Trucker tort is rejected, so the same vehicles continue to defile downtown streets as the Bored of Works does nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing.

After all, board chairman Warren Naps has been busy creating creative electoral art installations, like the one pictured above.

As the heavy trucks continue to thunder past, we have learned that the city actually is willing to publicly differ with the tort claims of trucking and heavy industrial value extractors, even if nothing will be done to address the damage they're doing to other downtown streets apart from Main Street, and in spite of the mayor as yet being unable to state a viewpoint.

Tort claim to reverse East Main Street work in New Albany denied, by Daniel Suddeath (N and T)

NEW ALBANY — The city will reject a tort claim filed on behalf of some of the largest trucking and hauling companies in New Albany demanding the East Main Street project be removed and any similar changes proposed for Spring Street be scrapped.

Is it yet the the neighborhood's turn to sue Gahan for terminal inaction?

By the way, here are the porn stud heavy metal wheeled shots for the week.

Yo, Warren: "The benefits of removing stop lights."

The problem?

Streets need to have two-way traffic lanes for the regimen of 4-way stops to work.

The solution?

Two Way Streets Now.

The benefits of removing stop lights, by Robert Steuteville (Better! Cities & Towns)

A growing number of experts advocate stop light removal to save money, improve safety, make cities more walkable, and boost traffic flow.

... Planner Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City and former Director of Design of the National Endowment for the Arts, is a big proponent of removing traffic signals. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has eliminated many in the last year based on Speck's downtown revitalization plan. Four-way stops improve traffic flow because automobiles don't have to come to an extended stop and wait while signals change, Speck points out. For pedestrians, four-way stops are much better—because every automobile has to come to a complete stop and traffic is calmed.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

Speck said doing away with most of the downtown traffic signals in favor of four-way stops would make for a "dramatic change" to the downtown. Such an arrangement favors pedestrians — "The pedestrian is king" in the setup, he said — and he said motorists will prefer it because they don’t have to idle at traffic signals waiting for lights to change.

Monday, April 27, 2015

ON THE AVENUES MONDAY SPECIAL: Et tu, Greg Phipps? Or: Anger and the electoral variability of transparency.

ON THE AVENUES MONDAY SPECIAL: Et tu, Greg Phipps? Or: The electoral variability of transparency. 

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

I’ve been thinking about 2011, when Greg Phipps defeated Steve Price in the primary, and then won the 3rd district city council seat against Jameson Bledsoe in November. For one shining moment, there was dancing in the streets; then we met the new boss, but I won't look back in anger.

On October 26, 2011, Daniel Suddeath previewed the contest in the News and Tribune.

Phipps was unable to be reached for additional comment, but stated in his election questionnaire submitted to the News and Tribune that some council members have been more interested in “playing politics than finding solutions to our city’s problems.”

“Integrity needs to be restored to the city council,” said Phipps, who is a 50-year-old senior lecturer and coordinator of sociology in the Indiana University Southeast School of Social Sciences.

It is Phipps’ first campaign for elected office, but he’s the president of the New Albany Board of Zoning Appeals and was president of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association in 2007.

He said better transparency is needed in local government, and said he would hold semi-annual public forums, if elected.

“I honestly believe I can provide new and progressive leadership for the residents of the third district and the city as a whole,” he said.

The calendar reads 2015, and Phipps is running for re-election. He is unopposed in the May 5 primary, and has little reason to be substantive, but last week, on April 21, he offered a genuine bolt-from-the-sky, out-of-the-blue revelation, posting a Facebook assessment of Mayor Jeff Gahan's position on street grid reform in New Albany, which centers on Jeff Speck’s downtown street network proposals, whether they’ll ever come to fruition, and if so, when.

Note that like Phipps, Gahan seeks re-election.

Mayor Gahan is committed to making our downtown streets more friendly to drivers and walkers. Three concepts are being developed to address this issue. What makes it great is that the federal government is going to cover 80% of the cost. Soon we will have options to improve the way we move, which will include more 2-way streets, better signage, and safer crossings. I’m sure downtown residents and businesses will be pleased with the results. Two additional items must be considered before moving forward: 1) the cost of the project. 2) There must be a plan to allow trucks in and out of downtown.

Why is this noteworthy?

To date, Gahan has made no verifiable or attributable public statement suggesting a positive position on the topic, openly and for the record. The mayor has made numerous private comments, most of which have come with “not to be repeated” warnings appended.

Love or hate Jeff Gahan, this much is beyond dispute: He has maintained a rigorous, non-committal public neutrality on street grid reform. At least on this one topic, he has been transparently non-transparent.

Consequently, for Phipps to suggest mere days prior to the primary that Gahan now advocates street grid reform, albeit as a bizarre milquetoast on the down-low, whimpering in a watered-down variety of bureaucratically-worded pablum, constitutes real news.

As such, given months of mayoral silence, we must ask for proof.

Exactly when did Gahan say this, and to whom?

Where can I read it in his words?

Can you show me?

How do we know it’s really true?

More than once since last Tuesday, I've asked the Phipps camp to verify the source of this statement with something (anything) attributable to Gahan himself.

I've received no answer, and yet as a university instructor and sociologist, surely Phipps understands that the validity of any affirmative claim is suspect if it cannot be verified and attributed in precisely the same fashion as my requests for proof of mayoral street grid intent, on the record, in the open, for all to see.

Without such standards of evidence, academic research would be rendered moot. They’re also questions any reputable journalist would ask, aren’t they?

Obviously, politics constitutes a different set of rules, most of them dubious, and yet during his first run for office, it was Phipps himself who raised the bar and said he'd approach such issues “analytically,” adding that “I have no desire to become a career politician.”

And yet four years later, certain shoes seem to have shifted feet -- and it's getting ugly.

Some might say that by asking reasonable questions, I’m unfairly stalking or bullying Phipps. It isn't true. My satiric references to yard sign sizes aside, what I’m doing is requesting intellectual accountability from a university professor who has chosen to be a public official, and who has previously indicated with explicitness that he accepts precisely such scrutiny.

Except when they're my questions,

Moreover, I’m asking for accountability from Phipps as it pertains to his specific role as public official. After all, I remain a constituent. If Phipps wishes to explain which questions from constituents are deemed proper for his response and which are not, it’s an explanation of potential interest to all voters in his district, and not just me.

He should offer this parsing of  constituent service now … verifiably, openly, and for attribution. That’s what greater transparency in local government is all about, right?

In my insistence on making these points, is there negativity, cynicism or anger?

Not much, if any. It may resemble the act of trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle in a pea soup fog while wearing mittens, but I’m not angry about it. Providentially, my colleague Jeff G. has helped me understand this “oversimplification” of anger with an excerpt from an interview with the late comedian, George Carlin.

April 3, 2004: Dirty old man: George Carlin on obscenity in the age of Ashcroft, by Charles Taylor (Salon)

... When people say, “What are you so angry about?” Well, that’s a terrible oversimplification because I don’t live an angry life as people who know me for five minutes or five years will say. They rarely see me in an angry mood. I get irritated like anyone else, in traffic or in a long line that’s not moving. But I don’t carry anger around. What I feel is a sense of betrayal by my species and by my culture — that they lost their way and misled me, too, to a degree.

I’m a disappointed idealist. I think of myself as a skeptic, a realist. I think the cynics are the people who left the gas tank on the Ford Pinto, companies that kill people and just cross them out because they can’t afford to retool. That’s a cynical position. But the saying goes, if you scratch a cynic, you find a disappointed idealist, and that’s what’s going on with me. Down deep and underneath, the flame still flickers. I wish for an idealist, utopic world but the realist in me says it’s never gonna happen because of the way they’ve structured power and money and control and the hierarchies they’ve established.

I'm not angry.

But I'm quite capable of voting my disappointment.


Recent columns:

April 23: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Anachronisms and intellectuals, here and there.

April 16: ON THE AVENUES: Say a prayer for NA Confidentialas it conducts this exclusive interview with Councilman Cappuccino.

April 9: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Complexities and simplicities in Boomtown.

April 8: ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL: The proper separation of church and council.

April 2: ON THE AVENUES: On brewing economic development.

Smith: "Sewer Utility Still Draining Tax Dollars."

Randy Smith lays it out. Read and discuss.

Sewer Utility Still Draining Tax Dollars

Quite a few of the incumbents, including Mayor Jeff “M” Gahan, are boasting about the state of our sewer system (Gahan is also the paid president of the city-owned municipal utility).

But it turns out that our elected officials have resumed an illegal shell game with taxpayer money once again being used to disguise the true state of the utility’s finances.

Just four years ago I asked voters in New Albany’s Fifth Council District to elect me. During that campaign, I pleaded with Gahan to promise to end that subsidy. He denied it was illegal and declined to make such a pledge.

I had thought the chicanery had finally ended when I read last year that the subsidy had been removed. But just to make sure, I perused the city’s 2015 budget. There, to my astonishment, was yet another transfer of $570,000 from the income tax fund (EDIT) to the sewer utility.

Read it all, right here

Keith Olbermann explains why you should boycott the NFL Draft and Mayweather-Pacquiao.

Matters of principle can be inconvenient, can't they?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

There oughta be a law against yard signs this big.

File under: Capitulation.

What they're saying: David White's video for WNAS.

As the weeks have passed in route to May's primary election, for which voting already is underway and will conclude on May 5 with what is still quaintly known as Election Day, I've referenced periodic public candidate statements of substance, generally unretouched, as lifted from social media and news reports. 

Again: Public. Not what was transmitted on the sly during a brief chat in a smoke-filled back room, but what has been transparent and in the open. Familiar gems such as "yard signs win elections, not people" and "donate to my campaign first, and maybe I'll have something of merit to say much, much later" have been omitted. 

That's because my aim has been to determine whether any at all of our declared candidates have had anything at all to say, and I've quoted all candidates, from any and all parties, whether or not they're involved in a contested race.

Happily, most have had something of value to offer. 


Democratic mayoral candidate David White offers an overview of his campaign platform in this video clip for WNAS, New Albany High School's television and radio station. White's primary opponent is the incumbent, Jeff Gahan.

David White's web site

David White's Fb page

What they're saying: Kevin Zurschmiede's video for WNAS.

As the weeks have passed in route to May's primary election, for which voting already is underway and will conclude on May 5 with what is still quaintly known as Election Day, I've referenced periodic public candidate statements of substance, generally unretouched, as lifted from social media and news reports. 

Again: Public. Not what was transmitted on the sly during a brief chat in a smoke-filled back room, but what has been transparent and in the open. Familiar gems such as "yard signs win elections, not people" and "donate to my campaign first, and maybe I'll have something of merit to say much, much later" have been omitted. 

That's because my aim has been to determine whether any at all of our declared candidates have had anything at all to say, and I've quoted all candidates, from any and all parties, whether or not they're involved in a contested race.

Happily, most have had something of value to offer. 


Republican mayoral candidate Kevin Zurschmiede offers an overview of his campaign platform in this video clip for WNAS, New Albany High School's television and radio station. Zurschmiede is unopposed in the primary.

Kevin Zurschmiede's web site

Kevin Zurschmiede's Fb page

Funds transfer: It's somehow comforting to know that Dan Coffey's back off the rails.

He's come a long way, hasn't he?

Once upon a time, Councilman Cappuccino opposed every last municipal expenditure, ranging from the (now) miniscule YMCA tithe all the way down to a buck ninety-eight post-it notes for city office staff.

These days, the caterwauling and finger-pointing are deployed to support the incessant hum of Jeff Gahan's wondrous Eternal TIF ATM, and there can be only one reason for that: Finally we elected a mayor who understands the way that transaction fees are supposed to work.

Coffey is unopposed. If you live in the 1st council district and would consider running for council as an independent, please let us know.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

When it comes to doubling down for the one true faith, size definitely matters.


As the depth of one's fealty is assured, so are the physical manifestations enhanced.


This much is clear.

Where before, 3rd district councilman Greg Phipps repeatedly and passionately pledged  -- both aloud and for written attribution -- that he was willing to stake his political career and council seat on the strength of transparent advocacy for Jeff Speck's downtown street network proposals, now he's changed the paradigm and is hitching his wagon to Jeff Gahan and the Democratic Party machine, trusting them non-analytically, without evidence.

After all, it is Gahan who absolutely and incessantly refuses to be open and above board about fading hope for Speck's proposals as a curative for our rotten streets. We've asked for tangible evidence to the contrary, and been greeted with chirping crickets. Gag order in place, Phipps is now aligned with cynical political non-transparency, and that's very, very depressing.

To slightly paraphrase Bluegill: We remember not so long ago when Phipps would have decried this type of insider gamesmanship. That shift, though -- that practiced, furtive glance in the other direction -- is the basis of political power in New Albany, particularly among the Democratic majority.

Too bad. I'm by no means angry, but sad at seeing once again what the local party machine can do to kneecap integrity.

"I Dig the Hustings" by Jeff Gahan and the Deaf Aids. Phase one, in which Doris gets her boasts.

With apologies to John Lennon.

One article you simply MUST read: "Cities for People—or Cars?"

Photo credit: Shutterstock, via The American Conservative

I'm pulling two paragraphs below as teaser, but you simply must read the entire essay at The American Conservative, which commissioned Charles "Strong Towns" Marohn to write it.

Let that soak in. New Urbanism in this context is neither a "liberal" nor "conservative" issue. It is a "people" issue.

Now, know this: Marohn's essay might as well be Platform Plank Numero Uno in the Baylor for Mayor independent campaign. It is principled, positive, and borne out in voluminous human experience, all across America and the planet:

New Urbanism is a civic design movement ... (advocating) the reforming development practices to support traditional patterns: building close-together homes in slow increments over time and storefronts pulled up to the street instead of buried behind nearly empty parking lots—designing cities and towns for people first and then for automobiles, not the other way around.

What good is independence without independent thinking? Please read Marohn's entire essay.

Cities for People—or Cars?: New Urbanism rediscovers centuries of walkable wisdom, by Charles Marohn (The American Conservative)

... The central task of the Millennial generation is not going to be expanding the boundaries of our cities but managing their contraction. We must find a way to unwind all of these widely dispersed and unproductive investments while providing opportunities for a good life—a modernized American Dream—in strong cities, towns, and neighborhoods. And we have to do all of this with the drag of large debts and a failed national system for growth, development, and economic management that largely associates auto-based development with progress.

This makes the work of the New Urbanists even more important. They are the ones who have applied the rigor needed to understand how a city really works. What are the nuances that make a neighborhood cohesive? Where do we place public buildings and how do we design them so they are not just functional but make a city wealthier? How do we make “good neighbors,” as Robert Frost might ask, without fences and a large setback?

4 days later: CM Phipps, can you show us where Mayor Gahan said or wrote this for attribution?


And this.

And then, some of these.

Mr. Disney scripts some mean gag orders, doesn't he?

Stockholm Syndrome: CM Phipps mouths the Gahan street grid gospel as the mayor remains shamefully mute.

Take time to consider Heinberg's "Fight of the Century: Localization in a Globalized World."

This excerpt from Richard Heinberg's latest book, Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels is heavy reading, but necessary.

It isn't possible to summarize briefly, so I'll extract three chunks. The first paragraph aptly sets the scene.

Fight of the Century: Localization in a Globalized World, by Richard Heinberg (Common Dreams)
As the world economy crashes against debt and resource limits, many countries are responding by attempting to salvage what are actually their most expendable features—corrupt, insolvent banks and bloated militaries—while leaving the majority of their people to languish in “austerity.” This has resulted in a series of uprisings, taking a variety of forms in different nations. Such conditions and responses will lead, sooner or later, to social as well as economic upheaval—and a collapse of the support infrastructure on which billions depend for their very survival.

As such, the emphasis returns to local strategies.

Thinking in terms of simplification, contraction, and decentralization is more accurate and helpful, and probably less scary, than contemplating collapse. It also opens avenues for foreseeing, reshaping, and even harnessing inevitable social processes so as to minimize hardship and maximize possible benefits.

I'm especially struck by Heinberg's description of popular uprisings and their likelihood. It is a them only recently considered by local writer Erica Rucker in LEO Weekly: America is burning: 
indignation and the end of civility.

A global popular uprising is the predictable result of governments’ cuts in social services, their efforts to shield wealthy investors from consequences of their own greed, and rising food and fuel prices. In recent years, recurring protests have erupted in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North America. The long-range aims of protesters are in many cases unformulated or unarticulated, but the immediate reasons for the protests are not hard to discern. As food and fuel prices squeeze, poor people naturally feel the pinch first. When the poor are still able to get by, they are often reluctant to risk assembling in the street to oppose corrupt, entrenched regimes. When they can no longer make ends meet, the risks of protest seem less significant—there is nothing to lose; life is intolerable anyway. Widespread protest opens the opportunity for needed political and economic reforms, but it also leads to the prospect of bloody crackdowns and reduced social and political stability.

"When the poor are still able to get by" reminds me of another bit of timeless wisdom.

Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

You may recognize it. That's Thomas Jefferson.

(Thanks to Jeff G for the link)

Friday, April 24, 2015

What I'm saying: Those candidates who have earned my vote are ...

Earlier today, you learned why I'm choosing not to vote for at-large council aspirant Brad Bell.

What I'm saying: Sorry, Brad Bell, but I cannot support your at-large candidacy.

I simply will not cast a vote in favor of any candidate failing to grasp the efficacy and sheer transformative potential of complete streets in New Albany, of which two-way traffic is an important core component, and yet not the only one.

In like fashion, and speaking only for myself, unequivocal support for two-way/complete streets and overall street grid reform in New Albany -- in summary, Jeff Speck's downtown street network proposals in their entirety -- constitutes my yardstick for determining candidate support on May 5.

leaving no doubt; unambiguous ... "an unequivocal answer" ... synonyms: unambiguous, unmistakable, indisputable, incontrovertible, indubitable, undeniable

Of the nine at-large candidates for council, I see three who qualify by this standard: Democrats John Gonder (incumbent) and Hannegan Roseberry, as well as Republican Al Knable. Of the remaining at-large contestants on the Democratic ledger, there is the incumbent Shirley Baird; challengers James Garner and Adam Keeler; and Bell (who plainly does not "get" it in the least).

GOP at-large hopefuls Bob Hornung and David Barksdale have not made their views known, insofar as I can tell. They still might. I'm listening.

Gonder and Roseberry have qualified for my vote in the primary, which is what matters to me today. Knable also has done so; in fact, he was perhaps the first of any to make his position known. He has my vote in November.

If you are not mentioned in the above paragraph and feel that I've overlooked something, please let me know. It might help me make a choice. Just remember this word: Unequivocal.

Democrats Cliff Staten and Greg Phipps (incumbent) are running unopposed for council in the 6th and 3rd districts, respectively. The 6th is my "pizzeria & pub" district, and I'd vote for Staten if permitted. The 3rd is my "home" district, and while Phipps admittedly has consistently espoused street grid reform, his recent phantom (and unattributed) endorsement of King Gahan the Silent's non-position on streets, accompanied by an ongoing refusal to answer constituent questions about it, are very dismaying, to say the least. While it can be no more than a symbolic gesture, I will withhold my vote from Phipps in the primary. It is my hope that he returns to reliability by November.

As for mayor, the only candidate who has been open and forthright about Speck advocacy is me, running as an independent, but my name will not be on the ballot until November.

I am unaware of Republican Kevin Zurschmiede's thoughts on the matter. He is running unopposed during the primary.

David White, a Republican running as a Democrat, obviously has crawled into bed with New Albany's trucking and heavy industrial civic value extractors, led by Padgett Inc., which is filing suit against the city to preserve the sacred interstate highways otherwise known as Market, Spring and Elm. Let's merely say that this is not at all encouraging.

And, as already should be painfully clear to inhabitants of the moon, and occupants of yurts somewhere in the Mongolian steppe, the incumbent mayor, Jeff Gahan, has prevaricated, obfuscated and utterly refused to take a public position on Speck's sorely needed plan, thus bizarrely kneecapping with supreme cowardice the very same project that people like Phipps have committed so much personal time and political capital in espousing.

 In some ways, I'd cherish the chance to vote for White in the primary, if for no other reason than as a counterweight to Gahan. Alas, White has refused all entreaties to take streets seriously and get genuinely principled about Speck.

If you're for Speck, then the only logical choice in the mayoral primary is "none of the above," and withholding your vote, as I'll be doing.

Now is the time for tactical urbanism in New Albany.

Fighting Padgett with paint (brushes).

We've talked about it, and now that Greg Phipps' new best incumbent friend intends to delay street grid reform for up to 18 months out of naked political terror, it's time for tactical urbanism to begin.

Let's roll.

If you're interested, let me know. I'm not speaking here of my campaign. Rather, it's about what we can do to jump-start initiative, and to dispense with the perennial top-down thinking of the usual suspects, who cannot undertake any worthwhile reform without first tying the largesse to campaign finance.

Tactical Urbanists Are Improving Cities, One Rogue Fix at a Time, by Emily Matchar (Smithsonian)

And city governments are paying attention, turning homemade infrastructure changes into permanent solutions

One rainy January night in Raleigh, North Carolina, Matt Tomasulo went out to commit what some would call vandalism. Along with his girlfriend and a friend, the graduate student walked around downtown hanging homemade signs on lampposts and telephone poles. The signs featured arrows pointing the way to popular downtown destinations, along with average walking times. Tomasulo called the project “guerrilla wayfinding.” His decidedly un-criminal intent was to promote more walking among Raleigh citizens.

Frustrated by the syrup-slow pace and red tape of the traditional civic change process, citizens across the country are bypassing the bureaucratic machine entirely and undertaking quick, low-cost city improvements without government sanction. They’re creating pop-up parks in abandoned lots. They’re installing free library boxes on street corners. They’re creating homemade traffic-slowing devices using temporary obstacles like potted plants to make their streets safer.

New York-based urban planner Mike Lydon coined the term “tactical urbanism” several years ago to describe the phenomenon. Now, Lydon and fellow planner Anthony Garcia have come out with a new book, Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change, offering a history of the movement and a guide for aspiring practitioners.

What I'm saying: Sorry, Brad Bell, but I cannot support your at-large candidacy.

And I feel bad about it. But I simply will not cast a vote in favor of any candidate failing to grasp the efficacy and sheer transformative potential of complete streets in New Albany, of which two-way traffic is an important core component, and yet not the only one.

Seals, branding mechanisms and a city anchored into place by sheer dullness of bureaucratic intent.

Cult of personality at last night's DemoDisneyDixiecrat gala.

Yesterday afternoon, when the kaka was hitting the fan, and City Hall at long last decided to release concrete information on local beverage vending at Boomtown and the summer concert series, you may have noticed the letterhead.

Looks like an official city seal, doesn't it? And yet, insofar as City Hall On the Down Low has conjured any semblance of a statement on seal swapping, it has denied that a logo now appearing on virtually every city-owned object not capable of fleeing to Birdseye is "official."

As here:

As McLaughlin dozes, Coffey expresses his dislike of fuddy-duddy steamboat seal-bearing visitors.

 ... The city's economic dishevelment facilitator, David Duggins, at long last became interested in the melee, and vaulted forward to volunteer this: The new symbol is a "marketing piece" and "branding mechanism," and not a new official seal.

Branding and marketing. By executive order. Small wonder we remain anchored.

My guess is that the new marketing mechanism was Duggins' idea all along. As a reader pointed out yesterday:

You know, for just being a "marketing tool", that anchor/bridge splat thingy sure acts like it's a city seal ...

If Bob "CeeSaw" Caesar is reading, please be advised that we await the Bicentennial Commission's financial statements as promised during the most recent council meeting.

Until then, here's Vic Megenity to ask a question about seals that almost surely will be stonewalled into oblivion. It's small wonder that Team Gahan has become allergic to two-way streets, as these are disturbing metaphors for two-way communications.

And they show no willingness to do that.


Concern over steamboat symbol (also available at N & T)

By l850, New Albany became the largest and most important city in Indiana, thanks primarily to its steamboat building.

Of the over 400 steamboats built, the Robert E. Lee was, according to the New Albany Ledger in l866, the grandest ever built. With its Rosewood furniture and crystal chandeliers, it proudly plied the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers until it was destroyed by fire in l882 with the loss of 21 lives. This steamboat had gained national fame by winning its famous race with the Natchez, from New Orleans to St. Louis in l870.

By the late l890s, the city of New Albany commemorated its steamboat building era by making the R.E. Lee its official symbol. That symbol has been prominently displayed with a huge Bruce Fox creation on the front of the City-County Building as well as printed documents and brochures. It was used prominently to celebrate our Centennial Celebration in 1913 and our Bicentennial in 2013.

Several months ago, the city started using a completely different symbol — twin arches with a giant anchor hanging between. That symbol is now used on all city printed material and most recently scores of city street signs have this prominently displayed. No one has been able to explain what this giant anchor represents.

According to the dictionary, it means to prevent movement and to hold fast. Why would anyone want this as a symbol of our city?

The board of directors of the Floyd Count Historical Society recently voted unanimously to keep the historic Robert E. Lee as our city’s official symbol and that was presented to the New Albany City Council on April 6. The council stated it had no input on this change, yet they took no action to make sure this symbol is not lost to history.

We are very alarmed and concerned that this new anchor symbol was apparently created by the mayor’s office without a vote being taken from democratically elected representatives or by involving the public in providing input if it was decided democratically to choose a new symbol. No one could explain to us who, why, where, when or how this symbol was created.

Every citizen of New Albany should be alarmed at the undemocratic method of forcing through this drastic change in our New Albany symbol that has proudly served us for well over 100 years.
The Floyd County Historical Society’s mission is to protect and preserve our rich history. We, therefore, call on all city officials from the mayor to the city council to take immediate steps to restore the Robert E. Lee as our official symbol.

Please do not steal this symbol of our rich history but rather embrace it for future generations.

— Victor Megenity, vice-president, Floyd County Historical Society, New Albany

Thursday, April 23, 2015

ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Anachronisms and intellectuals, here and there.

ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Anachronisms and intellectuals, here and there.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

When this column was published on March 28, 2013, there remained a measure of hope, albeit it faint and fleeting, that our local Democratic Party might somehow rally, reboot and become a positive contributor to the city's future.

But just as the USSR's brutal crushing of the Hungarian revolt in 1956 put an end to faith-based international illusions about Soviet-style communism as a potential curative, Jeff Gahan's term in office has only reinforced the local DemoDisneyDixiecratic Party's sycophantic and slush-choked self-preservation instincts.

In essence, New Albany is ruled by a troika: Gahan as mayor, Adam Dickey (party chairman and Redevelopment Commission power broker) and Shane Gibson (party treasurer and the city's "corporate" legal counsel), abetted by a handful of petty and pliant functionaries, and arriving at the vast majority of decisions as far from public sight as any Politburo edict ever was observed to be oozing from hairline cracks in the Kremlin's yards-thick masonry.

And yet, however much Gahan's $15-per-city-voter campaign war chest might be monetized from capital projects and calculated to reinforce the cabal's non-responsive existence, voters still have a choice. The single best way to exercise it is to refrain from voting for Gahan. This is the first, necessary step.

At least in November, there'll be a clear choice. On to the essay.


Francis Spufford’s novel is Red Plenty. The story takes place in the Soviet Union during the Khrushchev era, a time when ever so briefly, it appeared as though the USSR’s planned economy would make good on its promise of economic paradise. In fact, Khrushchev himself provided a firm date for the fruition: 1980.

(It didn’t happen, but you already knew that)

A narrator appears at the beginning of each of the novel’s main sections, providing a non-fictionalized background of historical events. The passages combine to serve as a concise Soviet era refresher course for those unfamiliar, and this is good, because nowadays, the USSR is fading from view everywhere in the world save for the deeper recesses of Vladimir Putin’s subconscious.

In the following excerpt, it is explained what occurred in Russia when the Bolsheviks were victorious in the Civil War, but found themselves still at odds with a distinctly Russian intellectual tradition, one actively opposing the Tsar, yet not necessarily welcoming the Bolshevik triumph.

The Bolsheviks had been having trouble with the old kind of intellectual ever since the revolution. The tiny professoriat they inherited – a fraction of an educated class which was itself a small fraction of Russia’s literate minority – was shaped by an ethical tradition more than a century old. Pre-revolutionary Russian intellectuals felt a sense of public obligation not shared by their equivalents abroad. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, it had been obvious to anyone educated that the tsarist regime was an embarrassing, oppressive anachronism. To be one of the lucky few who could read about the world outside therefore gave you a responsibility to try and do something about Russia; usually not in a directly political way, unless you were one of those with a very pronounced bump of idealism, but by building up an alternate Russia in culture, in novels and poetry and art where stupidity was not enthroned. Above all, to be an intellectual was to feel that you were, at least potentially, one of those who spoke truth to power. By teaching and learning at all, you were implicitly acting as a witness, as a prophet of a larger life.

Before going any further, exactly what is an intellectual?

An intellectual is a person who primarily uses intelligence in either a professional or an individual capacity. As a substantive or adjective, it refers to the work product of such persons, to the so-called "life of the mind" generally, or to an aspect of something where learning, erudition, and informed and critical thinking are the focus …

The real question is this: What happens when the life of the mind meets the daily reality of politics, which has been defined as “who gets what, when, and how”?

In Spufford’s novel, a flowering of youthful idealism in the USSR after the tyrant Stalin’s death shows signs of evolving into a skilled, influential – yes, even intellectual – force for change, one not seen since in the country since before the famine, purges and World War II, but ultimately the Communist Party’s domineering inertia proves far too entrenched to be dislodged. Intellectuals prove no match for bureaucratic time-servers whose governing habits are fixed, and self-interests pre-eminent.


So, what happens in New Albany when the life of the mind meets the daily reality of “politics as usual” … specifically, more years than not, of Democratic Party politics as usual?

Now, I’m not about to suggest a Soviet scenario from the age of Khrushchev is a perfect analogy with the decades-long political stalemate in New Albany.

At the same time, there are distinct similarities as they pertain to those of us hereabouts seeking to speak truth to power and prophesying a larger life – in short, those commonly finding themselves marginalized by the local Party’s fixed governing habits and traditionally insular self-interests.

Perhaps the common thread linking Russian Tsarism, Soviet Communism and our locally dysfunctional two-party political duopoly (Democrats as hegemonic in New Albany, Republicans in Floyd County) is that each one of them operated, or in our case continues to operate, in such a manner as to make it absolutely necessary for anyone capable of independent thought to reject their non-creative bureaucratic tendencies, and to seek instead alternate cultures where Spufford’s “stupidity” is not perpetually enthroned.

And, just as many Russian intellectuals regarded Communism as scant improvement on Tsarist rule, educated and progressive New Albanians understand that while the Democratic Party is largely inert and unresponsive, with year after year of underachieving gridlock in spite of 8-1 Democratic council majorities with sitting Democratic mayors, Republican Party rule would be Philistinism of an even more mind-numbing and pervasive variety.

Hence, the tendency of New Albanian intellectuals to seek refuge in the cool embrace of Progressive Pints.


Paraphrasing Spufford, “New Albany’s local Democrats have been having trouble with the intellectuals ever since LBJ lost the South.”

Given the Dixiecratic, ward-heeling tendencies of a local Democratic Party so long ensconced – so firmly enamored of right-wing Heavrinist twaddle that when Doug England anointed a longtime Republican named Irv Stumler to succeed him as Democratic mayor, it took weeks for anyone on the inside of the machine to get the joke, and they still didn’t – I find myself annually tolerating the Democratic Party’s municipal stranglehold as the only alternative to future Republican jihad, while not exactly popping corks at the sclerotic inability of Democrats to innovate during times that have fairly demanded agile improvisation.

Indeed, England’s colossal (and hilarious) Stumler miscalculation in 2011 provided a rallying point for the candidacy and eventual electoral success of Jeff Gahan, but significantly, the argument then was not about platforms and policies. Rather, it concerned who was a member of which club, and who was not. The miniscule differential in substance between the two intra-party camps was inconsequential, and moot still ruled.

My point: Forget the –isms. In the USSR, an entrenched and elephantine Communist Party could not make reform possible until it collapsed of its own weight, a quarter-century after Khrushchev’s sloppy ouster.

In New Albany, are we fated to endure the parallel track, remembering that Gorbachev’s “reforms” in the USSR (glasnost, perestroika) were far too little, way too late?

Accordingly, should our native intelligentsia celebrate the local Democratic Party’s recent turn toward new leadership?

To be sure, they’re younger and brighter than before. Some of them might actually have voted for Barack Obama, and are willing to defy the odds by openly admitting to it. Verily, one cannot entirely dismiss hope, however naïve, that the local Democratic Party will cease being a Tsarist-style anachronism, especially in the absence of any semblance of coherent Republican counterweight – itself, as always, a far less savory specter of dim-witted theocratic fascism than Democratic stasis.

But I will tell you this, and with considerable pride: I have no apologies whatsoever for harboring progressive inclinations and intellectual leanings … no regrets for witnessing, reading, thinking, dreaming, speaking truth to what passes for power and pointing to the possibility of a larger civic life in New Albany. After all, there is a noble progressive political and ethical tradition to uphold, even here in battered New Albania, and we remain hard at work “building up” the alternate culture. If we don’t, who will?

The local Democratic Party may or may not have noticed any of this, and if it has, comprehension may as yet be lacking.

But does that really matter?