Saturday, February 29, 2020

BOOKS: Capitalist Realism, by Mark Fisher.



I may have to read it twice. Why has it taken me so long? Many thanks to Jon.


Here's a bit about the late Mark Fisher. He committed suicide in 2017.

MARK FISHER’S “K-PUNK” AND THE FUTURES THAT HAVE NEVER ARRIVED, by Hua Hsu (The New Yorker)

If there was a single theme around which K-Punk’s eclectic energies organized, it was the future. Specifically: What happened to it? Fisher feared that we were losing our ability to conceptualize a tomorrow that was radically different from our present.

K-Punk attracted an avid readership, and, in 2009, Fisher published “Capitalist Realism,” a slim, powerful book about “the widespread acceptance that there is no alternative to capitalism.” Fisher saw signs of exhausted resignation in everything from the faces of his students to grim Hollywood movies set in the near-future (“Children of Men,” “Wall-E”) to “Supernanny,” a British reality show about parents unable to rein in their misbehaving kids. Fisher was interested not only in the political causes and cultural expressions of this exhaustion but in its emotional dimensions, too: the feelings of sadness or despondency that seem increasingly common across the political spectrum.

Here's the reading tally for January and February.

  • Capitalist Realism, by Mark Fisher
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe, by Thomas Cahill
  • The Prague Cemetery, a novel by Umberto Eco
  • Bavarian Helles (the beer style), by Horst Dornbusch
  • Strong Towns, by Charles Marohn
  • The Tragedy of Liberation, by Frank Dikkotter

LIVE TO EAT: The Future of Food is Female, a conversation by and about female chefs, on March 2.


It's slightly mind-boggling that Chef Edward Lee's presence in Louisville dates back almost two decades to his famous road trip to the Kentucky Derby and an appointment with destiny at 610 Magnolia. Since then Lee has managed the difficult feat of having universal appeal without egregiousness, and arguably his most important current work is coming from The Lee Initiative.

Following is a Monday event we previewed over at Food & Dining Magazine. I'll be in attendance and plan to file a report at F&D on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The Future of Food is Female, a conversation by and about female chefs, on March 2

The LEE Initiative is an acronym for Let’s Empower Employment: “We started the LEE Initiative in Louisville, Kentucky in 2015 after we saw a need for more diversity, more training, and more equality in our own restaurants.”

For International Women’s Month, The LEE Initiative is teaming up with Kentucky to the World to present “The Future of Food is Female,” a program in the Republic Bank Foundation Speaker Series. The event takes place on Monday, March 2 at the Kentucky Center Bomhard Theater (501 West Main Street, Louisville). A reception begins at 5:30 p.m. and the program kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, February 28, 2020

37 years ago today, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen."


On February 28, 1983, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" -- the 256th and final episode of M*A*S*H in the series' 11th season -- aired to a viewership of 105.97 million and a total audience reckoned at 121.6 million, both records. Only one other event, Super Bowl XLIV, has surpassed it in terms of total viewership, although not in ratings or share.

Mortality is steadily whittling away at the show's cast and crew. McLean Stevenson and Larry Linville are long gone. Harry Morgan died in 2011, Wayne Rogers in 2015, William Christopher in 2016 and David Ogden Stiers in 2018. Producer and writer Gene Reynolds died at 96 earlier this month.

An old W.C. Fields line comes in handy at times like these: "The ranks are thinning."

It has been a very long time since I gave a damn about any television show, but M*A*S*H was very important to me when I was younger. I've always wanted to be a member of a team like that, not a solo performer -- part of a band or of an ensemble. There have been glimpses here and there, and these have been the best of times.

A link from 2018; make that "37."

'M*A*S*H' Finale, 35 Years Later: Untold Stories of One of TV's Most Important Shows

So, what was M*A*S*H's secret? The dramedy about the trials and tribulations of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit during the Korean War was really a love story. In building the landmark series, its cast and crew forged a bond of love and respect that lives to this day: a love for truth in storytelling, a love for the audience they were entertaining and a love for each other.

Someone once asked Harry Morgan (who played Col. Sherman Potter from seasons four through 11 and who died in 2011) if working on M*A*S*H had made him a better actor. He responded that it had made him a better person.

Recommended COVID-19 reading: "The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History," by John Barry.


In 2005, just as the 7th edition of Gravity Head started (today's is #22), I came down with pneumonia. The book already on my nightstand became accompaniment to a period of forced convalescence: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John Barry.

Arguably this wasn't the ideal choice given the circumstances, but Barry's account of the deadly influenza pandemic's arrival at the end of World War I was and remains riveting reading. I consider it one of the most influential books I've ever read.

ON THE AVENUES: The 32 most influential books in my life.


There's also a solid American Experience documentary called "Influenza 2018," released in 1998.

Returning to Barry’s book, the opening chapters are given over to the author’s recounting of the history and development of medical science. In essence, at the dawn of the 20th century medicine had changed little for 2,000 years owing to a generalized reluctance to apply scientific methods to the theory and practice of it.

Medicine remained an obstinate realm of quackery, of humors, miasmas, and the interference of theology with science -- you know, as Donald Trump and Mike Pence still view it.

Eventually technology provided instruments such as the microscope, and daring pioneers proposed to link biology and chemistry to a potential doctor’s educational qualifications, but for the most part these innovations were ignored and the bleeding and mustard plasters continued with the full approval of society’s movers and shakers.

In fact, 19th-century American medical schools were an unvarnished joke, accepting anyone able to afford tuition irrespective of educational background. Poorly educated and barely trained doctors became increasingly discredited in America, while in Europe, researchers like Pasteur and Koch raced ahead with crucial scientific discoveries with vast implications for the future.

The balance only began to shift when a small and determined group of visionaries took advantage of a huge bequest and created Johns Hopkins as the first research university in the United States, patterning it on European lines.

Author Barry points out that these founders of Johns Hopkins proceeded with their organizational work as though in a vacuum, because American medicine’s degradation at the time was so complete that they could draw on no foundation or local experience for such an endeavor. Instead, they modeled Johns Hopkins on Europe’s research universities … and succeeded in the end.

By persevering, Barry notes, these visionaries created “a revolution from nothing.”

Following is the full text of a 2004 review by Peter Palese of Barry's classic book by The Journal of Clinical Investigation, as cited at the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

---

John M. Barry. The great influenza The epic story of the deadliest plague in history.

(2004)

The great influenza: the epic story of the deadliest plague in history is a great book. It is well conceived, well researched, and extremely well written. The appropriate audience goes beyond the interested physician, scientist, or medical student. The book will also appeal to history buffs, who will be fascinated by the dangerous mix of politics, war, and pestilence presented here. In the first third of the book, the word “influenza” rarely appears, because author John M. Barry is painting the landscape of science, medicine, and politics in the pre-World War I era. What comes to life in these pages is the sad state of US science and medicine at the time. For example, admission to US medical schools was dependent not on academic achievement, but rather on whether the applicant would pay the tuition. This changed with the Flexner Report, published in 1910 by Abraham Flexner, and with the establishment of such institutions as the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, ably led by Simon Flexner (brother of Abraham). As highlighted by Barry, the other major change leading to the modern era of American medicine was the founding of Johns Hopkins Medical School at the very end of the 19th century, with William Welch as the legendary force behind it. For anyone who has had the opportunity to interact with Johns Hopkins University, this introductory chapter in Barry’s book is mandatory reading.

The writing is facile and gripping at the same time, and the author does an extraordinarily good job of creating a fluent narrative from historical research. Even when Barry describes the replication of the influenza virus in the cell, the writing is easily comprehensible and convincing. He creates numerous wonderful images, such as likening the translation of a messenger RNA to reading Braille. When it comes to the actual influenza pandemic of 1918, Barry does a brilliant job. The facts of this extraordinary event are well presented and discussed. The reader is given the diverse data on the number of people who died during this pandemic; descriptions of those who did the analysis and the basis for arriving at the different numbers allow the reader to decide for him- or herself what the best estimates are. A conservative — and the most convincing — estimate is 50 million. In the context of the present world population of six billion, compared with two billion in 1918, this would translate into 150 million deaths today.

The political and military scene of 1917 as described by Barry is equally fascinating. Despite major scientific and public health advances, many of the influenza casualties resulted from uninformed and misguided decisions by military and political leaders. Hiram Johnson is quoted as saying, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” This statement certainly remains true some eighty years later. When Barry recounts the suspicion that “German agents . . . from submarines” are suspected of having brought influenza to the United States, we can see that propaganda is not new either. Barry raises the frightening possibility that President Wilson was weakened by influenza in April 1919 and that this caused him to give in to the demands by the European allies, which resulted in the unfortunate outcome of the negotiations at Versailles.

The book is particularly powerful when it describes the actual disease and its effect on the population. The outbreak in Philadelphia must have been horrendous, with 4,597 influenza deaths in a single week. The effects of influenza in other parts of the world are described as equally harrowing. Barry quotes a report about an Alaskan village in which “ . . . it was quite impossible to estimate the number of dead as the starving dogs had dug their way into many huts and devoured the dead . . . ”

A few good things did come from this devastating pandemic. A restructuring of the country’s public health system had its beginning as a direct result of the events of 1918, and efforts were made to push for the establishment of the NIH, which became a reality about ten years later.

Overall, this book is engrossing reading, with plenty of relevance for our own time, which is threatened by natural (and/or deliberately released) emerging pathogens. It is a question not of if, but of when we will be faced with another epidemic of this magnitude. On the last page of the book, Victor Vaughan is quoted on the 1918 influenza pandemic: “Civilization could have disappeared within a few more weeks.”

(Colonial Manor edition): GREEN MOUSE presents NAWBANY WEEK IN REVIEW for 28 February 2020.


Good morning, and HAPPY GRAVITY HEAD.

There's really only one important New Agony story from the past week. Rumors from previous weeks were confirmed, and it was revealed that the Colonial Manor shopping center on Charlestown Road was sold to new owners, and also that a plan had been minted by these new owners for its revival ... without any involvement whatever from City Hall.

Hmm, how could it be? Doesn't the mayor write all our business plans?

Of course, this didn't stop Gahan's goons from claiming credit, or the Redevelopment Star Chamber from tithing a cool million for infrastructure improvements. They're nakedly shameless, and largely unable to tell truth unvarnished by sheer spin.

But in reality, as opposed the Gahan dreamworld, this is a far better outcome than the one proffered as an election year gambit by the mayor-for-life and his sycophants in 2019. Let's let councilman Al Knable explain. His take is more diplomatic than it needs to be, but otherwise lands right on the money.

Al Knable NA City Council at Large

February 25

I’m happy to see a truly private-public partnership afoot to move this important area of New Albany forward.

I applaud the efforts of the citizens in the surrounding neighborhood, the Economic Redevelopment team-including the Mayor- and the Hoagland Group for bringing us to this auspicious point.

The city’s pledge of $1,000,000 for infrastructure improvement is wholly appropriate and has my full support.

The arrangement announced today is clearly superior to the 2019 proposal, rejected by a majority of the City Council, which would have required a purchase price of approximately $2,600,000 (significantly above assessed value) in taxpayer money and cast our city’s government in the awkward role of commercial property manager.

A savings of $1,600,000 and major private investment in our community validates the Council’s 2019 decision and the patience of all involved.

I join everyone in welcoming today’s encouraging news and the promise of better days ahead for Colonial Manor.

City Hall's spellbindingly self-serving propaganda can be found here: City Partners with Investor to Revitalize Charlestown Road Corridor.

John Boyle's coverage at the News&Bune features testimony from 5th district councilman Josh Turner.

Colonial Manor to receive significant facelift with multimillion-dollar investment

NEW ALBANY — A point of emphasis for New Albany City Council member Josh Turner has been his push to “revive District 5.”

It’s his hope that the district he serves can soon witness a transformation, at which point that motto will become “come thrive in District 5” ...

... Turner said he’s happy to see this type of project come to the area, noting the grassroots effort from residents it took to get this outcome. Some early plans from the city’s previous attempts to purchase the property included residential developments, which Turner did not see as a good fit.

“If the current administration had its way there would have been housing here, and I’m really glad a private investor stepped up and is bringing some much needed amenities and services to the area,” he said. “This is a big win for the district.”

Last April the city council rejected the redevelopment commission’s plan to purchase the property for $2.6 million.

Though the city is not the main driver of the project, it is still partnering with the developer in the form of a $1 million investment.

In other developments, it appears that Team Gahan's appalling public housing policies have resulted in taxpayers absorbing a big bill for the mayor's avarice.

GREEN MOUSE SAYS: Has Bob Lane settled his lawsuit against NAHA for wrongful termination?


An analysis of the local chain newspaper's "opinion" page reveals something that should surprise no living human.

ON THE AVENUES: There is a complete absence of diversity among regular News and Tribune columnists.



Prohibitionism must be guarded against.

BEER WITH A SOCIALIST: Paternalism, classism and prohibitionism in Family Dollar's neighborhood.


And, with Harvey Weinstein down for the count ...

New Albany too? How will #MeToo play out here at the grassroots?


In closing, a reminder: Why wait for Lent to give up organized religion?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Milton Friedman was wrong. Capitalism doesn't foster freedom — it produces autocratic workplaces and tyrannical billionaires."


To continue a barroom conversation ... a complete essay.

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Capitalist Freedom Is a Farce, by Rob Larson (Jacobin)

Milton Friedman was wrong. Capitalism doesn't foster freedom — it produces autocratic workplaces and tyrannical billionaires.

For all the changes of the last fifty years, the conservative classics have held their place surprisingly well. Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom and Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom are still featured on Breitbart’s online bookstore. Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that “Milton Friedman should be the Bible for young people, or anybody, trying to understand capitalism and free markets.” Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, celebrates Hayek and Friedman in his book, while Ben Shapiro holds up Friedman as a conservative icon in National Review.

But what then are the liberty and freedom that conservatives celebrate? And does capitalism advance or restrain them?

Freedom is regarded so highly because in a way it contains all the pleasures of life — it’s the ability to do what you want, within the limits of material conditions and a human lifespan. However you like to spend your time, whoever you love, whatever you like to work on or laugh at, all represent the tremendous value of social freedom.

According to John Stuart Mill, the basic principle of freedom was that “the only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” The philosopher Isaiah Berlin later described this idea as “negative freedom,” or freedom from coercion by others. Berlin also suggested a “positive freedom” — the freedom to do different things, rather than freedom from the choices of others. Instead of asking, “What power centers control me,” positive freedom asks, “What am I free to do with the world’s opportunities and resources?”

The traditional philosophical view of capitalism is that while it does not provide a “positive freedom” to a fair share of the world’s production of goods, it provides a “negative freedom” from economic tyranny by leaving consumers and workers free to choose among different options. This is the view of Friedman and Hayek, and they insist it’s just the right kind of liberty. Many generations of capitalism’s defenders have agreed.

But any realistic review of the market economy reveals a different picture: capitalism limits both positive and negative freedom. It fosters a huge buildup of private power by concentrating individual wealth and entrenching corporate control over markets (along with mercilessly destroying environmental systems and thus the freedom of future generations). Capitalism not only fails to provide a “positive freedom” to a fair share of the economy — it fails to preserve “negative freedom” from the power plays of the 1 percent’s corporate property.

When GM and Ford decided to desert cities like Detroit and Flint for poorer towns and countries, they denied their former workforce any positive freedom to enjoy the industry’s enormous revenues — revenues the workers themselves had created. When Martin Shkreli’s pharmaceutical company hiked the price of a life-saving patented drug from $13.50 to $750, effectively snatching it away from disease sufferers, it drove dependent users into poverty or bankruptcy — a frightening restriction of negative freedom. When Amazon held a sweepstakes to see which North American city would be blessed with its new headquarters, and mayors across the continent threw billions in tax concessions at the company’s feet, Amazon wielded enormous power over the destiny of millions of people — laying bare how capitalist investment decisions can dramatically limit human liberty.

Capitalism’s defenders insist that, as Friedman and his wife Rose wrote in their book Free To Choose, “When you enter a store, no one forces you to buy. You are free to do so or go elsewhere. . . . You are free to choose.” They applied the same argument to workers: if you don’t like your job or career, find another one.

But other figures have seen the market’s alleged negative freedom quite differently. Consider Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave and self-taught intellectual. He concluded:


Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other. . . . The man who has it in his power to say to a man, you must work the land for me for such wages as I choose to give, has a power of slavery over him as real, if not as complete, as he who compels toil under the lash. All that a man hath he will give for his life.

Here Douglass was suggesting that markets allow the exercise of unaccountable power — the enemy of freedom. But how could a free person be “enslaved” to wages, with so many different options for purchasing goods and finding different careers?

One answer, as critics of capitalism have pointed out for centuries, is that markets concentrate and often tend toward monopoly. From the well-known Gilded Age monopolies in oil and steel to the Silicon Valley tech giants of today, the dynamics of capitalism generate unbelievable concentrations of private power. And while antitrust law is intended to constrain such monopolies, as the eminent economist Alfred Chandler pointed out long ago, commenting on the 1890 Sherman Act, at best such statutes tend to “create oligopoly where monopoly existed and to prevent oligopoly from becoming monopoly.” Large agglomerations of unaccountable power — not the freedom-enhancing markets of Friedmanite fantasies — are the stuff of mature capitalism.

Douglass’s larger point, however, was that market economies treat basic necessities as commodities to be bought and sold, including food and shelter. Capitalism compels people to find work in labor markets, on such terms as they can find and subject to the tyrannical rule of jumped-up capitalist bullies, from Rockefeller to Bezos.

This is a radical infringement on positive and negative liberty. In order to get the rudiments of life, most people must submit to the utter dictatorship of the modern workplace — the day-to-day schedule changes, the dressings-down, the restrictions on freedom of speech. No wonder Douglass added: “As the laborer becomes more intelligent he will develop what capital he already possess — that is the power to organize and combine for its own protection.” Collective organization by workers — that bugaboo of capitalist partisans like Friedman — was the true guarantor of freedom.

But wait — Friedman and company say they have a trump card: “Since the household always has the alternative of producing directly for itself,” Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom, “it need not enter into any exchange unless it benefits from it.” The power of “exit” restricts the potentially coercive power of the labor market.

Yet Friedman’s picture of the average family is so rosy it borders on the oblivious. What he refuses to recognize is that producing goods typically requires capital, the tools and equipment used to make products.

And capital is enormously concentrated. Inequality scholar Thomas Piketty has found that the richest 10 percent of US households own 70 percent of total national wealth, and the top 1 percent alone owns 35 percent. Crucially, corporate stock, which represents ownership of the productive capital that’s required to make goods and thus enable people to “produce for themselves,” is just as concentrated, with the richest 5 percent of households holding 67 percent of US equities, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Somehow the Chicago School Nobelist fails to realize that the average individual — the individual around which his entire philosophy is allegedly based — is held hostage to the whims of those who own the productive economy, who can decide how wretched our work lives will be and which cities will get to have an economic future. From break times to ergonomics to maternity leave to acceptable workplace speech, the upper crust calls the shots and makes a mockery of “capitalist freedom.”

Liberals, for their part, are often prepared to push for more “positive freedom” in the form of entitlements to health care, education, and a safe environment. But democratic control over investment and production would represent a far more promising model for liberty, since achieving worker control would replace capitalism’s profit motive with solidarity — the drive to support and collaborate with our fellow men and women.

Doing so would end giant firms’ power to sweep the legs out from under a major city by relocating overseas, or to ruin their employees’ work lives by speeding up production or surveilling them. Decisions made by cooperatives of workers, elected and subject to recall by their colleagues, could be made in a matrix of social solidarity and thus significantly limit the power-mongering we’re used to from today’s corporate world.

We on the Left cannot surrender the language of freedom to the Right. Having a critical analysis of capitalist corporations is great, but socialists must also promote the transformative potential of socialist freedom — both to inspire the hard work needed to change the world and to give our struggles a north star.

In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek grudgingly laments that “the promise of greater freedom has become one of the most effective weapons of socialist propaganda.” Hear, hear!

GREEN MOUSE SAYS: Has Bob Lane settled his lawsuit against NAHA for wrongful termination?


(Verified to have fulfilled the 30-minutes-or-less rule)

The grapevine is abuzz with hot rumors that the wrongfully terminated Bob Lane, former head of the New Albany Housing Authority, reportedly has accepted a six-figure settlement from Deaf Gahan's minions, such as to keep Lane's lawsuit against the city from going to court.

Yes, we know: any such settlement will be couched in carefully worded legalese to the effect that Gahan's sycophants aren't admitting to guilt, and merely wish to put the lawsuit to rest so we can all move forward, etc, etc ... whatever.

Those of us outside the Kool Aid Tent can still see the truth quite clearly; Gahan and the goons remain sufficiently crooked that each of them requires two daily helpers just to get their pants screwed on right.

Congratulations to Bob Lane. He's a far better person than his vacuous oppressors.

Previously: 

Bob Lane will serve as interim director of the South Bend Housing Authority, making Jeff Gahan's dismissal of Lane even more questionable.

GIVE GAHAN A PINK SLIP: (Friday) Jeff Gahan fired NAHA's Bob Lane to promote David Duggins, but now it's time for voters to do some firing of their own at the ballot box.

Gahan's public housing putsch: "We won't allow the City to revise history to their liking."

Newspaper letter writer savages a failing, flailing and floundering Duggins at the NAHA, and follows the bread crumbs back to Deaf Gahan.

Seeking re-election, county councilman Dale Bagshaw won't accept campaign donations from PACS, special interests or those doing business with Floyd County.


Just a few days ago we spied a healthy phenomenon.

Ryan Fenwick (Louisville) and Nick Vaughn (Floyd County) reject developer, contractor and special interest campaign donations. Shouldn't this be a trend, Jeffrey?


Bravo to Dale Bagshaw for this expression of principle. Let's hope more candidates in the 2020 local election cycle do the same. Maybe even Democrats ...

As most know, I am running for re-election to the Floyd County Council. The council is the fiscal body of the county and as such is solely responsible for allocating and appropriating funds spent in the county. The council does not negotiate contracts, and is not responsible for roads/bridges or zoning issues. That’s what the county commissioners are responsible for.

However, in the spirit of transparency and accountability: I have never, nor will I, accept donations this election from pacs, special interests, or those doing business with the county. I will instead accept donations from individuals and entities that believe in small fiscally conservative government, as I do.

Respectfully, Dale Bagshaw

ON THE AVENUES: There is a complete absence of diversity among regular News and Tribune columnists.


It is recorded that the American president Lyndon Baines Johnson, presumably the most powerful single person in the world at the time, was asked why he didn’t terminate the loathsome FBI director and public policy liability J. Edgar Hoover.

Johnson replied with a back country Texas aphorism.

“I'd rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

LBJ omitted a little-known but perfectly plausible third possibility: outside the tent pissing, but pissing in the opposite direction from the tent, which describes my own coordinates during the Great Sabbatical of 2020.

If you’re a slobbering, monetizing Gahanite, a view of my back is about the best variety of neutrality you can expect of me, although I’ve never come anywhere close to harboring the malice (or ugly raw power) of J. Edgar.

Now 59 years into this great experiment called “my life,” I placidly accept the unlikelihood of ever feeling truly comfortable inside any of society’s tents. This isn’t to imply a general refusal to cooperate or to be constructive on a case by case basis. If it makes sense, I’ll pitch in and help.

I merely care not to belong to any club that would have me as a member, and given the tendency of tent dwellers to insist on a certain level of Kool Aid consumption to promote sheep-like conformity, it’s just best that I wheel my beer cooler into the fresh evening air and find other flowers to water.

We're all happier that way.

---

As for my sabbatical, it’s moving along quite smoothly, thank you. I reckon a success rate of 85% in removing myself from local political commentary; with the exception of this column, if something takes more than a half hour to research and compose, it’s not allowed.

Consequently I’m breaking down complicated ideas into smaller, easier digested chunks and trying to be more efficient in organizing my time and taking notes, which also comes in handy with my daily Food & Dining Magazine web site posts and a steadily escalating commitment to blogging about beer at the Pints&union homepage.

One challenge I made to myself this year was to renew ON THE AVENUES. By reducing the volume of my overall publishing regimen, hopefully there’d be more time to write original weekly columns rather than give in to the temptation of plagiarizing myself or relying on reruns. So far in 2020, I’ve managed nine consecutive “fresh” columns. It's a victory.

Today’s column will be a bit shorter than usual. So much for the wind-up; here’s the pitch.

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Late in the evening of Tuesday, February 25, I squeezed into a full body condom and pointed my browser at the News and Tribune web site.

Somewhere during the course of reading elsewhere, I’d seen a reference to diversity on newspaper opinion pages, and it prompted the recollection that favored News and Tribune columnist Tom May has two different photographs to delineate between his “always about one variety among dozens of religions” column and his other, “general interest with marginally less religion although it’s often still there” column.

(Why does one writer get two placements? They're never answered this question.)

I clicked on the local chain newspaper’s “opinion” tab and scrolled to the bottom, until I could scroll no more. The “diversity” on display at this portal was precisely as I’d imagined it would be, which is to say none at all, and so I took another step and recorded what was revealed.

The sample range was February 7th through the 26th, which represents the “opinion” tab’s available range of dates. News and Tribune guest columns identified as such were omitted, like George Shultz’s recent contribution about the NAFC referendum. News and Tribune staff contributions from editors Duncan and Morris were included.

Here are the results, running chronologically (backward) as the columns appeared; the number following their names is the total number of columns by the writer during the time period referenced.

Mike Matthews 2

Morton Marcus 3

Scott Underwood (1)

Susan Duncan (editor) 1

Leo Morris (2)

Ronnie Ellis 1

Terry Cummins 3

Chris Morris (editor) 1

Lindon Dodd 3

Tom May (religion column) 2

Mark Bennett 1

Lee Hamilton 1

Tom May (general interest column) 1

Terry Stawar 2

Mike Lunsford 1

Barb Anderson 1

John Krull 2

Deb Kelly 1


That's 26 columns by 15 white male columnists, and three by three white female columnists.

Furthermore, of the 15 white males shown here, it’s likely that only one (Underwood) or perhaps even none are younger than 40 years of age; my guess would be an average age in the late 50s. Basically, there are no young faces at all, and apparently millennials need not apply.

Obviously there are no black faces, male or female, nor Latino/Latina faces. It’s possible that LGBTQ faces are represented, though not to my knowledge (and not from a perusal of column content).

Tom May’s dual presence alone guarantees a consistent Christian bias in terms of religion, although he’s not the only columnist from the sampling to reference religion. Needless to say, there are no Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, or Druid faces.

The News and Tribune recently touted its success at winning journalism awards generated by its own parent organization. These invariably strike me as self-serving and honestly laughable, but admittedly I’m in no position to judge their relative merits. All power to the regular news and production staff members who win these awards.

At the same time, any one of us can take a glance around the community and see the human diversity on display here -- perhaps not to the extent of some locales on the planet, but vastly more evident than it ever was when an old white guy like me was growing up here.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at these “opinionated” faces.

Is this really the best the award-winning News and Tribune can do?

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Recent columns:

February 20: ON THE AVENUES: For downtown New Albany, escaping reality might soon be a bridge too far.

February 13: ON THE AVENUES: War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

February 6: ON THE AVENUES Alas, New Albany is less of a place without a bookstore.

January 30: ON THE AVENUES: Dear Holocaust deniers: If you don't like this post, unfriend me now.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

SHANE'S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Elephant in the room? Make mine pink -- or was that punk?


One might be even more of an elephant in the room by wearing a gorilla suit.

The expression "elephant in the room" (usually "the elephant in the room") or "the elephant in the living room" is a metaphorical idiom in English for an important or enormous topic, problem, or risk that is obvious or that everyone knows about but no one mentions or wants to discuss because it makes at least some of them uncomfortable or is personally, socially, or politically embarrassing, controversial, inflammatory, or dangerous.

It is based on the idea/thought that something as conspicuous as an elephant can appear to be overlooked in codified social interactions and that the sociology/psychology of repression also operates on the macro scale. Various languages across the world have words that describe similar concepts.

Here's an excellent compendium about other ways we use the word "elephant."

The elephant in the language, by Grant Barrett

Today I want to talk about elephants.

One of the joys of my work as a dictionary editor is finding arbitrary but interesting connections among words, such as those colloquial expressions in English that have to do with elephants.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A potpourri of the cringeworthy: "Urban Dinosaurs: It's Time These 8 Things Went Extinct In Our Cities."


This sounds familiar.

A lot of suburban chain retailers have been wrangled by city regulations into moving their parking to the side or back of the store, but they've moved the "front" of the store to the back right along with the parking lot, surmising (probably correctly) that that's how most of their customers will be entering. The problem is it creates a dead street that's hostile to human activity. Like this gem of an example of malicious compliance, in which a transformer box and some landscaping send a clear message: "Okay, they told us we had to have a door facing the sidewalk. They didn't tell us we had to make one our customers would ever want to use!"

In other words, Jeff Gahan's $15 million Reisz Mahal, which won't have an entrance from Main Street.

Urban Dinosaurs: It's Time These 8 Things Went Extinct In Our Cities, by Daniel Herriges (Strong Towns)

 ... I hit up the Strong Towns Community site—our dedicated platform for Strong Towns members to meet each other and ask questions, offer advice and spark discussion—to crowd-source some ideas for a list of design features that should go the way of the dinosaur, lest the next generation be forced to cringe 25 years from now at our hard-to-reverse bad choices. And our brilliant members obliged with some good ones.

Some of these pertain to the public realm—the streets, the sidewalks, things the government itself ought to permanently stop doing. Some of them are about the private realm: things we might consider prohibiting developers from ever doing on their own land, because it harms and degrades the public realm when they do.

Either way, as a Strong Towns advocate, I'd be happy if I never saw another one of these urban design mistakes again in my city. How about you?

Here's the list. To read the reasons why, click through to Strong Towns.

  • Sloped parking.
  • Snout houses.
  • Ultra-wide residential streets.
  • Four-lane death roads.
  • Retail that turns its back on the street.
  • "Pod" subdivisions.
  • Reeeeeeeally long blocks.
  • Huge curb radii.

BEER WITH A SOCIALIST: Paternalism, classism and prohibitionism in Family Dollar's neighborhood.


Consider this item from the Big Apple in 2012. The topic is soda, not beverage alcohol -- and from a time when hard seltzer was only a glimmer in a cynical marketer's eye.

The Classist Side of Mayor Bloomberg's War on Soda, by Jen Doll (The Atlantic)

Those who've lived in New York City for a while remember fondly a time when not much of anything was banned at all. But there's an even darker side to bans. They widen the divide between the rich, who can find a way around them, and the poor, who perhaps cannot.

 ... there's an even darker side to bans. They have a socio-economic impact, by which I mean, some people are more affected by bans than others. Bans widen the divide between the rich, who can find a way around them, and the poor, who perhaps cannot. And while Bloomberg's tactics are obviously part of what people dub a "nanny state" ideology, in which he's telling us what to do, he's telling some people what to do more than others. Rich people, among whom one is billionaire Bloomberg himself, are not going to be impacted by a soda ban the same way poor New Yorkers are—if the wealthy prefer huge bottles of soda, they'll have no trouble continuing to find them. And the problem that Bloomberg's trying to "fix"—obesity—is, according to the stats and research, a "poor" problem, not a rich one. This makes Bloomberg's move seem ever the more paternalistic. A class of people whom he's judged unable to make the proper decision for themselves is now being told what to do, by someone who knows better.

I mention this because of a local episode three weeks ago, and the obvious symmetry with the notion of top-down classism.


GREEN MOUSE SAYS: Neo-prohibitionism, foppery and hypocrisy at Indiana Landmarks as Family Dollar on Vincennes gets a perfectly legal alcohol sales permit.


I’m no fan of Family Dollar, but in terms of alcohol sales permits, what exactly has the company done wrong? If the store is located too close to the school, the local ATC board would not receive a recommendation to approve it. If the store elects to sell to minors, you can rest assured the ATC will intervene, as it does elsewhere. There are very few state institutions that perform their functions as capably as the ATC, trust me.

What sort of upper crust prohibitionist’s rationale is being advanced here?

It is my understanding that some form of appeal is being pursued by the group contesting Family Dollar's alcohol permit, all of whom are of a socio-economic status suggesting they'd not set foot in such a store whether or not booze was available.

At one point in a Facebook conversation that I can't quote exactly because subsequently I was blocked from it, a friend of one of the complainants began discoursing about the need for historic preservationists to intervene in situations where low-income people don't know how to manage their own discretionary income.

Really, Fred?

If I'm exaggerating, it's inadvertent, such was the blatancy of the paternalism on display. All in all, the topic is a trip wire for me, as I'm compelled to remind all and sundry that classism of this nature was a key component of America's disastrous Prohibition experiment, and as the Family Dollar situation sadly illustrates, it remains so today as a tool in the arsenal of those do-gooders who maintain one standard for low-income residents and another for the better heeled.

Returning to Doll's soda commentary ...

 ... none of these bans really serve to get to the point, anyway. If we're to talk of equity, we should also ask why healthy, particularly organic, fresh food costs more than packaged, processed food, why lean turkey or chicken is priced higher than the bad, fatty cuts, or why in some cases the cost of milk is greater than the cost of soda. It seems that a better way to promote health to all would by making it easier for everyone to get healthy, good food—not by "outlawing" the bad stuff, or soda, which beverage industry folks say isn't the cause of the problem in the first place, citing reports that say sugared drink consumption has decreased while our obesity issues keep increasing.

In the Family Dollar debate, which ended when I was censored by the leading elements, one point I kept making was that if the alcohol license in question were being acquired by an investor prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to save an old building and serve $15 martinis, there'd be no objection whatever.

In fact, the Indiana Landmarks organization supports such outcomes -- and if enough of these outcomes occur in a concentrated vicinity (for instance, downtown New Albany) gentrification will have taken place, at which point the low income people will be displaced from now-unaffordable housing and compelled to commute from a greater distance to work the same lesser-skilled jobs at the new food and drink businesses.

Here's a definition of classism.

"Sociologists have spent a great deal of time studying how populations become stratified by income level. Classism is defined as a set of practices and beliefs which disadvantage groups based on education and socioeconomic status. Classism is the ability of upper income and/or well-educated populations to maintain their privilege at the expense of less educated, lower socioeconomic groups."

And apparently because we need reminding, here's a very good account of Prohibition's tyranny.

Prohibition Was America’s First War on Drugs, by Kim Kelly (Teen Vogue)

Now that the year 2020 is officially in full swing, nostalgia for the Roaring Twenties has come Lindy Hopping back into view. The 1920s were a decade still fondly remembered in the U.S. imagination for shorter skirts, high spirits, and hot jazz licks, but it wasn’t all flappers and ragtime. The decade was also rife with poisonous bathtub gin, murderous Mafia dons, and the merciless rat-a-tat of tommy guns, as well as myriad political and cultural struggles simmering beneath the surface. A dark current of crime, violence, and government malfeasance underpinned the era, much of which can be traced directly back to one immensely influential federal gamble: the 18th Amendment, which outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages within the U.S.

The subsequent passage of the National Prohibition Act (nicknamed the Volstead Act after its biggest cheerleader, House Judiciary Committee chairman Andrew Volstead) provided a means to enforce the amendment’s decree. It was the product of xenophobia, racism, classism, and heavy-handed religious moralizing, and had a disproportionate impact on poor and working-class communities. In essence, Prohibition was America’s first drug war — and predictably, once it became the law of the land in 1920, all hell broke loose.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Ryan Fenwick (Louisville) and Nick Vaughn (Floyd County) reject developer, contractor and special interest campaign donations. Shouldn't this be a trend, Jeffrey?


Back in January when Nick Vaughn announced for Floyd County council, I noticed this.


Can you imagine ranking Democratic office-holders in New Albany rejecting developer, contractor or special interest money? It's simply inconceivable given the voracious needs of the political patronage machine, as newcomers like Jason Applegate seem to have learned all too quickly.

Over in Louisville, Ryan Fenwick is making a principled stand similar to that of Vaughn. Fenwick is challenging the incumbent Pat Mulvihill in the Democratic Party primary.

Ryan Fenwick for Metro Council District 10

As Jeff Gillenwater noted: This, everywhere, now.

I AM NOT TAKING DEVELOPER MONEY

My opponent has received thousands in contributions from developers and high ranking Metro Government officials.

Since Metro Council has the final vote on project incentives, waivers, zoning and planning issues, and landmark status designation, as well as a regulatory role over Metro Government agencies, I am calling for an end to what appears to be a common practice.

At best, accepting such donations creates the appearance of a conflict of interest; at worst, it creates a regulatory environment where favoritism can outweigh merit when voting on development related issues. This can result in outcomes that are out of step with the community’s expectations and pernicious to taxpayer interests.

Today I pledged not to take any money from developers or high ranking members of Metro Government. This campaign will be funded by grassroots donors. Can you chip in?

ROGER'S DIARY OF THE END TIMES: Branding your royals, having your food delivered and waiting for the final moments.


There was a time when hereditary monarchies enforced the head of the family's whims by means a tad stronger than appearances with their attorneys in trademark court. Consider Henry VIII's six marriages. Of course no reason whatever remains for there to be any such thing as a hereditary monarchy (precedents exist for this sort of cleansing, too).

This brings us to the End Times Branding Department.

Harry and Meghan show anger at palace over loss of royal branding, by Jamie Doward (The Guardian)

Sussexes say monarchy has no jurisdiction over use of word ‘royal’ overseas

The couple’s Instagram account uses the name SussexRoyal, as does a website they set up following their shock decision to stop carrying out official royal duties in favour of financial freedom. Both will have to be rebranded.

Maybe they need to consider guerrilla marketing.

In other news from the apocalypse's cusp, I posted a brief piece at Food & Dining Magazine about problems with food delivery services, which might be summarized thusly: The more you seek to make things easy for yourself, the harder things get for everyone else.

Edibles & Potables: About food deliveries, domains, tipping and reconciliation

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
― Confucius

Where I live the options for food delivery used to be simple. Many pizza parlors did it, and maybe a few Chinese restaurants. These were the alternatives to going to the eatery itself to pick up your order, or if it got to be too late in the evening and driving wasn’t an option, tearing into your stash of emergency past-date sardines and stale Saltines.

(They pair well with beer, but I digress.)

These days amid the post-apocalyptic, neoliberally electronic, service-oriented economy, food delivery services have become ubiquitous, and so have issues arising from them. The evolution of these discussions can be confusing, to say the least ...

Sunday, February 23, 2020

What would it take to make Paris (or anywhere) a ‘15-Minute City’?

Inconvenient facts for Glasser & Speck.

Ultimately, the "15 minute city" (or less) is is the goal.

It's not taking away your car, just lessening (in ways great and small) the necessity of using is as much as you are now, because there are only benefits to this lessening in the sense of health and well-being for everyone.

Right now, where we live on Spring Street, many amenities are within walking distance. With improved public transportation, there'd be more. Grocery shopping remains a challenge, but if I could leave the car parked most of the time, then use it once or twice a week for groceries, that'd be an improvement. We might find it unnecessary to have two cars, and already have discussed selling one of them.

What has to occur first is this: One must be able to imagine another way, unlike car-centric opinionating bloviators like Lindon Dodd and John Gilkey. As for me, I'll continue to try to offer alternatives to the absence of creative thought so sadly lacking in my aging white male brethren. 

What It Would Take to Make Paris a ‘15-Minute City’ (CityLab):

So close, yet so far: Imagine a city where all your essentials are just a short walk or bike ride from your doorstep: the doctor, your local boulangerie, even your office job. That’s the vision behind a 15-minute city, which is at the center of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s re-election bid. The plan calls for creating a more thoroughly integrated urban fabric, where stores mix with homes, bars with health centers, and schools with office buildings.

It's a bold plan that counters the planning orthodoxy of separating residential areas from retail, manufacturing, and office districts, and would require reversing car-centric, suburban-style zoning, writes Feargus O'Sullivan. But Paris isn't the first city to explore the concept. Cities from Barcelona to Portland, Oregon, are taking steps to curb car dependency and boost hyper-local development. The question is: Can a city like Paris expand neighborhood amenities without leaving people behind?

Dunman nails it: Bernie Sanders' agenda is "pretty much just 'catch us up to where Western Europe has already been for 40 years.'"


More steaming turds from the screaming skull, but first, you may recall Joe Dunman as one of the attorneys who worked on a fairly important case involving same sex marriage. For those of you doing Twitter, he's a great one to follow.


Here is a typically incisive tweet from Dunman, which needs to be repeated again and again.

“Amazing to me about the anti-Sanders panic is that he’s only slightly center-left, globally-speaking. His agenda is pretty much just ‘catch us up to where Western Europe has already been for 40 years.’”

Yep. Dunman's comment is occasioned by yesterday's good news.

After the Nevada Blowout, It’s Bernie’s Party Now, by Dustin Guastella and Connor Kilpatrick (Jacobite)

Bernie Sanders’s decisive victory in Nevada today shows that he has a working-class base committed to fundamentally transforming our radically unequal political and economic system. He’s on his way to not just the nomination, but the White House ...

... The New Deal was made possible with a new electorate. And just as the mass entry into politics of first- and second-generation Eastern European immigrants brought Roosevelt (and the CIO) to power, Latinos — who are solidly behind Sanders — could very well be the force that helps bring social democracy to America.

Bernie’s staunch anti-establishment outsider appeal and his platform focused on workers’ issues is winning non-partisans, new voters, young voters, and working-class immigrants. That’s not just a savvy coalition for winning the Nevada caucuses, it’s how Bernie Sanders becomes president.

Face it, establishment Democrats — it’s his party now.

Maybe this time we can get the Sanders post-primary (Indiana) victory meal at Pints&union.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

New Albany too? How will #MeToo play out here at the grassroots?


“Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in the United States. It’s a crime that people usually tell nobody about.”

Just the other day I was at the downtown Coffee Crossing reading my book and making work notes. At an adjoining table, a man and woman I didn't know were talking about the #MeToo movement.

It wasn't my choice to eavesdrop, but it's hard not to hear people when they're speaking in normal conversational tones.

Their chat centered on Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, although they also were referencing a sexual harassment scandal involving Baptists in Texas, with which I'm completely unfamiliar.

This started me thinking. How has the #MeToo movement played out here in New Albany? We might extend this to the entire Southern Indiana sector of metro Louisville. There have been few high profile #MeToo stories in the city of Louisville, including the LMPD rape case in 2018 and a handful of others in the food, drink and hospitality business, although the latter seem not to have been manifested in formal legal proceedings as with Weinstein.

We've been here before, blogwise.

We're not exempt, so NAC's New Albany "Person of the Year" for 2017 is #MeToo -- the NA silence breakers.

There'll be some who will question this decision, given the absence of an attention-grabbing headline in New Albany thus far. Maybe so, but we all know it's here, too -- don't we? In a place like this, we tend to be a bit behind all conceivable curves, and so even if our civic discussion about sexual harassment and assault is belated, it's still the right one to have.

Yep.

Given that New Albany fully corresponds with the old saw about this being the best place to be when the world ends because it takes a decade for anything important to reach us, well ... what about us?

Surely we're not immune.

I used the enduringly flimsy search engine at the News & Tribune to see what sort of information on the topic the purported newspaper of local record has published, and there have been a couple dozen articles going back to 2017, all of them involving #MeToo nationally, not locally.

The following story is from Kalamazoo, Michigan (population around 75,000 -- roughly double New Albany's), dating from November, 2018. One thing that jumped out at me was the Victim Advocates Unit in Kalamazoo; a quick search reveals that yes, we have something similar: Victim & Witness Services at the Office of the Floyd County Prosecutor.

Readers, your thoughts are appreciated. I'm sure there is lots I've missed pertaining to this topic, so educate me, please.

Does #MeToo take on a different dimension in a smaller town where so may people know each other? Think of the differences in local opinion prompted by the judicial melee in the White Castle parking lot in Indianapolis.

Would big fish in small ponds have even more self-interest in covering up such shenanigans were when they to occur here?

Is #MeToo on local law enforcement's radar?

Here's the link to Kalamazoo.

#MeToo: How a movement changed a community, by Franque Thompson (WWMT 3)

The Me Too movement continues to spark change addressing sexual assault worldwide. The campaign exploded on social media and television, as victims stood up to their abusers. The movement ist still making waves in west Michigan and across the state.

Launched in 2006 by civil rights activist Tarana Burke, the Me Too campaign was designed to empower girls and young women of color who experienced sexual abuse, particularly in underprivileged communities. A year later, in 2017, the idea ignited an international movement for survivors of sexual assault, shared across social media with the hashtag #metoo.

According to the latest Michigan Incident Crime Report, reports of sexual assault increased 4.6 percent in 2017, the year Me Too gained global attention. The crime report also states that girls ages 18 and 19 have the highest numbers of cases reported.

Sherry Brockway, the director of emergency response services at YWCA Kalamazoo, said almost 80 percent of victims know the person who assaulted them.