Monday, January 28, 2008

We Should Be So Lucky

Today is my mother's birthday. Ninety years old. She is in remarkably good health. Truly, she doesn't seem ninety years old. Ninety is the new seventy? But any way you cut it, ninety is a long time. In fact, it is 46% of the lifetime of New Albany; 38% of the lifetime of the United States.

I am most thankful for her good fortune. Selfishly,I am thankful that my sister and I have inherited a measure of good genes. But the marking of this birthday causes me to think of all the events my mother has lived through and witnessed in her life so far.

My mom was born in Indianapolis and moved to Georgetown in the 1930s, then to New Albany in time for the '37 Flood. I've never gotten a sense that The Depression hit her family as hard as it hit many others. My grandfather was a vacuum cleaner salesman during The Depression. He offered a product which would not seem like the item you can't live without during hard times, but apparently enough people wanted one to keep the family of grandmother, grandfather and five girls solvent.

Mother reached adulthood in time to earn her credentials as a member of Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation (a term most members of that generation would balk at). My dad was drafted in December 1940, secure in the knowledge that his one year hitch would allow him to come home at the end of 1941 or just after New Year's in 1942. Events intervened to change his and my mother's plans. He ended up being discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1945, after the Japanese surrender. In the meantime he and my mother married later in 1942. As a "single" war bride, mother lived with my grandparents until the end of the war.

It is this large chunk of time, from the '37 Flood to the end of the war, that has particular relevance to discussions about New Albany's future. It really has a lot to do with the future of our nation and our world, as well.

As many accounts of the '37 Flood suggest, the region pulled together to help weather the flood. Of course, much was lost in this flood but one thing which was not lost, was the sense of commonality, the sense of being in something together and bearing a responsibility to help others through it. Regrettably, that sense of shared duty is problematic nowadays. It flickered to life after the terrorist attack in 2001, but was quickly extinguished with the cold water of duplicity and defining duty not as sacrifice, but an opportunity to shop. "Take that," you Muslim horde, "I'm buying one for me, AND one for my daughter."

The notion of shared sacrifice at home is as much the story of World War II as the actions of the overseas fighters and world leaders.

In both these events, and I could cite many others instances, the national, (it is national but it trickles down to the local level) personality trait that pulled us through was maturity. Maturity is the acceptance of the fact that often, as Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove said, "life is rich with hardship." We can't shop our way out of a jam. We won't move civilization closer to perfection by leaving our problems to the ingenuity of future generations to solve, as many are trying to do now with property taxes, climate change and the growing subservience of individuals to corporate interests.

What has changed in these ninety years to atomize our interests? 1918 was not necessarily a year when brotherhood was the rule of the day. Shortly thereafter, an orgy of self indulgence for some came to an abrupt halt as the wheels came off our economy. The manner in which that crisis was addressed and the way we pulled together as a people to face the next major hurdle of the war is what defined that generation as "the Greatest".

The way we, as a people, slather over the salacious details of celebrities' lives, ignore the inequities of our society, deal with the rest of the world as lesser beings and delude ourselves into a mindset which has as its voice the chant, "USA.USA.USA." calls into question our maturity. If we were faced with the perils that faced the "Greatest Generation", I'm afraid we would try to trade Beanie Babies for food and, of course, we'd be speaking German.

During this period of narcissistic immaturity, New Albany has deteriorated from a regional economic engine to a sputtering bedroom community for Louisville. New Albany, along with cities across the land, lost its trolley system in the late 1940s as auto and tire companies colluded to get away from the old trollies to the newer buses and personal automobiles. This set the stage for the suburban migration and the internal weakening of our city's economy. As manufacturing was shuttered in this country and shipped abroad, the template of locally-based industry
was devalued and replaced by a chimera of world markets brought to our shores. It was sold as a two way street promised to lead to a leveling out of wages. Ask the displaced auto worker if his work as a Wal-Mart greeter is leveling his wage structure. Probably it is.

My mother has quoted her mother as saying, "sometimes I think you can live too long."
My only response is, "What's the alternative? There's plenty of time for that. Later."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wednesday 6:00-6:05 PM

At a special session of the City Council last night a revision of the sewer board was passed.

The new board consists of three members:
1. the Mayor or his designee
2. two members appointed by the City Council, one of whom must be the City Engineer or a registered professional engineer

That means for the time being, the board consists of the Mayor's designee, Ron Carroll and Bill Utz who is a current member of the Sewer Board.

Compensation is yet to be set, but will be set by the Council. Furthermore, expenses are limited to $1,200.00 annually per member.

The board may function with the members now named, as two members constitute a quorum.

This ordinance matches the state statute governing the establishment of local utility boards for second class cities except for the allowance of a "designee" to serve in place of the Mayor.

A search can now commence for the third member of the board.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Green Drive to a Blue Desert

As the price of gasoline hovers around the three dollar a gallon mark, people and companies search for solutions to the high cost of fuel. Of nearly equal import is the dawning acceptance that global warming is not, as some wing-nuts would have us believe, another of Al Gore's scurrilous lies designed to bring socialism to our shores. The truth , inconvenient as it is, moves us to search for a more benign fuel to sustain our mode of transportation. Or, does it?

We've got a lot of money tied up in our idea of the right way to get from point A to point B. We shop from cars. We eat from cars. We learn to deal with the opposite sex in cars. We have movies about talking cars, flying cars, racing cars and crashing cars. Look to your right, I'm pictured in a sport coat I traded to a used car salesman for a satellite radio upgrade. In short, we live in a car culture. If you don't think so, you're a crank, a kook, a limousine liberal. Just ask the proponents of the downtown bridge what they think of the 8664 crowd.

So, we can all breathe easier now that we can fuel our cars with corn. Ethanol can pull our car culture out of the swerve caused by the reliance on 300 million year old oil that some say may be peaking. Careful. That language suggests limits.

There are still a few bugs to work out with ethanol it seems. Farm acreage is being shifted from soybeans into corn. Soy prices rise. Brazilian rainforests and other sensitive ecosystems are being taken down to provide more growing space for a good cash crop.

Corn is higher on a per bushel basis than it's been in years. According to the Earth Policy Institute's Lester Brown, the amount of corn to fill a 25 gallon gas tank would feed a person for a full year. The demand effect on the price of corn causes more acreage to shift toward corn production.

Some studies suggest that corn-based ethanol uses more petroleum in its production than it yields as fuel, partly because conventional fertilizer and pesticides are made from oil.

But what could be better than growing our way to energy independence? We can enjoy ourselves with a trip south for some fun in the sun. At least now that we're growing our own fuel we won't be wasting the precious resource of oil. Wouldn't a visit to the Gulf of Mexico be nice right now?

Although we don't see it from the beach, the Gulf of Mexico contains a 6,000-7,000 square mile "dead zone"; that's in the range of four and a half million acres. The dead zone is partially attributed to excessive runoff of fertilizer and manure from farms along the Mississippi River caused by farmers mobilizing acreage to join the fight for energy independence. The fertilizer runoff causes eutrophication, a condition where the water is so nutrient-rich it causes algae to overproduce thus robbing the waters of the oxygen needed to support diverse aquatic life.

We must take heed of this interconnectedness which is the organizing law of nature. Until we, figuratively speaking, learn to refuse seconds at life's buffet we are part of the problem. We must recognize that OUR choices affect OUR world. In the case of ethanol fuel, we are heading toward accepting THEIR view of our nation's energy future. I ,just this morning, saw a commercial for a Chevrolet car or truck which runs on E-85, an ethanol blend. This car was referred to as a "vegetarian". That's got to be better than a carnivorous automobile. The Carnivore. It's what's for driving?

When we, as a society, recognize a problem it needs to be dealt with as a problem, not as a marketing opportunity. I humbly submit, the ways to decrease the ill-effects of gasoline consumption are to use mass transit, develop cities inward toward the core rather than sprawling outward, orient commerce toward locally-based businesses, slow down the routine, push away from the consumer buffet and recognize that the problem we face presents a fork in the road.

While a clean energy future is surely on the horizon, it's my bet we can't drive there.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fired Up. Ready To Go.

You may have read the anecdote of how this became the rallying cry of Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency. If not, briefly, Mr. Obama was speaking to a paltry crowd. It was a rainy day. The campaign had been hitting some rough organizational patches in the road. A woman, Edith Chiles, from the back of the crowd shouted out"Fired up. Ready to go." She repeated the phrase until it spread to the other people in attendance. Obama says the story illustrates that one voice can change a room, a city, a state, a country as it spreads a message of hope.

I'm not as cynical as the next guy. I might even confess to being a bit naive. But when I hear Obama speak I hear not just his voice but the voice of those who have drawn and continue to draw the raw deal of intentional and unintentional racism. I hear the prospect of hope for deliverance from our past. Not just the near, and increasingly irrelevant past of The Decider, but the distant past of slavery.

In some of the most moving and eloquent words ever written, his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln said, "Yet, if God wills that it (the Civil War) continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, ... "

Thankfully, the scourge of civil war has passed. Yet, One Hundred and Forty Three years after the end of that war, who among us disproportionately draws the menial duties? Of course, there's Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and a host of other sports stars but these athletes don't offer young black kids the realistic prospect of joining the mainstream of society. My workplace is not segregated by law. One hundred percent of the office personnel are white. One hundred percent of the factory personnel are black. Are these cards dealt from a well-shuffled deck?

Senator Obama is a messenger of hope who wields a sword of inspiration. It is my hope and my belief that such a figure can finally put racism at the back of the bus. His will not be an easy campaign. Even now, I'm sure, the 2008 version of Slime Boat Veterans for Truth are preparing to sow seeds of fear and division about the prospect of a black man with a funny foreign-sounding name ascending to the presidency.

Surely, after years of wasted opportunities and millions of lives lived with the weight of racism on their shoulders we can look at this man and get fired up at the prospect of ending the centuries-long curse. It is my hope that we're ready to go into a better, more equitable future.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pick up the Chalk

Clean slate.
Empty ledger.
Full tank.
January first.

I took a walk yesterday on one of the trails in the Charlestown State Park. It was a beautiful day and, since it was the final day of 2007, it was an opportunity to reflect on the year's inevitable trot toward the past.

First off, thanks again to all who voted for me and to all who have continued to express hopefulness about the new City Council. It is exciting and rewarding to hear such expressions. It is also humbling. It is exciting because people seem to be expressing a palpable feeling of good things in the future.

One of the most promising portents of good things to come was announced just before Christmas. The appointment of Carl Malysz is a sign that Mayor England is intent on making real progress for New Albany. Carl is a true asset to this community. His unwarranted dismissal from city government under Mayor Overton was one of the most shortsighted moves I've seen. I heard life-long Republicans express outrage over Carl's firing. Malysz's time away from service to New Albany may have provided him with an even greater understanding of government which he will bring to his new position. In a way, the city may yet owe Mayor Overton for unintentionally adding to Carl's value to New Albany.

The allure of the New Year's clean slate is that, as of right this moment, no mistakes have been made. Unfortunately, that condition will not last.

I was speaking to a restoration contractor recently who said, "if you see trouble in an old building's wall, look at the foundation. That's usually the source of all the problems." The same is true of government at any level. What is the foundation of democracy? People, of course. That is not to say that people cause the government to sputter inefectually, but rather the absence of people, the disconnection of people from government, makes a weak foundation for democracy. At the national level, money is such a qualifier for involvement that most people are effectively excluded from the process. At the local level, people generally don't decide to get involved for any number of reasons. One of the fundamental goals I want to pursue on the City Council is to broaden participation in our government. I'd like to see citizens who have not been involved in civic affairs find the climate inviting enough to become involved. This city is ours, all of us, not just the ones who won an election.

In the coming weeks and months I will be working to build support, on the council, for boards and commissions to be chartered by the council. These bodies will address issues and act as conduits of information the Mayor and the Council can draw from. There is no sense building walls of separation between the people and their government. The entire community can benefit from greater involvement.

These boards will not solicit employers for the industrial park. They won't write laws. They will bring government and the people closer, and they will inform the process of building a better community.

Some ideas for such boards are ones to tackle beautification, identify targeted green spaces for tree planting, bring citizen ideas on the environment to governmental decision making. These are just a few.

Be thinking of ideas you'd like to see advanced through citizen-staffed boards. We've got a clean slate to write on.