Monday, September 21, 2009

David Byrne on a Bike

The following is an excerpt from former Talking Head, and lifetime musical genius, David Byrne's new book "Bicycle Diaries". It was featured today on The Huffington Post.

It is interesting in light of the late arrival of bike lanes here. It is equally interesting for Byrne's observations on urban personality traits.

(italics added)

I ride my bike almost every day here in New York. It's getting safer to do so, but I do have to be fairly alert when riding on the streets as opposed to riding on the Hudson River bike path or similar protected lanes. The city has added a lot of bike lanes in recent years, and they claim they now have more than any other city in the United States. But sadly most of them are not safe enough that one can truly relax, as is possible on the almost completed path along the Hudson or on many European bike lanes. That's changing, bit by bit. As new lanes are added some of them are more secure, placed between the sidewalk and parked cars or protected by a concrete barrier.

Between 2007 and 2008 bike traffic in New York increased 35 percent. Hard to tell if the cart is leading the horse here-- whether more lanes have inspired more bicycle usage or the other way around. I happily suspect that for the moment at least, both the Department of Transportation and New York City cyclists are on the same page. As more young creative types find themselves living in Brooklyn they bike over the bridges in increasing numbers. Manhattan Bridge bike traffic just about quadrupled last year (2008) and the bike traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge tripled. And those numbers will keep increasing as the city continues to make improvements to bike lanes and adds bike racks and other amenities. In this area the city is, to some extent, anticipating what will happen in the near future--a lot more people will use bikes for getting to work or for fun.

On a bike, being just slightly above pedestrian and car eye level, one gets a perfect view of the goings-on in one's own town. Unlike many other U.S. cities, here in New York almost everyone has to step onto the sidewalk and encounter other people at least once a day--everyone makes at least one brief public appearance. I once had to swerve to avoid Paris Hilton, holding her little doggie, crossing the street against the light and looking around as if to say, "I'm Paris Hilton, don't you recognize me?" From a cyclist's point of view you pretty much see it all.

Just outside a midtown theater a man rides by on a bike-- one of those lowriders. He's a grown man, who seems pretty normal in appearance, except he's got a monstrously huge boom box strapped to the front of the bike.

I ride off on my own bike and a few minutes later another boom-box biker passes by. This time it's a Jane-Austen-reading, sensible-shoe-wearing woman. She's on a regular bike, but again, with a (smaller) boom box strapped to the rear ... I can't hear what the music is.

City Archetypes

There is a magazine in a rack at the entrance to my local Pakistani lunch counter called InvAsian: A Journal for the Culturally Ambivalent.

What is it about certain cities and places that fosters specific attitudes? Am I imagining that this is the case? To what extent does the infrastructure of cities shape the lives, work, and sensibilities of their inhabitants? Quite significantly, I suspect. All this talk about bike lanes, ugly buildings, and density of population isn't just about those things, it's about what kinds of people those places turn us into. I don't think I'm imagining that people who move to L.A. from elsewhere inevitably lose a lot of that elsewhere and eventually end up creating L.A.-type work and being L.A.-type people. Do creative, social, and civic attitudes change depending on where we live? Yes, I think so.How does this happen? Do they seep in surreptitiously through peer pressure and casual conversations? Is it the water, the light, the weather? Is there a Detroit sensibility? Memphis? New Orleans? (No doubt.) Austin? (Certainly.) Nashville? London?

Berlin? (I would say there's a Berlin sense of humor for sure.) Düsseldorf? Vienna? (Yes.) Paris? Osaka? Melbourne? Salvador? Bahia? (Absolutely.)

I was recently in Hong Kong and a friend there commented that China doesn't have a history of civic engagement. Traditionally in China one had to accommodate two aspects of humanity--the emperor and his bureaucracy, and one's own family. And even though that family might be fairly extended it doesn't include neighbors or coworkers, so a lot of the world is left out. To hell with them. As long as the emperor or his ministers aren't after me and my family is okay then all's right with the world. I had been marveling at the rate of destruction of anything having to do with social pleasures and civic interaction in Hong Kong--funky markets, parks, waterfront promenades, bike lanes (of course)--I was amazed how anything designed for the common good is quickly bulldozed, privatized, or replaced by a condo or office tower. According to my friend civic life is just not part of the culture. So in this case at least, the city is an accurate and physical reflection of how that culture views itself. The city is a 3-D manifestation of the social, and personal--and I'm suggesting that, in turn, a city, its physical being, reinforces those ethics and re-creates them in successive generations and in those who have immigrated to the city. Cities self-perpetuate the mind-set that made them.
Maybe every city has a unique sensibility but we don't have names for what they are or haven't identified them all. We can't pinpoint exactly what makes each city's people unique yet. How long does one have to be a resident before one starts to behave and think like a local? And where does this psychological city start? Is there a spot on the map where attitudes change? And is the inverse true? Is there a place where New Yorkers suddenly become Long Islanders? Will there be freeway signs with a picture of Billy Joel that alert motorists "attention, entering New York state of mind"?

Does living in New York City foster a hard-as-nails, no nonsense attitude? Is that how one would describe the New York state of mind? I've heard recently that Cariocas (residents of Rio) have a similar "okay, okay, get to the point" sensibility. Is that a legacy of the layers of historical happenstance that make up a particular city? Is that where it comes from? Is it a constantly morphing and slowly evolving worldview? Do the repercussions of local politics and the local laws foster how we view each other? Does it come from the socioeconomic-ethnic mix; are the proportions in the urban stew critical, like in a recipe? Does the evanescence of fame and glamour lie upon all of L.A. like whipped cream? Do the Latin and Asian populations that are fenced off from the celebrity playgrounds get mixed into this stew, resulting in a unique kind of social psychological fusion? Does that, and the way the hazy light looks on skin, make certain kinds of work and leisure activities more appropriate there?

Maybe this is all a bit of a myth, a willful desire to give each place its own unique aura. But doesn't any collective belief eventually become a kind of truth? If enough people act as if something is true, isn't it indeed "true," not objectively, but in the sense that it will determine how they will behave? The myth of unique urban character and unique sensibilities in different cities exists because we want it to exist.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from BICYCLE DIARIES by David Byrne. Copyright © David Byrne, 2009

More in New York...

Read more at:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Witty Teabaggers Had a Big Day

Hateful and stupid is a dangerous combination.

Update on Code Enforcement

Earlier in the week I promised to get more information on the current state of code enforcement in New Albany.

In response to a question asked in a comment to a previous post, I laid out what I knew at the time. I had the opportunity to speak to Carl Malysz and pose the same question to him.

He essentially confirmed what I had written previously.

The only additional information he gave me is that the Building Commissioner's position is expected to be filled in a couple of weeks.

The filling of that position, along with the other code enforcement positions which were advertised as open positions, will constitute a complete reorganization of City's efforts to get serious about code issues. As many will recall, that was a platform plank from the Mayor's campaign. It was also touted as needed by several City Council candidates, myself included.

While it would have been nice to reach this point some time ago, I am hopeful that the City's on the right track now on that issue. I would think we should begin to see better results in the relatively near future, perhaps six to eight weeks.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Which Side Are You On?...Day 37

After Baron Hill's meeting the other day, I commented here that I was feeling optimistic. After President Obama's Labor Day speech today in Cincinnati, I again feel optimistic.

Included here is a link to the "Mad As Hell Doctor's Tour". It's coming to Louisville. They are solidly behind a single-payer plan. By most estimates this isn't going to be the plan which emerges. The compromise of a strong public option must be the "line in the sand" President Obama draws. The Mad As Hell Doctors know the best prescription, but it is crucial to get something passed. At least a public option is a step which will place the U.S. a bit closer to the rest of the developed nations which offer their citizens universal health coverage as a right of citizenship.

Recess is over, Congress. Now it's back to work.

Thin Ice

Reading about the lunatics' response to a proposed presidential taped message to school children, I have seen several references to Pink Floyd's great album "The Wall".

While the ones I've seen have not pulled out a specific line, I presume, from the tenor of their other comments, these people refer to the lines "We don't need no thought control" and "Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone."

In other words,we don't want the President of the United States to address our children because we think he'll take the opportunity to indoctrinate them into "socialism".

These people are in fact building a wall for their children brick by brick: a brick of intolerance, a brick of suspicion, a brick of racism, a brick of hate....

Perhaps these people should read further in the liner notes of the album for these lyrics:

The Thin Ice (Waters) 2:28

Momma loves her baby
And daddy loves you too.
And the sea may look warm to you babe
And the sky may look blue
But ooooh Baby
Ooooh baby blue
Oooooh babe.

If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear-stained eyes
Don't be surprised when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet.
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice.

(emphasis added)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Which Side Are You On?...Day 36

Make or break.

Life or death.

These are the two sides Bill Moyers lays out in this excellent commentary.

Two sides, Mr. President, Which side are you on?

Which Side Are You On?...Day 35

Worse, Republicans will see that bullying, being disruptive, and tapping into people's worst fears and instincts works, and will use it on each and every piece of legislation the White House tries to pass for the next 3 years. It's happening on climate change legislation now. Combine that with a disillusioned, disempowered activist left and I'm seeing damage to the Democratic Party well past the 2010 election cycle.

The above quote is from an article on firedoglake. Read the entire article here.It is nominally about health care reform, but it can be read also aprospos the ridiculous "don't-let-my-child-see-hear-contemplate-conjure-(or any other verb of cognition or perception)-the-President-of-the-United-States-of-America-crowd".

I would tone down the writer's wide netting of all Republicans. I'd rather limit it to the dangerous and whacked out fringe of the right wing, which unfortunately, but concidentally, finds itself rather welcome in the G.O.P.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Which Side Are You On?...Day 34

I just had the good fortune today, of attending a meeting with Baron Hill. It was a small gathering at a constituent's home in Jeffersonville. The subject was health care reform.

Rep. Hill took questions from the small group for almost an hour and a half. The audience of about 15-20 friendly supporters was probably seen as a welcome respite from the contentious gatherings which have characterized many of the meetings on this subject held throughout the August recess.

While Rep. Hill spoke openly about a broad range of questions on the topic, one of his comments was particularly important for me. I have criticized Rep. Hill for what I perceived to be lukewarm support for health care reform. He early on walked away from the single payer plan, which I prefer, and which I still believe is the superior plan.

But now it appears, we have the Public Option as the last best hope for substantive reform. So, it was encouraging when Rep. Hill recounted a conversation with one of his wobbly colleagues and fellow Blue Dogs, in which he told the wobbly one to "get a spine", and support the Public Option. He went on to say that the time for delaying reform is over, and now it is time to act. He assessed the President's chances of achieving successful reform as good, if he "regains a hold on the issue" and controls the terms of the debate. But he cautioned, if the President fails to do so within about a week of his address, next Wednesday, to a joint session of Congress, reform might well be doomed. Any lingering doubts about Rep. Hill's sincere commitment to reform have, for me, vanished.

Rep. Hill, further bemoaned the acrid atmosphere seen in the Town Howl meetings. The lack of civility displayed in these gatherings is a serious failing for the nation, he said. And most disturbingly, he attributed the outrageous,venomous hate speech, loosed at some of the more extreme Town Howls, to raw, stupid, racism. The good of the country takes a back seat to intolerance and racism as "opposition" to health care reform becomes the convenient cudgel with which to deliver blows of racism and hatred against a black man in the White House.

Finally, and encouragingly, Rep. Hill said he believes that in "just the last couple of days, the big beast of public opinion has begun to turn in the direction of reform". It's his gut feeling, but I feel it too.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Which Side Are You On?...Day 33

AP falsehood: Budget officials say Obama's plan could "increase the federal deficit" by $1 trillion

Truth: Budget officials said House bill would increase deficit by $239 billion -- not $1 trillion

The health care debate has strayed from the truth as opponents have misperceived facts, either intentionally or through inadequate understanding.

First is a piece from Media Matters which shows serial mistakes on the part of the Associated Press.


Mr. Hill stood in front of a mainly pro-health care group of federal workers at a Monday night forum at Indiana University Southeast. Mr. Hill, what did you expect to hear from a group that had nothing to fear or lose in the health care debate?

Mr. Hill had two New Albany Police Department officers waiting behind the curtains in case one of the mostly friendly, invitation-only group would become violent. Big chance of that happening before such a friendly group.

Ken Easterday, Jeffersonville

The letter excerpted here reports on a meeting which I attended. The writer's contention that the crowd was mostly friendy is wrong. Is it maliciously wrong or simply delusional? Who can say?

I offer as proof that the crowd was, in fact, not friendly toward Rep. Hill, a display of loutish behavior by the majority of the crowd: when Rep. Hill mentioned Senator Edward Kennedy, whom one might recall, had died and was buried only about 48 hours previously, the name was met with boos and catcalls. It was a disgusting display of right-wing bile spewed against a liberal standard bearer, not for a coherent reform plan or even against a reform plan. (I chose not to report this in my first post of the meeting Tuesday morning)

The conclusion I draw from this display is that these people have no facts on their side, they have hate and they have fear. And they don't want a black man in the White House. And they're mad because John McCain isn't President and Sarah Palin isn't Vice.

There may have been some who had legitimate concerns about health care reform, but their defensible opposition was colored by the bilious braying of the haters.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Which Side Are You On?...Day 32

Make no mistake, the industry, despite its public assurances to be good-faith partners with the President and Congress, has been at work for years laying the groundwork for devious and often sinister campaigns to manipulate public opinion

This is an excerpt from a speech Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive, gave recently. (Read the entire speech)

At Baron Hill's Town Hall meeting at IUS Monday, one had to be struck by the fearful reaction to health care reform exhibited by some of the opponents. It was obvious that some had been steered into opposition.

One woman asked a question about the nefarious motives of the government working against "Medicare 'Advance Plans'". The correct term is "Medicare Advantage" plans. Rep. Hill said the reason these plans need to be reined in, is because they are essentially an unnecessary subsidy to the insurance sellers. He said the subsidy amounts to about 30% of the cost of such plans, and that is picked up by the government. That subsidy puts us; the government (government of the people, by the people) that much farther in the hole when it comes to funding quality health care as a right of citizenship.

The woman asking about "advance plans" had been steered into her opposition. But by whom? And, for what reason?


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Which Side Are You On?...Day 31

Baron Hill held a Town Hall meeting yesterday at IUS. While there was some howling, it was, by and large, a civil crowd. A rough guess is that the opponents of health care reform outnumbered the supporters by a ratio of 3:1.

It is difficult for me to be objective about the opposition, so I won't try. My only observation about the opposition is that it is more about Obama than it is about health care.

As Baron Hill spoke, it became clear to me that my question posed throughout this series of posts has been answered by our Congressman. He's clearly on the side of meaningful health care reform, including a public option. I believe he personally supports an even more humane system than the public option, although he will probably not be given an opportunity to vote for such a choice.

Thank you Baron.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann, who long ago ran off the rails, appears to roll away even farther from the tracks.