Archive for August, 2005

Indy envy

August 31, 2005

Guys_1 Tonight’s lead editorial is about last night’s City Council discussion on whether or not Fort Wayne and Allen County should make use of a Capital Improvement Board. That’s really the wrong question to ask. (See video of some of the discussion.) We already have such a board. We’ve just chosen not to use it in the way Indianapolis and Marion County use theirs.

Such a board does not really initiate anything. It is merely the mechanism by which elected officials get things done. In Indianapolis, those officials have made a conscious decision to focus all their attention, and a great deal of money, on a square-mile area of downtown. If the project is in that area, it gets done; if it isn’t, it doesn’t. Once a project is decided on, the existence and operating principles of the board make financing much easier.

That intense focus is partly because of UniGov, the consoldiated government that makes it easier for the officials in Indy to work together. But is also a reflection of a strong commitment to downtown development among a broad segment of the community. And, finally, the Capital Improvement Board there can help prioritize projects for downtown because Indianapolis has a large number of revenue streams feeding into the board that can then be dispersed.

Here, we don’t have the revenue streams, for one thing; two sources of funding for such a board, the innkeeper’s tax and the food and beverage tax, have already been dedicated to the Grand Wayne and coliseum. We don’t have the consolidated government; we have to figure out how to work with each other on a project-by-project basis. We don’t have the focus; a lot of people have a lot of ideas (see earlier post), but opinion hasn’t coalesced around anything in particular. We aren’t anywhere close to doing something as specific as putting all our time and effort into a geographically limited area.

Not having a Capital Improvement Board as a mechanism to get things done is the least of our downtown worries. Smith said last night that in Fort Wayne we sometimes suffer from "Indy envy" as we look at all the things that community seems to get accomplished. That’s been too true. We have to find our own solutions. We can borrow ideas from other communities, but ultimately we have to make them work in our environment, not wish we were more like someplace else.

(Pictured from left in photo above: Joe Kimmell, corporate counsel for the city of Fort Wayne; John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW; and County Attorney Bill Fishering)

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The next Big Thing

August 31, 2005

City Council normally meets every Tuesday, except Tuesdays that are the fifth ones of the month. This year, Council President Tom Smith has decided to meet on the fifth Tuesdays, too (I think there are four or five of them this year), and dedicate the sessions to topics of broad community interest — Big Ideas, in other words. Last night, the session was devoted to whether we could use a Capital Improvement Board to expedite the funding of huge capital projects, most especially those for downtown — a Big Idea for how to do Big Things. At the end of the meeing, Smith called for questions or comments from the audience, so I stood up and asked, "What are your ideas for what the next Big Thing should be?" Following are the answers. These are from City Council members, remember, so we should take them seriously. City officials have a greater ability than most to get their ideas talked about.

1. Baseball stadium downtown. This idea has broad support but a lot of detractors, too, which was evident even among council members. Councilman Don Schmidt was adamantly opposed to the idea and said most of the people he’s talked to snicker at it. Councilman Sam Talarico Jr. said the people he’s talked to, on the other hand, think it’s a wonderful idea.

2. Develop the riverfront. This one came from Smith, who believes we’re not taking advantage of a natural asset and that such development would help bring young people downtown. Smith has suggested previously that we should move the Old Fort and use that area for development.

3. Do something with the YWCA villa property.

4. Traffic. We need to both make the flow of cars in and out of downtown better and figure out how to let people get around better when they are downtown — we need a "park and ride" idea that makes better use of public transit.

5. Signs. We have a lot of good attractions already; we just don’t do a good job of calling attention to them, even something as simple as "to downtown" signs on the interstates.

6. Places to live. We need to pay attention to two critical groups — young people and empty nesters — who might like to live downtown. Having a group of people there all the time, not just people who come in occasionally for an event, is crucial to downtown development.

The idea that intrigues me the most is No. 3. The Fourth Wave people, in conjunction with the Salavation Army, had a wonderful plan for development of the Y villa and nearby Omnisource property. The funding didn’t quite work out, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still work on the plan. One problem we have now is that we have two areas of greatest activity and potential — the coliseum/IPFW/Ivy Tech area, and the part of downtown area that’s going to grow around the Grand Wayne/Public Library expansions. Doing something spectacular at the villa would start to tie those two areas together and really give us a large, cohesive area about which it would be exciting to think 20 years out.

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Sharp by comparison

August 31, 2005

I write quite a bit about government and politics here, so you might find some of the posts tedious. You might even consider this site a little dull once in a  while. But, trust me, this is not the dullest blog in the world.

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Dumb times five

August 31, 2005

Can you imagine how much better our lives would have been if we got to use the Five Times Rule instead of always having to toe the line?

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Stuck inside of Starbucks with the caffeine blues again

August 31, 2005

Like most fans of Bob Dylan, I’ve been trying to figure him out for years. Looks like he has me figured out, at least to the point of knowing where I might stumble across his new album. Of course, a few years ago, he would have had to catch me in a bar or a bookstore. And in a few more . . . suppose they’ll have a rack of his CDs at the assisted-living center?

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Let’s bring the next one home

August 30, 2005

The Allen County Public Library has chosen Frankenstein as its third book in its One Community, One Story project. I liked the first two choices — "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Diary of Anne Frank" — and I like this one, too. Many of us who are science-fiction fans consider Mary Shelley’s book the first true work of science fiction in the way it explores the clash between technology and morality. That theme is what defines science fiction, as opposed to science fantasy or speculative fiction or any of the other sf sub-genres. I do wish two that at some point the ACPL would choose The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington’s wonderful novel set in Indianapolis at the dawn of the 20th century; there is the flawed (to say the least) but interesting Orson Wells film of the novel that can be shown in conjunction with its discussion.

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Too soon for an informed guess

August 30, 2005

It’s dangerous to make radical predictions like this one so early out, but it makes fascinating reading anyway. I suspect Barone is greatly underestimating the power the hard left and hard right have in the Democratic and Republican primaries, for one thing. Two New Yorkers running against each other for the presidency? Don’t think so. John McCain. He loves the media too much. My own guess is that the candidates will be two people not even being talked about much right now.

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Singing the praises of freedom

August 30, 2005

The Chinese learn that democracy can be a tricky business:

How come an imitation of a democratic system ends up selecting the singer who has the least ability to carry a tune?

Really. Just wait till you try to answer the question, "How come an elaborate democratic system participated in by millions of people and costing tens of millions of dollars can only come up with these two candidates for president?"

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Diet tribe

August 30, 2005

Was it just yesterday when I wrote about people whose mission in life was to remove all the fun from your diet? The food nannies never sleep.

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Executing the mentally ill

August 29, 2005

In commuting the death sentence of Arthur P. Baird II, Gov. Mitch Daniels has not quite set the stage for the debate on capital punishment and the profoundly mentally ill that some had hoped would begin. The governor mostly talked about the fact that life without parole was not an option when Baird was convicted, and the victims’ family members and all the jurors who have made their opinions known would have preferred that sentence for him.

But perhaps Daniels left the door open for such a debate, because there was also this:

“Courts recognized Mr. Baird as suffering from mental illness at the time he committed the murders, and Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm recently wrote that Mr. Baird is ‘insane in the ordinary sense of the word.’ It is difficult to find reasons not to agree,” Daniels stated.

That’s a much greater acknowledgement than Indiana courts have usually made of mental illness, which is the medical concept; they go strictly by insanity, the legal concept, which goes back a long way and hasn’t exactly been updated to keep pace with advances in brain research. It is now accepted in Indiana that we shouldn’t execute the retarded and those who were children when they committed capital crimes, because they lack the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions. But the criminal justice system has been reluctant to question whether people who were delusional at the time of their crimes should be executed. It’s mostly been concerned with the mental state of people at the time of execution — whether they understand that they’re about to be executed and why — which seems overly fussy, all things considered.

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A mighty wind a . . . oops, never mind

August 29, 2005

Sure, we all like to visit places like New Orleans, but on days like this we should be grateful we live in tornado country instead of hurricane country. As scary as a tornado is, its terror is relatively short-lived. We hear about it coming and hide in the basement and the thing either hits your house or not, all of the action taking place in a few hours. Hurricanes terrorize people for days. Will it get here, or will it veer, will it build in strength or fizzle? Never mind hiding in the basement; it’s evacutate the city time. Probably why we’ve never bothered to give names to tornadoes.

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The best blogger you never met

August 29, 2005

It’s sad that the childhood home of Ernie Pyle has been lost. Its continued presence was important for the same reason we preserve the homes of other significant people. We want to visit their pasts to see what it was like for them, what inspired them, even just what they saw out the window on a summer day. But this loss isn’t in the "tragic" category, because Pyle still lives and always will in the writings he left behind. Before his amazing dispatches let Americans know what it was like on the front lines of World War II, he traveled the backroads of America, the Charles Kuralt of his day, and he was already well-known throughout the country before he even headed off to war. A lot of people have wondered how he would cover the war in Iraq. I’d just as soon see somebody as good as him on the road again, reporting on the American peculiarities that are still there despite the homogenizing influence of mass media and the popular culture. Bet he’d be a blogger.

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Cut it out

August 29, 2005

OK, this is the kind of thing that drives small-government libertarians bonkers, the kind of dishonesty engaged in by politicians and journalists alike that keeps the federal budget so high. "Critical vote looms for Hill Republicans," says the headline in the Washington Post, followed by the subhead "Party to set cuts to entitlement programs" (later elaboration in the story, the first cuts to entitlement spending since 1997). CUTS in SPENDING by the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT? Oh, of course not, silly. A careful reading of the whole story shows that what is proposed is a slowing of growth. Despite the "cuts," for example, Medicare spending will increase from $184 billion to $250 billion. This is the way it’s always worked in Washington. An increase of, say, $2 billion in spending is proposed. The spending increase actually ends up being only $1 billion. Then come the headlines: a 50-percent cut in spending! Children will starve and old people will be thrown into the streets and the environment is at risk and the heartless ffederal government doesn’t care.

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Don’t worry, drink coffee

August 29, 2005

I should be gloating. All those people who have telling me for years that I drink far too much coffee now have to cope with the fact that it’s the prime source for antioxidants. But I won’t, because tomorrow, some scientist will discover something else bad about coffee. Science tends to move slowly, with lots of preliminary reports, tentative conclusions, further study and revisions of opinions. Journalists tend to jump in at some point in the process and make way too much of it, and anything they write is just as likely to be wrong as right. I think the greatest life-shortener of all is worry, so don’t pay too much attention to people whose main intention is to take all the fun out of your diet.

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Let’s nuke the problem

August 29, 2005

One of the tragedies of exaggerated environmental fears has been the abandonment of nuclear power as a part of our energy strategy and our resulting overdependence on much dirtier coal-fired plants. Now, it seems that high gas prices and Middle East unrest are finally increasing support for nuclear power, even among some groups among whom oppostion has been strong. Common sense at last?

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You go your way, and I’ll go Norway

August 29, 2005

For the fifth year in a row, the United Nations has ranked Norway the world’s best nation in which to live. But the country ranks 29th on the Index of Economic Freedom. The United States, on the other hand, ranks eighth on the best-place list and 12th on the economic-freedom index. People will take various lessons from that. Mine is that it’s possible to rank high on the material-comforts scale and still have a modicum of economic freedom. One interesting thing to note is that, despite their country ranking first in categories such as wealth, education and longevity, Norwegians still complain. They think too many tax cuts go to the wealthy, and they want even more money spent on investments in social-welfare programs. Oh, and it is possible to be a major oil-exporting nation you wouldn’t pay not to visit.

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Dan, Dan, the Moveon man

August 29, 2005

You don’t have to worry about Indiana being out of the mainstream of progressive thought. Indianapolis Star columnist Dan Carpenter has done some agonizing soul-searching, and it was a close call, but he finds himself morally superior to all the cretinous "Bush loyalists" who have "never come within a country mile of a combat zone" but nevertheless feel compelled to wage an "all-out assault" on Cindy Sheehan. Of course, in order to maintain such a high degree of self-righteous preening, it is necessary to just write about Sheehan and never quote a single thing she’s actually said, such as: President Bush is the world’s biggest terrorist, this nation isn’t worth dying for, the Iraqis who killed her son are freedom fighters, Israel . . . well, it just never stops. Despite heroic efforts, Carpenter isn’t able to come up with a single instance of a liberal every being that mean to a conservative. He manages to overlook the co-opting of Sheehan and her torment by Moveon.org and the entire fringe, leftwing attack machine.

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Bet he didn’t find any WMD, either

August 28, 2005

Suppose Sen. Lugar will come back with lots of ideas about improving airport security?

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A fiery protest

August 26, 2005

This form of protest is a little more drastic than carrying a sign and marching. Here is a particularly startling observation, a provision of Indiana law I was not aware of:

Prosecutors say it is legal in the state of Indiana to burn your own house down if you own it outright.

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The PKA saga

August 26, 2005

Another in the continuing series of outrages in post-Kelo America. For the libertarian view of private property, check out this essay, which, by the way, is a very readable articulation of that political philosophy.

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Another takeout order

August 26, 2005

I don’t want to excuse Pat Robertson’s bonehead remarks, but does anybody remember there being a media firestorm when this former Clinton aide wrote a Newsweek article calling for the assassination of Saddam Hussein?

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Casey

August 26, 2005

The name of Casey Sheehan has been invoked by so many people for their own reasons that it seems only fair that we at least know who he was. (Be sure to follow the links within the article, too.) I would have loved to have known the young man. I wonder how many of Cindy Sheehan’s hangers-on really admire such a committed soldier, not a child who was stolen from his mother, but a rational adult who knew exactly what he was doing and why. The circus in Crawford, though, is pretty tame compared to the spectacle put on by this fringe group of "I support the troops but not the war" clowns.

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East, west and around the Bend

August 26, 2005

The Great Time Zone Controversy is fizzling out the way many people predicted (oh, OK, the way I predicted — pat, pat, pat), with most counties wanting to stay the way they are and a few counties in northwest and southwest Indiana near Central zone counties wanting to switch from Eastern. South Bend is the most interesting case. I used to live about as far west of South Bend as I now live east of it, so I’m familiar with the conflicting pulls people there feel.

On the one hand, South Bend residents feel the tug of Fort Wayne and the east — it is the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, for example. But the Windy City also beckons. The South Shore Railroad goes from South Bend to Chicago, running through most of northwest Indiana on the trips back and forth. If that were all there is to it, it would be a 50-50 call — anybody’s guess — which way South Bend should be. But Michigan is a factor, too. South Bend is very close to the border, and people probably go back and forth to Michigan a lot more than they do to Chicago. Staying in sync with Michigan would require the status quo of the Eastern zone.

That means, I think, that there is a stronger case for South Bend staying Eastern than for going Central. The vote by the county to switch is likely to get so much opposition when and if the Department of Transportation conducts hearings that the feds will decline to make a change.

We might have more of a stake in this than we realize. South Bend staying Eastern would make "northeast Indiana" feel more substantial. South Bend going Central would make "northwest Indiana" the victor.

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If you give it away, they will come

August 25, 2005

This is just such an awesome idea on so many levels. For one thing, it taps into our early history as a continent-filling, westward-moving inevitability. Useful ideas don’t go away; they just change. How would it be if the city of Fort Wayne just bought an empty building downtown and said, "Send us your ideas for using this space, your business plans, your financing proposals, and we’ll give the building to the winner"?

It also awakens the romantic dreamer in us. What if we could leave behind all the mundane dreariness in our lives, just pick up and move on? A few of us at work have been playing this game lately. First it was five acres in New Mexico that somebody saw on the Web. She started talking about it, and others jumped in, and before we knew it, we were fantasizing about starting an artists’ colony on 15 acres in Utah.

Don’t think this ever came up, though:

One of the most common questions she gets from prospective settlers is where the nearest Wal-Mart is located. "Some people are just addicted to Wal-Mart," she said. They drive 50 minutes to Salina to get their fix, or make do with mail order or Internet shopping.

   

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Just one more question

August 25, 2005

If you like mysteries, it never got much better than this on TV. What made it special, other than the commanding presence of Peter Falk, was the central premise. Viewers knew from the beginning of the episode who committed the murder; the joy was not just watching Columbo catch up with us as he built a case, but also learning what it was that made him zero in on the right suspect despite a lack of any obvious evidence.

(Note to you know who: I know this isn’t on my Amazon list, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken to find it under the Christmas tree.)

If a code of ethics is ever created for bloggers, I probably just violated 90 percent of it. That’s OK. I didn’t do it, you can’t prove anything, nobody saw me, I was somewhere else at the time, it depends on what is is. What’s that? You have just one more question before you move on . . . ?

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