Policies & Actions

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Yesterday’s post, The Winnowing Transition, offers thoughts on the last several years in Whitewater, and a look ahead to the next several. The key point is that we’re in a transitional time, where many who were politically prominent a decade ago no longer are, and few who are prominent now will come through the next seven to ten years successfully.

A few more observations —

1. Policies, Actions. In a time of transition, where many have faded and others will, it’s more useful to focus on policies & actions than officeholders. The important questions will be what someone believes and what will he or she do.

In 2007, when I began writing, Whitewater’s city notables were at their high water mark, and conditions for them were seemingly stable. Most of them assumed they’d easily outlast a critic, and imagined – or at least declared – no end to their own prospects. Focusing on specific officeholders mattered more in conditions where an official’s tenure might yet be lengthy.

Weak policies (revealed to be even more so by economic conditions after 2008) came to take a toll, and over time officials’ prospects became weaker and the accuracy of criticism clearer. There might have been an effective break with the past between 2010-12, perhaps, but Whitewater’s officials didn’t make that complete break.

(As a policy matter, a complete break was needed; as a cultural matter it was more than even those who knew better could manage. Indeed, Whitewater’s policymakers have been laughably slow to admit their own mistakes, and delusionally stubborn in the face of repeated errors. See The Last Inside Accounts and The Dark, Futile Dream.)

Over time, a critic’s position has proved the stronger. See Measuring the Strength of a Position.

Who’s going or who’s arriving now matters less than what someone believes and what will he or she do. More of the same will prove worse than useless.

2. Many Options. There’s a common technique among those with an Old Whitewater outlook that every choice is between their way and chaos. This was especially true ten years ago: officials convinced others that the choice was between the official view and disaster/chaos/cannibalism/killer bees. That’s never been true: there are many kinds of conservatives, many kinds of moderates, etc.

It served small, smug notables to shout that it was a choice between their way and utter madness. One can sell slop if customers believe the only alternative is sludge.

3. Challenges Ahead. We have at least this many risks before us: harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities, harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby, and an unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

4. Some, Yet Few. There are some – yet few – officials now serving who, if they so decide, could help Whitewater during the rest of this (sometimes difficult & painful) transition.

Not most, to be sure, but a few.

Nationally and locally, it will be a tough slog. Now and always, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Whitewater.

The Market

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin There’s an editorial at Royal Purple that contends a future Grocery store should accommodate students.

The editorial makes sound points for pricing outreach to students, but my focus here isn’t merely a supermarket or co-op, but the general economic market of Whitewater and nearby, smaller towns (some of which are part of the local school district). So, in the paragraphs that follow, the focus is on economic markets and not particular businesses.

A few key points:

1.  The City of Whitewater’s not homogeneous – there are several key constituencies in town. Old Whitewater – a state of mind – describes part of the town as the real town.  The insatiable desire to wrap the town in a middle-aged-or-older, white package is both futile and inhibiting of future (cooperative)  growth.

Over 56% of the residents in Whitewater are between 15 and 24. 

https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/15_5YR/DP05/1600000US5586925

2.  Half’s only half as much. One could ignore that 56%, but to do so cuts the size of one’s nearby economic market in half. For supermarkets, co-ops, or any number of other general-interest businesses a within-the-city 56% (even a part of it) is astonishingly valuable.

3. A short distance is usually an easier distance. Although a business could try to supplement an older demographic within the city with an older demographic on the other side of the city line (in nearby towns), the farther a business tries to reach from its home area, the closer it will come to competitors defending their home areas.

It’s not impossible for a general-interest business to succeed with an older demographic in town combined with an older demographic outside town, but it’s sure to be more difficult.

4. Broad-based success within town requires an ability to reach multiple demographics. Thousands of businesses across America – small and large – know how to sell profitably to different consumer groups.

5. If a general-interest business can’t or won’t sell to multiple demographics in a diverse city like Whitewater, it’s an inefficient business. Why use resources to attract people from far away, when with fewer resources one could have customers right in town?

I’m not writing about a co-op, or any specific store, but broadly: those general businesses that ignore 56% or so of the city’s economic market may be doing so for cultural or other reasons, but these cultural or other reasons are short-sighted, producing less productive outcomes.

(As for what these cultural or other reasons might be, that’s a post for another day.)

Attack of the Dirty Dogs

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin           

Edgerton, Wisconsin once hosted a Harry Potter Festival; the event organizers then decamped to Jefferson, Wisconsin where the festival was held this past weekend.

A lengthy story in the Daily Union describes the history of the festival (“From Edgerton to Jefferson, fantasy event apparates to new home“).

In that story, one reads that the City of Edgerton wanted from the event organizers $10,000 that the municipality believed it was owed, and here’s what organizer Scott Cramer told the local paper:

“Legally, we didn’t have to pay it. The lawyer said, ‘You’re under no obligation to pay it,’” he noted. “But it’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re right. Thank you, appreciate that, but you know what? We know how the press works and we’re going to come out like dirty dogs anyhow, so let’s just write the check and get a move on.’ That’s what it boils down to.”

Well, the festival has now finished its first year in Jefferson, and there’s gotta be a dirty dog involved somewhere, because the event was a disappointment to many, and drew widespread complaints. It’s a shame that a book series beloved by many is incompetently used in this way.

From Big crowds overwhelm Harry Potter Festival in Jefferson:

“I envy those who went without buying (wristbands),” Smith Thom, 45, said. “Sadly, I do not feel the attractions were worth the cost. The Wizard’s Prison was literally an empty tennis court when we got to it”….

Brooke Haycraft of Brodhead took her niece and nephew and said the prison consisted of black cloth over the tennis court fencing with one person inside welcoming visitors. The Mandrake greenhouse at River’s Edge Meat Market had one character dressed as a professor accompanied by two plants. Besides wristbands, Haycraft said she also spent $60 on tickets for a character breakfast with a buffet of eggs and sausage and other breakfast items, but there were only a few characters in costume.

“Hagrid ate breakfast without his wig and played on his phone the whole time and did not get up once for pictures,” Haycraft said….

They [Reynolds Family] were most impressed by free exhibits at the Jefferson Public Library and at a free station at a downtown credit union where his children painted wands and were sorted into one of the four houses of Hogwarts. After visiting a “dragon slayer tunnel” on Sunday, only to discover the dragon was “an inflatable like you would see at Menards,” he asked for his money back but was denied by festival organizers.

“We hyped this up with our kids because (festival organizers) hyped it up,” Reynolds said. “They hyped it up but didn’t deliver.”

From Social media responses to Harry Potter Festival mixed:

“The festival itself was not enjoyable. Lines, poorly executed bus routes, and crowds made it difficult to get to any of the activities we wanted to participate in. We did go to the character lunch and it was a waste of money. The food was minimal and not kid-friendly, and the characters spent more time interacting with each other than with guests.

“As far as transportation, we got lucky and were able to utilize Uber instead of waiting 90-plus minutes for full buses,” she continued. “It was an overall disappointing experience for something that I was excited about. Great idea, but poor execution”….

“They have been talking about this event for almost a year and I felt like it was a flea market for Harry Potter fans,” she said….

Facebook’s been filled with critical remarks like this, from festival-goers who paid for wristbands and felt they were provided only a bad time. So, what does a Jefferson, WI city official have to say? Wait for it —

“It exceeded expectations from the city’s perspective,” said Tim Freitag, the city’s administrator. “It did tax the system, lines got longer and it did cause a few problems, but those are probably correctable in the future.”

“It exceeded expectations from the city’s perspective” only makes sense if one accepts that the city’s expectations are far below those of an average Wisconsinite paying his or her own money to attend. “It exceeded expectations from the city’s perspective” only makes sense if Freitag thinks that the city’s perspective – apart from the actual experiences of attendees – matters. It doesn’t.

The city government is a mere instrumentality, organized for narrow & limited purposes, to provide basic services for a community. It doesn’t matter what the city government thinks of the event, it matters what residents & attendees in the city (and from across the state) think of the event.

If vast numbers are disappointed, it matters not at all that Freitag thinks the event exceeded his middling hopes. The only benefit in knowing what he thinks is to learn that he doesn’t understand the instrumental role of government and that he’s too undiscerning to know the difference between a good and bad time.

(I’ve not been involved or attended these events. There’s no personal disappointment in my remarks.  Instead, I’ve over the years followed accounts of the festival in writing, and had my own discussions with attendees and insiders, interested as I’ve been by the idea of a small town relying on a big event.)

It strikes me as a bad idea: Jefferson did a poor job of qualifying the event’s organizers, and just as poor a job of hosting the event. One can feel sorry – truly – for people whose time was wasted attending an event of low quality. One can also imagine that, for some families, a hundred dollars or so for wristbands is a lot of money to spend.  They deserved much better than they received.

What will happen next year for this event, one cannot say. One can say, with great confidence, that under no circumstances should these event organizers even be allowed to present a proposal to Whitewater municipal government. (There’s no reason to think that Whitewater’s city government has that idea in mind, thankfully.)

Even for a libertarian who’d like to see fewer municipal services, one can yet admit there are times when creature control seems reasonable.

Upon the possible advance from Jefferson to Whitewater of any dirty dogs, our community’s full resources should be mobilized to assure that not a single foul canid disappoints this community as the residents of Edgerton and Jefferson have been so unfairly disappointed.

The Same Ten People Problem (Revisited)

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

In a presentation from September on the state of the city (really meaning the state of Whitewater’s municipal government), City Manager Cameron Clapper tackled again the ‘Same Ten People Problem’ (STPP), where only a few people participate in municipal meetings, etc. One can find the full video presentation below; Clapper’s remarks on the STPP appear from 26:20 to 34:02.

A few remarks about all this, below:

Credit Where Credit Is Due. City Manager Clapper has discussed his concern about participation before, much to his credit. It is a problem, although one that some would rather not discuss, so much the better to avoid a solution that might dilute their influence.

Clapper’s (Partial) Solution. In his remarks, Clapper offers POLCO, a web-based community survey provider, as a partial solution to the STPP. That’s novel, actually. POLCO bills itself (mostly) as a way to allow officials to receive community opinion on key issues; Clapper’s now holding POLCO out as a way to entice participation beyond mere survey responses.

I’m not sure how effective POLCO will be, but it’s more likely to be useful as a gateway to additional individual participation than as an accurate representation of community opinion (the problems of collecting an accurate surevy through POLCO are too great, to put it mildy). As a way to whet someone’s appetite, though, Clapper may be right, and may have found a way to make POLCO one part of a solution on participation. (It’s worth noting that he contends it’s one solution, not the only solution.)

The STPP. I’ve written about Whitewater’s STPP before. See The Perimeter Fence and  The Solution to the ‘Same Ten People Problem.’ From the latter post:

In a post from yesterday I wrote about how cultures have perimeter fences, figurative boundaries marking the divide between what they consider acceptable and what they don’t, between those of the community and those outside of it.

Whitewater’s maintained a perimeter fence that is too circumscribed, and by design too impermeable.  It’s more than generational change that limits participation.

We’ve a fence that’s too close and too high….

That’s the source of the STPP in Whitewater: a local culture that expects a few leading figures and the community story be channeled through a few narrow gates of a few high walls.

What’s Coming. I’ve always felt that Whitewater will be better when she evolves more completely into a community with multiple sources of information, and diverse points of view. See New Whitewater’s Inevitability.

The idea of wrapping the community into one package was, as a digital imitation of the Register (when that paper still mattered), was always yesterday’s idea, a retrograde notion. Bundling the city in a box, adding a bow, and presenting ‘Whitewater!’ was always yesterday’s outlook; it was visionary only if one defines myopia as keen eyesight.

The future – for Whitewater and other towns – has always been myriad sources, each independently contributing to a vibrant community.

Truthfully, she’s already part way there: there are dozens of local sources of information, from dozens of community groups, written in the style that suits each group, respectively. Look only in one place, and one misses so much.

It makes sense that Cameron Clapper would want more government participation now; it won’t come that soon, yet it will come. There are likely to be much harder days of challenge between now and then. We would have done better if we had made this transition sooner, of course.

Still, much of what seems so vital now won’t last into a New Whitewater, but then each generation should – and inevitably will – make its own choices.

If City Manager Clapper stays in Whitewater for another decade – and despite disagreements with him, one hopes he does – then he’ll see these changes.

Between now and then, there will be a hard slog in Whitewater, but there’s no better place, in all the world, to be.

A Brighter Outlook for Whitewater High

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinWhitewater High School has the advantage of a new principal and assistant principal. I’ve written before that I’ve no particular advice for Messrs. Lovenberg and O’Shaughnessy.  See For Your Consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk. (Indeed, in that post I offered only a question, but – to be sure – one that implied how very much their efforts are needed and welcome here.)

For general views on education in this community and elsewhere, see An Opportunity at Whitewater HighAn Opportunity at Whitewater High (Part 2), Mentoring, and The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 3 in a Series).

An optimistic view of recent administrative changes is widely shared in this community. There’s undoubtedly satisfaction – and for some outright & legitimate relief – that Whitewater High has a new team.

An addled nostalgia for the past shows either ignorance of actual conditions or a preference for inferior ones. 

Those committed to high standards and fair practices should expect from a collectively-run school board a collective commitment to Whitewater’s current team. There’s something particularly risible about a single member whose candidacy was based on ‘planning for the future’ but whose outlook is to the past and whose direction is one of retrograde motion. In any event, one could confidently refute each and every contention that single member might make in this regard; it’s no more than a reckless presumption that invites such a refutation.

Longtime readers know that – to be mild – I’m not without occasional words of criticism. (Nor, in now saying so mildly, without a sense of humor and awareness.) And yet, and yet, one criticizes truly from love and hope. It’s this community one loves, this community to which one is forever committed, and this community for which one is hopeful.

We would do well to put nostalgia aside.

To move backward will prove quickly destructive, to remain motionless slowly debilitating, but forward – of all other directions, however unfamiliar by comparison – alone offers a hopeful future.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 3 in a Series)

local scene

Consider the childhood experience of Kristina Rizga:

When I was about 10, a classmate in my small-town school in Latvia liked to tell me in between classes that he hated Jews. I was the only Jewish kid in school, and one day as I walked home I heard steps behind me. My eyes caught his, and we stood there for a moment. I still remember his face—hazel eyes, closely cropped blond hair—and his navy uniform jacket over a white shirt. Suddenly, I heard a crunch as his fist landed on my left cheekbone, and I fell backward on a sidewalk damp with melting snow. I still remember the hollow ringing in my left ear. I looked around to scream for help, but the streets were empty. I’ve never felt more terrified and alone.

“There is nothing we can do to change him,” my father said in our garage the next day. He wore a large black boxing glove on his left hand that he made me practice hitting late into the night. “You have to throw the punch from your shoulder, and pack the weight of your entire body into it,” he said. “As soon as you show any fear, you’ve already lost.”

My mother and I eventually left Latvia, and bullying was a big reason for me. It’s been 22 years since I’ve thought about this particular incident—but the recent surge of media reports about xenophobic language and harassment across the United States brings those old fears roaring back. And now that we have an administration that has welcomed into the White House advisers with a long history of promoting Islamophobia and boosting white nationalists, I find myself wondering what that means for today’s bullies and their victims….

Via Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be a Trump-Era Priority
(“The testing craze and resegregation stripped schools of a key mission: creating engaged citizens”).

Rizga goes on:

Such behavior is a far cry from the ideals of American public schools, which were founded to maintain a pluralistic democracy and protect citizens against the tyranny of the majority. Advocates for the public education system argued that the unique American experiment wouldn’t work without it—that schools were the most effective mechanism for instilling civic values such as abandoning unrestrained self-interest and opposing bigotry.

Until the late ’60s, three different courses in civic studies were common in American high schools, and they often focused on helping students apply the dry mechanics of government to solving problems in their own communities. Many social studies classes also aimed to highlight the fragility of the democratic process and the historic importance of civic engagement….

I’m neither Latvian nor Jewish, and I never had the experience of bullying in school. On the contrary, like others from my childhood, I grew up in an old family, with the kind of positive American schooling that Rizga describes (what one might call a good-government curriculum).

It was the right sort of curriculum, but we were naïve to think that – without constant vigilance – it would carry the day against narrower, alternative views. We failed to protect this society against dangerous forces within and without.

[Consider, even, the matter of standardized scores. I’ve written more than once about touting scores of a few – as this district’s former principal and former district administrator did – while concealing a lower participation rate in Whitewater than that of other communities.

The participation rate always mattered more, fundamentally – (1) as a commitment of a public district to reach all students (teaching subjects not just as a college preparatory exercise but as a measure of informed citizenship) and (2) as the commitment of administrators to present accurately the measurement of their students’ progress, without concealment for marketing purposes.]

Before scores, participation; before accomplishment, inclusion. That’s the foundation of a commitment to American civics in a public program. Although one may happily have a  mix of public schools and private alternatives, it’s self-evident to me that public institutions should – indeed, must – function inclusively.

When I have sometimes mentioned a consideration of the curriculum, I’ve always considered it the way Rizga does, broadly. Broadly, twice over – as civics added to other substantive subjects, and as a foundation for the many, not merely the few.

Previously: The Erosion of Political Norms, Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: The Erosion of Political Norms, Part 4.

The Shallowness of Local Policymaking (and Some Policymakers)


local scene
Consider a woman who walks into an auto dealer to buy a new car. She asks him about the price of one of his cars, and he tells her that it’s a great bargain. She asks the dealer why it’s a great bargain, and he tells her he can prove it, handing her a piece of paper with twelve words in bright red type:

I can assure you that this is a great bargain, believe me!

What would one say about this? Reasonably, one would say that the prospective buyer should (and would) ask fundamental questions about the purchase — no one would expect her to make a major choice simply in reliance on a few words in large, red type.  Indeed, no one would teach a child to make purchases simply in reliance on a seller’s printed, but unsupported, assertion.

And yet, and yet, policy and policymaking in Whitewater over the last generation often falls below the standard one would expect – and hope – of a competent young adult.

Click for larger image

If a student in our high school produced a story of a company’s prospects with little more than that company’s press release selectively highlighted in red type, he or she would reasonably expect a poor grade. Whitewater’s policymakers think so little of quality that when a longtime politician-publisher-school-board member does the same, the effort passes for a news story.

A bridge to nowhere, an ‘Innovation Center’ that’s a dull office building built on grants for another purpose (now used mostly for public-sector workers), a failed tax incremental district, an unused (now defunct) ‘innovation express’ bus line, crowing about taxpayer-funded state capitalism at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, an unsound, but twice-proposed digester energy project, and flacking for mediocre & mendacious insiders: that’s not a fit legacy for a serious, competent policymaking. (A best business citizen designation from the WEDC is the state’s way of saying least-competent grasp of simple economics.)

These many years have yielded an embarrassing legacy of weak thinking and weak projects.

When residents of Whitewater – and other small towns in this state – look out at empty shops, cracked streets, and above-average child poverty, perhaps some will console themselves that they endured all this for an aged generation’s pride, so that a few could proclaim themselves visionaries, movers and shakers, influencers, dignitaries, whatever.

Although some may console themselves this way, Whitewater – and other small towns in this state –  inauspiciously see each year an exodus of many of their best, most creative young people to other places, convinced that they’d rather not live their lives stagnantly under a few aged residents’ false, self-serving claims.

Here one encounters a sad irony: those who fancy themselves ‘Whitewater advocates’ have repeatedly pushed policies, and an unchecked boosterism, that have only reduced Whitewater’s appeal to a new generation.

‘Fortunate’

Freedom of Speech, Norman Rockwell, 1943, oil on canvas, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

local scene

Norman Rockwell wasn’t the finest painter of the twentieth century (to express the matter gently), but at least when he created a painting capturing the spirit of free speech as one of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, he understood speech as a right, not a privilege, lucky break, or favor from government.

So it is with government, generally – government is nothing more than an instrument to effect the wishes of citizens possessed of individual rights. The idea of an organic state, existing apart from a limited delegation of popular sovereignty, is an autocratic concept unsuited to a free people.

How odd, then, to read that, in a small town, one should feel ‘fortunate’ that public officials will describe their plans to the people from whom their powers are, in fact, derived for limited times and limited purposes under law.

There is nothing a public official gives to the public that he does not already owe. There is nothing public, having been owed, that is wonderful. On the contrary, these are obligations one should expect to be fulfilled. Nature holds wonders; men and women, fundamentally, have rights as individuals and obligations as officials. Government is not a wonder.

In any event, a culture that fawns over ordinary presentations does public officials no favors. Cosseted men and women seldom develop fully, leaving themselves and their communities unprepared for serious challenges.

Advocacy Seldom Reaches Chocoholics

local scene A necessary element of writing or speaking – if it is to be enjoyable and sustained – is to believe what one writes or says, and to express those beliefs as one naturally would. (Even more important, of course, is to hold sound ideas, but here I’m writing about the underlying feeling of expression.)

Writing what one believes, in the style one would naturally speak, is different from writing to please. Some may be persuaded, others not. It’s notable, however, that some are probably beyond persuasion. That’s not surprising; it would be surprising if all people were persuadable.

Consider Augustus Gloop, the unfortunate chocoholic from Roald Dahl’s 1964 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the later, excellent 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Gloop stuffed himself with chocolate for much of his young life, and probably had been rebuked for over-eating now and again. Yet, in the film, he just couldn’t stop gorging, at the risk of an accident, even as Frau Gloop recommended moderation in Augustus’s habits (“save some room for later”):

Someone writing to Augustus with words of caution would surely get nowhere: the porcine German boy was willing to eat to the point of calamity. Gloop was gluttonous even as a child. Had he been not a boy, but an adult German chocoholic with many decades of gorging, one could guess he would have, by then, been even more resistant to warnings.

One doesn’t write for Gloop, but of what one believes, and for those who are not yet in the grip of a ravenous craving like the one that held Gloop.

The Existential (Imagined and Real)

It was Michael Anton (writing as Publius Decius Mus) who exactly one year ago famously declared that 2016 was “The Flight 93 Election,” an existential fight for survival for state-loving conservatives:

2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.

Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic. The stakes can’t be that high because they are never that high—except perhaps in the pages of Gibbon. Conservative intellectuals will insist that there has been no “end of history” and that all human outcomes are still possible. They will even—as Charles Kesler does—admit that America is in “crisis.” But how great is the crisis? Can things really be so bad if eight years of Obama can be followed by eight more of Hillary, and yet Constitutionalist conservatives can still reasonably hope for a restoration of our cherished ideals? Cruz in 2024!….

The Flight 93 Election, Claremont Institute, http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/

Anton now serves in the Trump Administration (“Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications”), so he may content himself with avoiding a figurative plane crash at the price of electing a man who received three million fewer votes than the leading candidate.

Anton saw an existential threat, with conservatism on the brink, yet he should have stopped at the observation that others might see his claims as histrionic: they were and are exactly that. Had Clinton won, conservatism would have gone on well enough, perhaps even a bit better, in a politics of sometime gridlock and sometime compromise between a Democratic executive and a Republican legislature. America would have seen a world of conventional politics, not of existential threat to either conservatives or liberals. For better or worse, Clinton (and Ryan and McConnell) would have held office in times mostly of business as usual, not of extreme dangers.

Contra Anton, whose false claims of existential threats look truly histrionic a year later, it’s Trump’s election that now brings America to an existential crisis: Trump daily manifests authoritarianism, bigotry, xenophobia, ignorance, subservience to a Russian dictator, and serial conflicts of interest and self-dealing.

Those who opposed Trump, had we seen Trump defeated, would have been no dire threat to anyone who supported him. Now in power, Trump and his remaining cultish operatives are, however, manifestly a threat to American liberty, to centuries of constitutional and political development on this continent.

Anton had it exactly backwards: it’s Trump’s rise to power that represents an existential threat to our ordered and civilized way of life. We are now in an existential struggle, one that Trump has forced upon us.

This struggle is fought daily in the vast space between two great oceans, gripping over three hundred million within that territory, and billions beyond for whom the outcome matters immensely.

While the field of conflict is continental, it is not – indeed cannot be – national everywhere and yet local nowhere. Much of the decaying matter from which Trumpism springs (a love of authority, entitlement, grandiosity, mediocrity, conflicts of interest) exist in even the most beautiful small towns. It’s a candid admission that many of us – and here I count myself – have not done enough to challenge these local vices that have engendered a national sin.

No doubt we had excuses for our indolence even as we saw the local fuel that now feeds this national fire, reassuring ourselves that those of that ilk were doddering & bumbling, irritating & ignorant, yet mostly harmless.

We were unwise – foolishly rationalizing our neglect as generosity. We’ve now local and national hazards before us, with neither setting able to compensate for the challenge of the other. One would think, as was rightly said during another national conflict, that ‘one war at a time is enough.’ We’ve not that compensation; we’ve both problems now, both of our own neglect.

Multitudes will see loss and suffering before all this is over. Innocent people ruined at the hands of a bigoted, fanatical nationalism.

There is, however, this advantage: those of us in opposition and resistance are holding our own even now, and we have not yet given our best. Principle and perseverance will favor us.

However late to having come to see it, this threat is unmistakable now.

For Your Consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk

local scene Each year, newcomers arrive in Whitewater to take positions of one kind or another. Two weeks ago, in Welcome to Whitewater, I posed this question to new residents: “If Whitewater were perfect – that is, complete and lacking nothing – would anyone have needed you?”

Beyond that question, with its interpretation and answer left to others, I’ll offer no personal checklist, no set of rules for “how people talk around here,” no indulgent reminiscences, no cautionary words or sly advice.

Instead, I’ll offer the example of a great man, who remained to the last an industrious and humble man. Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his polio vaccine in 1955, saving the lives and health of people around the world. He worked until his death in 1995, his last project an attempt to develop a vaccine for HIV, a goal that others are yet pursuing even today.

Around the same time as the Salk’s vaccine was introduced (and after trials that assured him it would work), Salk wrote a letter offering an internship in his laboratory. The letter is a model of simplicity and humility. Salk writes kindly and directly, making no reference to his own accomplishments either in the text or below his signature.

His work was its own reward, requiring not the slightest ornamentation.

For your consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk —

Mentoring

local scene I’ve long held that Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way). This contention is true for several reasons, all leading to this result: “Whitewater’s major public institutions – her city government, school district, and local university – produce this unexpected result: although members of the government are certainly also sharp and capable individually, they often produce collectively a product that’s beneath their individual abilities or that of other competitive Americans.”

Why is this so? I’d suggest that in the breadth of these institutions, across all members, mentoring is weak. In a well-ordered and competitive profession or institution, a mentorship between an experienced leader and a younger work is a long process, lasting somewhere between five and ten years. There’s always particular to learn procedurally, but it’s just as true that the application of substantive, field-specific knowledge (medicine, law, finance, engineering) to particular circumstances is a gradually-acquired skill.

Some might suggest that a gifted young professional should advance more quickly than this, that someone in this position shouldn’t need a mentor for so long. I’d answer with two points: (1) some mentorships can productively last for decades, as a valuable if in later years less-used resource, and (2) it’s the most gifted young professionals who will gain the most from a long mentorship under a talented older colleague.

Ordinary grapes don’t take long to become juice; fine grapes slowly develop into excellent wines.

Mentorships in these local institutions probably go poorly because (1) the mentors are themselves weak or bad examples, and (2) younger workers are impatient to assert abilities that are, in fact, not nearly so developed as they would be in a truly nurturing environment.

Whitewater’s public institutions have particular public departments or administrative branches in which there hasn’t been a competent, capable leader for decades (literally, a generation or more). Each and every one of the employees who has come up in conditions like that has been cheated from a proper coaching and proper maturation within his or her field.

It’s worth stating what I believe to be a cold truth (almost always applicable): if an early professional’s development (the first five to ten years) is poorly guided, his or her whole career thereafter risks being markedly less than it might have been under sound guidance. Often the younger worker won’t even be able to discern the difference between his or her mediocre development and a competitive professional’s training.

Even someone with many developmental gaps can be brought to a sound professionalism if one begins early enough, and has the chance to guide positively, nurturingly. A younger professional who doesn’t have that experience is harder to guide positively, and (if there’s any chance of success) the task often requires more correction and discipline than anyone might wish.

A community that does not provide good mentors will not develop good professionals. It will find itself stuck with those who don’t know what they don’t know.  Good mentors need to be those with both practical and substantive knowledge in the younger employee’s field. General guidance and how-tos are not enough: a doctor could show a young lawyer around town, but that ordinary information isn’t why anyone consults with a doctor or a lawyer. A solid mentor, by the way, should himself or herself be reading field-specific material (e.g., as a physician with new procedures, new medicines, new approaches, etc.) or considering practical techniques (e.g., as a designer with new construction techniques, equipment, materials, etc.) each day. If one’s not thinking each day about one’s field, one needs rethink one’s line of work.

Someone who has gone nine or ten years without good guidance (e.g., no mentor, a weak mentor), is troublesome both on his or her own and to others. It’s an imposition on private time and resources to expect that private citizens to tolerate those who have wasted their own years and done little or nothing to help younger colleagues, colleagues who by then are simply a burden or risk to others.

A small town like Whitewater only makes matters worse when leaders insist all is well, all the time. Positive coaching should be a private matter. When accentuating the positive becomes the public ethos, younger workers will place public relations over the substance of their fields. Looking good as a goal impresses only the vain or weak-minded.

The public ethos should rest on the claim that whatever one does can be improved and advanced, internally through proper mentoring and externally through the adoption of best practices wherever they may be found.

 

The Limits of Cultural Shelter

In difficult times, some will retreat to apolitical, cultural matters.

An apolitical approach is not one that I would take, but for others perhaps it seems the best that one can do. Indeed, in Whitewater, I’ve advocated that approach for those who would not take an overt stand on the principal political question of our time (where one stands on Trump). See An Oasis Strategy.

Two key points:

1. Although one should support a diverse society, with many cultural opportunities, that hardly means that all subcultures are equally beneficial to society. Subcultures that espouse racism & bigotry (e.g., white nationalists, neo-confederates), or reject basic principles of reasoning and economics (e.g., Russian-style propaganda & lies, anti-market economic fallacies) don’t deserve support.

White nationalism is a subculture, to be sure, but it’s a lumpen, inferior one. It deserves only obloquy.

A cultural oasis as a refuge from political strife will not be found with those who have, themselves, embraced the very subcultures that advocate the degradation of the constitutional order. 

2. Keeping in mind the maxim that ‘one war at a time is enough’, it’s still worth remembering that when Trumpism meets its political ruin – and it will – the subcultures that sustained it will thereafter meet their social ruin. This was true of the Klan and the Bund. So it will be true of those who, while professing a merely cultural position, in fact supported Trumpism’s political one.

That’s a battle for another time, but a time that will nevertheless will follow in due course.

For now, it seems both right and inevitable that our children and grandchildren will ask us where we stood on the matter of Trump.

There will be only one worthy answer: resolutely committed to the American constitutional order, and so necessarily & resolutely opposed to Trump.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 13: That Which Paved the Way)

This is the thirteenth and final post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Some months ago, I wrote a post that described my thinking about Whitewater’s current situation: her weak, superficial, conflict-riddled politics, and that of so many other places, was that which paved the way for Trumpism —

More than a few town notables in places like Whitewater paved the way for Trumpism. They made this possible. See, along these lines, The National-Local Mix (Part 2). Those of us in an implacable resistance have much work hard work, and likely many hard losses, before we prevail in opposition.

When we do, Trump will go, and Trumpism with him. More than that, however: the causes of Trumpism in places like Whitewater will go, too.

About eighteen months ago, thinking only of these earlier causes, I wrote in reply to a prominent social & political figure in town, predicting that ‘not one of those practices will endure to this city’s next generation.’

Whether she believed this, I don’t know, and candidly it matters not at all what either of us believes.

The prediction will prove true nonetheless.

This is where the city is, where the state is, where the country is, in a continental conflict that will grow yet worse before it ends.

There are local matters to address, but now in the context of the cumulative damage from many localities’ wrong choices.

The series: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), 7 (how it was supposed to be), 8 (nearby), and 9 (small-town harvards), 10 (mailers), 11 (fiestas and apple orchards), 12 (messaging), and 13 (that which paved the way).

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 12: Messaging)

This is the twelfth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

There are several news (or news-release dependent) publications in Whitewater: the Daily Union, Gazette, and Banner. Add to that over a dozen Facebook pages, and a few local government websites (city, school district, university in particular), and one might expect a diversity of opinion. (I’d certainly favor that diversity.)

It’s not yet here, however. These publications share a similar point of view: touting the local (or hyper-local) as exceptional, from an almost uniformly right-leaning direction. (Right-leaning as they see it: support for government intervention in the marketplace and cultural conservatism everywhere else. There’s much talk about businesses, but almost none about the free markets that make business and labor transactions efficient.  Nor is there even one of these publications that’s introspective; indeed, on this last point, their publishers would probably mistake their own views for the natural order of the universe.

(I don’t know how many people on the planet treat municipal emblems with the kind of reverence that one might show for a holy icon, but if there’s a sociologist who’d like to study that outlook, Whitewater’s coördinates are 42°50’6″ N 88°44’10” W. )

Into this environment comes a public relations and media manager for the city of Whitewater. A sharp, long-time reader pointed out the problem with a public-relations manager for city government: the Banner’s politician-publisher now does that job for free. Not as stylishly as a media manager could, to be sure, but with a thrall to authority that never fails.  The advantages of a private publication are lost when its publisher has spent decades holding public offices.

Most of these publications have an elderly readership; the rest have elderly publishers or (for organizations with Facebook pages) an elderly membership. Those wondering what happened to the bobby soxers will find the answer at the city manager’s annual state of the city update, where senior citizen attendees turn out for autographs to listen appreciatively.

The real gap is a demographic one: Whitewater’s residents in their 70s & 80s don’t look like residents in their 20s and 30s. (For that matter, I don’t look like residents in their 20s and 30s, but then I don’t claim to hold anything other than a single perspective, as an emissary of one, so to speak.)

Whitewater’s mostly churning the same cream through similar churns, and finding that the butter all tastes the same.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), 7 (how it was supposed to be), 8 (nearby), and 9 (small-town harvards), 10 (mailers), and 11 (fiestas and apple orchards).

Tomorrow: Part 13.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 11: ‘Fiestas and Apple Orchards’)

This is the eleventh post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

In the Wall Street Journal, Pennsylvanian Crispin Sartwell writes of Fiestas and Apple Orchards: Small-Town Life Before Trump (“My corner of Pennsylvania was thriving again—until immigration agents began carting people away”):

I live in York Springs, a no-stoplight town near Gettysburg, in the middle of what’s known as the South Mountain Fruit Belt. Adams County grows more apples than any other in Pennsylvania and is fourth-highest producer in the nation. The fruit belt is not the Rust Belt, but the biggest employers are canning plants: Knouse, Rice and Mott’s. Down the road in Biglerville, they call the high-school teams the Canners.

York Springs, known locally as “Little Mexico” or “Rednexico,” has a population of 800 or so, 46% Hispanic, according to the 2010 census. This, I daresay, is now inaccurate: If you made the population 1,100 and 70% Hispanic, you’d be nearer the mark. Many people came to Adams County as seasonal apple pickers, and orchards need tending year round, so they stayed. Some became orchard managers, and some started businesses: hair salons and restaurants, grocery stores and landscaping companies.

The mix is a remarkable thing: Oaxaca in a Wyeth painting….

Now, however, York Springs has become a target for immigration enforcement. Statistics by locality are hard to come by, but an attorney speaking at a community forum last month at the Adams County Agricultural Center said there were at least 15 actions in York Springs during February and March, with many more since, including street arrests and traffic stops that have resulted in detentions. People are held at the prison in the city of York, 25 miles down the road, and the phrase “they took her to York” has become the expression for someone who’s been taken into the immigration system….

This stringent enforcement of immigration law is destroying a rich, new rural culture. It’s likely to destroy the economy, too. The orchards generate over $500 million a year, and, one way or another, most of the jobs. But the local growers, many of whom have been operating the family orchards for generations, worry they won’t have enough manpower this fall to harvest the crop.

More than one town in this country, meaning truly many of the people in those towns, will see ruin before this federal administration of the lumpen and the lying meets its end. The injustices inflicted, to be sure, will be worse for those who experience them than for those on the sidelines who merely find them uncomfortable, offensive, or unfair.

In all these things, however, it will be helpful to have a long memory.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), 7 (how it was supposed to be), 8 (nearby), and 9 (small-town harvards), and 10 (mailers).

Tomorrow: Part 12.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 10: Mailers)

This is the tenth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Worried over a large-scale party in 2016, Whitewater’s local government set about looking for a plan for 2017. College-aged adults are a plurality of the city’s population; they are a majority of the city’s adult population. Solutions included drafting a mailer (an early version of which I have embedded below), directing possible attendees to a website exhorting them to celebrate responsibility, and hoping for rain to dampen outdoor activities.

(It’s also worth noting that the city recently began using a new drug detection dog, whom officials believe will “just light-up a room,” and with whom residents are “sure to fall in love.” One wishes police K9 Ruso the best, but neither his animal magnetism nor his detection abilities would be of much use during a major celebration, or for many of the unfortunate crimes that otherwise beset small-town Whitewater.)

One can say with confidence that neither mailers, nor dogs, nor municipal websites, nor raindances, nor ice cream socials with elderly residents, nor pictures with smiling children, nor public relations managers are a substitute for the daily trust that comes from genuine community enforcement, with positive relationships with all members of the community. Arms length is no substitute, and belies the value of six, or twenty-six, or sixty-six – however many – proudly-cited years of tenure.

There are few more powerful indictments than decades wasted.

Download (PDF, 670KB)

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), 7 (how it was supposed to be), 8 (nearby), and 9 (small-town harvards).

Updated: Sunday, 6.18: Part 11.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 9: Small-Town Harvards)

This is the ninth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Alana Semuels asks Could Small-Town Harvards Revive Rural Economies? Her contention, as she succinctly describes it:

 

College campuses and educational institutions can bolster the economies of small towns that otherwise would be struggling like many other rural locations throughout the country. Many of the rural areas that are thriving today are either home to natural features they can capitalize on—like Aspen, Colorado, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, do with skiing—or they’re the home to colleges or universities. The main benefits of educational institutions are twofold: They often produce research and technology that can be parlayed into new businesses, creating jobs nearby. And they bring to the area students, who spend money on restaurants and services, and attract professors and administrators, who do the same and also buy houses and cars.

Pick out any rural college town and it’s likely doing better economically than other nearby rural areas. The unemployment rate in Kearney, Nebraska, home to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, for example, is 2.5 percent, compared to the state’s overall rate of 3.4 percent. In rural Corvallis, Oregon, the home of Oregon State University, the unemployment rate is 3 percent, while surrounding rural counties such as Lincoln have a rate as high as 4.8 percent. According to Jed Kolko, an economic researcher at the job-search website Indeed.com, non-metropolitan counties that are growing in population have 30 percent college graduates or more; those that are shrinking tend to have populations with less than 30 percent college grads.

It goes without saying that Whitewater has not seen the economic gains across the city that some of these communities have seen. There are a few reasons for this, among many:

1.  Limited community support for the university.

2.  Community support that’s not really support. University employees who make excuses for their own institution in order to ingratiate themselves into the part of town culture that has limited support for the university are third-tier advocates. Just about every university-affiliated town notable has this problem. (See, from yesterday, Nearby.)

3.  Ersatz tech development instead of meaningful achievements. The Innovation Center is mostly the CESA 2 building. It’s what one builds when one wants to misapply a big federal grant to claim a successful tech affiliation that, in fact, falls far short of its promise. Boasting about the Innovation Center is boasting for the gullible or ignorant.

4. Self-affirming studies from the university that look more like flimsy press releases (and are, from the very get-go, conceptually flawed).  (See, The Value of Sports.) Studies like that should be embarrassments to accredited, degree-granting institution.)

5. Too much administrative emphasis on sports victories. Winning seasons are hard, and are not the accomplishment of non-athlete administrators. Banking on victories, in any event, is hard when Wisconsin’s D3 environment, overall, is sufficiently balanced that victories will naturally be spread over several schools (each with the ability to do well nationally). Expecting a permanent place at the top is a sign of how little someone knows about the challenges of a competitive environment.

Worse, pressure to stay on top leads to injury to individuals for the sake of an administrator’s pride.

As a community matter, though, too few are committed to the university as a university. They advocate for it in timid, compromising, unrealistic, and ineffectual ways. A town grandee or two walking around in a purple jacket isn’t meaningful advocacy – it’s self-congratulatory fashion.

Whitewater’s not close to a university that advocates for itself powerfully. There’s scarcely anyone among the university-affiliated who’s also formidable advocate for the school within town, and not one on the Media Relations team. Good writing is not enough – one must be emotionally resolute. (If Sen. Nass & Chief of Staff Mikalsen can back someone off, one’s not up to the job.)

(Models of strength in advocacy: @JRubinBlogger and @sarahkendzior. They’ll see their views through, come what may. So very admirable.) 

The university won’t be what it can be until a new group of university advocates emerges.

Until then, we’ll not have the small-town Harvard we otherwise might.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), 7 (how it was supposed to be), and 8 (nearby).

Tomorrow: Part 10.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 8: Nearby)

This is the eighth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Just beyond the Whitewater proper lie several towns that form the rest of the Whitewater Unified School District. They play a key role in life within Whitewater, far beyond school policies.

A few observations:

The New Divide. Where once the main local issue was a town-gown divide within Whitewater (a divide that also represented political divisions between red and blue), the main divide now implicates small towns nearby. Whitewater proper (the city) will never be red again. The small towns nearby are likely to stay red, at least for years to come. See, Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 6: Divided).

Affinity. In many ways, remaining red voters in the city have more in common with those in the nearby towns than they do with their fellow city residents. Whitewater’s red-leaning residents (especially the aged ones) are now probably closer politically with voters in the Lima Center or Richmond Township than they are with Whitewater’s average voter. I would venture that local politicians like Stewart or Binnie would run better outside the city than in it. It’s not that they couldn’t do well in the city – it’s that they’re now ideologically closer to those outside of it. They’ve not appreciably changed, but the whole city has evolved in ways that make their politics closer to those in nearby red towns.

Chief Otterbacher’s outlook certainly fits more closely with the towns near the city than within Whitewater.

Jan Bilgen’s longtime role on Whitewater’s PFC & as a university staffer who describes the students whose careers she’s supposed to be developing as though they were almost feral children, and Jim Winship’s political influence as a college professor who fought to restrict student housing from his own neighborhood, would probably play even better outside Whitewater than in it.

(Perhaps Winship would describe himself as a progressive, but his views on student housing have been a reactionary departure from, for example, genuine progressive Thurgood Marshall’s recognition of the importance of freedom of association against housing restrictions. I’ve written previously, from a libertarian viewpoint, in support of Marshall’s view, expressed in his dissent in Village of Belle Terre v. Borass, 416 U.S. 1 (1974). SeeWhitewater’s Planning Commission Meeting from 5/10/10: Residential Overlay.)

The more conservative views outside the city have allowed, or encouraged, officials to advance red-leaning policies that would have been rejected within Whitewater proper. (District officials Runez, Parker, and Jaeger would all fall within this category – this, however, is a longer subject for another series. For now, a theory: professions of neutrality have actually advanced right-leaning policies with disregard to a majority of city residents’ views. Those internally who would normally be opposed to these policies often yield to the first belligerent reactionary they encounter. Others are co-opted with awards,, etc., and become advocates or appeasers of views they would reject if not for their easily-manipulated vanity.)

Unrequited. If those outside the city represent a more right-wing view that would fail within the city, what do they give in return for appeasement of their politics?

Not their money, to be sure: the longstanding move of retail shopping away from Whitewater shows that if those in towns nearby want to see an imposition of red views, they still take their money to places beyond Whitewater. Grocery shoppers in area towns, who once shopped in Whitewater, have shifted to other places for their needs; one of the main challenges of a co-op is simply gathering retail demand that has found satisfaction in other cities.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), and 7 (how it was supposed to be).

Tomorrow: Part 9.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 7: How It Was Supposed to Be)

This is the seventh post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Consider the contemporary town-gown conditions in Whitewater. Here I am referring to present-day conditions, over the last ten or fifteen years. Part of the solution to this, surely, was meant to come from university-connected residents serving in local municipal government (e.g., Stewart, Bilgen, Winship).

Who better, the theory goes, to bring harmony than those both working on campus and residing in town?

(In earlier generations, Whitewater also had a crossover between university-affiliated residents and local government. Those earlier experiences, however, occurred when the university was much smaller than it is now, with fewer students, when student housing needs were different, and when students were more like boarders than apartment tenants. Earlier cases, from the ’50s or ’60s, aren’t applicable, and are uninteresting as examples for current policy.)

So, how did this recent decade go, among relations between the largest number of Whitewater’s residents (college-age students) and the smaller number of working-age adults from 25-64?

One can guess not well, if Whitewater’s still contending over local parties, if her police chief is fretting over “mob rule,” and if Jan Bilgen is declaring – in 2017! – that a campus informational campaign would be “starting soon to remind students “how to be a good neighbor” and that any trouble that they might possibly have with law enforcement could have a detrimental effect on their standing as a good student on campus.”

UW-Whitewater’s Marketing & Media Relations might want to work on that as a campaign:

“Hey, Mom and Dad, those kids you raised, and on whose tuition we depend, need some work. Have you been raising them in a barn for their first eighteen years, or what? Try harder!”

Whitewater’s former police chief worried over ‘raucous’ behavior; her present one worries over ‘mob rule.’ All these decades, yet it’s mostly been treading water.

I’d guess a minority of university faculty or upper-level staffers even live in Whitewater. Of those who live here, an even smaller number seek influence within city government.

This means that those who are part of a city-university nexus are a minority of a minority. Those who have sought so strenuously to be a part of town & university affairs are hardly representative of the majority of their colleagues on campus. Whether those colleagues (had they been more interested) could have done more, one cannot say.

One can say, however, that these unrepresentative few find themselves contending with the same problems, year after year, without success. Perhaps a desire to be popular, to hold influence, leads them to compromise from both sides in ways that short-changes everyone. In any event, the theory of relying on those who are (or seek to be) both campus and town notables looks better as a theory than as a practice.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), and 6 (divided).

Tomorrow: Part 8.