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.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 6: Divided)

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

Years ago (in 2010), I wrote of a red-blue divide within the city, where some elections favored red-leaning voters, and some blue-leaning voters. See, Why Whitewater Isn’t a Progressive City; Why Whitewater’s ‘Conservatives’ Hold the City Tenuously.

Over time, the city proper has become more dependably blue. State and national political trends, affecting local demographics, have probably assured this result. See, The (Red) State, the (Blue) City.

Look at the last presidential election: Clinton carried the city, Trump carried the outlying towns within the area of the Whitewater Unified School District. (See, results from Walworth, Jefferson, and Rock Counties.)

Where once there was a divide between red and blue within the city, there is now a reliably blue city; the divide is now between the city and the smaller towns outside the city.

Older residents remember a more conservative city; that past won’t return. Current residents know that the towns nearby are more conservative than the city; that will stay true for the foreseeable future.

The city-towns divide represents things as they now are, and has consequences of economics, fiscal policy, education, and culture.

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

Tomorrow: Part 7 (How It Was Supposed to Be).

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 5: Working Age)

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

To love something truly is to see it clearly, with dry eyes. So if federal census data show that the largest group in the city – by far – is college-age residents 20-24 (5,300), and that those young residents easily outnumber traditional working-age residents (3,892), what can one say about those 25-64 year-old working-age residents? (Quick note: I’m in this age bracket.)

The first thing one can conclude is that in absolute number, they’re fewer than nearby Fort Atkinson. I’ve written on this before (see, Data Around Whitewater’s Size), but it bears repeating (data from the American Community Survey using 2015 data as the 2016 data do not have demographics by age):

Whitewater, aged 25-64: 3,892.

Fort Atkinson, aged 25-64: 6,454.

There are implications to a smaller working-age population than a student population.

When working-age residents 25-64 insist they’re the real town residents, they’re doing so only from innumeracy or arrogance: residents aged 25-64 are a demographic minority.

There’s a second implication, too: in absolute terms, the 25-64 age group isn’t so large as it presents itself.

Indeed, it’s not so relatively large within the city, or relatively compared to a nearby city.

So if there’s a claim to a superior position, that group (of which I am a part) does not have a numerical claim to superiority.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), and 4 (demographics).

Tomorrow: Part 6.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 4: Demographics)

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

Take a look at impartial census data for Whitewater, from the federal government (using American Community Survey population estimates for 2016 now available, and otherwise 2015 measurements).

Whitewater’s is a population that’s relatively young (where student-aged residents significanty outnumber non-student adults aged 25-64), and with a significant Latino community (almost certainly larger by percentage among the K-12 population than it is among older age groups).

These disparate groups most surely don’t have the same outlook. Pretending that there’s one, common outlook is at best mistaken, at worst arrogant. Seeing the city through the eyes of a few, without a dispassionate review of the city’s demographics, isn’t a reasoned outlook.

It’s nothing more than aged beholders’ nostalgia.

Data follow —

Download (PDF, 74KB)

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), and 3 (oasis).

Tomorrow: Part 5.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 3: Oasis)

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

So a blogger points out that the city’s population is mostly stagnant (with short-term decline), that the mean household income in the city is in decline, and that the city is beset with above-average child poverty (see, Whitewater’s Decade of Child Poverty).

That same blogger – the one writing this post, actually – then says that in these economic and municipal fiscal conditions, one should turn from local political solutions to private and cultural ones. See, An Oasis Strategy.

So, is it that simple? One merely moves from the failed political to the private cultural? As though it were, after all, just a jump to the left, and then a step to the right?

No, of course not: in that post, I wrote that “[t]his city’s not of one culture or one identity; we’re not a homogeneous place. We’re a diverse and multicultural community. Revanchism on behalf of some won’t make the city great for any. On the contrary, that path will prolong present difficulties, and delay significantly (although not prevent) this city’s more prosperous future.”

That is, after all, why this post is called ‘Cultures & Communications.’

So, how do others in the city see this, and whether they do, what can one say about a city of multiple cultures? The next few posts will address this topic.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions) and 2 (population).

Tomorrow: Part 4.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 2: Population)

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

U.S. Census data show that Whitewater proper (the city) has stopped growing, and is, in fact, experiencing a population decline.

From 2015-2016, the city lost about 1.1% of her population (168 people). Even over a longer period, from 2010-2016, she barely grew .8% (or 116 people).

Of those residing in Whitewater, in fact, there has been a decline of mean household income: from 47,073 in 2010 to 42,490 in 2015.

That’s longer-term stagnation with short-term decline. There are (of course) economic and municipal fiscal implications of this condition, but there are cultural ones, too.

Previously: Part 1 (introductory assumptions).

Tomorrow: Part 3.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 1: Introduction)

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

I’ll start with an introductory series of assumptions, some I’ll flesh out in greater detail in the series, but all of which state plainly my views.

1.  In America’s current political climate, it’s national politics that necessarily predominates. See, The National-Local Mix (“Trump is a fundamentally different candidate from those who have come before him.  Not grasping this would be obtuse.  Writing only about sewing circles or local clubs or a single local meeting while ignoring Trump’s vast power as president – and what it will bring about – would be odd. Someone in Tuscany, circa 1925, had more to write about than the countryside.”)

2.  The near-term outlook for Whitewater’s economy is a mediocre one. See, Local Assumptions and Outlook, Winter 2016 (“I’d say the outlook is for turbulence in the national political-economy, and stagnation in the local one. See, The National-Local Mix and The Local Economic Context of It All.  The way out of several years’ local stagnation is a more decisive break with past, but there’s no evidence whatever that Whitewater’s local government will take this step; nothing else will be adequate.”)

3.  Stagnation is, in a wider economy that’s growing, relative decline.

4.  Stagnation has fiscal, economic, and cultural consequences.

5.  The long-term outlook for Whitewater is favorable, significantly because many existing practices and local notables’ advocacy of them have no long-term future.  See, New Whitewater’s Inevitability.

6. Grand public solutions in this environment will prove ineffectual; they’re what created these mediocre conditions. SeeThe Next Big Thing.

7. A strategy of advancing private over public accomplishments is the best way to weather hard time in a community drenched in public initiatives. SeeAn Oasis Strategy.

8. Whitewater is a multicultural city, no matter how hard some fight to hide or deny that simple truth. SeeThe Meaning of Whitewater’s Not-Always-Mentioned DemographicsA Small But Diverse City, Seldom Described That Way, and Parts and Wholes.

9. A strategy of making private cultural accomplishments, rather than public projects, a priority won’t work if one doesn’t distinguish between the vibrant and the moribund. 

10. Choices among local cultural options will shorten — or lengthen — the duration of local stagnation.

11. Local insider accounts help others understand policymakers’ thinking, but have little or no independent policy value. SeeThe Last Inside Accounts.

12. Particular local leaders are talented; their collective product is often sub-par, as a few hold the talented ones back. SeeWhitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way).

Tomorrow: Part 2.

What Makes Things Cool?

Although trends might seem completely random, there are well-documented patterns to what becomes popular. A 20th century industrial designer [Raymond Loewy], who created some of America’s most iconic looks, developed a theory of coolness that has been backed up by various scientific studies. Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic, explains the science behind why we like what we like.

Loewy’s designs are truly memorable for their beauty, and I’ll not venture (and, of course, could not venture) to offer a competing theory. Instead, in the absense of a theory, I’ll suggest that one finds one’s own cool, as best as one can, contented thereafter in it.

Along these lines, I’ll offer Maria Popova’s recent essay concerning Kierkegaard on the Individual vs. the Crowd, Why We Conform, and the Power of the Minority.

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 14 of 14)

This is the final post in a series considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story.

I can happily recommend Goldstein’s book, both for the tale it tells of a single city’s struggle after an auto plant closes, and for what readers may reasonably infer about a none-too-bright boosterism that has left Janesville (and other cities) divided between actual conditions experienced by many and self-congratulatory optimism from a well-fed few.

When I began this series (and an earlier series on Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment), I did so to search for insights that Goldstein and Cramer might have about our current condition, one in which the greatest republic in all history has found itself under leadership of a mendacious, mediocre autocrat.

(Cramer offers little, and what little she offers both too narrow and too broad: claims of a Wisconsin resentment, but of an indeterminate kind, might be applied anywhere at anytime. Her thesis is, notwithstanding her insistence that it’s a serious political ethnography, is slight, and might have served as a ephemeral conservation piece, nothing more.)

Goldstein’s work tells part – and by her own design only part – of a story that is truly useful for our time – how a dense and dim-witted boosterism in Janesville reveals the way sugary claims are offered in the place of serious, practical policy.

The shallow thinking that has made ‘Two Janesvilles‘ possible has led, I think, to far worse things than sham economic proposals. Once weak, the body becomes susceptible to all sorts of infections, one invading after another.  (Acceptance of myriad lies as facts, yet a contradictory insistence that there are no facts.)

Goldstein’s book is about a place, but that place’s experiences are not isolated. Cities far removed from Janesville, stretching from one end of this continent to another, are now suffering a cumulative and debilitating illness, whose early signs one could identify from events of Janesville’s last decade.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 1112, and 13.

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 13 of 14)

This is the thirteenth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Six (2013) of Janesville (Chapter 54, A Glass More Than Half Full).

Goldstein’s 54th chapter describes a 2013 dinner of Forward Janesville (a local “business alliance hell-bent on reviving the city’s economy”). Someone at Forward Janesville, it turns out, must have read Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and thought he or she were reading scripture, so sure do they seem to be in their boosterism:

Each table is covered with a heavy sand-colored tablecloth, and at each place setting is prime rib with hollandaise and, as a party favor, a clear tumbler with green printing that says, “We See the Glass More than Half Full.”

While some in town scoffed at the slogan that [banker] Mary [Willmer] came up with early in Janesville’s economic crisis—that everyone needs to become ambassadors of optimism—Forward Janesville embraced it. Exuding optimism has become central to Forward Janesville’s credo and its strategy. The organization now has a cadre of volunteer “good-will ambassadors,” who attend ribbon cuttings and visit every Forward Janesville member at work at least once a year.

John Beckord, leader of Forward Janesville, shows a video during the dinner, so very precious that it’s delightful:

To begin this evening’s program, before Paul [Ryan] speaks, John Beckord, Forward Janesville’s president, takes the stage and introduces a video. The video was made for this occasion, and its purpose is to deride what John calls “um, a pervasive, negative attitude in the community, especially anonymous online commentators.”

“The Crabby Bloggers” is the video’s title. It juxtaposes upbeat statistics about Janesville’s economy with a cartoon that features furious typing and grumbling by blogging nay-sayers. It celebrates “a resurgence in employment opportunities,” showing that 1,924 jobs have been created in Rock County by forty-one companies since the start of 2010.

Goldstein quickly sets the record straight: “neither the video nor John mentions that the county still has 4,500 fewer jobs than when GM announced it was closing the plant. And when the video highlights the opening this month of the Janesville Innovation Center, built with a federal grant and city money to provide office and manufacturing space to nurture start-ups, it gives no hint of the scant interest so far among fledgling companies in renting space in the center.”

Imagine someone so dense that he would think that the video would be persuasive to anyone not already committed; indeed, imagine those already committed who would be so dense to remain committed after seeing the video.

Voltaire is credited with once contending that he prayed to God that his enemies should be ridiculous, and God granted the request. (“I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: ‘O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!’ God granted it.”)

(I’d not describe Beckord as the enemy of bloggers or blogging, but one sees the point. Beckord’s just perfect for the role of not-quite-up-to-it adversary. It’s almost as though a blogger in Janesville secretly picked Forward Janesville’s president for the role.)

Goldstein explains:

If John and the “Crabby Bloggers” video and Mary herself attest to certain headway in Janesville since the depths of the Great Recession, they attest to something else, too: an optimism gap that divides these crusaders for economic development with the experiences of many other people in town….

And here is another glimpse at the gap between Mary and her fellow optimists versus the rest of town: a survey has shown that nearly six in ten people think that Rock County will never again be a place in which workers feel secure in their jobs, or in which good jobs at good pay are available for people who want to work. Most of the rest think that returning to such a place will take many years. Just one in fifty believes that Rock County has returned to the job security—or to the good jobs at good pay—that it used to provide.

Overall, just over half say that their household’s financial situation is worse than when the recession began. Yet among people who lost a job—or live with someone who did—nearly three fourths now say that they are worse off.

As it turns out, even the matter-of-fact style Goldstein uses to great effect seems polemical when the truth is so plain:

Tonight, the job losers and the pay losers are not in the banquet room, tucking into tulip glasses of strawberry and chocolate mousse for dessert as Mary is onstage, saying that, since the dark, stunning days right after the plant closed, sales tax receipts have been rising and industrial vacancy rates falling. The progress this community has made, she says, is phenomenal….

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 11, and 12.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 14 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 12 of 14)

This is the twelfth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Six (2013) of Janesville (Chapter 50, Two Janesvilles).

Amy Goldstein is not, by style of writing, a polemicist (something that might be said, for example, of a blogger). Yet, for it all, she knows how, by contrasts within a chapter, to make devastating point.

Goldstein does so in Chapter 50. In 2013, banker Mary Willmer is doing quite nicely, thank you very much:

In one Janesville, Mary Willmer is in a whirlwind. She is in good spirits. The initial work of converting her corner of M&I bank into BMO Harris is starting to ease, even as her responsibilities at the bank are about to expand. Next month, she will become BMO Harris’s manager in charge of developing teams of “premier bankers” and financial advisors through a swath of Wisconsin that stretches nearly two hundred miles from Green Bay down through Madison and Janesville and into Beloit. Premier banking is offered to BMO Harris customers “in the mass affluent sector,” with savings in the range of $250,000 to $1 million.

Goldstein tells us that Mary’s also personally preoccupied:

Mary’s life is evolving. She is falling in love. Her long marriage to a mortgage banker has ended, and she has just met a new guy, an architect in Madison. She recently was asking her Facebook friends to recommend their favorite all-inclusive resorts for a January trip to Mexico, and they are planning a week in California’s Napa Valley later in the year. “Couldn’t be happier,” Mary posts on Facebook the day that she helps her youngest, Connor, celebrate his eighteenth birthday—and that she books the wine country trip.

Meanwhile, to help support their family, the high-school-aged Whiteaker girls are taking online high-school classes so that they will have more time to work:

For making car payments or helping out with families’ bills, Virtual Academy has a benefit: Its students are exempt from Wisconsin’s limits on how many hours teenagers are allowed to work. The online courses available seven days a week, day or night, its students are trusted to get their studies done on their own schedule and work as much as they want. This has become the main draw. Alyssa figured that maybe she can bump up the hours at one of her three jobs—the one at the same car dealer as her mom—from fifteen hours a week to twenty-four, if she can go in at 1 p.m. a couple of weekdays.

So, earlier this month, she took a test to assess whether she would be a good fit for Virtual Academy. The results showed that she is self-motivated, efficient at time management, hardworking, optimistic. Quite a good fit. So at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 24, mere hours before Mary will introduce Forward Janesville’s 2013 lifetime achievement winner, Alyssa is not at Parker. She is sitting on the living room couch at home, with a black ASUS laptop that she bought herself….

(In Goldstein’s Epilogue, one learns that Mary has literally moved away, if not entirely having moved on: “Mary Willmer continues to work at BMO Harris Bank. She has remarried and moved to a Madison suburb. She remains involved in Rock County 5.0 and other volunteer activities, including the YWCA’s Circle of Women fundraiser…”)

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 and 11.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 13 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 11 of 14)

This is the eleventh in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Five (2012) of Janesville (Chapter 47, First Vote).

Amy Goldstein’s chapter about the November 2012 presidential election is a study in contrasts, between the polling-place experiences of first-time voter and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Goldstein’s subtle, but makes her point.

Kayzia Whiteaker (and with her sister) casts her first vote:

But before their school day begins, they first meet a mile from their house at Madison Elementary School. This is their neighborhood’s polling place….

When they arrive at 8 a.m., Madison has a line out the door—a big turnout, because of the presidential election. They get in the line. When they finally are handed ballots to fill out with black markers, they vote for the reelection of President Obama and for every other Democrat on the list, none of whom they have ever heard of before, including a Democrat named Rob Zerban from Kenosha who is challenging Paul Ryan for his seat in Congress.

After filling out their paper ballots, Kayzia is nervous about whether they are feeding them into the machine the right way for their votes to be counted. They manage to get the thick paper fed properly. It is a big moment on the day that they come of age. Alyssa remembers that their parents have taught them that people can’t complain about any outcome if they haven’t done their part. They have now done their part. Kayzia updates her Facebook page: “Only took a half-hour to vote today. A great way to start this chapter of my life!”

Paul Ryan arrives at his polling place a bit later:

a caravan of shiny black SUVs pulls up to the curb alongside Hedberg Public Library on Main Street. Secret Service officers emerge and scout the sidewalk. And then, from the third of the SUVs, Paul Ryan hops out in a dark suit and pale silver tie and helps his three kids step down to the ground. Paul, with Janna and the kids and the Secret Service in tow, shakes a few hands and greets reporters and camera crews waiting inside the library entrance.

This little entourage Paul is leading walks past the line of people waiting to vote that snakes through the library’s first floor. The entourage walks right up to the front, and the Secret Service hangs back a few yards, scanning the crowd for anything untoward, in the unlikely event that anything untoward would happen inside the public library in downtown Janesville, while Paul and Janna give their names to poll workers and are handed their ballots.

I’m sure I’ll long remember Goldstein’s contrasting descriptions.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, and 10.

[Corrected] Next on Sunday: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 12 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 10 of 14)

This is the tenth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Five (2012) of Janesville.

Goldstein writes of the broader events of 2012 (the Recall election, Ryan running for vice president) and others that are more intensely individual (a graduate of a retraining program takes her own life following a personal controversy). Of the year, though, Janesville’s desire to attract a high-tech venture stands out for its lingering uncertainty (as it’s still not established): Chapter 37’s SHINE.

SHINE Medical Technologies is a start-up company in Madison that has devised a novel method for producing a medical isotope from uranium. The isotope in question is needed in hospitals for stress tests to detect heart disease, bone scans to detect cancer metastases, and twenty-eight other diagnostic imaging purposes. The global supply of this isotope, molybdenum-99, is running low, and SHINE is one of four companies that have received $25 million, early-phase matching grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to try to develop commercially viable manufacturing methods to keep enough Moly-99 (or Mo-99), as it is known for short…

But there are challenges with SHINE, that the head of the Job Center (whose insight seems doubtful elsewhere) sees:

SHINE would not bring many jobs. [CEO] Piefer has been saying that he’d need 125 employees—a tiny fraction of the jobs that went away. And the soonest those jobs would arrive is three years from now, and it could be later, unless all goes smoothly with investment capital and the federal reviews. And whenever he’s been asked, Piefer has side-stepped the question of how many of those jobs could be filled by people from Janesville, instead of people from elsewhere with greater scientific expertise. “What are the skills he is looking for?” Bob Borremans, over at the Job Center, has been wondering. And if SHINE is going to need to import people with master’s degrees and doctorates in nuclear engineering, Bob wonders, too, what makes Piefer so confident that he can attract those people to what has essentially been a blue-collar town?

Two members of the Janesville City Council speak on opposite sides of funding SHINE (with $9 million at stake from Janesville):

One speech is by Russ Steeber, who, in addition to being the Council’s president, works as a captain in the Janesville Sheriff’s Department. Russ begins with the very words that Mary often uses. A game changer is what SHINE will be. His argument unfolds: “The city of Janesville, for almost 100 years, produced automobiles. . . . Unfortunately, those days are done, and that stream has dried up. Although we can hope that that plant someday opens its doors again, the reality is, we have to redefine what the city of Janesville is. This is one of those opportunities that can really take and define where we are for the next century. . . . And I truly believe that sometimes, when you look at making a decision like this, you have to be bold. I understand that the money the city of Janesville is about to possibly expend can be fairly extensive, but we are looking beyond SHINE. . . . We are looking at other technical type jobs that could come in, other medical research that could come in. We are looking at developing a region for the future.”

…the opposing view comes from Yuri Rashkin. Yuri is the Council’s most colorful member—born in Moscow, emigrated with his parents as a teenager, and arrived in Janesville eight years ago. He is a musician, a Russian interpreter, and a talk radio host….Yuri takes his Council work seriously, and he has concluded that the cost of the SHINE opportunity is too steep, the gamble too big, and the opportunity for public input too slim. The core of Yuri’s soliloquy is a long metaphor: “I feel like we maybe are looking to cross a river that we really need to cross, because we need the economic development, and we have a great company with people I’ve been really impressed with, who are looking to build a bridge, and they got an awesome plan, because we really need to get across the river . . . but this material has never been used, and the bridge has never been built with this stuff.”

Goldstein describes the vote succinctly: “By the time the Council members vote, two hours and twenty-one minutes have passed….But four vote yes, one abstains, and Yuri alone votes against SHINE.”

SHINE won, but (even now) one can’t be sure about Janesville.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 11 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 9 of 14)

This is the ninth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover remaining chapters from Part Four (2011) of Janesville.

Part of this story is well-known to Wisconsinites: Gov. Walker introduces a Budget Repair Bill (since its enactment into law now-universally called Act 10 by Wisconsinites), Democratic senators leave the state to deny a quorum, Republicans pass the bill by changing it so that a smaller quorum (17 senators) is sufficient, Walker signing the legislation that the two chambers deliver to him.

Goldstein returns in this section of the book to the local program of job retraining. Mike Vaughn, having finished twenty-three courses at Blackhawk Technical College, with strong grades throughout, is justifiably proud, but surprised:

Two months ago, Mike began to apply for jobs. Dozens of jobs. He figured that his résumé might get noticed, with his near-perfect grades and his decade on the union side of human resources work, including five years as the shop chairman of an eight-hundred-person factory. He would get noticed, he figured, because of the contracts that he negotiated, the grievances he handled, the employee contract language he interpreted, the Kronos workforce management system that he already knows how to use. Union side or management side, he figured, the work is similar, and companies would surely notice that he had been doing it for years.

Mike is surprised that all he has gotten are rejection letters, when he has heard anything at all.

But Vaughn hears good news, fortunately and after all:

This pride-fear combination will linger inside Mike for precisely two more weeks. Two Wednesdays from now, he will go for an interview at Seneca Foods Corporation, a vegetable processing plant in Janesville that happens to have an entry-level position in its human resources department. That Friday, he will get a call to come in on Monday for a pre-employment physical. On Tuesday, he will be told that he can start work the next day. And so, on June 1, Mike will not be thinking much about the fact that he has to work the overnight shift, or that he will be dealing with workers and interpreting labor contract language from the corporate side and not the union side, or that he and Barb will, between them, be earning just over half the money they had made at Lear.

Mike will be thanking his lucky stars that, after twenty-eight months without a job, he is starting a new career.

Yet Mike’s luckier than many others:

Counterintuitive as it may seem, the out-of-a-job workers who went to Blackhawk are working less than the others. Nearly two thousand laid-off people in and around Janesville have studied at Blackhawk. Only about one in three has a steady job—getting at least some pay every season of the year—compared with about half the laid-off people who did not go back to school.

Besides, the people who went to Blackhawk are not earning as much money. Before the recession, their wages had been about the same as for other local workers. By this summer, the people who have found a new job without retraining are being paid, on average, about 8 percent less than they were paid before. But those who went to Blackhawk are being paid, on average, one third less than before.

At the Job Center, through which so much federal money has flowed in support of the job-training gospel, Bob Borremans has been noticing that not everyone who went to Blackhawk has emerged with a job with good pay. Or with a job. This is not what he expected. He has a mystery on his hands.

A student at Parker High, meanwhile, to her own surprise and relief, discovers the Parker Closet Closet:

When Mrs. Venuti unlocks the door, Kayzia can’t believe what she sees: shelves filled with jeans and shoes and school supplies, and open cabinets stocked with food and body washes and toothpastes. The Parker Closet. What amazes Kayzia is not just that this room exists. What amazes her most is the avalanche of a realization she is having that, if this room exists behind the door that Mrs. Venuti has unlocked for her, that must mean that other kids at Parker are from families whose situations are not the greatest either….

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 9 of 14).