On Transgender Americans

One could write about the recent Twitter statement from Trump that “[a]fter consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” but there’s a broader question than military service. To be sure, I believe that transgendered soldiers should be permitted to serve, that their service would have no meaningful costs (it’s false to say as Trump has said that their service would be burdensome or disruptive), and that there are meritorious legal arguments in favor of transgendered soldiers’ continued service & against Trump’s rash declaration.

(It’s also worth noting that the president cannot unilaterally change military policy via a tweet, no matter how much he might like to do so.)

But it would be evasive, I think, to couch one’s position so narrowly (on matters of military service alone, however important that service is).

I’ve no claim to understanding the particular experiences of the LGBT community, but then one needn’t have such familiarity to see that there are political, ethical, and (indeed) religious arguments firmly supporting equal treatment for LGBT Americans. (On this latter point, there are those, for example, like Fr. James Martin, S.J., who are working to advance a more inclusive view.)

A well-ordered society is one in which all people have equal, fundamental rights at law, and where those fundamental rights are respected and protected.

These are not merely national matters.

It was only four years ago that a politician in this city, when writing about a Wisconsin supreme court race, highlighted (unfavorably, to be sure) the support one candidate had among two small LGBT groups. Nearby, more recently, one can find a trolling reactionary sure to complain about the LGBT community one way or another, all the better to endear himself to those whose only problems are fabricated cultural ones.

One would have hoped that Trump would not have opened yet another battle against another minority group, but then the more one sees of Trump, the worse one expects from him. There’s so very much to despise about Trump — after today, there’s even more.

More important, however, is a firm acknowledgment that many of us in this small community welcome all people, of any race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or orientation, as our friends and neighbors.

How Big Averts Bad

If it should be true that small-town Whitewater faces a choice between difficult times now or an extended decline before an out-of-town-led gentrification, that her decline will otherwise be slow but no less signficant as a result, that stakeholder (special interest) politics grips the city, and that this stakeholder politics is really an identity politics that offers no uplift, then what is to be done?

(On identity politics – it’s comfortable for a few, but only in the way that it’s comfortable for a pig to sit in the mud: the animal’s momentary ease won’t forestall a trip to the butcher shop.)

There’s the possibility of restructuring committees and city functions to assure a streamlined – and unified – direction, but the effort presents some legitimate policy questions, and more relevantly would require additional work from some who just don’t want to expend that effort. (Although I share policy doubts about the idea, if I can guess the motivation correctly – and it’s just a guess – I would say that the idea seems born of a desire to motivate the city in a positive direction. One can be opposed to an idea yet sympathetic to a perceived, underlying goal.)

Unfortunately, an alternative to streamlining is even more difficult – far more difficult – to do: the city could undertake a comprehensive review of its entire political culture, setting aside much of the last generation’s approach, in citywide meetings and supporting referendums. (Think of something like a broad-based convention and the resolutions that might come from it.)

Because this approach would require setting aside most of what has been tried ineffectually, and stubborn pride abhors a new course, the likely acceptance of this approach is about the same as convincing wolves to eat broccoli. (They might be persuaded to try some, but they’d be more likely to eat a person’s hand or arm during the effort.)

The scene: Whitewater’s local government advanced a resolution on Citizens United, but the community lacks the unity to advance a series of broad resolutions or votes on reducing local government’s size and thirst for revenue, ending government-goosed business deals, paring back even further zoning restrictions that are still too burdensome, a genuine community relations to replace adversarial enforcement, ending the transparently deceptive practice of publishing cherry-picked data and dodgy studies (a problem for the city, school district, and local campus), rather than honestly presenting the city to all the state not as a paradise but as a work-in-progress that could use every last talented newcomer we could find.

This would be a big project, but the city’s in a spot where, to avoid an extended period of relative decline, Whitewater needs big to avert bad.  The long-term future of this city will yet prove bright, but why delay for many years that better day, for the sake of a few officials’ selfish pride?

The Lingua Franca of a New Whitewater

If it should be true – and it is – that Whitewater is more diverse than her town fathers care to admit, with the city now a collection of disparate, minority factions, how can one reach a majority with a message? (For Whitewater’s waning notables of this generation, there’s no way to return to their former influence and command: compelling messages have changed, communications have changed, and they’re mostly too blind, too entitled, or too lazy to adapt.)

For others, though, who will carry on into the next generation, what should one do?

Here are seven suggestions. —

1. Look to national standards of quality.  Left, Right, Center, etc.: adopt the language and style of national-caliber publications, groups, and movements. That’s exactly what most people in the city do, every day, when they watch national news, read national publications, use nationwide (and international) social media.  It’s mostly Whitewater’s town squires – not her ordinary residents – who settle for uncompetitive standards (sketchy presentations, vague claims, platitude after platitude).

2. Take those high standards, and use them directly when thinking about local issues.  Forget about going through leading figures to accomplish something.  Take your ideas and apply them directly without deference to lazy or self-promotion officials.  Some officials are unquestionably talented, but even they are hampered by the low standards of their least-capable colleagues.

Conservatives and the business-oriented can do much better than the Greater Whitewater Committee, Whitewater’s Community Development Authority, or Tech Park Board.  Their level of reasoning, planning, and achievement is below proper American standards (and of course below the standards of most people in town).  Compared with national thinking on so many topics, these gentlemen are manifestly inadequate.

Liberals can do much better than a few nebulously-sketched ideas at a committee meeting.  Tailoring one’s work to the quality of supporters or opposition from others in office is committing to less than Whitewater deserves.

I’m a libertarian – neither conservative nor liberal – but I’ll readily acknowledge that either principal ideology when well-prepared is preferable to either group when trying to skate by.

3. Craft your own message, in your own medium.  The local press is past the point of citywide significance – relying on their support adds little, as the audience for these publications is mostly the same, waning demographic.  One would not have said as much twenty years ago, but it’s true now: newspapers and newspaper-like websites offer a (poorly-written) minority viewpoint.  People in these cases are mostly talking only to themselves.

4. Use your own voice.  Stop trying to sound appropriate – speak clearly and directly in your own words.  Every vulgar, scheming man picks up the phrases that he thinks sound ‘right’ and ‘proper.’   I was raised in a family where one still learned to speak with a Mid-Atlantic accent, with that style of pronunciation and lots of idiosyncratic expressions.  Over the years I’ve drifted from that style to more informal speech, but I often slip in and out of a mishmash of styles and pronunciations.  There’s nothing to adopt – one just grows throughout one’s life.  Write and speak as you normally do (however that is).

5. Optimize electronic content for mobile devices.  It seems a small point, but it matters a lot in a university town.  One throws aways a huge audience in Whitewater if one isn’t easily readable on a phone. (Remember, however, that content matters most.)

6. Focus on work, not acknowledgment.  Whitewater’s leadership class is littered with people who want to be praised, acknowledged, noticed, etc.  vanity is a poor example.  It’s one’s message that counts.  Those who want to see their own images time and again should buy mirrors for each room of their houses.  

7. There’s more tomorrow.  Even if one’s day goes well, there’s more to do tomorrow.  For the ill or disadvantaged, there should be rest, comfort, and care. For people who write, who contend over policy, who hold office, etc., there’s no similar entitlement:  these freely-chosen pursuits bring obligations, not entitlements.  One’s work begins anew each morning.   One rests in these cases to be refreshed to do more, and better, work.

There’s always more to learn, and thereafter to do.

In a community of diverse groups, one can still reach a majority, but only by abandoning failed local practices for successful national ones.

A Small But Diverse City, Seldom Described That Way

About four months ago, a councilman in Whitewater (intelligent, educated) expressed concern that a municipal meeting was poorly attended (it was).  His solution was to post notice of the next meeting on the Banner.  

They city posted a notice there, and the next meeting was still poorly attended (with only a few more people than the first meeting).

To the councilman, using that website (as municipal government so often does) made sense.  It was a ‘semi-official’ publication, in his eyes.

(Obvious declaration: I’ve no interest in carrying water for our municipal government, our Community Development Authority, our university administration, etc.  To be a semi-official publication to local authorities wouldn’t be to my liking, to put it mildly.  This is a website of independent (individual) commentary.  In this way, libertarians are like the ACLU: neither represents the government.)

Why, though, did a prominent notice in the Banner fail to entice?  Some notices would entice – but in far fewer instances than insiders will admit.

Why? Because Whitewater is more diverse – much more – than some insiders understand or than other insiders pretend.  Thousands in this city have no affinity with the views of local insiders.

How can one be sure?  One can be sure because one can look at the city’s actual demographics and see that we’re a collection of very different groups, most of whom cannot be expected to share the tastes and experiences of a few well-placed, well-fed town notables.

These few gentlemen are unwilling to admit as much; it’s obviously true, about them (and about me). We’re not demographically representative of thousands in the full city.  They are unwilling to admit this truth.

Consider what Whitewater really looks like, from the U.S. Census’s American Fact Finder:

  • The median age is 21.7
  • Of the adult population, 55.8% are students (enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs)
  • Over 10% are Hispanic or Latino (2014 data)
  • Almost one-in-five of all families with related children (19.8%) are below the poverty line
  • Of all families, over one-in-five (21.4%) have no workers in the family
  • Of the entire population (children, adults of any vocation), 36.7% fall below the poverty line

Whitewater’s town fathers (and her town blogger) look nothing like thousands – indeed a majority – in this city.

They won’t admit as much; I will.

It’s also why it’s not possible to capture all the city with a single message or publication; believing otherwise simply reflects one of a few perception biases.

This same diversity is why Whitewater has passed the point of a few big people, of a Mr. Whitewater, or of efforts at wrapping these thousands in a single package with a single bow.  The town notables and fawning print publications that have sought to describe the city this way are doomed in any event.  The town notables and reporters who have committed to this mendacious effort have wasted years to no avail.

This diversity doesn’t bother me – on the contrary, much of it (except of course statistics on poverty) strikes me as good for the city.  SeeThe (Welcome) End of ‘Big’ in a Small Town.

It’s simply odd, though, that so many smart people can’t (or won’t) see how demographically unrepresentative they are.

If Market-Based Solutions Are Superior to Cronyism, Why Are There So Many Cronies?

Here’s a question, concerning even small towns like Whitewater, for which the Financial Times publishes an answer: If market-based solutions are superior to cronyism, why are there so many cronies?

First, there aren’t that many cronies (or insistent insiders) in Whitewater or elsewhere, but the few there are manipulate or intimidate weak reporters at local papers into representing their numbers as though they were all the community.  So they’ll commonly speak about how Whitewater does something, when the people acting are a few insiders in a room, for example.

(The truth of Whitewater is that the adult, non-student population in town is only about half the city’s total population, and by the time one accounts for natural differences in interest, outlook, and ideology, the number of big-business lobbyists in town is actually small.  Sometimes, it seems like it’s one person, and a guy who follows along beside him dutifully – if awkwardly – carrying signs or flyers.)

Why, then, does cronyism persist, despite the greater intellectual, practical, and ethical strengths of voluntary, unaided transactions in the marketplace?

Prof. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago’s Booth School has the answer:

While everybody benefits from a competitive market system, nobody benefits enough to spend resources to lobby for it. Business has very powerful lobbies; competitive markets do not. The diffused constituency that is in favour of competitive markets has few incentives to mobilise in its defence.

This is where the media can play a crucial role. By gathering information on the nature and cost of cronyism and distributing it among the public at large, media outlets can reduce the power of vested interests. By exposing the distortions created by powerful incumbents, they can create the political demand for a competitive capitalism.

SeeA strong press is best defence against crony capitalism @ The Financial Times.

Needless to say, I don’t think that the traditional local press (Gazette, Daily Union, Register) or an imitation (Banner) plays this role.  On the contrary, those publications are defenders of town squires’ repeated errors.

No matter: a new informational order now arises in many small places that progressively, effectively, decisively eclipses insiders to the benefit of those towns’ broader communities.

Tomorrow: Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way).

The (Welcome) End of ‘Big’ in a Small Town

I don’t think much of the term ‘movers and shakers’ (that a nearby newspaper used to describe supposedly influential people) or ‘big’ people, etc.  The terms almost always exaggerate actual influence. 

I am sure, though, that a combination of diverse social media, the decline of print, the shifting demographics within Whitewater, and the next generation’s unwillingness to be obsequiously deferential dooms the accurate application terms like ‘movers and shakers’ or ‘big’ people.

This is all to the good: Whitewater’s future will be incomparably better when it’s no longer possible (or even believed to be possible) for a few to insist on reserved seats at the political table, at the expense of others. 

The Puritan-like insistence on one city, one culture, one view depends on a willful ignorance of our actual condition: diverse groups, by age, vocation, ethnicity, and ideology. 

The careful, narrow presentations of print publications, or the imitation of the same online, haven’t – for years now – adequately described this city.  The expiration date on that way of thinking passed long ago. 

This thinking lingers because those who push that view benefit from it, by insisting they have a pre-eminent place, and by advancing their work without even simple review. 

Whitewater’s neither a principality nor a banana republic: she’s a small and beautiful city in a beautiful, continental republic.

The undeniable end of ‘big’ is approaching in Whitewater, and it’s a welcome, indeed a very welcome, prospect.  There will be lots of scrapping along the way, but the outcome is assured.

In its place: thousands, different in many ways, but none higher or lower than any other. 

So What Do You Think of Whitewater?

People, including some from far from our city, often ask me what I think of Whitewater. 

I think Whitewater is beautiful, and that despite present challenges she has a bright future

Sometimes people say they might like a warmer place in winter, or a bigger place all year.  They say this sincerely, and their wishes are meaningful to them. 

Yet, there is no warmer place, there is no bigger place, that would also be a better place.  I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

That’s what I think, and that’s how I feel. 

The Dark, Futile Dream

UW-Whitewater is searching for a new chancellor, and so there’s a search committee, and a search consultant to guide that committee’s work.  The consultant is Dr. Jessica Kozloff, the former president of a small, undistinguished college in Pennsylvania.  (The UW System schools are, each of them, more competitive and developed than the one Dr. Kozloff led until 2007.)

Dr. Kozloff and others see, and perhaps dream, of a world where college presidents will act as they wish, when they wish, without meaningful scrutiny.  One can conclude as much after reading published remarks she made about the role of a college president:

One of the trends we’re finding in the search is that the role of the president is, to some degree, less attractive today because it’s everything from social media to the volatility of politics today,” she said. “All of that has sort of had an impact and made the role much more stressful, especially in a place that has a very, very negative media. However, that’s not going to be true here, so I think that’s going to help.”

Stressful, you see, because social media and the traditional media (at least, by her thinking, the ‘negative’ part of the traditional media) are watching public officials in the performance of their public duties.

I don’t doubt that Dr. Kozloff would prefer a world with a docile and fawning press, and without social media by which students, faculty, and residents might communicate news of administrative actions and decisions. 

Funny about all this: Kozloff is both laughably condescending and wrong at the same time. 

It’s too funny how she speaks to Whitewater’s insiders.  She speaks to them as though they were children, fit for a fairy tale about one Big Bad or another lurking in faraway places.  She speaks something like this: ‘Out there, beyond your safe little hamlet, lurk hungry reporters waiting to devour you.  Stay quiet, don’t make a sound, and maybe – just maybe – you’ll be safe.’

Funnier and sadder still would be the number that heard Dr. Kozloff speak and thought, ‘yes, that’s right.’

If these few are even half of what they claim to be, then why can’t they handle the thorough and series inquiries that come their way? 

It’s odd how wrong Kozloff is, too.  Of the traditional media, such as they now are, and where they’re heading, Kozloff seems profoundly ignorant. 

To be sure, she needn’t worry about the traditional print press of our area going negative; the only place they’re going is broke.  See, Last Call: The end of the printed newspaper.

They’ll not survive the media changes sweeping America – print (including the toadying one that yet persists in our area) – will not survive beyond the next several years.

At first blush, this demise might seem good for insiders, on the theory that no traditional print paper is better than any traditional print paper. 

Nothing could be more wrong.  The media that replace traditional print (with a few exceptions) will be more skeptical of authority, not less, as many of them will originate from non-traditional sources.     

As it stands now, most of the local print press is fawning, and willing to shill for almost any incumbent influencer or political swell it can find.  These pages upon pages are great for insiders’ scrapbooks, but the publications that churn them out have little time left. 

(Note to insiders: Hurry now to give yourselves every award you can concoct – there’ll soon be no admiring print publications to promote your ersatz honors. )

The loss of a supine press, catering to politicians, bureaucrats, and connected, big businesses, is a loss principally to insiders, not to advocates of good policymaking.

As for Whitewater particularly, media changes sweeping America will take from local town squires the reflexively supportive environment they falsely believe that they deserve.  No official in Whitewater will ever again operate without scrutiny. 

Consultant Jessica Kozloff will collect her money and drift away in some other direction. 

Her work will amount to nearly nothing.  Any insider relying on her counsel about the press, or one’s relationship to the community, will find himself or herself disappointed.  The cosseted environment about which she speaks crumbles all around; there’s no future in it. 

For our county and city, however, there is an irresistible movement toward better than we’ve had.

Whitewater’s Near Future Depends on What Year It Is Now

I’ve written that a New Whitewater is inevitable, that we have passed The End of The Beginning, and are now in a Middle Time between one way of life and another.

When these changes will be wholly manifest depends on where we are in time, now, so to speak: ’35, ’55, or ’65.

If we should be in ’35, then the old guard has decades ahead, and their near future is secure.

If we should be in ’55, then our town squires have just a bit more than a decade of political relevancy ahead.  Many of them will yet live to see the collapse an older political order.

If we should be in ’65, then they’ve far less than a decade left.  

Even now, when they speak claiming to represent all the community, they do so in carefully controlled settings, bemoaning the winds of the greater world sweeping along every street just outside. 

It’s not ’35; we’re closer to sometime between ’55 and ’65.

These few have strived for a political and social preeminence that will not, that truly cannot, endure. 

The Absence of Equilibrium

Later this week, I’ll check to see how I did on my predictions for 2014, and make some new ones for 2015.  The week of January 6th, I’ll elaborate on themes from the predictions for 2015. 

Here’s an observation, however, that I think describes Whitewater’s politics and culture, generally: there is an absence of equilibrium, as we shift from a older, imposed order to a new, more spontaneous one. 

For some, this is an exciting time (I would be among those who think so); for others it’s variously unwelcome, uncomfortable, or even (for the morose) dreadful.

And yet, and yet, these changes – deriving not from the machinations of a few, but from broad social forces – are inexorable. 

There is dynamism in any place, with the only exception, I’d imagine, being Hell.   
I’d contend these last few years, however, have seen more political and social change in Whitewater than our long-term average.  We’ll set yet more change, too.

Those who are comfortable amid wind and waves will do just fine; those who prefer a sedentary shore will not fare as well.  Those who would rather live in an unchanging climate will do the worst of all. 

The clear way to see the city, though, is as a community in flux, regardless of how that suits one’s sensibilities. 

Causes and Monuments

Early one morning, while you’re in a coffee shop, a woman walks through the door, orders an Americano, and sits down at your table.  She sips ever so tentatively, while poring over a local newspaper. 

She turns to you and asks, “Do you know how I could leave my mark on this community?”

You’re not focused on leaving a mark, of course, because that’s a judgment for others, and beyond one’s control. 

Hers is not a question you’d reasonably be expected to answer, either, as a fitting reply depends on knowing not merely your community’s needs, but her character and abilities. 

And yet, she has asked the question, so you have already some insight into her character, haven’t you?  Her twelve words provide a first foundation for a reply. She wants to make a mark, a visible impression, one that would exist apart from her presence, as a handprint exists apart from one’s hand.

A single question of her will give you much more information.  So you ask, “Which do you think is more lasting, a building or a cause?” 

She looks around the shop, gazes nearly forever out the window, and then stares back at you.   Finally, she says, “People are fickle and their opinions change, but a building with a plaque could last for hundreds of years.  There are famous buildings in Europe that are thousands of years old.”

Now you know: she wants a monument, and she’ll not feel satisfied until she builds one.

You believe the opposite, that a cause matters more than a commemorative. 

And yet, and yet, she’s already decided what she believes, convinced as she is that what matters is being remembered with an imposing structure. You might try to dissuade her, but as she will undertake a private rather than a public project, you know that she’s using only her own time and money.

Taking a notecard and pencil, you write down the address on which she might erect a monument of her choosing.

“I’d say this is just the spot,” you tell her. She smiles and thanks you.  

You stand, look across the table in her direction, and take your leave by wishing her a good day. 

As you walk toward the door, she calls out to you, “Do you have a spot like this, too?”

Knowing that a cause may be boundless, as though a free visitor to every street and neighborhood, you reply, “Yes, I do.” 

Stepping through the shop’s door, with the city waiting beyond, you see the object of your concern, in every direction to which you might turn. 

Another day begins. 

Whitewater Educational Referendum Post 3: An Invitation

Like so many others in Whitewater, I am a believer in both proper schooling and lifelong learning.  My father and uncle first introduced me to campus life when I was still a small boy. 

Years later, I had the pleasure of their visits to campus when I was a student.  On those visits, my father enjoyed walking with me through the university’s main library, with long row upon long row of many generations’ works, reminding me of both the hope and humility that accumulated learning suggests. 

After this referendum, however it may end, our schools will have an ongoing task ahead: What will we teach, and how will we teach it?  One may consider this the broad curriculum, of academics, athletics, and the arts. 

In this sincere spirit, I have an invitation to extend to the administrators, teachers, and supporters of education in this community:

I’ll offer this space, for an ongoing written discussion of topics of our schools’ broader curriculum.  We may each pick a set of topics we’d like: I would suggest a few topics, and any number of others may choose topics they’d like to discuss. 

Each topic’s discussion could continue, in post and reply, throughout a week.  One person begins, another replies, and that’s how the conversation goes: post, reply, further replies, back & forth during a week, on a designated topic.

Examples of written discussions like this are available online from the Cato Institute and at the Wall Street Journal in discussions of books, for example. 

Our discussion would be as important as any of those.  We, in Whitewater, can do just as well in conversation as, if not better than, anyone in those publications. 

There are so many in Whitewater who care about education as education, as subjects of study and the teaching to advance them.  Are you not tired of politicking, of finance-driven discussions, and shabby public-relations efforts to boost one statistic or another?  Isn’t learning more than that, more than peddling?

Make no mistake, a New Whitewater is inevitable.  There are years yet ahead in its progress, but there’s no going back.  The future writes the history of the present; it won’t be written in the language or from the viewpoint of a few clinging only to past practices and ideas.

Of our district administration, faculty, and all residents who support education, I’d ask: why not join in a forward-looking discussion on what matters most?

We can pick a time after this referendum to begin: what’s at stake is even bigger than an election.  I have, as do so many others in town, the patience of conviction. 

Members of our community will, I’ve no doubt, have this discussion.  Why not have it together?  We will do better together, one can be quite sure.

I’ll be here, available for scheduling that substantive discussion, waiting patiently just a click away:


Previously: Whitewater Educational Referendum Post 1: Overall Politics and Whitewater Educational Referendum Post 2: Local Campaign

‘Best Practices, Fair Treatment, Transparency’

Writing about the city requires reading the public documents of local government, even if one chooses not to write about what one’s read.  Reading and observing come well before writing.  

Daily observation inclines an observer not to the immediate, but the distant – one takes a longer view of things.  

Along the way, sometimes one reads something that’s a harbinger of our city’s future.  

While reviewing the Common Council packet for Tuesday’s scheduled meeting, I saw a resident’s application for a prominent commission.  At the end of the application, in her own hand, she wrote that she hoped to continue her work toward “best practices, fair treatment, and transparency.”  

One day, resting on that present hope, we will have a new and better city. If we were to have a motto, ‘best practices, fair treatment, and transparency’ would be a good one.  

That’s not this time, but a future one.  From now until then will require hard and relentless work.  We will find, I’m sure, that ‘kind words and a real good heart‘ will not be enough.  

To bring about a better, fairer, more transparent city will require of us what Nietzsche felt necessary of an advocate — “A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions.”

We’ll have that better city (I’ve no doubt), but it will require tenacity.

Nothing less will do.    

Could the Koch Brothers Dominate Whitewater’s Politics?

Assume for a moment that Charles and David Koch decided to use their vast billions to dominate Whitewater’s local politics.  They’d spend whatever they had, under this hypothetical, to put their hand-picked candidates in office, for advertising, public relations, goodwill community events, and lobbying to get their way in elections, appointments, and in pressuring local officials over policy.

(Two disclosures are in order.  First, as the Koch bothers are former libertarians, having abandoned our movement for big-party politics, they seem misguided and repulsive to old-family – movement – libertarians like me.  Second, though I find them repulsive schemers, still they have a right to spend to influence politics; in fact, restrictions on that right seem even more repulsive to me than political apostates like Charles and David.)  

Let’s suppose, though, that they decide to move to Whitewater, and to wield their influence over our small town. 

So the question: Could the Koch brothers dominate Whitewater’s politics?

The answer is no, they could not.  No matter how hard they tried, at whatever expense, a campaign in opposition would defeat them, so often in the polls and so often in popular opinion that they’d fail in their attempt. 

Our conditions are unsuited to the Kochs. 

Even a few people, arguing in opposition diligently, day-in, day-out, would overcome them in Whitewater’s marketplace of ideas.  Anyone in Whitewater who tried sincerely and repeated to argue against them would prevail.

And yet – and yet – this inspires a further question: if all the vast power of the Koch brothers would not be enough to dominate our city’s politics against opposition, what chance would a smaller, local pressure group have?   

In this, one finds a political question for the next few years. 

Why Whitewater?

This post is the third of a trilogy about Whitewater.  Months ago, I posted the first two of this series. (See, How Many Rights for Whitewater? and What Standards for Whitewater?).  

Those earlier posts may be summarized simply:

Of rights —

All of America, and all of Wisconsin, for all of Whitewater.

Of standards —

The best of Wisconsin, of America, and of civilized places beyond, for all Whitewater.

If rights matter (and they do) and standards matter (and they do), one question yet remains:

Why Whitewater?  

Why write about this place, rather than another?  Why contend over this small city’s future, rather than that of another place?

This, truly, is the easiest answer of all:

The people of our small city are entitled to rights and standards by virtue of life, itself.

There’s no better place in which to write, contend, and live.  

Not partial rights, not sham standards, but a full and genuine measure of both.  No one should live that he or she is no more than an extra in someone else’s film, or an ornament for a vain man’s pride.  

Someone once told me, by way of a supposed rebuke, that it was wrong to expect as much of officials in Whitewater, and for the residents of our city. She believed that one should settle for less from government, and expect less for residents, as this was a small town incapable of better.

To contend as she did is to contend falsely, to advance a dark and cynical view.  

All around us, among many thousands, one finds talent and accomplishment.  It is right to see as much, but even if one saw none of this, still it would be wrong to suggest that those who live here are deserving of less.  

There are also residents here, as there are in every community, who are ill or disabled – but they also are entitled by nature to the rights and care owed to all others.  Often, they are deserving of additional care and comfort.  

People see as they’d like, and love as they’d like, but as for me, I see Whitewater, and love her, in this way: through an unshakable belief that people in our city merit rights and standards naturally and necessarily.  

Here, as beautiful and as deserving as anywhere.

The Middle Time

While Whitewater is in a time of transition, from one way of life to a more diverse and prosperous one, she is only at the ‘end of the beginning’ of that transition.  

It’s a middle time now, and if one were to think of this as chess, one would say we’re in the middle game.  As with chess, the boundaries of that middle time are often nebulous, and are hard to define.  

We may say that the beginning or opening is now over, as social media have pushed Whitewater from her former oligopoly of published information.  A fawning professional press that coddled the mediocre and dishonest no longer counts for much; there are dozens of media by which information in small towns may circulate.

The creation of a status-quo news website in Whitewater has been a mixed success. It offers much in the way of local, apolitical announcements, but any pretensions to political influence are undercut by substandard composition and an often poor level of analysis.  (All the silent editors in the world are still not enough.)  

In this middle time, one can expect two things.  

First, those few who have worked so hard, for so long, to assure that Whitewater will operate under business as usual likely believe that they can navigate a partly-changed terrain.  They’ve never wanted open government, transparent deals, market transactions, or even-handed enforcement and administration.  

They will never want these things, and they will not relent from pushing their own selfish & reactionary positions.   

Second, they’re mistaken to think that Whitewater has changed somewhat, but will change no more. The greatest changes are yet ahead, dwarfing those we’ve yet seen.  

A New Whitewater will be – and should be – a mix of ideologies, cultures, and generations.  

It should not be – and by force of change will not be – a place of cronyism, self-dealing, bias, or third-tier reasoning in politics or economics.  

People can get along well under any number of political differences (left, center, right, libertarian). The divide, however, between open and dark government, between fair deals and cronyism, between sound analysis and embarrassing error, is unbridgeable.  One is fundamentally fair and admirable, the other fundamentally unfair and unworthy.  There’s no room for a deal on these more fundamental matters.  

Whitewater is in that middle time now, one that will last for years.  It’s sure to be a period of twists and turns, an exciting and challenging time.  

There’s every reason, though, to look ahead energy and optimism.

What the ‘Shock of Inclusion’ Means Locally

I posted yesterday on Clay Shirky’s  Shock of Inclusion and New Roles for News in the Fabric of Society, published in 2010 and just as relevant today.  

His essay isn’t about local media especially, but his observations are useful to assess both local news and politics.

Shirky writes about the collapse of a pipeline model of news, where professional organizations wrote and broadcast stories sent those stories downstream to be read (passively, with only limited, press-controlled opportunities for published replies) by readers or viewers.

That model’s finished – many thousands of people in each of thousands of communities have the means to publish easily and inexpensively their own views, through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, etc.  These means are a great opportunity for America, and for places like Whitewater, Wisconsin.  See, along these lines, New Whitewater’s Inevitability.

The most important thing to know is that, almost without exception, those who are writing on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, etc. don’t want to become part of the old order – they don’t want a place at yesterday’s rickety table, and they’ve no taste for yesterday’s ill-prepared fare.  

It’s not to become part of a fading, old-line news business, but to become part of a vastly larger and more important marketplace of ideas that these new media publishers aspire.

New media are not merely new formats; they represent a new outlook, one that produces higher standards through a vast exchange of ideas from among many different, independent publishers.

I truly like newspapers, but I have never wanted to be a reporter, wouldn’t imagine myself as one, and wouldn’t be any good at the trade in any event.  I and others neither want nor need to become part of the news business – we are already citizens, for goodness’ sake, and want new arrangements, not a share in old ones.  

Broadly, what does this mean for our area?

Newspapers.  For happy-news, no-analysis print newspapers, new media simply mean a slow decline, and a readership increasingly old, complacent, and down-market.  They’ll keep going this way until that readership fades away, with too few replacement readers.

For newspapers that aspire to be more (and in our area that’s only the Gazette), it’s sure to be a hard road.  They’ve some truly smart people at the Gazette, but others who aren’t that sharp, and far too many who really don’t understand how new media have altered the landscape.  

The Gazette will have the toughest time of it, because its estimation of its own role is so much greater than happy-news publications that have long since given up being more than press agents to local notables.  

Their problem is made harder by being a conservative paper in a blue, working-class town.  Ideological differences between the paper and many residents require an especially sharp analysis – years of a downstream, pipeline approach have left the paper too often befuddled about what its readers want, and too often taking its readers for granted.

Worse, a government-business-press coalition – a de facto editorial stance that’s just a polite description for crony-capitalist flacking – has neither popular appeal nor likelihood of practical results.   

Tough times may have pushed the Gazette to feel that it needs to be supportive of major politicians and major businesses in town, but that’s the worst position to take, both ideologically and practically.  In good times or bad, a city needs scrutiny of politicians and corporations, to assure high standards and respected rights for all residents.

Reading that paper and its blogs, one can guess that they’d like to sail these new waters, but don’t know how. (Ironically, newsman Scott Angus shows a markedly stronger understanding than editorialist and blogger Greg Peck.) Reading many other papers nearby, one can see that they’re not even trying.

Politicians.  New media push politicians into one of three camps: (1) those who will never adapt to new media, (2) those who will pay lip service to them, and (3) those who understand new media and will profit from their understanding.  

The first group includes the least-capable leaders in a city, people of limited ability who benefited from conditions of closed government. They’re incapable of improvement in their work or outlook.  Mostly, this group will rely on the lowest-quality, old-style reporters to repeat unthinkingly anything that those in the group say.  Since low-quality publications are waning, this group has an ever-smaller audience for their laughable lies, excuses, and shoddy work.  They’ll huddle among other mediocrities, as that’s the only audience who’ll be hospitable to them. 

The second group understands new media, at least in part, but having come of age in a lazier, old-media era, they’d rather pay lip-service to a more demanding critique than actually do better work.  Some will retire before the pressure of a new media critique grows too much for them, others will find to their consternation that better work, not lip-service, is necessary.

The third group, one that’s destined over time to comprise most politicians and business people, both understands and will use new media effectively. They’ll be the foundation of a New Whitewater, and better communities across America.

Believe in Whitewater

It was Gov. Romney, I think, whose presidential campaign slogan was ‘Believe in America.’  I’m not a Republican (I’m Libertarian), but I did like the slogan.  America is worth believing in.  

I believe in Whitewater, too.  Not how she’s been depicted, entirely, but how she truly is, and in the good things that lie ahead for us, here.  Our city, now and in the years ahead, offers and will offer so much to so many.

Consider the Council session last night – the vote over the bus did not go my way, as a vote.  And yet, and yet, it very much went a good way as a discussion – the level of discourse among Council is far better than even a few years ago.  The quality of reasoning matters fundamentally.  

That’s a real gain – it’s not enough to say ‘I want this,’ or ‘I want that’ – there should be meaningful explanations of why one believes something.  We have that sort of discussion a bit more each year.  

Watch a Council discussion on video from a few years ago and compare it with one more recently – we are developing a better politics.  Better than we had, and also likely better than other towns nearby.  Not Left or Right, simply better.  There’s a good distance to go, but we can clear that distance if only we’d keep pushing harder.  

There’s every now reason to keep working for that higher standard. I know I’ll do my level best – there’s no better place to be.

(I’d guess that Janesville’s visiting officials really don’t see that we expect more of officials here than is probably expected of them in their own city. The gap between that city’s officials and our representatives is notable; we’ve a higher standard.)

We don’t have to settle and I don’t think we will.

The Planning Commission Meeting for 11.11.13

Whitewater’s Planning Commission met last night, and among the topics was consideration of re-zoning and a conditional use permit for Casual Joe’s, a new restaurant, tavern, and distillery to operate at 319 W. James Street (at the site of a long-unused commercial building, the former Fort Auto Body).   

On 4-3 votes, a majority of the Commission approved both the re-zoning and the conditional use permit.

I’ve supported this project, hoped that an accommodation could be reached, and think this was the right outcome. See, along this line, Whitewater’s Planning Commission Meeting for 10.14.13. (Needless to say, I have neither a financial nor a personal connection to the proposal; I simply believe it’s a good idea for Whitewater.)

One well-understands that the idea is controversial to some; in two consecutive Planning Commission meetings, concerns were both heard at length and (I’d say) thoroughly and methodically addressed.  

One of Whitewater’s planning commissioners offered an observation about a prior project that was controversial at the outset, but has turned out very well (my transcription, however imperfect):

….Some of the conversation we’ve had reminds me of the drive-thru liquor store conversation over on the Westsider.  Some of you may not even know that we have a drive-thru liquor store, but if you’ve been here, calamity was ensured.  And, I don’t want to make light of this, because in that case there are residents nearby, but the slippery slope argument was used.

What happened in this case is that it was approved, and it was approved because the person, the applicant, did his homework, involved partners, amended the plan, and it was a known…it was somebody who was established in the neighborhood – long-established in the community, and he had a stake….

Well said.  I remember that discussion clearly; there are advantages to a long memory.

It’s also true that the project proposed for 319 W. James Street is exactly the sort of project that Whitewater’s Comprehensive Plan – whatever one thinks of it generally – does contemplate for a location like this one.  To read from those planning documents and believe otherwise, really, is a misunderstanding of what those documents both say and strive to foster.

To paraphrase from a recent presidential campaign slogan, this is the change for which we’ve been waiting.  

For us, in Whitewater, this is the emerging business and entrepreneurial culture, of restaurants, merchants, and independent professionals, for which we have been hoping.  

Big has failed us, stodgy has failed us, top-down has failed us. 

Not everyone sees this as opportunity, I know.  Much of this is comfort with the past, even if for the whole city the past has been embarrassingly less than a reasonable person would hope, excuses and exaggerations notwithstanding.    

What comes to us now, fortunately, will not be yesterday’s environment – it will be a new and better one, more prosperous, more vibrant, of greater opportunities for all the community.  

Best wishes to Chef Sailsbery and his staff for another successful venture.

Whitewater’s Common Council Meeting for 10.15.13 (Downtown Whitewater and Whitewater’s Merchant Class)

Municipal funding for local business groups, including Downtown Whitewater, Inc., lies ahead.  I’ll not discuss those line items today.  Instead, I’ll offer a simple observation about local merchants.

Whitewater has spent too much time and money on failed big-ticket, white-collar projects and too little time on her local, merchant class.

I’ve no particular interest in favoring local retailers over national ones; I’ve every reason to cheer local merchants (1) generally as part of true entrepreneurship, and (2) as against empty and laughable ‘investment’ schemes that merely transfer public money from common people to preening, glib-talking men. 

The antidote to the florid, phony press releases for these schemes is to read something insightful; the cure for enduring some prattling fool’s attempt at sophistication is to visit a merchant.  

For reading I’ll always choose the early Jane Jacobs; for visits one should talk to a local businessperson in town.  One reads with an open mind; one visits as an ordinary customer. 

When I walk through the city, through its downtown, I’m both happy and concerned. I’m happy for what we have; worried that our focus isn’t on a true, productive, merchant class, but instead is on big schemes. 

Last night, Downtown Whitewater’s director, Tamara Brodnicki, spoke to Common Council, in a quarterly presentation about her members’ and organization’s progress.  Few presentations interest me more – better a simple discussion about merchants than a day about grand ideas. 

She spoke about actual developments and upcoming events. That’s as it should be here, from all groups, always: a list of progress and of concrete plans.

Here’s what should weigh on us, long beyond the fall budget season: nothing good will come to a city that doesn’t support an open, vibrant, market culture.  No one will move and invest here if the downtown isn’t a success. 
Structures, plans, organizations, budgets, re-zoning – all that awaits, and may have more than one outcome.   

It’s well past time, though, for this city to look away from the big-but-futile, toward the small-but-hopeful.