Sunday, July 31, 2005

The 'Bune asks: “Public or Private Sanitation?”

The Sunday “Opinion” page of the Tribune is given over to a point/counterpoint format that asks the question: “Public or Private Sanitation?”

Mayor James E. Garner Sr. begins with the argument that his “sanitation solution is a tough, but necessary choice,” while Mickey Thompson, President of Local 1861 A.F.S.C.M.E., answers with “a private contractor doesn’t mean savings or better service.”

Here’s an excerpt from Mayor Garner:

The decision I made to restructure the sanitation operations was neither simple nor pleasant. But it was necessary, and I firmly believe it will benefit all of us in the coming years. For the next eight years, New Albany’s waste removal needs will be met by a unique public-private partnership …

And one from the union president Thompson:

We should all know or understand that a contractor is in the business to make a profit. This is usually accomplished by a combination of increases in price, and/or decrease in service. The administration understands the contractor in snot intending to provide the same service we currently enjoy.

If either statement is archived on-line later this week, which given the 'Bune's history of timeliness is a dubious prospect at best, links will be provided.

For the past ten days, the sanitation issue has been extensively debated at the local Volunteer Hoosier and Speak Out, Lout (NA) blogs.

Also, in “Public to voice opinion about sanitation,” an article by Amany Ali in the Sunday newspaper, it is noted that City Council President Jeff Gahan proposes to chair a public forum on the topic at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday night, August 3, in the third-floor meeting room of the City-County Building.

CM Gahan’s reasoning seems to NA Confidential to be non-partisan and mostly sensible, as the sanitation partnership decision does not fall within the jurisdiction of the City Council beyond providing the council’s obstructionist Gang of Four with a heaven-sent opportunity to posture and chew scenery, and consequently, public communications time at Monday’s council meeting might drag on for hours if it is not deferred to a forum designed for one topic and one topic alone.

At any rate, we’ll know the answer on Monday night, which stands to be yet another riotous chapter in the life and times of New Albany. See you there.

New Albany City Council Members.

Donnie Blevins
1548 Corydon Pike
New Albany, IN 47150
944-4856
(At Large)

Beverly Crump
1510 Star Haven Drive
New Albany, IN 47150
948-2603
bcrump@iglou.com
(Fifth District)

Jack Messer
1906 Carriage Court
New Albany, IN 47150
949-9638
(At Large)

Jeff Gahan (President)
1122 Eastridge Drive
New Albany, IN 47150
949-9314
gan2020@aol.com
(Sixth District)

Mark Seabrook
1130 Eastridge Drive
New Albany, IN 47150
944-9644
(At Large)

Dan Coffey
425 W. Seventh St.
New Albany, IN 47150
949-1262
(First District)

Bill Schmidt
202 Ellen Court
New Albany, IN 47150
945-7386
schmidts@aye.net
(Second District)

Stephen Price
112 Butler St.
New Albany, IN 47150
941-9032
(Third District)

Larry Kochert
2236 Shelby St.
New Albany, IN 47150
945-7652
(Fourth District)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Good Morning, New Albany -- gee, I wonder what the "little people" are up to?

Twelve inches and shrinking, apparently.

Here’s a comment copied from yesterday’s Speak Out Loud NA, the blog that courageously enables the thought processes and biochemical reactions of New Albany’s oppressed “little people,” those white, home-owning, middle-class citizens who lack the tools to measure a complex world passing them by with the speed of broadband.

In the past, I've referred to the blog in question as Speak Out, Lout NA). Allow me to demonstrate why.

Speak Out’s moderator, who has stated that she wishes for her noble creation to be about issues, not attacks, has thus far made no comment on the following, which is an attack, and which is anonymous, and consequently illustrates why we call it the Trog(lodyte) Blog.

Needless to say, no editing has been done from this end. The full, unalloyed grandeur must be allowed to stand as written.

Anonymous said...
Back Off Baylor! Enough is Enough. You have made about your last attack on people. You think you have all the damn answers. Before any comments are made. And you are nothing but a loser. You take your $5.00 words and stick them up your ass. Nobody on this blog cares what you think, or who you know. You are a disgrace to man kind. You think you can attack people. And get away with it. I personally have had enough. You have nothing good to say about no one. And who in the hell do you think you are. You think your so high and mighty. And you are a "nobody". You sit their and judge people based on what they say! And how they feel... You talk about people being weak,.Stupid, and below you. You are a worthless, piece of shit! You are an embarrassment to yourself. You have no dignity,honor or f-guts! You are the Biggest Coward I have ever met. You will "Never Get the Respect" That Concern Taxpayer has earned. You are a Fraud Mr. Baylor!

11:12 PM, July 29, 2005

Here are a few of the comments that followed this.

Kindly note the posting times beneath each one, and draw your own conclusions.

BAYLOR SPEAKS - NOBODY CARES said...
COMMENTS-Long pass due on new albanian. He more than likely wrote these comments himself. He has a need to be "Important". He never misses a chance to trash anyone and everyone. So I am putting my money on he wrote it himself!
7:49 AM, July 30, 2005

Followed by:

NO SYMPATHY said...
Yell Baylor's braggin to all his bud's about it. He likes firing people up. Put's him in attack mode! shame on you baylor. Nobody on this blog really dislikes you? Your the COWARD. No sympathy from this crowd.
7:59 AM, July 30, 2005

Supported with:

Anonymous said...
BAYLOR'S BACK IN TOWN! I heard he wrote it himself.
7:59 AM, July 30, 2005


And ending with this postscript:

Anonymous said...
we love you baylor......welcome home. you needed words of comfort. so you wrote them yourself.poor baby.you haven't been able to attack nobody for a week so you play the attack baylor card. nobody buying it this time.
8:06 AM, July 30, 2005


There you have it, folks -- veritable crayon-encrusted press releases from the "Re-elect Steve Price" campaign.

Enjoy your weekend.

Great sanitation debate of '05 unlikely to have legs, but makes for hot copy while it lasts.

This will come as old news to those readers who’ve been looking elsewhere in the blogosphere, and rightly so, for breaking events in what will be remembered by our grandchildren as the great sanitation debate of ’05, but Mayor James Garner’s proposal to contract garbage pick-up and recycling to a private firm has unleashed more than a few subliminal furies in the hearts and minds of the citizenry.

The ones who are on line, that is, and the friends and immediate families of the dozen or so workers who stand to be affected most by the changeover, but beyond them, vast legions of the city’s residents remain supremely indifferent, not caring a jot who does the deed so long as their garbage disappears, thus making this issue no different from most of the others we’ve discussed here, to wit: Out of 40,000 on board, only a handful are paying attention.

Consequently, if you’re waiting for a typically irreverent and, with luck, provocative assessment of New Albany’s Sanitation Nation crisis, look elsewhere.

But first … a few thoughts.

It seemingly took all of five minutes for the great sanitation debate to devolve into the very same scenario witnessed so many times before hereabouts, wherein the very same troglodytes hurl the very same lame epithets at their perceived enemies, who are the ones trying in vain to help answer the questions demanded of them by people unwilling or unable to consider the responses, since their minds were quite made up before they began demanding the information necessary to keep their opinions the same as they were at the beginning.

Why regressives even bother asking a question when they already know the answer is a mystery to me, but so it goes. It has something to do with being able to demand facts, summarily dismissing them, then calling the messenger a son-of-a-bitch (or worse) in order to feel better about life.

Fortunately, literacy still reigns in remote corners of the community.

At her Blog, Diggin’ In the Dirt, Ann S. has posted an affectionate “thank you” that would make the late Bob “Thanks for the Memories” Hope proud.

The piece is called New Albany Sanitation Workers, This One's For You, and although I admire the sentiments expressed therein, and don’t disagree entirely with Ann’s conclusion that our redundant sanitation workers must pay for the errors of others residing above them on the governmental food chain, it still seems a bit much to lavish more words on these twelve living, albeit soon-to-be-former municipal workers than Abraham Lincoln used to remember 50,000 battlefield casualties at Gettysburg.

I join Ann in praising the work done by these men and women, and ever since the news came across the wire, it has prompted a good measure of melancholia deep within.

At the same time, the pages of a century-old New Albany city directory are filled with references to jobs and livelihoods that no longer exist, and surely paeans were composed to the last village blacksmith, the lamplighter and the fellow who steered the ferries to Louisville.

We already know that half the workers will be transferred to the street department, and that at least some of the others will join the ranks of the waste removal contractor. Nearly a cool million saved each year can be applied to repairing and upgrading the sewers, with a potential benefit to thousands of residents in the years to come.

As a progressive, it seems to me that the proposed garbage contracting deal is a sad and necessary trade-off, and hardly to be considered alongside outsourcing and the sins of big business in the pantheon of vileness.

Of course, there remains a noisy minority of naysayers who forever more will point to a thriving Scribner Place and its probable legacy, a revived downtown, as a sort of Ground Zero of the late, lamented sanitation worker, and grouse that if we hadn’t been so uppity and demanded a better city for all, the garbage packers might still be on the job.

They’ll be right in the narrowest of senses, and very wrong more broadly speaking. Most of them will have forgotten by then. So it goes. And so it always has.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Building just one new bridge in Charleston, SC.

Arriving in Charleston, S.C. on Tuesday morning, we drove on U.S. 17 across the city’s midsection between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers in route to our hotel in Mt. Pleasant, and thus unwittingly became early (and awestruck) users of the sparkling new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the longest cable-stay span on the North American continent.

The twin-towered bridge is impressive, with four lanes of traffic traveling each way, but at present it provides an even funkier visual ambience owing to the continued existence of two older steel bridges dating from the 1920’s and 1960’s, whose archaic metallic lines are currently woven through the sleek contours of the new bridge, which only opened for traffic on July 16. The two older bridges are to be dismantled.

Observers of the local bridge-building scene should note that the actual construction of the Cooper River Bridge took five years, with a total price tag placed at somewhere around $700 million, while cyclists and pedestrians will celebrate the addition of a lane for their use – but not without a campaign to merit inclusion!

Go to the official bridge site for more details.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hey, give me a chance to catch up, already.

We couldn’t have picked a more momentous week to be out of town.

Last Thursday, New Albany’s anti-progressive Siamese councilmen were routed in a climactic pro-Scribner Place vote, followed immediately by Mayor James Garner’s stunning proposal to privatize residential garbage and recycling services.

On Tuesday, the Board of Public Works offered emerging city council leader and veteran city policeman Jack Messer to the council as its choice for ordinance enforcement officer.

We learned that the Office Depot chain is set to occupy remodeled retail space in the New Albany Plaza, and our friend Jim Book’s business, Bean Street CafĂ©, is moving from its present Slate Run location to the Charlestown Road exurb.

The East Spring Street Neighborhood Association’s ongoing “Clean Up New Albany” campaign made the Tribune, and featured a wonderful photo of key members Jim & Tabitha Sprigler, with accompanying information about their web site and forum, Clean Up New Albany.

Take note that Randy has reopened his comments section at Volunteer Hoosier, and the discussion about the sanitation privatization has been particularly spirited. You're advised to check it out.

Predictably, the subterranean denizens of Speak Out Loud NA have been pelting Volunteer Hoosier with crude insults and derogatory comments, and unsurprisingly, New Albany's “little people” continue to grow smaller by the day.

Get a life, wee small ones -- and damned good to be back.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A midsummer week's skedaddle, Palmetto-style.

Readers, we’re taking a “dog days” break in order to attend a family reunion and do some sightseeing down south, so from now until the 28th of July, there may or may not be daily offerings posted here.

Random posts from afar are a distinct possibility, and our regular guest host Joe might drop in for a game of pepper or three in the interim.

We suggest that you visit Volunteer Hoosier for local news updates, but if Randy is otherwise occupied, take a few minutes and tell us how you’re spending your summer vacation (use the comments section for this post).

And don’t forget NA Confidential’s new motto:

New Albany is a state of mind – but whose?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Under a Hungarian Bull's Blood Red Cask: August, 1995.

It's the dog days of summer, and vacation time for many.

Mr. and Mrs. Confidential are set to travel to a family reunion in Hilton Head, South Carolina, with side excursions to Chrlaeston and Savannah, and pleasant thoughts of being on the road again have led to the inevitable ruminations on previous trips.

I've returned to Eger, Hungary three times since the visit recounted below, and although the crowds are larger and more multinational, and the standard of living thankfully raised, the city's charm remains intact.

----

Wine has been produced in Hungary for thousands of years, and it remains important economically and socially ... but foreigners used to drinking wine are generally disappointed by the Hungarian variety. Under Communism, most of what wasn't consumed at home went to the Soviet Union where, frankly, they were happy to drink anything. This and state control offered little incentive to upgrade antiquated standards of wine-making ... (but) all that is changing, and fast.

Excerpts from Hungary: A Travel Survival Kit (Lonely Planet Publications), by Steve Fallon.

As a foreigner who is not accustomed to drinking wine to any great extent, I haven't shared Fallon’s disappointment in Hungarian wine. Then again, I've tended to stick to the variety I know best, which is the reason that Frank Thackeray and I traveled to Eger, Hungary in August 1995 for a day of scientific vino sampling.

It was a pleasant change of pace in terms of human geography, as well as being a refreshing departure from the rigors of comprehensive beer sampling that take up the bulk of my travel time these days.

Eger is a city of 66,000 people in north-central Hungary. Slovakia, where we were visiting prior to our jaunt across the border, is nearby to the north, and Hungary's capital city of Budapest is two and a half hours away by train.
One look at Eger from the vantage point of the city's castle and the visitor is reminded of Hungary's reputation for agricultural prowess. If left to their own devices, as Hungary’s people generally were from the late 1960’s until 1989 -- even under Communism -- Hungarians produce abundant vegetables and edibles. The city is surrounded by low, rolling hills, some of them wooded, but mostly covered by broad expanses of cultivated fields.

This initial impression of a small city nestled in a productive farming region points to two relevant observations.

First, that Eger is a relatively isolated, provincial outpost, albeit one with a rich history.

Second, that it boasts one crucial attribute that many other similarly situated cities don't have, which is strong, flavorful wine in great abundance -- an adequate reason for existence by virtually any standard.

Indeed, Eger is a wine making center of long standing, and it enjoys an international reputation as the home of Egri Bikaver "Bull's Blood," a rich red wine.

The city is an efficient tourist center catering to those who are in search of an affordable, wine-soaked vacation spot -- foreigners in greater numbers than ever, but still mostly Hungarians, who come both for the wine and to enjoy the city as a base for trips into the wooded hills to the southwest and northeast.
I see Eger as an overgrown, Magyarized version of Joe Huber's, except that the wine and paprika-laced food are actually good, and no one up in Starlight speaks Hungarian (the English spoken up there in the Knobs is another, equally indecipherable story).

Besides, you can't get to Huber's by train. Depending on where you begin, the same is almost true of Eger, as Frank and I discovered when we traveled by rail from Kosice, Slovakia.

We crossed the Slovak-Hungarian border at Hidesnameti, rolled straight through the industrial city of Miskolc, debarked at Fuszabony and changed to another line for the 25-minute ride to Eger.

Other than the unpronounceable names, it all sounds smooth on the surface.
It wasn't.

Our first problem was money. None of the banks in Kosice would sell us Hungarian forints, and we didn't want to pay the customarily inflated price for buying an international ticket through to our destination, so we decided to take our chances with paying point-to-point on the train, then changing money into Hungarian forints at our first opportunity.

This strategy usually works in eastern Europe, although it should never be tried on trains in places like Germany or Scandinavia, where you'll likely be lectured harshly in impeccable English, heavily fined or even heaved onto a nowhere village platform for your trouble.

They're usually looser to the east, and accordingly, Slovak crowns covered the brief trip to the border. From Hidesnemeti, where the stop was too short to change money, the fare to Fuszabony was easily negotiated in German marks (and a dollar bill) with an accommodating conductor who quickly calculated exchange rates and recorded the transaction on a receipt for future reference.
We planned on changing money at Fusezabony, only to find that the two banks in a dusty Hungarian prairie town that lacked only sagebrush, tumbleweeds and six-shooters to be in western Kansas both were choosing to ignore their posted hours of business.

Without forints, we were doomed to a parched 2 and 1/2 hour wait in a spartan, almost deserted station bereft of fans or circulating air, keeping company with a few dozen very bored flies and an elderly female toilet attendant who insisted on eyeing us remorselessly after overhearing me attempt to interest an utterly indifferent station buffet worker in changing money on the sly.

Needless to say, no money -- no refreshment.

When our crushingly useless vigil ended, and the train for Eger began boarding, we readied our foreign currency for the inevitable haggling over the means by which we, as forint-less outsiders, would pay the fare.

To our astonishment, the young female conductor was paralyzed at the sight of the dollar bills we offered. Her superior, an older man, took one of the bills and studied it as though it read "Republic of Outer Jupiter," and after a consultation, neither conductor would accept any money for the trip. In very slight English, we were instructed to get Hungarian money at Eger -- almost as if they were more worried that we didn't somehow understand that Hungarian money is required in Hungary than in collecting what was owed them.

The episode was doubly strange in that it has only been a few years since every resident of the area behind the Iron Curtain spent most waking moments seeking hard currency and knew not only what all foreign money looked like, but probably serial numbers and signatures of American treasury secretaries as well.

In those days, if you were willing, local money was always a few feet away in the form of human automatic teller machines. Now it would seem that capitalism has deprived our two otherwise cordial conductors of the entrepreneurial ability to wheel and deal. It isn't supposed to work that way.

At the same time, it might have been the fact that the fare amounted to a total of four bucks, and it was just too little to be important to unimaginative state employees on a very hot day.

Thus, we arrived in Eger and proceeded to walk down a broad, pleasant avenue lined with large houses, vines and trees that that had an odd, out of place, southern feel, to the central tourist office.

A laconic, bearded employee phoned a pension (family-run guest house) and arranged a room, and, finally, we changed money legally and easily -- a lesson yet to be learned back at the somnolent Fuzsabony.

Eger's old town is compact and largely unmarred by the Communist era's concrete pile 'o' feces architecture. Recent years have brought waves of restoration and renovation, and the city would seem to have emerged from it all in fairly good condition. There are hotels, rooms to let and some new pensions (small, usually family-owned guest houses).

Restaurants are plentiful and Hungarian food is available in all its typically rich abundance. More importantly, there is the best reason for visiting, the wine.
White wines are made in Eger, including very sweet versions of the famous Tokaj wine that both the Hungarians and the Slovaks claim to have originated, but it is the city's "Bull's Blood" that is most renowned.

Predictably, there are several stories that purport to explain the name. Both go back to the period, roughly 400 years ago, when rampaging Turks were a constant threat to east-central Europe.

During one fierce battle for the town of Eger, which ended in victory for the Hungarian defenders, it is said that the attacking Turks became frightened by the red stains on the beards of their enemies, because they believed that the Hungarians were drinking the blood of bulls for strength.

Actually, the Hungarian commander had been fortifying his bastions not only with stones and lumber, but with copious amounts of Eger's blood-red wine, too.

Several years after this battle, the marauding Turks returned and captured the city, and a second story holds that following the Turk victory, the pasha who arrived to rule the area decreed that each evening a selected father must bring one of his virginal daughters for an evening's worth of carnal pleasures.
One father duly arrived with his daughter at the appointed time, and he brought with him a bottle of liquid that he was able to convince the pasha was bull's blood, which the Turk was led to believe would increase his potency.

However, the bottle really held red wine, which the Muslim functionary was unaccustomed to drinking owing to Islamic restrictions. The pasha passed out before he could do the deed, and the daughter's honor was spared.

Since that time, it is likely that Eger's wine has helped to promote more sexual liaisons than it has thwarted, but that is only speculation.

Regardless of the truth of these stories, modern-day residents of Eger are reminded of their erstwhile Turkish rulers by a lone minaret on the site of a mosque that disappeared long ago. The tower reposes in slender phallic splendor just meters away from Minaret Hotel, whose adjacent restaurant was the venue for our afternoon meal on Saturday.

The highlight of the feast was an oversized bowl of carp soup. Carp is raised in farm ponds in east/central Europe and is reminiscent of catfish. The carp in my soup was cut into big, fatty filets that exuded just the right amount of pungent fishiness, and only barely crossing the thin line between flavor and offensiveness. I washed it down with mineral water in an effort to preserve my palate for the wine tasting to come.

Following our ample afternoon meal, we embarked on the 25-minute walk to Eger's major attraction, at least to us: The Valley of the Beautiful Women, where there was reputed to be a number of privately-owned wine cellars dispensing the magic red liquid of legend.

Would there really be beautiful women? It would be hard to imagine any better than the attractive Slovaks who had paraded past our vantage point of the previous afternoon, a sidewalk cafe of sorts on the main street in Kosice. I knew the women in Budapest were fine -- none better in the Communist bloc back in '87 -- yet this was the backcountry, not Budapest ... but I digress.

Our pleasant stroll past numerous signboards and notices, and conversations overheard as natives walked past, reconfirmed the impenetrability of the Hungarian language. Those familiar with Romance languages, or who has picked up a few words from Slavic tongues, or has noticed that there are similarities between German and English will find that absolutely none of any of this bears the slightest relevance to Hungarian. Double consonants and diacritical marks proliferate like rabbits in long Hungarian sentences, all vying for space and straining the untutored eye.

In Eger, wine is the answer to any linguistic problem. Continuing our walk after a brief pause to survey a cemetery that was composed of rows of boxes stacked like building blocks that contain cremated remains, with the effect being not unlike the cheap socialist-era housing blocks that surround most Hungarian cities, we arrived at the crest of a hill.

Looking into the valley below us, we saw tour buses and mobs of people. Set into the hillsides were the concrete, stone and wood fronts of the wine cellars, many with iron doors and some with seating areas outside, where the small vineyard owners mature their wines and dispense them to revelers from far and wide on a sporadic, eclectic basis.

Eger's wines rarely are varietals. Instead, two or three types of grapes are blended together. According to what we were told, Eger's grapes demand extremes in temperatures -- warm summers and cold winters.

The late afternoon heat shimmered on the row of tour buses as we descended the slope and into the valley. The atmosphere was similar to that of a county fair, with numerous food and drink stands, music and dancing, and a few carnival rides greeting us.

After taking a circuit of the narrow valley by way of a looping road with a park in the middle and surveying the various options, we entered a cellar and sat at a long table. The natives inside ignored us completely and carried on drinking their ruby-red concoctions, so we beat a hasty retreat and tried again, this time ducking into an entrance behind which were stairs descending into the earth.
We were greeted by a wonderful South African proprietor who learned Hungarian from her husband and had moved to Eger five years before to manage the cellar where we sat. It was cool, damp and moldy. Previous visitors had pressed forint coins into the growths for good luck.

First we were served a young red wine that had yet to attain fullness or balance. This and subsequent samples were served by our hostess from a long, bulbous tube into which she drew the wine from the containers by cupping her lips around the tube and inhaling, and then poured it by using her little finger to direct the gravity-fed spray into our glasses.

The second sample was her vineyard's version of "Bull's Blood." A large, commercial winery makes the Egri Bikaver that is sold overseas; what we tasted at the first and subsequent cellars were local interpretations.

Appropriately, the afternoon turned into evening, and we moved on to other cellars, and one thing dissolved into another. We stuck to the reds. Egri Bikaver in its many local incarnations is bold, acidic and tannic. In retrospect, it was a good idea to fill our stomachs with food before undertaking the consumption of the wine, vast quantities of which on an empty stomach might not have been a wise idea.

Eger's trademark red passes the sole test that I apply to my infrequent tastings of wine, which is to ask, "would Ernest Hemingway have liked this?"
Hemingway did not waste words describing effeminate whites with delicacy and reserve; instead, he wrote about red wines that make the earth move (at least I think it was wine in that scene from For Whom the Bell Tolls.)

I don't know if Hemingway ever visited Eger, but I imagine he would have approved of Bull's Blood.

After several hours of sampling, we made our way back into the center of the city and capped off the evening with more wine and a beer. Next morning our wheeler-dealer host Miklos determined train times and called a cab for us, and we were off for the return trip to Kosice to meet my friend Joe for a last round of beers prior to the overnight train to Prague.

This time, with ample Hungarian money in hand and fairly begging to use it, we were charged for only one leg of the Eger-Fuzsabony-Hidesnameti return trip.

At Miskolc there was a three-hour wait. I remembered from several through trips in 1991 that the Miskolc train station restaurant was good and relatively cheap, and so we killed our time there over rough-and -ready goulash soup and a few bottled beers.

Mainstream Hungarian beers use adjuncts and tend to be mild and spritzy with the exception of "bak" beers, which are loosely based on German bocks and provide more to chew on than the everyday Hungarian lagers, although to sweet extent that makes one yearn for hop balance.

From Miskolc, it was back north across the border to Kosice and our prearranged rendezvous with my friend and ex-English student Joe Ivanco.

We chose the open-air courtyard of a temporarily fashionable pub for our final evening in Kosice and drank delectable draft Budvar, which might be the world’s most superbly balanced golden lager beer.

For the story of the first time Joe and I drank beer together in 1991, go here.

"Leaders Explore Revitalization of Cities," an article in Nation’s Cities Weekly.

A friend forwarded this article to NA Confidential, and it is much appreciated.

With respect to urban revitalization, disregard partisan political considerations and note the emphasis placed on education and infrastructure development, and consider that there aren't two "no progress at any price" troglodytes in the city of New Albany who together possess the comprehension skills to read all the way to the end without screaming that they don't want their property taxes used to enhance the city's physical plant.

----

Leaders Explore Revitalization of Cities

by Mark Borak, in Nation’s Cities Weekly.

The National League of Cities joined 21 municipal, private sector and nonprofit leaders in a dynamic forum for metropolitan revitalization ideas at the first joint meeting of the Saving America’s Cities Working Group and Advisory Committee last week.

Chaired by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the working group, charged by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to examine the challenges facing America’s metropolitan areas and recommend actions, includes 24 House Republicans. An advisory committee of national and municipal leaders, chaired by former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, complements the working group.

The advisory committee, which includes Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony A. Williams, NLC president, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Akron, Ohio, Mayor Don Plusquellic, joined the working group at the meeting.

Panelists emphasized the need for increased cooperation and coordination between the federal government and local economic regions.

“Cities are the centers of interconnected local economic regions which together comprise the overall U.S. common market,” said panel member Donald J. Borut, executive director of NLC. “The conditions, performance and outlook for the national economy are directly dependent on the condition, performance and outlook for those local economic regions.”

“The seeds of the solution lie in the problem,” said Kemp, who agreed that the foundation of U.S. economic success and competitiveness in the global economy resides with the economic health of America’s cities.

The panel emphasized that investment in education, entrepreneurship and housing opportunities in cities will create national economic benefits and improve the quality of life for all Americans.

“Education levels are one of the most important components of economic performance,” said Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a national organization of leaders from business, academia and government. “Cities that can generate new ideas and industries will also raise incomes and standards of living.”

Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, drilled down into housing issues and explained that many first responders, teachers and public servants cannot afford to live in the communities where they work. Crowley added that the United States needs to produce 250,000 new housing units each year for low-income residents over the next 20 years to close the projected housing gap.

To provide enough low- and mid-income housing to serve our cities’ populations, the panelists emphasized using different approaches that would complement existing infrastructure, redevelop “brownfields” and use creative methods to marry private development with public interests.

“Investment in infrastructure would pave the way for increased development, but local governments can’t handle these costs alone,” said Jeff Soule of the American Planning Association.

“There is a need for a greater level of incentives in addition to federal funding in the form of block grants and loans to lower the barriers to redevelopment for the private sector,” said advisory committee member Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans.

The real estate boom and a resurgent interest by empty-nest suburbanites in downtown living provide both an opportunity for revitalization and a danger of accentuating challenges facing America’s cities.

“Investment in housing must be met with investment in people through education, job opportunities and support for minority-owned businesses,” said Advisory Committee member Valerie Lemmie, city manager of Cincinnati, and president of the National Academy of Public Administration.

“People are our most valuable resource,” agreed Kemp.

On specific issues, panelists offered their full support for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and low-income housing tax credits as tools to spur redevelopment in blighted, abandoned, and historic areas.

“We need to recognize the primacy of CDBG as the ‘centerpiece’ of urban revitalization,” said Morial.

Many panelists provided examples of how mixed-income housing and redevelopment projects had contributed to higher living standards, property values, and tax revenue, but needed initial public investment of funds to break ground.


Kemp referenced a House bill (H.R. 1461) that would require two government-sponsored organizations, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to set-aside 5 percent of their annual profits for affordable housing construction. Kemp speculated that this could help spark reinvestment in metropolitan areas.

See also the National League of Cities web site.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

California's Coffee House?

Does anyone know what happened to California’s Coffee House?

The cafe has been closed for a few weeks now, following what seemed to be the beginning of a remodeling push that I assumed was related to the owners' forecast of expanded food service.

I’ve been meaning to ask this question for at least three weeks, but keep forgetting when more topical news items bubble to the surface.

The front windows of California's are plastered with signs that read, “open soon,” which is strange considering the establishment already was open.

Granted, since its inception in March, California’s has been somewhat enigmatic, perhaps in the fashion of many non-corporate small businesses, which must learn through experience the answers to daily questions -- the best hours to operate, the optimal way to configure a room, and so on.

However, a complete, albeit temporary, shutdown wouldn't seem to fit in this scenario.

Are there regulatory issues pertaining to the projected food service expansion? If so, it would contradict Rey’s comment that he’d originally licensed the property for food, and decided to start out “soft” with coffee and snacks before upgrading to a bigger menu.

Readers: What do you know?

Previous coverage in NA Confidential:

March, 2005: UPDATED: California's Coffee House up and running at 1515 E. Market.

The March article, updated on May 8.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Here’s one we missed: North Korean official visits Chinese brewery.

Profuse thanks to our jetsetting pilot pal Tim Eads for providing a web link to NK News: Database of North Korean Propaganda, a breathtaking compendium of priceless North Korean Communist gobbledygook:

"NK News is a searchable database of North Korean propaganda. This site contains nearly every article published on the KCNA's website, in English and Spanish, since Dec. 2, 1996 -- over 50 MB of hard-core Stalinist propaganda! And each article is written in that unique and indelible style that only the KCNA can do."

Not since the halcyon days of Eastern Europe socialism have I been entertained this thoroughly – certainly not by the darker and more dastardly implications of Stalinist societal oppression, which I join the civilized world in abhorring, but by the strictly observed totalitarian style of writing and composition.

Here’s a prime example:

Pak Pong Ju Visits Different Parts of Beijing

"Beijing, March 23 (KCNA Correspondent) -- Premier of the DPRK Cabinet Pak Pong Ju on an official goodwill visit to China today visited the Yanqing Beer Factory on the outskirts of Beijing.

"He was accompanied by Vice-Premier Ro Tu Chol and other members of his party and suite members.

"He was also accompanied by Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK Wu Donghe and officials concerned.

"After being briefed on the history of the factory, the premier and his party went round the raw material, fermenting and packing processes with keen interest.

"At the end of the visit Pak wrote in the visitor's book that he hoped the factory would register signal success and progress to greatly contribute to the improvement of the standard of people's living and the prosperity of China.

“Keen interest,” indeed.

If you’ve ever consumed North Korean beer (and I have, once, but with luck never again), or watched a visiting delegation of North Korean officials race excitedly through the available stocks of Pilsner Urquell at the brewery’s former tap room in Plzen, Czechoslovakia (and I did, in 1987), then you’d know that this North Korean official’s visit to the suburban Beijing brewery might well be remembered as the undisputed highlight of his diplomatic career.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Coffee and the Sunday 'Bune, C-J.

It’s a relentlessly rainy Sunday morning here in NA, and a news day so slow that televised Texas Hold ‘Em, Hot Wheels collectibles and the collected works of Councilman Cappuccino (both pages) are beginning to seem worthy by comparison.

Tribune managing editor Chris Morris devotes today’s editorial slot to the anniversary of his 1985 hiring by the ‘Bune, and a remembrance of his twenty years of service.

NA Confidential congratulates Chris. We’d happily link readers to his autobiographical piece if it were possible, but alas, the ‘Bune persists in its unwillingness to archive editorials and commentaries on line.

Unfortunately, as noted previously in this space, the ‘Bune’s scattershot approach to cyberspace remains an annoyance for those of us who would like to point on-line readers to the newspaper’s content.

As is the case with editorials and commentaries, not enough of the ‘Bune’s daily content is posted on its web site, and the three news stories that typically do make it to the Internet are subject to a Byzantine update schedule seemingly determined by the random spin of the wheel.

Meanwhile, things are heating up across the Ohio in Louisville, with Sunday Courier-Journal coverage devoted to the arena debate, Kentucky’s abysmal statewide health statistics and the metro council’s tabling of a proposed comprehensive smoking ban:

Spectacle of dishonor, a Courier-Journal editorial (short shelf life for C-J links).

Here’s an excerpt:

Three days after the Louisville Metro Council's decision to table any vote on a smoking ban, we're still reeling at the hypocrisy and duplicity that were on display in the chamber.

And no, NA Confidential didn’t write this paragraph …

Saturday, July 16, 2005

"Old" Albania: Beer in the Land of the Eagle.

The visit to Albania described herein took place in 1994, when the obscure Balkan nation was struggling for a grip during the period immediately following the collapse of Communism. Shortly after my ex-wife and I left Albania, the country’s economy began to crumble in the wake of an immense financial scandal, and boatloads again were crossing the Adriatic seeking refuge in Italy.

Next came the Kosovo conflict and subsequent NATO bombing of neighboring Serbia in 1999, which involved Albania in more than a peripheral way owing to Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population.

In 2005, the country is reasonably stable, and the rate of growth is such that there is optimism of someday joining the European Union.

The verdict? Nothing’s ever been easy for the Albanians, arguably Europe’s longest-serving underdogs, and an eternal source of fascination for me precisely because of it.

Are the breweries and businesses discussed here still in operation? I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to go back and see.


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What is Albania?

It's nine hot, gritty days spent in a Fiat crisscrossing the central and southern Albanian landscape in the company of two guides and a deft, talented driver whose skill at dodging pedestrians, cyclists, horse-drawn carts, herds of sheep and sagging shoulders put us at "ease," and allowed us to focus on the splendid mountains, the peeling buildings, the demolished Communist monuments, the ubiquitous concrete pillboxes - and most importantly -- the hardy, resilient, long-suffering Albanian people.

It's climbing the twisted, shadowed, cobblestoned alleyways of the old city of Berat, a short and steep walk away from the rotting 60's-era public buildings and the restored mosque across the main square from the huge pile of gravel and broken concrete marking the spot where the statue of the former dictator Enver Hoxha once stood and where the people with pick-axes and wheelbarrows could be seen physically dismantling the legacy of Communist rule within minutes (and centuries) of our vantage point amid the Ottoman dwellings that survived earlier tyranny.

It's driving 3 hours on the "highway" from the coastal city of Vlore, where broad, shabby, tree-lined avenues led to the port that is a short boat ride from the place the Soviets used as a sub base in the 1950's, ascending the forested mountains and pausing just before the crest to dine on fresh lamb, black olives and tangy feta cheese, washed down with cold Italian lager, before going over the top for the 5 and 1/2 hour descent through a vertical cactus and sagebrush landscape giving way to sheer ocean cliffs that somehow had been made to cradle a tortuous, switchbacked, guardrail-less crumbled asphalt ribbon that demanded patience and concentration of all drivers, and the necessity of honking at every zebra curve to clear the path ahead as the blue ocean met the rocks so far below.

It's being willingly and joyfully hustled by entrepreneurial urchins atop the craggy peak in Kruje that boasts the restored castle of Skanderbeg, national hero, slayer of Turks and role model for generations of Albanians, permitting the aspiring young businessmen to hawk postcards and needlework in fractured English -- but with considerable enthusiasm and a certain innocence, since Albania isn't yet overrun with tourists -- and being sure to sweep away the dried goat droppings before sitting on the boulders to haggle over wares in the midday sun made far more intense by the sleep-inducing beer enjoyed at the privately-owned roadside cafe on the way up the hill.

It's walking along the wharf at Durres and gazing up at the Chinese cranes, watching a handful of shirtless workers lazily chip away at the rust and cracked paint on the hull of a boat that may have witnessed the mass exodus of Albanians to Italy during the problematic winter when Communism collapsed, and now was reduced to serenely observing the re-enactment of those events by an Italian documentary film crew that was housed in the same seaside Italianate, pre-war grand hotel with lime green walls and red marble floors that housed us, where the crew complained about the quality of the $2.50-a-bottle Albanian Merlot wine and the greasy "beefsteak" before drinking and eating anyway and retreating to the bar to watch the World Cup live from America.

It's enough to make a tourist thirsty.

1985.

My first glimpse of Albania, the obscure and mysterious Balkan nation, came in 1985. I was lounging on the deck of the ship traveling from Greece to Italy, eating straight from a tin of tuna with a camp fork and washing it down with Dutch Oranjeboom beer in a can, when the hazy shoreline of Albania became visible to the east.

After confirming our whereabouts on a nearby map -- the Greek island of Corfu could be seen to the west -- I went to the railing to investigate the shadowy headlands in the distance.

It didn't look like very much was there, only barren mountains sloping down to the sea and an occasional village. The bizarre concrete pillboxes and defense emplacements erected by the thousands by Hoxha were not visible from the ship. I knew that Albania was the hardest of the hardline Communist regimes in Europe, and that Americans were seldom allowed to enter, but the biggest question of all was one that was unanswerable at the time.

Was there beer in Albania?

1987.

My journey through Yugoslavia took me to Lake Ochrid, an ancient freshwater body of water on the border of the now-independent province of Macedonia and the then still inaccessible Albania. The public bus took me to the last village on the Yugoslav side, where I could go no further, and I was so intimidated by the soldiers and the fences at the crossing point that I was afraid to take pictures. Would they shoot the camera out of my trembling hands? Would it be an international incident?

Would I die not knowing whether there was beer in Albania?

1994.

I finally was able to answer the question that had come up years before. By visiting the newly free and non-communist Albania for nine days, charting the progress and the problems in this living laboratory of social, economic and political change, and learning about the long and fascinating history of the Albanians, I now am able to confirm that yes, beer is being brewed and consumed in Albania.

The Korce Experience.

It would seem that Albanian commercial brewing history is entirely confined to the present century. There is no evidence to indicate that beer was a factor during five centuries of Turkish domination, although wine and raki (indigenous firewater of indiscriminate fermentable origin) make appearances throughout pre-20th century Albanian history and lore. For the record, raki is the chill-relieving, euphoria-promoting and paint-thinning social beverage of choice in Albania, and Albanian wine is honest if not spectacular.

The first commercial brewery in Albania in the 20th century was built in 1932 by an Italian company in the southeastern city of Korce (KOR-cha). The city is located in a fertile agricultural valley nestled in rugged mountains and is renowned for commerce (ancient trading routes with Greece and Macedonia), learning (the first Albanian language school was founded in Korce), ethnic culture, and as a hotbed of Albania's 20th-century quest for national identity.

The brewery is located on a tree-lined avenue on the outskirts of the compact city. Bulky iron gates bear the "Birra Korce" name in simple, red block letters. On the side of a building several yards away, a curiously pristine Communist-era historical marker notes the heroic action of anti-fascist partisans in 1945, who helped to liberate the area by burning some of the brewery's storage buildings.

As our guide Agim translated the words, I asked myself: How could this really be a victory if the beer wasn't liberated prior to the destruction of its home? Certainly the ideological struggle against capitalism could be suspended for a few rounds prior to the lighting of the arson's torch?

The Korce brewery reeks of faded, degraded elegance. It is constructed in the traditional tower layout, with the barley conveyed to the top for milling, the mash tun and brew kettle taking up the middle, and the fermenters and lagering tanks at the bottom. The mustard-colored, green-trimmed buildings are in decent shape in spite of the neglect of the past few years, but conditions were chaotic on the day of our visit. A horse and several dogs roamed the compound, and mounds of rusted machinery -- a staple feature of the contemporary Albanian landscape -- littered the yard. Inside, some windows were patched with cardboard and there were more than a few puddles made by leaking pipes

Yet, in spite of it all, the brewery at Korce -- the only one in Albania with a tradition of excellence, according to Agim -- is shuddering back to life following a period of inactivity since the collapse of Albania's economy in 1991-92.

It is being revived by a consortium of eleven investors who were victims of political persecution during the Communist era and who, as a means of settlement, were given a competitive advantage during the bidding to privatize industry.

On the day of our visit, the Korce brewery's first test batch of the new era was boiling in the kettle. The new owners have had to overcome formidable obstacles just to arrive at the point of brewing. The brewery was somewhere in the middle of the process renovation as we toured the building, and it had the littered appearance of a construction site. We were told that until the European Union chipped in several thousand cases of used, East German half-liter beer bottles, there was nothing in which to bottle the beer -- although a few dozen antique wooden kegs were left behind.

We briefly met with three of the new owners before departing. One of them worked in the brewery before and will now serve as the brewmaster, and he told us that they hope to resurrect Birra Korce's three styles: 12-degree pilsner, 12-degree dark lager and a special 14-degree lager. The pilsner will come first, and the others will follow.

Interestingly, the adjective used for "dark" to describe a dark beer is the Albanian word for "black." Owing to Albania's proximity to Montenegro ("Black Mountain"), the former Balkan kingdom and Yugoslav republic -- and more importantly, the birthplace of fictional detective Nero Wolfe -- marketing possibilities flowed liberally through my mind as we sat in the old, musty, high-ceilinged office and listened to the brewmaster explain his choice of German hops, Italian malt and yeast obtained at the brewery in Athens where Amstel is brewed under license.

I left with the impression that the consortium would be able to pull it off and put Birra Korce back on the brewing map.

Back in the Brewing Business in Tirana.

In contrast to the brewery at Korce, the plant dating from 1952 in Albania's capital city of Tirana is a utilitarian, white-tiled facility resembling a dairy more than a brewery. It was built with Soviet assistance, and looks it. Our ride from the port city of Durres to the brewery in Tirana took us past rustic villages, abandoned and dilapidated concrete irrigation channels, wandering herds of livestock, Albania's sparkling new Coca-Cola bottling plant, row after row of shabbby scialist tenements, and finally a vast lot where the burned-out remains of the city's Communist-era bus fleet reposed in blackened, skeletal lines.

At the time of our visit, the Tirana brewery hadn't yet been privatized, but it was working again. Typically, upon arriving at the gate we encountered reluctance at letting us enter. Eventually a wiry, chain-smoking worker with an impressive five o'clock shadow and darting, nervous eyes took an interest in us and went off in search of the plant director, who couldn't be found -- but by that time we were in, our guide Genci having persuaded someone to make a decision and let the foreigners come inside out of the blazing, midday sun.

Minutes later, we met the "lost" director in the hall, and he hastily grunted retroactive permission to enter, no doubt thanking his lucky stars that he no longer lived in a nation where such negligence might be rewarded with a trip to the eastern Albanian ore mines or the dungeon-like prisons of the citadel in Gjirokastra with its handy rooftop garden once used by firing squads, but now serving as a convenient point from which to survey the ancient hilltop town and surrounding mountains.

We were met by a diminutive, white-coated brewmaster who happily led us around the spartan, functional plant and answered questions through our interpreter. Like the older brewery in Korce, Tirana's brewery had ceased to function for quite some time. According to the employees, it closed because the former brewery bureaucrat had been paid off by entrepreneurs who were engaged in importing Macedonian Skopsko Pivo and who were intent on eliminating the local competition.

Only one style, a Czech-style pilsner, was being brewed at the time of our visit. Hops are purchased from Germany and barley from Italy. Yeast bought in Italy is being cultured in a so-called laboratory; some was foaming merrily in a kitchen-sink sized steel receptacle.

After 5 to 7 days of primary fermentation, the beer is pumped into the secondary tanks in the basement for 21 days of lagering at near-freezing temperatures. As we enjoyed the contrast in temperature between the frigid lagering cellar and the sunbaked streets outside, the brewmaster's assistant tapped off some two-week old, unfiltered Tirana's Best and proudly offered glasses to each of us. It was surprisingly tasty, and it was better than most of the Italian imports on sale in Albania.

Later, we sampled the filtered, bottled, final 11-degree product and noticed the lack of labels -- they haven't quite gotten to that yet, but they hope to soon. Appropriately, the beer is priced to sell below the lowest-priced imports; this is a sound strategy in a country as poor as Albania. On both sampling occasions, first in the cellar and then at the bottling line, we were joined in our tasting by the wiry, chain-smoking employee from the guard shack, who had accompanied us the entire route through the brewery.

As we surveyed the women from the bottling line, who were taking a break as the line was repaired, I spotted our guide discretely posted behind a machine, taking a final, furious drag on his smoke as he removed the cap from an unguarded bottle and drained most of it in one swallow. In my view, it was his well-deserved reward for being responsive to the visitors, and I thanked him for it.

Plenty of Beer to Wash Down Your Qofte.

With only one brewery operational, and another fighting to revive, the thirst for beer in Albania must be met from elsewhere.

Albania's economy now is entirely open, and the entrepreneurial spirit seems to have taken root with a vengeance. Numerous small restaurants and bars are in operation, and street stalls and kiosks -- some no more than tables set up around the perimeters of dusty squares and thoroughfares -- vend all necessary consumer goods. Much of the import-export trade centers on cash-and-carry middlemen who have purchased used trucks from Germany and Italy, and who make buying trips abroad and purchase whatever is for sale and can in turn be resold in Albania.

In short, Albania still is in the transitional economic phase known as Big Lots Capitalism.

Although this wide-open business climate is bringing plenty of beer into Albania, the country is no Germany when it comes to beer. At least tolerable foreign brands are available, most commonly Amstel and Kronenbourg (both brewed under license in neighboring Greece) and a number of Italian brands, which attests to the status of Italy as prime investor in Albania at this time. Some of the Italian brands aren't bad: Dreher, Splugen Oro and Moretti, all spritzy, mild lagers, do a fine job of taking the edge off the Albanian heat if served cool. All these imports are available at reasonable prices that range from 50 cents to a dollar, depending on the venue, but they are numbingly similar in terms of flavor.

It should be noted that the Albanians themselves don't seem to care, and we can only speculate as to the availability of beer during Communist times. Our guides said that beer from Tirana and Korce was generally available in the old days, and reminded us that the traditional beverages of choice in the country are wine and raki (brandy in various forms), as well as non-alcoholic beverages like coffee and tea -- legacies of the Turkish presence over five centuries.

However, surprises lurk in the chaotic, nebulous Albanian beer market. We found a small, modern street side bar in Tirana that boasted Hacker-Pschorr (Helles) on draft and Pschorr-brau Hefe-Weisse in cooled bottles.

Genci and Agim weren't as taken with the Bavarian wheat beers as we were. The future of this particular establishment is somewhat in doubt, as it has changed hands once or twice since being opened (I think it is currently owned by an Italian tour company).

A Clean, Well Lighted Place.

Pending the completion of an Austrian-built hotel complex adjacent to the former Hoxha mausoleum, one of the most modern, well-appointed bars in Tirana is the Piano Bar, owned by two brothers who amassed capital while working in Germany and who developed a taste for German beers while in the process. The bar serves little food other than sandwiches, and it is being expanded to include a stage for live presentations and an underground keller where the stone walls and wooden beams were being cleaned and readied on the day of our visit. Of all the privately owned bars that we visited, the Piano Bar was the best and probably the beer-friendliest.

The Piano Bar sells a Greek-brewed, Henninger-licensed export contrivance known as Golden Lager, which turned out to be a solid, Helles-like lager. The owners are eager to begin selling Pilsner Urquell on draft as soon as they can purchase the necessary tapping equipment and find a way to ensure an uninterrupted supply. Also available are a half dozen bottled beers, including (drum roll, please) Rolling Rock.

Why? Because both Rolling Rock and Italy's Moretti are subsidiaries of Labatt's, and Moretti can be found throughout Albania.

In any case, Latrobe, Pennsylvania met Tirana, Albania on the last day of our visit when we bought a round Rolling Rocks at the Piano Bar for Agim, Genci and Nick, the latter our affable driver who pronounced it wonderful as the others looked on with a great deal of skepticism. It was too mild for them, and for me, yet it was fun to watch their reactions as we drank the only American beer to be found in Albania -- at least until Anheuser-Busch or Miller rewards the Korce consortium with vast profits for their reconstruction efforts and begins churning out Black Elk Mountain Light in aluminum cans.

It took nine years, but I was able to locate and taste Albanian beer.

Now I need a new obsession.

Are there hamburgers in North Korea?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Destinations to be doing that Potter thing, tonight.

Wondering what Randy Smith’s been doing?

Local bookseller, and muggle, to throw a Harry Potter party tonight, by Dave Davis, Tribune Associate Editor.

Having never read the Harry Potter books, every time I hear the name “Harry Potter”, I think of the actor Harry Morgan and his best-known character, Col. Sherman Potter of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit.

Does this date me?

UPDATED: Expansion of sewage treatment plant completed, millennium now permitted to proceed in NA.

2:10 p.m.: With respect to former Mayor Regina Overton's non-attendance at the ceremony described below, NA Confidential can now confirm that she was invited and apparently declined to accept. We welcome further information if you have any. Thanks.

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New Albany's favorite topic, sewage, is back in the news (and we don't mean the septic tone of the "conversation" over at Speak Out, Lout (NA).

EPA to check New Albany sewers; Ongoing disputes to be discussed, by Ben Zion Hershberg of the Courier-Journal (short shelf life for C-J links).

Here are excerpts:

Federal officials will be in New Albany next month to inspect the city's recently completed sewage-system expansion and to discuss continuing disputes with the city, Mayor James Garner said yesterday …

… Greg Fifer, the lawyer for the New Albany Sewer Board, said he believes the disputes will be resolved without court action after next month's visit.

Garner and Fifer were interviewed during a ceremony yesterday morning, at the city's sewage-treatment plant on West 10th Street, to celebrate the completion of the $40 million expansion project.

NA Confidential has been told that the former New Albany mayor, Regina Overton, did not attend yesterday’s expansion project completion ceremony.

Readers, do any of you know whether she was invited and declined to attend, or simply was not invited?

Given Overton’s estrangement from city politics since her re-election defeat in 2003, it would be understandable if she chose not to join the celebration, but it would be an obvious breach of etiquette for an invitation not to have been issued in her name.

After all, she initiated the necessary expansion work, took the heat for the expense, and should accordingly receive her share of the credit.

Anyone know?

You'll find yet more sewer coverage in Expanded sewer plant is officially opened, by Chris Morris, Tribune Managing Editor.

In the article, Chris quotes 22-year city council veteran "Slippery" Larry Kochert as saying that while sewer problems always "will pop up" every now and then, the city intends to "stay on top of this."

Whatever our differences with CM Kochert, we believe he's on track with this observation.

Kochert then insisted that county residents be restricted to using designated pay toilets while visiting the city, so as to ensure that they're paying a "fair share" of the sewer system's expansion cost.

If he's not going to use the Riverfront Amphitheater, would Bullet Bob mind if we borrowed it and made some money?

Unlike CM Dan Coffey, I was reading the newspaper this past Tuesday, and in it were schedules of musical activities taking place at the Warder Park Gazebo and the RiverStage, both in Jeffersonville.

In fact, quite a lot of music and theatrical productions seem to be aggressively scheduled for these two venues during summer’s prime time viewing season.

By comparison, New Albany’s Riverfront Amphitheater (a.k.a., the Trinkle Dome) seems to have very little scheduled for the summer, although I must admit that web resources for such information are almost non-existent.

The Trinkle Dome was scheduled this year for use during Thunder Over Louisville in April, the Fourth of July celebration, and again in October for Harvest Homecoming. I believe the Providence Retirement Home fundraising festival will be held there again later this year.

Is a bluegrass festival still held there in the fall?

Information about applying for permission to use the venue can be found on the city of New Albany’s web site.

Perhaps New Albany’s chronically underused Riverfront Amphitheater might benefit from new and younger blood at the helm, someone who would refrain from applying a litmus test of church supper respectability to potential entertainment functions, but instead take a chance every now and then and book the venue with music and events that appeal to the city’s younger demographic.

The Trinkle Dome is a community resource. We should try using it occasionally .

Late note: In a letter to the editor published in Thursday's Tribune, Bob Trinkle thoroughly congratulated himself for the July 4 event and duly warned us that more G-rated entertainment is to follow over Labor Day weekend. Do the math; that's more that sixty (60) days between Trinkle-sanctioned events. Can't we do better than this?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

City contemplates plans to finance Scribner Place "on its own"; Kochert's "fair share" to join "Coffey Plan" in history's dustbin.

New Albany may build Scribner Place on its own, by Ben Zion Hershberg of the Courier-Journal (short shelf life for C-J links).

Excerpts:

New Albany will make plans to finance Scribner Place on its own if Floyd County government continues to balk at participating in the downtown project, city officials said yesterday …

… “We want to keep it moving,” (Mayor James) Garner said …

… Jeff Gahan, president of the City Council, said he believes a majority of the nine-member panel will support financing for Scribner Place even if the city has to go it alone. But city officials would appreciate any help county government can provide, Gahan said.

Indeed, Councilman Gahan aptly frames the issue.

Appropriately, rebuttal column inches are provided to 1st District Councilman Dan “Wizard of Westside” Coffey, who reprises the immortal Hee-Haw “gloom, despair and agony on us,” lyric, and the 4th District’s “Slippery Larry” Kochert, who repeats that he is inalterably opposed to what he’s clearly for unless the people he detests come forward with a love offering like the ones at Mullah Goebel’s anti-porn church.

Meanwhile, looking beyond the increasingly tiresome grandstanding staged by these "old pro" politicos (have we noted that 2nd District Councilman Bill Schmidt, a member of the Caesar's Foundation Board of Directors, abstained during the July 7 Scribner Place vote? We did?), NA Confidential reiterates its appreciation for the existence of progressive thinkers wherever they happen to live, whether in the city or in the county, and insofar as some of them occupy elected office in Floyd County, we also appreciate their consideration and support when it comes to the Scribner Place project.

Fortunately for the future of this city, consideration and support from our brethren in the county need not be measured by Larry Kochert’s arbitrary “fair share” doctrine, especially his use of it as a bludgeon for the extraction of tribute, not as a tool to further dialogue.

While his stance remains profoundly embarrassing to city residents, Kochert is only one of nine votes on the council.

It is clear that the city of New Albany should immediately proceed on its own to finance the Scribner Place project, because the project is a vital component of downtown economic revitalization, and should in no way be held hostage to the lingering effects of a decades-long city-county conceptual divide, one that our council Gang of Four apparently wishes to see widened, not eliminated.

As CM Coffey once noted, it’s “simple.”

Shall we sacrifice $20 million in assistance from the Caesar’s Foundation for the sake of $135,000 of EDIT funds, a percentage of which is still likely to come from the county? Or do we use what we have, and get on with it?

Mayor Garner and the Scribner Place project’s supporters on the City Council have a mandate to get on with it.

In turn, we must support them as they do so.

Not Enough Time (1997) -- a remembrance of things past.

Sometimes while writing, you must follow your muse’s orders to the letter, and when the piece is finished, you’d like to know what she was thinking.

Accordingly, what do a Central European city, an Australian rock singer and Southern Indiana pub owner have in common?

It has been almost eight years since this article was written in 1997, and a decade and a half since the Czechs and Slovaks embarked on a post-Communist experiment that has led them, as separate and independent countries, into European Union membership.

For the surviving members of INXS, perhaps the world’s biggest rock band for a brief period in the 1980’s, the eight years since singer and front man Michael Hutchence’s 1997 death by suicide have been lackluster, to put it charitably.

With no new projects, and without a permanent replacement for Hutchence, the group completely disappeared from the transitory world of pop culture, and this absence had the odd but not unwelcome effect of burnishing its earlier achievements, to the point that critical perspective seemed at long last ready to in INXS’s direction.

Alas, the band, now desirous of a comeback and a fresh round of fame, has chosen the unfortunate vehicle of a “reality television” show to select a new lead singer, who will record a new album and go on tour. Needless to say, I’m expecting the worse.

The other central character in “Not Enough Time” is yours truly – brewery and pub owner, dedicated European traveler, and recently reinvented blogger, who seems to have survived well enough after a decade of much joy and occasional madness. I’ve still not forgiven Hutchence for choosing the route he did …but that’s life, and I’m enjoying mine.

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To the discerning wanderer, the act of traveling serves to reveal many variations of reality, existing both inside and outside the individual.

Perhaps the least interesting of these expressions, which embody moments floating nebulously somewhere in time, are those manifested by scribbled notes on the back of snapshots, simple expository comments like “Here we are in front of the Eiffel Tower.”

The most challenging and enduring of these expressions are those offered in long, often drunken and chaotic conversations with friends, at first when safely back “home,” and then later, long after the fact.

It’s when one tries to explain what it feels like to be standing atop the Acropolis, feeling the heat of the Greek sun, and hearing the echoes of 25 centuries drifting up through the pollution and traffic noise, or seeking to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the same language, and making do by using beer coasters and scraps of bus fare tickets to construct multi-lingual metaphysical systems.

It is unfortunate that those who travel solely to achieve fleeting leisure and recreation of the sort typified by the balmy beachside jaunt stand a fine chance of missing the whole point of travel (although not of recreation, a quite different topic), which is to alter one’s consciousness by comparing and contrasting differences, both internal and external, and placing one’s own life into another context.

The process never ends so long as the individual continues to evolve; you’re different than the last time you went there, and your responses will vary according to how you’ve changed during the interim. Sitting on a deck chair on Carnival cruise lines and sipping a frozen rum drink is relaxing, but it is unlikely to conjure an epiphany, and as with the potential for an orgasm during the act of sex, for one to lack from the very outset the slightest chance of experiencing an epiphany during a particular travel encounter is to reduce it to a merely physical exercise.

It is to deny the chance for transcendence, and why go to the trouble if there’s no chance for transcendence?

Certainly, experiences that raise one’s consciousness cannot be forced into being; an element of luck is involved, and one must be in the right place at the right time. Some times it happens, and some times it doesn’t, but if it does, it can be like an epileptic burst of brute gale force that drills into your skull and sends you sprawling, and after you’ve gotten up and brushed the dust from your trousers, you’re obliged to spend a few moments reflecting on the impact.

For me, traveling in Eastern Europe during the Communist era was like that, and there are times, even eight years or more later, when I’m not sure any of it ever really happened. Some things that I’m sure actually did happen have, in retrospect, turned out to have less to do with the geography or history of the area than with some aspect of myself at the time, some part of me, some specific way that I was thinking and reacting during the moment.

Eastern Europe has changed quite a lot since the 1980’s. To my surprise, so have I, but like some programmed response, it doesn’t take much to trip a wire and have the whole experience come back to me, demanding attention.

----

So it was that in late November of 1997, I reacted with a mild and disinterested shrug upon learning that Michael Hutchence, the charismatic lead singer for the Australian rock band INXS, had died, but after a few pints of reflection over a period of days, his death began to disturb me.

I didn’t understand why.

Certainly, I shouldn’t have been bothered. Like many others, I’ve grown jaded and weary with regard to the rituals of grief that follow the passing of public figures, people none of us ever really knew while they were alive, especially rock stars and similar icons of disposable pop culture.

Granted, I understand that in our society of rootless ephemera, where none of us really believe in anything except money, USA Today’s trend of the nanosecond might as well be celebrated as an eternal truth. Pamela’s and Tommy’s “stolen” sex video is as good as anything else we have to hold aloft as an 11th Commandment; with nothing better to do, we might as well pretend that we personally knew the celebrities who died before their time, who overdosed on heroin, crashed their toys, and hanged themselves in hotel rooms halfway across the planet.

We might as well join the queue for the teary tributes to these abstract entities, who we insist in some way enriched our lives, as though they may have been the only real friends and siblings that we ever tricked ourselves into believing existed.

An earlier generation remembers the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the day John Lennon was murdered. Now, our lonely nation turns its eyes to Elton John and remembers the day, the month, and the calendar year, that Princess Diana died.

I’m cognizant of an obvious cheapening, and it is a form of non-participatory sport that I’d prefer to avoid.

The less meaning in our lives that we’re permitted to have apart from the patriotic imperative to support the national economy by buying things we don’t need, the more that we look for something to believe in: Celebrities, rock stars, the prattle that passes for dialogue on television talk shows, the insipid and scarcely alchemized liquid posing as beer behind prophylactic sheets of aluminum.

To wail and moan for fallen icons makes it possible for consumers to feel – and to feel around in their pockets for the credit card to buy the commemorative video, the pay-per-view, the Franklin Mint’s numbered and registered plate.

All this cynicism … and yet … damned if it didn’t affect me when I began to think about Michael Hutchence dying, because in the end, he WAS different for me than all the rest of the fallen celebrities. For one, Hutchence was 37 when he died. He was born in 1960, just a few months before I was born.

In short, the same age as me. Before Hutchence, the dead celebrities always were older than me, and now they’re often younger, but he was my age.

But I wasn’t suicidal – people my age have so much to live for, don’t they? Or, had it escaped me that 25-year-old men do indeed kill themselves … and even if they don’t, I was no longer 25?

No, not 25 at all.

Furthermore, it slowly dawned on me that although we never came close to meeting, the Aussie and the Hick, our paths somehow managed to cross in a place far away from both our homes, and in a way that left an indelible impression on me, first on an old bridge spanning a famous river, then by the gray and nondescript wall of an ancient cemetery, and finally in a colorfully festooned square, all within the boundaries of a pristine, crumbling, captive city known as Prague, Czechoslovakia, circa 1989.

Actually, we may have missed each other in the city by as much as a year, but is doesn’t matter, because Hutchence left me with musical and visual calling cards that persist in the memory, and now that he’s dead, I’ve been denied the possibility of tracking him down ten years from now in the alley behind Jim Porter’s, where he just appeared with INXS during their 30th anniversary tour of the only small venues that would still book them, and interrupting his quick getaway to thank him for providing me with an integral memory of a vanished place, and by extension of someone – me – whose past unfortunately is about as dead as the prospects for a revival of the May Day celebration in Prague’s Strahov stadium, where the memory of U2’s 1997 Pop Mart appearance takes precedence over the legacy of the droning speeches of bumbling old men like Gustav Husak.

----

In retrospect, it didn’t require the far-off death of some chronological classmate I never had to plunge me into a state of morose self-examination, although his messy end provided an appropriate exclamation mark to a sentence previously written and barely understood.

At some point in mid-November, with rehearsals for the INXS “Lose Your Head” tour underway in Australia to hopeful reviews, I began rummaging through a pile of papers on my desk. At the bottom, lonely and hidden, yet oddly expectant, was my first passport.

The passport was issued in 1984, a full year before I embarked on my first trip abroad, and it expired in 1994, just prior to my sixth journey to Europe. Since this first passport was renewed, and my government has seen fit to award me with a new document to ease my entry into countries that agree to harbor an American for a specified period, there have been six more European excursions.

It has taken this many trips to remove some of the surface sheen of the little blue booklet, so that it begins to show the desired wear and tear intended to set its experienced bearer apart from the newbie travelers.

It’s a matter of prestige, baby.

After flinging away the file folders, business cards and meaningless scraps of paper to await filing on a different corner of the desk, the old passport was free to resurrect distant memories by means of faded rubber stamps that had been thoughtlessly inflicted on the once virgin pages by supremely bored border guards, who since have been made redundant by geopolitical decisions that whisked them from grim, cold comfortably bureaucratic postings on fortified Warsaw Pact borders and dropped them, headfirst, into telemarketing positions in cubicles wedged precariously between a rock and a hard place.

Unfortunately, before any of these thoughts were able to take shape, I opened the passport and looked at the photo laminated inside the front cover.

I was shocked. It wasn’t me. Couldn’t have been me. To be share, a pair of brown eyes stared back at me, gravely, with solemnity, perhaps even arrogantly.

They looked to be attached to someone who was very full of himself, and at the painfully inexperienced age of 23. The eyes were deliberately ignoring the photographer’s pleas to smile for the camera, and something within me stirred in remembrance: Smile? Hell, it’s a passport picture, not a family reunion snapshot; do you want the Europeans to look at me like I’m some kind of bleeding idiot?

Mr. Chase, the photographer, was momentarily taken aback.

The brown hair was short and unkempt, and the visible cowlicks had defied the best efforts of the comb, if indeed such efforts had even been made. Incongruously, the scowling face sported an absurdly silly wisp of a mustache that would have benefited from a sturdy coat of Groucho Marx’s vaudeville greasepaint.

This was no one I knew – or was it?

----

In 1989, during my third Europhile’s pilgrimage, I was in Prague. It was my second visit to the Czech capital, which to all appearances at the time was irrevocably Communist, and to have suggested to anyone that a largely bloodless revolution would occur by the end of the year as part of the monolithic Soviet Bloc dominoes crashing to earth all along the non-Cuban international landscape would have marked the speaker as an enemy of the state – both in Czechoslovakia, and also in America, where the military/industrial complex hummed merrily along at the behest of the Cold War mentality that I so desperately sought to disprove by visiting places like Prague.

I’d been there before, but only briefly. My friend Barrie and I had spent three days in Prague in 1987, fresh from the Soviet Union and Poland, and these hours were a whirlwind of beer consumption and subsequent forced marches to our assigned youth hostel barracks in an unfinished sports club seemingly halfway to Plzen, leaving us little time to learn anything of substance.

However, it was a valid introduction to a city where vast tracts of the urban landscape still had the appearance of the 18th and 19th centuries, where small, winding streets led to dank basement pubs populated by working men conducting conversations in low voices, their remarks spices by clinking half-liter mugs of traditional draft pilsners, and where a storefront on Wenceslas Square that would have been occupied by a trendy designer shop anywhere else in the world – and is today – was filled instead by the Automat Koruna, a stand-up eatery, dirty and dirt cheap, where half-liter mugs of local beer went four to a dollar, unless the money had been changed on the black market, which was dutifully manned by virtually every waiter in the city.

Then you got six, maybe seven.

Among my vague, alcohol-soaked recollections of 1987 is one in which Barrie and I were walking through a vast square with a statue in the middle. Virtually every building in the square, including at least two churches and the town hall, was entirely cloaked by impenetrable scaffolding.

Old Town Square. According to remarks on the map, it was considered one of the most beautiful in Czechoslovakia, and perhaps in all of Europe, but it was impossible to make a judgment given the area’s bandaged and mummified appearance.

Besides, owing to the sloth of Communism, the square probably had been under repair for decades, and would be for decades to come. We forgot about it, and went off in search of another pub – itself perhaps the best in all Europe; who would know until it was visited?

Shortly we came to the venerable Charles Bridge across the Vltava River, and all I could think about was the majestic Vltava section of “Ma Vlast,” the Czech national tone poem written by the beloved 19th century composer Smetana, who is buried on a nearby hilltop overlooking the river.

We left town and resumed our journey westward. Time passed, and eventually I found myself in Europe for the third time.

Very little about Prague had changed when I returned in 1989; the city still seemed to be a time capsule in a myriad of senses, both good and bad, but when I returned first thing to the bridge and set my sights on the incomparable skyline of spires along the river, and the looming presence of the Prague Castle perched atop the opposite bank, the familiar soundtrack recording of Smetana’s Vltava refused to play.

Instead of the expected soft rippling of orchestral strings imitating the flow of the river itself, I heard a snappy synthesized cadence, and the words and music of a light pop ballad that might not have attracted my attention if not for the visual content of the accompanying video, which had played on MTV for months prior to my trip, and that always compelled me to lecture bystanders about the beauty of Prague.

“There, look!” I would scream, pointing at the television, and everyone in the room would melt away in search of phone books to read.

“It’s Prague!”

The song was “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS, the band’s only #1 hit in the United States. The video had been filmed in Prague some time during 1988, and it featured Hutchence and his band mates in dark and serious poses that were meant to convey at least part of the city’s very real, dark and nervous Cold War feeling, beginning on the Charles Bridge, then down the street from the Jewish Cemetery, and finally ending with the camera at the corner of the glockenspiel on the Old Town Hall for an incredible closing pan of the fully renovated and stunningly beautiful Old Town Square, with nary a scaffold in sight.

Viewing the video today, it strikes me in much the same way as my old passport photo does: Youthful, pretentious, and innocent (at least in relative terms) in roughly equal measure. There was no deeply philosophical significance to any of it, and yet I could not extricate the sound and the sight of INXS’s creation from my mind as I walked the streets of Prague in the summer of 1989 – and I haven’t been able to avoid thinking about it since, although now Smetana’s tone poem has returned to its rightful place in the canon, and can again be summoned on demand.

----

Where has all of it gone?

Prague is free. The city’s store shelves now are brimming over with international brands of toothpaste, the beer dispensed in its taverns grows colder and dumber each year, and once again the buildings on the Old Town Square are hidden, this time not by scaffolding, but by crowds of tourists who make it impossible to walk over the Charles Bridge in midday, and who have no memory of the cheap eats at the Automat Koruna, long deceased, to be replaced by a trendy boutique entirely without sausages, dumplings and draft beer.

Just overpriced clothes, handbags and hip-hop blaring from the sound system.

Hutchence is dead, and with him INXS. His scandal‑plagued final years, coupled with his band's decline in popularity, have ensured a healthy degree of post‑mortem savagery on the part of the media and those whose lives are defined by the mass mailing of e‑mail jokes. What did this drug‑ and sex‑crazed has‑been do for anyone lately, except provide Britain's tabloids with headlines? Not a lot, I guess, but in spite of it all ‑‑ and most importantly, in spite of my cynicism ‑‑ he gave me a pleasant memory of a vanished time, and I still enjoy much of his music. That's enough for me. It's more than most ever get.

As for myself ...

That's the hardest part. The young kid trying to bore holes through the camera with his eyes has ceased to exist in every bit as much a way as Czechoslovakia's socialist system and the chances for an INXS reunion tour date at the Phoenix Hill Tavern, but I don't really know how to gauge the distance or decide whether his disappearance is good or bad, worth recapturing, or best for­gotten.

When I'm depressed, over‑worked, exhausted and painfully aware of my shortcomings, I want desperately to take back a piece of that time, to pull the covers up over my head and to live again out of my backpack. When things are going well, I'm thankful for the experience without wishing to relive it, knowing that the years since have given me so much more knowledge, so many more friends and loved ones, and so many reasons for wanting to live in the present, to seek the future with confidence, and not to dwell in the past.

One desire has remained constant throughout the years that have passed and the changes that have occurred, and that's the desire to travel and to willingly undergo the process of self‑examination that is inexorably linked to it.

We return, then, to the notion of travel.

You might choose to return to the place where you started, but if the path of the voyage is followed with diligence and commitment ‑‑ and with a bit of luck ‑‑ you'll find that you're not the same person you were when you set out, and that sometimes you even end up with a song, or a city, to prove it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Restaurants flocking to New Albany's verdant Charlestown Road exurb.

In the Tuesday, July 12, edition of the Tribune, the classified advertising section contained the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission’s (ATC) lengthy list of permit renewals and requests for new permits, all slated to have been considered during the agency’s monthly public hearing for Floyd County on July 5.

While I’m not sure why the list was published a week late, it nonetheless contains two interesting nuggets pertaining to food and drink options in the burgeoning Charlestown Road exurb.

Applying for new three-way beer, wine and liquor permits were:

Joe’s OK Bayou of New Albany, 4308 Charlestown Road, New Albany. The original Joe's is located on Linn Station Road in Louisville's Hurstbourne area.

R. Kobe LLC, d.b.a. Kobe’s Steakhouse, 4317 Charlestown Road, New Albany. We're assuming this is the same group that operates the Kobe Japanese Steakhouse on the waterfront in Jeffersonville?

The location for these addresses is roughly halfway between Charlestown Crossing and Chapel Lane. Last Saturday, we cut through the exurb on our way back into town from Indianapolis, but there’s so much being built in the area that I frankly couldn’t distinguish between strip mall job sites.

At any rate, evidently a couple of these charming new structures are going to include the restaurants listed here.

At Tuesday afternoon's county council meeting, during a discussion about a future jail site and whether the current annex property on Grant Line Road would be suitable for it, CM Randy Stumler observed that EDIT funds are best used as originally intended, for economic development, and that economic development seems to be “doing okay on its own” just inside, and definitely outside, the I-265 beltway.

In addition to the two applicants above, the Grant Line Road branch of Applebee's by Wal-Mart (opposite Community Park) is getting close to opening, and we’re told that a 130-seat Charlestown Road exurbian branch of New York Capri Pizza (originally in Borden, now in Clarksville) is in the works

Taken as a whole, CM Stumler’s view seems amply supported.

So, referring back to a comment made by frequent poster Tim D., should we be happy or unhappy that the jobs created by these establishments are mere service sector positions?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

UPDATED: Of cabbages and kings, or why each and every pupil in the classroom must be punished for the transgressions of Slippery Larry.

Wednesday morning -- here are the web links to local media coverage of yesterday's county meeting.

County government weighs its role in Scribner Place, by Kyle Lowry, Tribune County Reporter.

Floyd needs a new jail, officials agree; County just starting to gather ideas, by Dick Kaukas of the Courier-Journal (limited shelf life for C-J links).

----

But first, with polite applause from the studio audience, we join “Southern Indiana Jeapardy,” in progress …

“I’ll take Public Officials for $1,000, Alex.”

(Whirring electronic noise.)

“Only he could unite YMCA fundraiser Mike Ricke and professional oppositionist David Huckleberry in mutual annoyance.”

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

"Mr. Baylor ... "

“Who is Ted ‘Headmaster’ Heavrin, the Floyd County Council President?”

Dingdingding.

Audience member: “Well, at least we can use the thousand bucks to defray the costs of Scribner Place.”

----

FLASH: On Tuesday afternoon, the Floyd County Council made no decisions with respect to a contributory role in Scribner Place funding, and did not confirm or deny the dollar figure stipulated in the New Albany City Council’s July 7 resolution pertaining to the county’s suggested tithe of half the annual lease rental payment for the project.

This calculated inaction came as a surprise to a meeting room filled to nervous capacity with advocates of Scribner Place, including Mayor James Garner, the city’s development and redevelopment chiefs, DNA and YMCA officials, members of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, one city councilman (Jack Messer), a former councilman, and others too numerous to mention.

There was no Lord’s Prayer, no menacing Brambleberry “for all” echo of the Pledge of Allegiance’s final two words, no pussyfooting with the agenda, no demands for an investigation into the mayor’s role in the Watergate break-ins … and no discussion of Scribner Place, as well as no public comments permitted on the topic of the project.

Period. The End. Finito.

Instead, there was a brisk, no-nonsense business meeting during which Coffeyesque grandstanding was strictly prohibited by the formidable president, followed by an offer of public speaking time that was not taken advantage of owing to the qualification that the public would not be allowed to speak about Scribner Place – which, of course, is why the public thought it was in attendance at the county’s Tuesday meeting in the first place.

Alas, no.

Council President Heavrin’s explanation of these compelling negations came about in response to the plaintive wail of compulsive complainer Huckleberry, and it soon became obvious that Huckleberry had chosen to finish the pledge in unison this time because he knew CM Heavrin wouldn’t permit him to monkey around with it as the city council generally does.

Note to Jeff Gahan ... please ...

CM Heavrin originally had been inclined to allow a “spokesman” for groups in attendance to have five minutes of speaking time, but when Huckleberry objected to being excluded because none of his fellow Luddites were in the room, and hence he was not a member of a group (anarchists seldom are, but that may be giving him too much organizational credit), CM Heavrin shrugged and immediately changed tack, precluding any and all comment, and explaining that while he’d previously been told that an unnamed newspaper had mentioned that the county council would be discussing, and perhaps even voting, on Scribner Place at Tuesday's meeting, this was utterly untrue – and, not illogically, if there were to be no vote, there would be no discussion.

During this and another half-dozen subsequent references to the “paper” and its purveying of misconceptions about the council agenda, CM Heavrin neither mentioned the newspaper’s name nor explained why he didn’t read it himself, and more importantly, he didn’t once comment on why he hadn’t tried to correct the mistake, which would have saved concerned citizens the trouble of altering their schedules to attend a meeting where their topic of interest was not included on the agenda for consideration.

But wait ...

There's a rational and ultimately powerful reason for CM Heavrin’s inaction, for if he had energetically acted to set the record straight, few who were in the crowd would have bothered attending, and consequently, there would not have been a fully captive audience of important city officials, each sitting meekly while they were vigorously scolded for the sins of the previous Mayor, who didn’t include the county in her plans for Scribner Place, and for the transgressions of current City Councilman Larry Kochert, whose “fair share” clause was inserted to insult county politicos … and in a rare instance of achievement on the ward-heeling CM Kochert’s part, did exactly that.

And so everyone grimly sat and took their medicine, dispensed with fairly sizeable dollops of dripping condescension from both CM Heavrin and CM Larry “I know finances, and you don’t” McAllister, but in the end, fair is fair.

CM Heavrin had us ... and he wasn't letting go. I can't say that I blame him for that.

What followed was a meticulously orchestrated seminar on the sheer number of expensive, pressing issues that the county council and county commissioners must deal with in the coming months, and as we in the city struggle to make sense of why we’ve been burdened with CM Steve Price’s asinine pronouncements, and reel in horror from CM Dan Coffey’s cheap theatrics, and scratch our heads in abject puzzlement at the mercurial provocations of Slippery Larry, the members of the county council want us all to know that they're performing their statutory functions and watching the whole county's purse strings.

Just as CM Kochert inelegantly used last week’s city council meeting to release the lesser angels of his nature with reference to the county, so today the county’s CM Heavrin responded by presenting a virtuoso, impromptu clinic for the benefit of the city leaders lured to the meeting, expounding at length on jail overcrowding, what it might cost to build a new facility, how that might be tied in with relocation of county offices, the potential $2 million bill for the forthcoming Camm/Boney trials, numerous unfunded mandates from the state … and while the county council understands how important Scribner Place is for the city, it intends to deal with its own “In Box” first, thank you – and learning a few manners wouldn’t hurt, either.

It made sense, and it was fully understood and appreciated in this quarter.

Providing the proverbial spoonful of sugar, the county council’s recognized Scribner-friendly members made their thoughts clearly known, observing that while they support the project and see the benefits for both city and county, some of their constituents in the county do not, and those views must be taken into consideration.

Although differences in opinion were evident, the interplay between county council members during this give and take session did not become strained as is the all too frequent case during city council meetings, and a uniformly high degree of professionalism was maintained throughout.

In closing, here is one blogger’s opinion: I know that if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger, and I appreciate the skull session about the jail and your sociological survey of crime statistics, but damn it, Ted, I already knew that we need a selective purge of regressive city council members, and since we can’t do anything about them for another two years (anyone care to broach the redistricting idea that Dan Coffey was so adamantly opposed to a couple years ago?), how about cutting us some slack?

Readers, take note: The county council's public hearing on the matter will be held on Tuesday, August 9 at 6:00 p.m. in the third-floor meeting room.