Sunday, October 31, 2010

Simplistic Slogans Don't Solve Complex Problems

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Halloween 2010

TERRE HAUTE — All indications point to another power shift Tuesday, with Republicans, with intense and enthusiastic Tea Party support, gaining power in all sectors of government. Whether they gain control of Congress or the Indiana House of Representatives remains to be seen.

The Tea Party stands for smaller government and cutting taxes. There isn’t much to their specifics, but some candidates trying to ride the movement’s intense emotions have put out some specific plans. But it is the button-down Cato Institute which has, from what I can find, provided the most specific plan to cut government spending, downsize government, and, hence, cut taxes.

Of course, many angry Tea Partiers no doubt distrust the scholarly Cato Institute. It is, after all, a policy think tank. One of those organizations full of pointy-headed intellectual types who rely more on dispassionate analysis and data than over-the-top rhetoric and promises that cannot be fulfilled — as one candidate for Congress promises (“I will repeal Obamacare”).

The Tea Party and, from what I can tell, every Republican candidate, promises to cut taxes and reduce spending. Let’s examine the Cato Institute’s “downsizing the federal government” plan ( To be fair, CI’s overall plan is not finished. It has not addressed defense spending, homeland security, justice, veterans affairs and a couple of others.

Americans want immediate gratification, not plans that fix things down the road. Let’s not look at promises and impacts down the road. Let’s examine the immediate effects, beginning with the Department of Agriculture. According to CI, Agriculture spends $142 billion a year and employs 96,000. CI suggests cutting Agriculture by $108 billion, or 76 percent. CI details the programmatic cuts and discusses the good this will do later (“lower food prices for everyone”). CI doesn’t talk about what a 76-percent cut to spending would do to employment at Agriculture. Here, I’ll just use a proportionate cut: 73,014 added to the ranks of the unemployed.

The Department of Commerce spends $17 billion a year and employs 53,000 workers. CI proposes a 12-percent cut; adding 6,235 more people to the unemployment lines.

The Department of Energy will spend $38 billion in 2010 and employs 16,000 workers and oversees 100,000 contract workers in 21 national labs and other facilities across the nation. CI proposes cutting it by 29 percent translating, using 116,000 as the base, to 33,578 more unemployed.

The Department of Education will spend $107 billion this year and employs 4,100.  I’m surprised its total elimination was not called for as so many among the Tea Party do. Nevertheless, it survives with a 78-percent cut, but 2,988 workers don’t. 

The Department of Health and Human Services will spend $869 billion this year and employs 65,000. Cut it by just 9 percent and only 6,058 lose their jobs.

Housing and Urban Development will spend $63 billion this year and employs 9,500. Cut it all, says CI, a 100-percent cut and 9,500 more to the ranks of those who don’t pay taxes.

This year, $91 billion is the Department of Transportation’s budget. And 58,000 folks are on its payroll. I’m not sure why it gets to survive, but a 93-percent spending cut will leave only 5, 825 workers with a job there.

In summary, CI proposes cutting $429 billion — an overall cut of a third.  To be fair, they don’t discuss the loss of employment in a recession with weak job growth that would result from these cuts. They don’t discuss the loss of employment at all in the plan. Those are my estimates. A $429 billion dollar cut as CI outlines, I estimate, would add 177,548 more people to the unemployed or, at current rates, a 0.1-point increase in the unemployment rate.

Keep in mind, this is not the full plan, CI stills needs to detail cuts to Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor, State, Treasury and Veterans Affairs. The total spending these departments account for is $1.2 trillion. Assuming a 33-percent reduction holds throughout the rest of the cutting, that is an additional $396 billion in cuts in spending and an estimated 163,890 increase in the ranks of the unemployed. Assuming no tax cuts, these outlined and estimated cuts would reduce the current budget deficit by 63 percent.

Conventional wisdom holds that raising taxes in a weak economy will further weaken it. What will cutting $825 billion in spending and laying off 341,438 people do to a weak economy? Simplistic slogans do not turn complex realities into simple ones.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What we know, and what we "think" we know?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 10 October 2010

Are Jeopardy contestants more likely to be atheists? In the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s recent survey on U.S. Religious Knowledge (September 28, 2010 -- atheists score the highest. They score the highest on “religious” knowledge but also, religion’s role in public life, and nonreligious knowledge (9 questions spanning politics, science, history and literature).

Asking “knowledge” questions is hard to do in a survey like this. Pew did it by asking respondents to think of the questions like a game show. I’ve asked questions about people’s knowledge about public policies and the criminal justice system. The results are usually disappointing (people don’t know much) and my sense is that people don’t like answering them.

The newsworthiness of these findings focuses on the irony that atheists would know more about religion than the religious. (They don’t know more about Christianity than white evangelicals and Mormons, but more than other groups.) As a sociologist, I’m not surprised by the results. Atheists could be considered to be one of the lowest status groups in society. Very few Americans will admit to much doubt about the existence of God or a higher spirit (31 percent in this survey admitted to some uncertainty but only six percent expressed a disbelief in God). Generally, lower status groups know more about the ways of higher status groups than higher status groups know about the ways of lower status groups. Christians scored, on average, lower than did Jews, Mormons (there are important theological distinctions) and atheists on questions about the Bible and Christianity, world religions, and the role of religion in public life. In a society dominated by Christianity, minority religious views have to be defended and defending one’s position sharpens one’s knowledge about both sides. Christians, despite some conservative hyperbole, don’t really have to defend their religious views the way minority religious adherents do.

Other than a sophisticated game of trivia, I’m not sure what knowing or not knowing the answers to these questions really means. Frankly, I think many of the questions are pretty arcane and irrelevant to why people engage in religious behavior. Is it more important for Christian salvation to know who Jesus is or where he was born? If Catholics don’t know what “transubstantiation” is, does that mean they are headed to hell? If a believer doesn’t know that the “golden rule” is not one of the 10 Commandments, does St. Peter cite these results and bar those who are so mistaken from the pearly gates? I think this kind of knowledge is important to scholars and intellectuals (and to wannabe Jeopardy contestants) but not that important to folks who are looking for answers to questions like “what happens to me after I die” or “why am I here?”

If we spend more time talking and thinking about what is important to us, that is, “learning,” then the Pew survey provides insights into these results. The Pew survey asked respondents how often they spoke to family and friends about science, history, politics or other current events, and religion. One reason why so many (72 percent) knew the Democrats control the House of Representatives is because 51 percent indicated talking with friends and family about politics and current events (does that include what happened last night on “Dancing with the Stars,” “American Idol,” and Jacob Lacey’s dropped interception that would have won the game for the Colts?). Forty-four percent indicated frequent discussions about religion (40 percent attend religious services once or more per week and 37 percent indicate reading scripture at least once a week outside of religious services). Hence, 46 percent knew who Martin Luther was. Only 35 percent frequently discuss history and just 25 percent frequently discuss science. Fifty-two percent expressed belief in evolution and 40 percent indicated that “Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” about the same number who indicated a fundamentalist belief in the Bible (35 percent).

The point is that we “know” about things that are important to us because we talk about and do those things. I wish Pew had included a pop culture component.

Time for Final Jeopardy. The category is Pew Forum Religious Study. The answer is 68 percent. If you answered “What proportion of the Pew sample indicated being dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country right now” you are correct. Too bad Pew didn’t break down satisfaction with the way things are going by knowledge.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Assessing the core of 'Hoosier Values'

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, April 15, 2006

Two letters to the Tribune-Star last week were about “Hoosier values.” Both were satirical. It is rare to see anyone outside the clergy and some social scientists discuss “values” in anything like a meaningful manner today because such discussions are almost an automatic hot button issue. It shouldn’t be, but since the late 1970s and early 1980s “values” have been used to divide people along political lines. Doing so has made civil discussion of “values” that much more difficult.

Most people, unless they have really given careful thought to it, aren’t consciously aware of their values. We confuse beliefs with values all the time. Values refer to standards that people use as a reference point to help them evaluate behavior, things and ideas. Let’s take an easy example: freedom. Many people value freedom to the point they will die for it. Indeed, it is hard to find a person who doesn’t value freedom. Yet, people may differ on how best, as a society, to assure that we are free, so some see government as an inherent threat to our freedom and believe in limited government.

Others might view threats to freedom as coming from predatory individuals and thus believe government should actively defend our freedoms. Both beliefs stem from the same value.

Most people don’t adhere to just a single value. They have values. And nothing says that values must fit perfectly together. So, most Americans value freedom but hold different beliefs about how best to create and maintain it. Most Americans also value security. These two values can be seen rubbing against each other in our discussions about trying to balance freedom and security in the face of terrorism.

The current debate about immigration reflects a different emphasis on specific values. Many of those who oppose anything that could be considered amnesty do so not because of xenophobia or racism (as many detractors suggest), but because they value obedience to authority. The idea that lawbreakers, illegal aliens, could be rewarded with citizenship is just beyond their comprehension. Others valuing “compassion” are less concerned about rewarding lawbreakers and more about improving the lives of these desperate people.

I never heard of Florida or Virginia values when I lived there. Last week’s letter writers mocked the idea of “Hoosier values,” but as an observer for almost 20 years, if there even is a distinct set of values that could be called Hoosier, I’d have to include among them stability, particularism (I’ll explain in a bit), and humility and modesty.

Hoosiers value stability. This is why they resist change, even change that can be shown to be beneficial to them. I think most everyone prefers stability, very few really value change for change sake, but the Hoosier value of stability I think goes beyond just the common preference. I’m not sure I could explain here the high value Hoosiers place on stability, but suffice it to say that it leads to almost a knee-jerk suspicion of change. It is almost as though to change is to dishonor those in the past.

Particularism refers to treating people as unique individuals. It is the ideal of the small town where “everyone knows your name.” One is not treated as an anonymous customer or number. More traditional and rural cultures are rooted in particularism whereas more modern and urban cultures are more universalistic, treating people the same and more anonymously. Having a brother at the bank is an advantage in a particularistic culture but it matters little in a universalistic one. I think this is why things like zoning and high-stakes educational testing and standards are viewed so suspiciously here. I think it also is why there is uneasiness with things big in Indiana, from government to business. The value of particularism may be why the very idea of “Hoosier values” seems appealing to so many.

Lastly, humility and modesty are, however, often hard to distinguish from a lack of ambition and low expectations. For too many Hoosiers, it seems difficult to reconcile the values of humility and modesty with a willingness to demand better, whether of themselves or of their elected officials.

Someone wanting to flaunt their “Hoosier values” would be a multi-generation Hoosier following in a relative’s footsteps, be a quick study of people’s names and hometowns, and would be humble and modest emphasizing that all they needed to learn they learned in church, at grandma’s knee and playing ball.

Smoking ordinance debate breaks down on social class lines

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, May 27, 2006.

Will smokers lose another battle in the “smoking wars?” We are witnessing a skirmish in Vigo County over the proposed indoor smoking ban. More, however, is going on than just a public health issue. This is just a tip of a much larger iceberg of ongoing conflict: the conflict between the working and lower social classes and the broad middle and upper middle classes.

Social class is something we loathe to speak of in the United States. Nevertheless, we know social class profoundly shapes our lives and society. Most people hold simplistic, if not crude, understandings of social class, usually narrowly equating it with how much money people make.

There is, however, much more to social class than just that.

How one earns their money is important. Earning money, even a lot of it, by carrying out the orders of others under close supervision and facing many job hazards, describes working class. Earning money supervising others, problem solving, and internalizing the company’s goals as their own, describes middle class. A “professional,” who sacrificed many years at school and served long “apprenticeships” describes the upper middle class. Having others work for you and make your money for you describes the upper class. This “class map” is still pretty crude, but it will suffice for now.

Look how the sides of the smoking ban wage war. Those in favor of the smoking ban don’t argue using terms like “rights” or justice or moral language. They argue with experts and the language of science. They will bring studies forward to evidence their point. “It’s not that we don’t like smoking, it’s just unhealthy.” To which, those who oppose the ban respond, “well, you don’t have to go to that smoky restaurant, go find one with fewer smokers or with a nonsmoking policy.”

In turn, the proponents will point out that workers are exposed to secondhand smoke, they don’t have a choice, and shouldn’t, as a matter of their work conditions, be faced with this hazardous environment. They will probably have a study that shows more missed work days for workers exposed to secondhand smoke than those who are not. (Their concern for the working class is suspect. Where was the middle class when a 1980s federal tax change went strong after tips and permitted a lower than minimum wage for many working class jobs?)

It takes resources, financial, skill with numbers, and familiarity and comfort with the language of science, to make the arguments that the pro-smoking-ban side does. Look who the spokesmen are: doctors, some lawyers, and other professional groups. To fight the war at this level is very expensive, especially for lower and working class groups. Tobacco companies could help, but they are so discredited than any information connected to them, would be suspect immediately, even if it had scientific merit. As is often the case, the working and lower classes are left to argue their interests in the name of simple justice and “rights.”

Using the seemingly value-free language of science to make their arguments, the middle class effectively hides the real motive, which is to ban smoking in their presence, a habit once enjoyed across the social classes in the United States, but is now much less common in the “respectable” middle and upper middle classes. The middle class does not pose it as a class issue, they make it a health issue, a common strategy when the middle class attempts to assert its class interests.

It would be believable if the middle classes really were all about public health, but they do not support a rational health-care system that provides universal coverage, nor do they support vigorous government enforcement of workplace safety, and most middle class people are not supporters of unions, which have done more to improve the health and safety of the lower and working classes than our “generous” welfare state.

Culturally, social classes create boundaries. Among the more obvious boundaries are the where and what we live in, our recreational diversions, and the cars we drive. Once, clothes marked members of the different social classes, but with cheap, quality clothing, that is not as evident as it once was.

Smoking has become a class marker. And while the middle class doesn’t want to ban tobacco, they do want to ban the working class from smoking in their presence.

For the record, I don’t smoke and support the smoking ban. That doesn’t change the sociology of the smoking wars.

Is there sound justification for income inequality?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, January 27, 2007

Income inequality is growing in the United States. So what. Does income inequality, per se, translate into anything the larger society should be concerned about?

Examining societies cross-culturally, there is a relationship between the degree of income inequality within the society and the stability of the society. Once inequality gets to a certain point, the society shows more instability. The distribution of income in the U.S. looks more like that found in developing countries than in other industrial democracies.

Income inequality in the United States has been increasing since the 1980s. Are we seeing increasing signs of political and social instability? What I see is more evidence of beliefs and political trends that will support increasing income inequality in our society.

A special report by the “Tax Foundation” on American attitudes on tax and wealth released in April 2006 asked a cross-section of 2,017 adults the following question: “Do you personally favor or oppose completely eliminating the estate tax — that is, the tax on property left by people who die?”

Sixty-eight percent of respondents favored elimination. The authors are surprised given that only about 1 percent of taxpayers are ever hit with this tax. Had that fact been provided in the question, the responses might have been different. Nevertheless, the report suggests that taxes on wealth (property and large sums of money) are viewed as more unfair than taxes on income or sales tax.

Could this signal a change in beliefs about income inequality as well as who should pay for the government services and infrastructure in our society? Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated that the 42.5 million taxpayers who file a return but pay no tax is unfair, that everyone should pay something. Whether the respondents thought those 42.5 million were rich or poor, we don’t know because, again, the survey didn’t provide facts for people.

Work of the kind that required one’s own sweat and labor once was a moral aspect of material success. Those who worked hard were viewed as deserving of whatever they got. But it is pretty clear now, with things like lotteries, stock markets, and the windfall of inheritance, that beliefs have pretty much changed. The Tax Foundation report, I thought, had an interesting insight. Taxes should only be on things that people directly influence like work or sales taxes on what you buy. Those things that are not the result of one’s direct behavior, like rising residential property values, the stock market, or an inheritance, shouldn’t be taxed as much or at all. In short, tax effort not windfall.

In my classes I find growing acceptance on the part of students of a sociological theory of inequality and “stratification” (structured inequality) that doesn’t carry the day when one balances the evidence for it against other theories of inequality and stratification. Nevertheless, this theory “sounds right” because it fits (and apparently is fitting better and better) with an ideology that is more accepting of (growing) income inequality.

In short, the “functional” theory of stratification holds that people who are more highly paid deserve it because they hold the most important positions in society. Talent is rare and in order to motivate the talented to take on the training and added responsibility the important positions require, it is necessary to reward them more than others.

But there is more. Those at the top are also morally superior to others because they recognize their importance to the society and act not out of self-interest but in the wider interests of the society. Those in the middle and below act out of self-interest. Of course, this says nothing about the holders of municipal bonds, large stock accounts, owners of institutional investing firms, or those who inherit vast fortunes like Sam Walton’s children.

If this is sounding good to you, yes, it is a great justification for the higher pay and perks of those at the top. “For the good of society, CEOs must be paid more.” If so, they should get together and fund a think tank of sociologists to study and refine this theory of inequality and stratification.

The problem is that the growing income inequality is also due in part to the growing amount of “income” that comes from investments. It is hard to argue that one’s investments are made with the greater good in mind and not one’s self-interest. These difficult arguments are why we need that think tank. I’d call it the Union of Radical Defenders of Political and Economic Stratification, or U-R-DoPES.

Religion is the only institutional counter to market values

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Oct 13, 2007

TERRE HAUTE — By many measures, the United States of America is the most religious of industrialized countries.

At the same time, our culture appears, in many ways, to be quite the opposite, or at least not in keeping with a religious people. Recent scholarship suggests that while fewer people may be connected with a church, spirituality is increasing.

A good reason, sociologically, to keep religion vibrant is to counter the market values inherent in a capitalist society. So much of what we complain about in our society, the crudity, the sexuality, many of the problems with the media, all have to do with selling.

The only institutional counter on those market values is religion. The basic thrust of all religions is selflessness and concern for others. The basic thrust of the market is to satisfy “me.” Here are 10 simple steps individuals can take to improve formal religion.

10 simple things you can do to improve religion

This is fourth in a series of five essays about simple things individuals can do to improve our social institutions. A social institution is a framework for solving societal problems. All societies must solve the same problems, but they do it differently. They must tie adult responsibility to children (marriage and family), socialize children into productive roles (education), solve the problem of order and leadership (politics), justify societal practices as “good” (religion), and produce and distribute needed goods and services (economy). My suggestions are not about changing our institutions as much as making the current ones, as currently defined, work a little better. Today’s focus is on religion.

1. Take part regularly in a faith — community. Faith communities today, influenced in many ways by our market values, now come in so many variants that virtually anyone, even an avowed atheist, can find a faith community to participate in. When you buy anything, you are reproducing the market; hence, to reproduce religion, you have to participate.

2. Support a faith community with your money. Contrary to the most cynical and the most devout, the money comes from people, not a supernatural being. Churches need cash to survive, to do the work that reflects those nonmarket values.

3. Support a faith community with your time and talents. Market logic follows that we don’t do anything unless we are paid/rewarded for it. So, volunteering your time and talent to a faith community is itself a counter to the market-driven values that corrode our civil society. As well, our time and talent also build the community of people who share and strengthen your struggle to live against the consumer culture.

4. Make religion about values and understand what values are: Values are standards by which we judge “things” as good or bad. We value freedom, so we don’t like to be told what to do. So, in the vein of values, find values in your faith community to embrace and do so. Whether it be honesty, charity, concern for the poor, whatever.

5. For believers, sharing faith is expected and easy, for those who are uncomfortable with that, then share your values with others and don’t be afraid to credit your faith community as a source for those values. In our individualistic society, we too often credit good deeds to just good individuals, failing to recognize the social fabric which makes that “good” possible. If someone asks us what kind of car we like, we don’t hesitate to tell them. Why not share your brand of value community with others, too?

6. Take children to a faith community. Young children share quite easily. In school they learn to justify inequality. Research shows the more schooling they have, the more inequality they are willing to accept, even to promote it. That says something about the experience of schooling in our society. Religion is about values and beliefs. Use the youth activities in your faith community to “inoculate” children from those values that promote inequality and divisiveness. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll destroy individual lives, but not necessarily society. Values that support ruthless attitudes like “produce or die,” dehumanize people and undermine any sense of a “caring” or compassionate society.

7. Participate in one of the ministries/missions/charities of your faith community. Some ministries/missions/charities are about evangelizing which many people are uncomfortable with. But others are about helping others, whether it be kids who don’t have great home lives with homework, Habitat for Humanity, shut-ins, the list is endless and usually reflects the needs of your local community, In any case give of your self in a charitable way that is sponsored or facilitated by your faith community. And yes, you can just go directly to Habitat for Humanity and volunteer, or many such “secular” groups who also give their time and talent to such worthy causes, but a faith community is the most comprehensive, the broadest umbrella of values that support “charity”. Volunteering for the after school program at your church will encourage others to volunteer, though perhaps not for the after school program, but perhaps for the soup kitchen.

8. Participate in the rituals in your faith community. Worship practices are rituals. So are carry-in suppers. Rituals are about meaning. By participating in the faith community rituals, you make meaning around the faith community values. And participating in the rituals strengthens the community which in turn strengthen the non-market values.

9. Be selfless and serve others. We have survived so far as a species because we have learned to organize ourselves. Our survival is based on our human interdependence. A radical individualistic ideology tears at that interdependence. This ideology finds its home in an unrestrained free market where “let the market decide” is the mantra. Religion, with its claim on moral virtue, is a key counter to preserving the very idea of a shared culture, mutual obligation, or even enforceable standards of right and wrong. Of course, too much of this swings back the other way, to totalitarianism, like the kind the Taliban represent. Balance is key and we swing hard toward individualism so we need brakes. Be an individual but carve out space to be selfless and serve others. Faith communities are wonderful for helping us do that.

10. Live your life with value integrity. What does that mean? I’ll admit, I tried to keep these steps simple, but this one definitely needs explanation. By integrity I mean an unreduced or unbroken completeness or totality. The desire for this can be seen when people speak of their “true self” or “true nature.” The fact is, however, that a “true self” is a fiction. We have many selves related to the many different roles we play in life. And our behavior, research tells us, is explained by the situations we find ourselves in more so than by some kind of moral righteousness. Good people do bad things if put in the situation that calls forth bad responses. However, since we have self identity, we can decide on certain aspects of our self that we want to be part of our “true self.” Those things are going to be related to the values we find represented and supported in our faith communities.

What would we do without the railroads?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Feb 5, 2006

I am still a relative newcomer to Terre Haute (we moved here in 1987). I was then and remain impressed with how the good people of Terre Haute persevere with the trains. My first and continuing response to the many trains criss-crossing our fair city has been “overpass,” “viaduct” or “Couldn’t there be a better place for these tracks?” So, I read with satisfaction that Mayor Burke is going to look into moving the tracks outside the city limits.

Then the sociologist kicked in. Wait, wait, wait a minute. The trains in Terre Haute are an important (albeit an irritating, inconvenient nuisance) part of our culture. There could be some negative, unforeseen repercussions as a result of changing such a distinctive part of life in Terre Haute and the culture that we have developed to deal with them.

I’m concerned about widespread unemployment. Before I was a college professor, I worked jobs with supervisors and time clocks. Nothing could get one in trouble faster than being late to work. In Terre Haute, however, we have the perfect excuse for being late: “Railroaded.” It is the only excuse that goes unquestioned. Without the trains, I fear, many people will be fired for being late for reasons not quite as sacred as “railroaded.”

Similarly, how many children waiting for their parents to pick them up from school, practice, dance and music lessons will think their parents forgot about them after waiting 10 minutes to an hour after “railroaded” has faded from our daily discourse? Come on, how many times have we used that excuse when we are late to pick up the kids? No more. We’ll have to come up with something different that provides us an excuse that doesn’t suggest we “forgot” about our kids.

Without the opportunities for conversation that being railroaded gives us, when will we find the opportunity to discuss those heavy subjects with our teenagers? Those impromptu father-daughter discussions forced upon us by the switching train at the Ft. Harrison crossing no doubt have given us some real bonding experiences.

How many young lovers, stuck at a crossing, were forced to actually talk to one another discovering how much (or little) in common they really have? Where will those important opportunities for serious discussion happen without the “fated” railroading?

I read that my employer, ISU, is a partner in this endeavor. ISU, indeed any workplace where trying to figure out how not to do something takes up more energy than figuring out how to do something, may find that moving the “tracks out back” may transform their organizations. Like Columbus crossing the ocean blue, moving the tracks might become the rallying point for tackling other heretofore-impossible obstacles. A “can-do” spirit at ISU and other Terre Haute institutions would be a (hopefully welcome) change.

I fear, too, that without our trains to derail us from time to time, we will all become terribly “anal,” you know, obsessed by time and the clock. The trains introduce a wonderful “unknown” into any trip across town. Will we make the movie in time? Let’s take Fruitridge to Davis and hope no trains block our way. Instead, we will all time our trips from home to the mall down to the second, with only an ill-timed traffic light to throw our obsession for time and punctuality off. Do we really want to become like that? I like leaving places 40 minutes earlier than I should “in case there is a train.”

What about our proficient driving skills honed by the 40 trains a day? I’m convinced that Terre Hauteans are the most skilled Y-turners east of the Pacific. I’ve seen people execute perfect (and not so perfect) Y-turns to get around a switching train. They are such a testimony to fine motor maneuvering. What will happen to those skills if there are no trains to impede our forward motion?

Of course there is one fact that needs to be worked into my growing hysteria. This isn’t going to happen over night. It is not like we will get the plan together and move forward quickly and get those tracks moved. It may have taken Lafayette 30 years to move their tracks, but this is still Terre Haute with its tracks. It took us better than 30 years to get something going at Seventh and Wabash. So, don’t get too concerned about losing the trains — yet.

"Treasure?" Trove

I discovered that the Terre Haute Tribune Star, who publishes my essays, has a bigger archive than I realized. I began this blog in 2008, but I can find archived essays before that, so i am going to post them with the original pubication dates.

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