November 27, 2007

No More False Dichotomies: Investigating our contempt for 8664

My girlfriend’s mother, Judy, has a penchant for naming cats after authors. There’s been a Thoreau, an Eliot, an Emerson, a Kipling. You get the idea.Andrea took up the habit a couple years ago after Judy finally snagged a pregnant cat living near the school where Judy teaches kindergarten. Judy “bequeathed” one of the litter to Andrea, and he became Andrea’s third black. She named him Cormac, after the author Cormac McCarthy. Mac for short, Macaroon for silly. The current Cormac McCarthy book at the time was “No Country For Old Men.” The title comes from the first line of a poem by William Butler Yeats, who, inexplicably, has not cracked the pantheon of cat names.The Coen Brothers have just released a movie based on McCarthy’s page-turning novel, and it is in theaters now. It has a lot to say about good and evil and how capricious life can be, and it’s loaded with symbolism even I could not miss. I’ve never been sharp on the archetypal stuff, unlike my cousin, Eric, a high school teacher who could pick out themes from a stack of sewing needles. One time I visited him at his home in Wyoming and we rented “Do the Right Thing.” He ate it up, analytically speaking. Eric was teacher of the year in 2003 and got to meet George Bush. I don’t think he was particularly thrilled.In McCarthy’s story about a regular guy who finds a cache of cash after a drug deal gone bad on the Texas plains, there’s a bad guy so scary you can’t quite believe it. His name is Anton Chigurh (Shuh-gurr), and while he has some firearms and a perfectly psychopathic smirk, what puts him over the top is a cattle gun he uses in fine utilitarian fashion. It is one bad instrument.Which is what David Hawpe has become to the 8664 movement. When it comes to annihilating that little utopian sneeze, no one has stepped up as prominently as Hawpe.Hawpe, of course, is a longtime member of The Courier-Journal editorial board and also writes a regular column that runs on the editorial page. While he has frequently disparaged 8664, usually in passing and with a wink, Hawpe now seems angry about it. At least, I suspect he’s angry, because he really zeroed in when he wrote about it last week, after the 8664 presentation to an ad hoc Metro Council committee. This time, instead of setting off on a circuitous route to the point of his column, as is his wont — I have attempted a parody of his expository style in the set-up to this column — Hawpe cut to the chase and mentioned the main subject in the second paragraph.Further, in a cursory search, LEO found the C-J editorial board has opined against 8664 at least 11 times dating to early 2006.This is all rather interesting, in that a spunky grassroots group has elicited such heated response. I am sure Mr. Hawpe would add adjectives such as “ill-considered” and “erroneous” before the word “grassroots,” but the thing is, no one really knows if those are accurate. Despite insinuations to the contrary, there is no record that an 8664-like scenario was evaluated during the process that resulted in the Ohio River Bridges Project.The current argument as advanced by ORBP supporters hinges on the fact that a bureaucratic process seems to have played out, and so when someone comes along who says things may not be so cut and dried, they unleash the cattle gun. In this case, Hawpe impugned the integrity of 8664 consultant Walter Kulash. But the funny thing is, Kulash was deemed credible enough to be invited to a 2006 smart growth conference — organized by the Bridges Project.There’s a famous quote by Herbert Spencer, which many know by way of the Alcoholics Anonymous big book: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”Translation: You never know until you check it out.Think about this. When the powers-that-be react so testily to an idea, but won’t let the idea be tested, what do you infer? You can add a few other things into this discussion: the library tax, the arena, Museum Plaza. Damn, we didn’t know the city would kick in millions of dollars for infrastructure.It seems our leadership is being catty. And I think the public may be tired of feeling mousy. 8664 holds an open meeting tonight to discuss the proposal. It is at the Kentucky Center and starts at 6 p.m. It’s free. Contact the writer at cstemle@leoweekly.com