The politics of ceaseless old man bitching

I live in a town with a lot going for it.

We have a huge military base, Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne and more than 30,000 troops. We also have a pretty nice college, Austin Peay State University, with more than 9,000 students. We have a wonderful historic downtown chock full of Victorian architecture. The current Miss America is from here. Clarksville, Tennessee is larger than Berkley, California, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Clearwater, Florida, and is about the same size as New Haven, Connecticut.

You've probably heard of all those places, yet people as close as Memphis (a three hour drive from here) have never heard of Clarksville. We had to wait until last year before we even had a fucking Starbucks, for Christ's sake. Our median income is abysmal, with some jobs getting paid up to $20,000 less annually than their counterparts in Nashville, a 45 minute drive away.

That link above takes you to a story by the Leaf Chronicle, our hometown newspaper of record. I like to rag on them because they read like a newspaper from a town one-third our size, but I have to give them props for attempting to understand the whole Internet thing. They have eight bloggers last time I checked, and they just launched a feature that lets you search through the public records of Clarksville online. They obviously get networked culture, down to the fact that readers can comment in forums on every story. Too bad they still have a paywall around old articles.

Which brings us to my point.

Look at the article referenced above. It has a whole paragraph devoted to saying that managers and IT pros are getting shafted out of tens of thousands of dollars annually compared to their counterparts a county away. You'd expect someone to be angry about this, right? I mean, it hits right in the paycheck, no matter how much the writer tries to bury it in the story.

That story has no comments. Nobody's curious as to why the disparity exists, nor is anyone curious as to the impact on the town's economy and tax base. A lot of people live here and work in Nashville for the higher salaries, but a lot just move to Nashville unless they have something keeping them here. That's revenue and white collar jobs leaving our area, and yet nobody has anything to say. More than that, the story points to a disturbing trend of economic dependance on the military. If Uncle Sam pulls up stakes at some point (and it was a very real possibility in the 90's when I was growing up) the economy will collapse. We'll look a lot like Flint, Michigan, another famous town that's about our size. And still nobody has anything to say.

Compare it to this story, outlining a planning retreat scheduled this weekend for the mayor and city council. It's a $5,000 trip, including the fees for seminars and speakers. Considering Clarksville's annual operating budget is in the tens of millions of dollars, five grand to get a little fresh air and hear some seminars is a drop in the bucket. Amortized over everyone who participated, the cost of the trip wasn't even a week's pay.

This story has loads of comments, all of which are of a style I like to refer to as "old man bitching."

All of them insinuate that this meeting is to raise taxes, ostensibly because of the cost of all these trips.

All of them seem to sound perfectly natural if you imagine an elderly gentleman on his front porch in the middle of a long rant about how stuff costs more than it used to.

And these voices are far from the minority. This town is years behind in infrastructure and planning, but nobody wants to piss on the third rail and try to do things which will improve the town, because everybody just bitches and bitches about how much it will cost.

Take our recent vote on Clarksville Dept. of Electricity's new fiber initiative. This is the most progressive thing this town's seen in 30 years. A community-owned nonprofit broadband ISP using the latest fiber technology is a thing of beauty. Charter Communications, our local cable monopoly, spent untold amounts fighting it using every dirty trick they could, because they knew it spelled the end for them. When you can get fiber optic internet and IPTV for twenty bucks a month, who's going to want cable?

The vote passed three to one. The one is still bitching about how this will raise our taxes (it won't) or that CDE should stick to electricity (fuck you old man, I should have had fiber five years ago) or that nobody will use it. They miss the point that big pipes to the Web are as much a public trust as water or electricity, and the current profit-oriented business model has succeeded in getting premium pay for woefully substandard service. To them it's all an encroachment on whatever crusty misinformed worldview they've managed to develop, and they're going to have to end up paying for it.

I wouldn't worry about it, except this kind of thinking is epidemic, and it has been toxic to our community, our economy, and even our view of our town. All the smart kids leave, and all the jobs are bottom-barrel unless you work on post as a contractor, and even then nobody's getting rich. And instead of investing in ways to maximize our town, our community, our economy, we instead endlessly look for ways to minimize taxes, services, planning, costs. That is how you get Flints instead of Clearwaters.

Oh well. Old men on the front porch eventually forget what they were talking about, and we can go on with what we were doing.

posted by John @ 9:35 PM,


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