Archive for May, 2008

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Meandering Indiana – 2

May 31, 2008

Next stop in my tour of Indiana — Miami County. (Say, does this remind you of the crazy peregrinations of our Democratic candidates in the lead-up to the recent Indiana primary? Did you also ask yourself, why are they going from Evansville to Gas City to New Albany to Terre Haute, or whatever? Was it alphabetical order?)

Anyway, this post is about Miami County, famed for its circus heritage and its Cole Porter Festival (June 13-15, 2008), celebrating a native son. To me, though, the county always brings to mind the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana. In recent years, their history has been chronicled and well-documented, in part to support the Miami case for federal recognition.

My most memorable time with the Miami was when a colleague, Rita Kohn, got us invited to the installation of Chief Raymond O. White. The event took place in a banquet room at Grissom Air Force Base. It was considered an appropriate place for this important tribal ceremony because American Indians have served with pride in the U.S. armed forces, as I quickly learned. The day consisted of a luncheon, speeches, the presentation of gifts and blessings — a modern occasion with traditional elements. It was, for me, a privilege to be present and something to recall when Chief White died, tragically, only a short time later.

But the Miami continue under the leadership of their current principal chief, Brian J. Buchanan of the Godfroy Clan. That is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from the Miami and our other Native American peoples. Even in what was once the “Land of the Indians,” they are still here.

Following the Path, a very good article on historical and contemporary Native Americans in Indiana, can be found in the Aug. 2007 Electric Consumer.

This entry was posted by: Nancy
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Indy Restaurants Strike Deal for Airport Space

May 30, 2008

This is great news for people who are in love with Indianapolis’ dining scene because of the restaurants unique to our town. It never fails to infuriate me when fast food restaurants and chains are among the top three “Best of…” choices in ‘Nuvo’s “Best of Indy” issue each year.

It’s also really great news for westsiders sick of driving all the way downtown just for a St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail–truly is one of the city’s unhidden gems. Er…that is if there’s access to the restaurants for non-travelers.

This entry was posted by: Jim
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Isolated Brazilian Tribe Photographed

May 30, 2008

I linked yesterday to a conversation at the New York Times about what changes to English we can expect to see as a result of the homogenizing effects of globalization. Without advocating for or against what is likely to be the inevitable march toward one global economic community, it’s important to remember that it’s not just English, English-speakers, or America that stands to gain or lose (or be lost) through the process as this story from the BBC news makes us vividly aware.

This entry was posted by: Jim
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Friday: (B)Lincoln (B)logs

May 30, 2008

Lincoln was not just a great problem solver but he had a hawk’s eye for spotting new opportunities. I’m specifically thinking of his unrivaled ability to take advantage of new technologies in their infancies and utilize them in ways unintended by their creators.

My colleague Nancy has already mentioned (in the comments section) the book she’s reading on how Lincoln was an early adopter of the telegraph and how he used that technology to improve the logistical structure of the northern army (setting the pattern for continued American excellence in military logistics).

Equally savvy, and more in line with our mission as a state humanities council, Lincoln understood the increased intimacy created between candidate and voter when the latter could view the former in photographs. During his campaign for president in 1860, 35 photographs of Lincoln by Matthew Brady were circulated, making Lincoln the first president to use the new medium for political means. This political and artistic genius culminated, in Lincoln’s own mind, in his eventual victory. As Lincoln would say afterward, “Make no mistake, Brady made me President!”

The image here is not a Matthew Brady image but was taken by Alexander Gardner to use as a model for a portrait of the president he wanted to paint and is one of several works offered through Picturing America, a collection of iconic images from throughout American history.

(Click on the image to see a larger version of it on the Picturing America website.)

Over 600 Indiana schools and libraries have received the Picturing America prints.

This entry was posted by: Jim
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The Sixth Law of Simplicity

May 30, 2008

Always interested in how to simplify the tangle of modern existence, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda (2006). Maeda is an award-winning graphic designer, a professor in MIT’s Media Lab, and the founder of the Simplicity Consortium. He writes, “Achieving simplicity in the digital age became a personal mission, and a focus of my research at MIT.”

The book’s subtitle is: Design, Technology, Business, Life. The concatenation of those elements is a lot to ponder in itself, but it’s also fun and fascinating. We are encouraged to consider how design affects our lives and livelihoods.

Maeda identifies ten laws of simplicity; the sixth will illustrate his approach. It is the law of CONTEXT. Once you foreground the background, it is possible to become confused by ambience. To leave the security of filled space and overcome the fear of white space is the challenge. We just need to remember that “There is an important tradeoff between being completely lost in the unknown and completely found in the familiar” (p. 60).

To balance safety and excitement is to achieve simplicity. Or rather, it’s one of ten ways.

This entry was posted by: Nancy
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The Other Cultural View

May 29, 2008

Like a lot of people, I sometimes use Wikipedia to check a quick fact (“Fargo is not the capital of North Dakota?!). I wasn’t quite satisfied, though, with the Wikipedia entry for the word “kata,” an idea that is central to Japanese culture.

Wikipedia tells us that kata are choreographed patterns of movements, primarily in the martial arts. My sense of kata is more general: that there are certain traditional “ways” of doing things, such as the way of Zen, the way of writing, the way of business, and so on.

At first glance, it seems that the cultural message is not to deviate from that which is taught. But I think it becomes something else: to understand thoroughly in order to know what alternatives exist. When you learn what is correct, you are ready to innovate.

Such a concept is not natural to us in the West, in other words, not intuitive in our culture. The great value of Eastern thought, it seems to me, is to show us what we are not and thus what we are.

Still, I can think of two places in American culture where the intense discipline of kata can be found. One is sports — so perhaps the martial arts are in fact the proper venue for kata. The other is computer programming, where knowing what is correct is the entrance to much innovation. Not surprisingly, there is such a thing as Code Kata.

Boye Lafayette De Mente has a good book on Kata: The Key to Understanding and Dealing with the Japanese.

This entry was posted by: Nancy
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When is the front door not the front door?

May 29, 2008

We don’t really write enough about architecture but that’s my fault. I have only recently began to appreciate architecture having spent the last three decades thinking of buildings in a purely utilitarian way when I thought of them at all.

This story in today’s Star Press about the Randolph County courthouse is kind of interesting if zoning laws, municipal variances, and uncivil civic discourse appeals to you at all. I like it because it’s a good example of what can happen when architecture, renovation, and public policy meet. Who knew that the symmetrically-minded architects of the neoclassical age should have been prescient enough to write “front door” on their blueprints?

OK, so technically according to this website the Randolph County courthouse was built in the Second Empire style (which sounds neoclassical to me, but like I said, I’m new to this architecture thing) and the “symmetrically-minded architect” in question was a self-taught architect (carpenter by profession) by the name of J.C. Johnson, who also designed the Adams County courthouse.

And while we’re on the subject I feel I should reprint this from their website as well:

Earlier this year, the Randolph County Commission voted to wreak havoc on the Winchester Courthouse Square Historic District by voting to tear down the 128-year-old county courthouse. If the Randolph County Courthouse falls, it will be the first loss in Indiana since the Cass County Courthouse was leveled nearly 30 years ago. Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, as well as preservationist around the state, including Chief Justice Randall Shepard, have been outspoken in their opposition to the commission’s decision.

Among those working to save the courthouse, none can trump the Winchester Bridge Club ladies for audacity. To call attention to the cause, the club members have posed—showing all their cards, so to speak, but holding strategically placed models of the courthouse—for a fundraising calendar . Even before the calendar has been published, the ladies have more than accomplished their mission of drawing local and even national attention to the courthouse.

This entry was posted by: Jim