Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Political Deaths Come in Threes?

There is a superstition that celebrity deaths come in threes, a notion supported this week when Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson passed away.

Maybe political deaths comes in threes as well because Governor Sanford's political career ended in a bizarre Argentina escapade. Then former State Representative and Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate, Dennie Oxley, was found again in a state of intoxication. (And here I thought I was the only one driven to drink by the lackluster JLT campaign!).

Unfortunately, this time Oxley was caught on tape in the company of a hammered and unconscious 21-year-old intern (the niece of state representative David Niezgodski, D-South Bend). Can anybody smell toast burning?

Now comes Republican Superior Court Judge William Nelson's story which is almost as bizarre as Sanford's. The Star offers a vanilla headline:

"Woman charged with forging Marion Co. judge's name"

What you don't get from that headline is that the "woman" is Judge Nelson's wife, Kristina, that the forged name was that of Judge Sheila Carlise (with whom Nelson's wife is related by marriage), and that the forged letter, which was intended to prevent a foreclosure, stated that Mr. Nelson had been shot, which never happened. Tell me this isn't a Maury Povich episode.

Mrs. Nelson fell on the sword and stated that her husband had no idea of her actions, and given how bizarre her course of action, how could we doubt her? Even so, this story is riddled with unanswered questions. Did Judge Nelson know his home was in foreclosure? If so, how is this possible? While Judges don't make as much as law firm partners, they aren't exactly starving at $120,000 annually. So, what is going on? Is the Judge one of those "irresponsible" types the Republicans rail against for buying more house than he could afford? Or is he simply that clueless about his own affairs? Or is the Judge simply married to somebody who needs major counseling who has been siphoning off his money somehow? Expect a bizarre explanation before this is over.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Angie Miller Warnock - Gone Too Soon

I want to deviate from politics today to post something personal.

I have been struggling with the death of my Ben Davis High School classmate, Angie Miller. When I tell people this, they assume we were really close. Truthfully, we haven't been since high school. Even back then we didn't "hang out," though we spoke almost every day.

I was surprised by the funk in which I found myself of late. I assumed it was because Angie was just so amazingly personable and upbeat. I cannot recall a single moment when she was ever negative. How could one not feel loss for both self and for everyone Angie touched? (I was delighted to hear friends and family say her core personality from high school to her last day stayed exactly the same).

But there was more. I was bothered by how many "tourists" this tragedy created. Angie's death was the loss of a mother, daughter, friend, and much more. But people used it to marshall support for their advocacy. We all need guns, so protect the 2nd amendment! Protective orders are pointless because law enforcement doesn't take them seriously! We need more drug treatment! Drug treatment doesn't work! The death penalty is good! Constitutional rights for criminals are stupid! The divorce process makes people snap! Lawyers always make things worse!

All, some, or none of these things can be true. But I wasn't ready to hear any of it. I couldn't fathom Angie's life being limited to a rallying point. I wanted to denounce those who speculated on what they didn't know or tried to capitalize on a tragedy for their own gain. I realized quickly I had to shelf my judgment. We have limited capacity to contain our outrage after a horrific tragedy. It flows like a firehose into a Dixie cup and emotionally drenches everybody and everything remotely connected.

Quite simply, all of our scientific advances can't help us process grief and loss. We are left trying to make sense of the senseless through the lense of our own life experiences, perceptions, and identities. All of our human advances in reasoning, philosophy, and theology can't answer some unescapable questions.

How can someone of resounding faith fall to something so diabolical?

One of Angie's last Facebook posts was an e-tattoo of the Virgin Mary that read: "Our Holy Mother watching out for each of us!"

Where was Our Holy Mother when she was needed most?

I can't shake the notion that it is our inability to answer these questions in a meaningful way that compels us to find something...anything...that we can say or do to make peace with the heinous parts of our world.

I know I, too, am a tourist because I am writing this. But I feel duty-bound to speak to those who were not able to attend Angie's memorial service and reception.

First, you need to know that Angie’s daughters have her strength, and their family support is amazing. Though the girls' profound loss will have an incalculable effect on them, they showed encouraging resiliency that could only be the byproduct of an abundance of family love and support.

Second, Father Dan, the priest who delivered the homily at St. Malachy, said it best when he admitted that he had no answers. However, he also said that Angie would have found comfort in finding us together, praying, for those answers. Father Dan would have conceded, I suspect, that even when we pray collectively, we find our answers individually. The key is often not the heavenly reply. It is the process of seeking and acting together. Hearing Father Dan's words, how can I criticize how others find their own meaning? Maybe the best we can hope for is that all our tourism ultimately takes a constructive form. If it is inevitable, maybe we can all play "guide" for each other.

When tragedy strikes elected officials, their successors always say something like, "We will carry on his/her legacy." When professional athletes lose a loved one, they often say they are "playing for" that person.

When you have someone as extraordinarily nice as Angie Miller Warnock, maybe that’s the best type of “tourism” - embracing her legacy of kindness and optimism by "playing" for her in our daily lives.

Angie’s father stated at the reception that Angie concluded her voice mail with “Have a wonderful day.” Such a simple phrase said not nearly enough. But Angie's friends (which we should define as anyone she met) knew she didn't just wish it, she took action to make it happen for people.

Frequently, it feels like we are becoming more divided, and the harder our struggles become, the angrier we get. It feels like many Americans have a sense of overwhelm. So why not counter this by consistently showing the best side of ourselves? At some point today, take a page from Angie Miller's book by not only saying, "Have a wonderful day," but also, by making it so for somebody. At some point today, tell friends or family you love them because you cannot take for granted an opportunity to do so later.

What better homage could we pay to a spirit gone too soon?


Monday, June 22, 2009

Be Part of the Solution

Please read my letter to the Indianapolis Star and respond in a meaningful way. We all can play a role, no matter how small.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Advance Indiana's Glaring Bigotry

This won’t be a revelation to most readers of Advance Indiana, but Gary Welsh has inescapably confirmed himself as an anti-Muslim bigot.

Miriam Webster’s defines a “bigot” as “one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred or intolerance." Using this definition, isn't the clearest way to engage in bigotry to insinuate group culpability for the evil deeds of a member of a group, as if all share the offender's flawed moral compass?

If so, Welsh engaged in a completely indefensible example of bigotry on Monday, June 15, 2009, in his report about Brima Kemokai, a Marion County Community Corrections technician charged with raping at least one woman on home detention.

Welsh wrote:

Murray’s report says Kemokai is a citizen of Sierra Leone, a predominantly Muslim county (sic) on Africa’s west coast.

Welsh was referring to Indianapolis Star reporter Jon Murray.

My first thought was, "What possible news purpose could Murray have for stating that Sierra Leone is "predominantly Muslim"?!?

Then I read Murray's story, and here's ALL it said:
(Kemokai) is a citizen of Sierra Leone who has permanent resident status, Brizzi said.

In other words, Welsh added the Muslim reference.

Why would Welsh do that, except to insinuate that Muslims are rapists who need to be kept out of America?

Welsh certainly cannot say he was satisfying his readers' craving for information about Sierra Leone, or he could have written that Sierra Leone is "the home of the world's largest natural harbor," "the home of the 7th lowest Human Poverty Index, or even "the country that gained notoriety for exporting blood diamonds."

Instead, Welsh chooses to emphasize Sierra Leone's "predominant" Muslim faith. (As an aside, estimates are that Sierra Leone is 60% Muslim, 30% Christian, and 10% native African faiths).

What makes Welsh's comment worse is that nobody has even reported that Kemokai self-identifies as a Muslim. Of course, if he did, that fact wouldn't indict other Muslims (except with bigoted readers) anymore than me pointing out the astonishing number of LEADERS of Christian churches who have been charged with molest and sexual harrassment indicts all Christians. (By the way, there are many anti-Christian bigots out there).

Is this confrontational of me? Sure. But Dr. King said time is neutral. It can either be used destructively or constructively. If we don't call out those who inflame bigotry, we let those with malignant objectives swing the pendulum toward their unjust ends.

I have previously suggested to Welsh privately that his coverage suggests an anti-Muslim and sometimes an anti-African-American bent in an effort to get him to think before he posts, but he apparently hasn't "gotten it." (Maybe the fact Islam is "predominantly" practiced in America by people who aren't white is more food for thought). Of course, since Welsh never posts any suggestion he might be using his blogging bully pulpit to whip up our worst human instincts, I feel compelled to say it here.

However, I'll extend to him a courtesy he never offers me.

Gary Welsh, respond here. I will post your entire defense, word-for-word, if you can offer one.

The tragedy is that Mr. Welsh frequently bests the mainstream media with his investigative reporting in this city. Unfortunately, he seems incapable of checking his inner demon - his unstoppable drive to tarnish Islam. As a Christian man, I can't let him do it any more. And neither should you.


Monday, June 15, 2009

KIB's Fight Against Trashed Mentalities

One of my favorite organizations is Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB). Its name IS the mission statement.

KIB has partnered with pretty much everybody to improve the aesthetics of our fine city with landscaping, flower and tree planting, recycling information, and trash pick-ups. I encourage you all to donate time or money here. http://www.kibi.org/donate/index.htm (It takes green to make green space!).

Keeping our city clean is an uphill battle because there is a surprisingly prevalent mentality that our streets are personal trashcans. If you have that attitude, you now do so at your own risk.

I'm talking to you, burgundy Honda Accord with plate KZ 8741! I was following you yesterday heading North on Keystone around 56th Street when you threw what looked like a gum wrapper out your window. Seriously, you couldn't keep THAT in your car until you got to a trashcan?

You may say, what is one piece of trash? Look at any on-ramp in Indianapolis, and you'll see the effect when multiplied by 1000s of people.

I'm also talking to you, Indygo.

A few months back, I was sitting at a light when a bus driver opened his window and dropped a handful of plastic wrappers onto the street. (Apparently, you can eat a LOT of Ding Dongs in a day). I identified the bus, the route, the time, and the location in my letter to Indygo. They said they would investigate and get back to me. Then they never did. I wonder if Indygo found my complaint trivial.

Maybe you do, too. You may say, "So what? This isn't as pressing like getting quality education or healthcare for children."

But it's attitudinal poisoning. A lot of people gauge what is acceptable by their peers' conduct. This may explain why we don't do better caring for each other as a society. When even the people who work FOR US have no respect for common areas, how can we expect them to respect common goals?

This respect is not an inherited trait. It's one we learn from our parents, if they have any sense. When our parents falter in teaching or aren't there to teach, we must learn it from extended families and friends. And when they falter, we learn it from a society intent on teaching this core civic value, which can be distilled as follows:


Now take what you've just learned and put it into practice before you get the letter in your personnel file and before the entire city knows your plate number.