Friday, March 30, 2012

Playing politics with public safety

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 6:30 AM


I learned a long time ago from a very wise man that the only problem with playing games in politics is sometimes you come across people who can play better than you. I strongly suggest the Indianapolis City-County Council keep that in mind as it navigates the waters of Public Safety Director Frank Straub's "confirmation" hearings.

It goes without saying that Dr. Straub has been a lightning rod for change and criticism from Democrats and Republicans for recent events at IMPD. Although I have always and will continue to argue that getting mad at the Public Safety Director for the actions of some rogue law enforcement officers is like getting mad at the exterminator you called to solve your infestation problem.

Has Straub committed any of the offenses below?

  • Straub wasn't arrested for sexual assault in February 2010.
  • Straub didn't steal $500 from an arrestee in March 2010.
  • Straub wasn't investigated by the FBI for public corruption.
  • Straub did not use excessive force against Brandon Johnson.
  • Straub was never charged with arson.
  • Straub never strangled a resident in a fight.
  • Straub did not discharge his weapon during a domestic dispute.
  • Straub never hit 4 motorcyclists, killing one and injuring two others.
  • Straub did not wreck a police vehicle and then take it to a body shop in order to hide the damage.

If he did, I must have missed something.

But let's say for sake of argument, that the Council refuses to re-appoint Straub, here's the question, now what? That doesn't mean Straub can't stay. Under municipal code the Mayor can keep Straub in the position until he finds someone else and the Council can't make him hire anyone. Even Straub critic City-County Councilor Vernon Brown admitted that during Straub's reappointment hearing last year.

So what will they do, cut the funding in the budget? Contrary to popular opinion, Indianapolis has a strong-mayor/weak-council form of government. In other words, the Council can pass a budget, the Mayor can veto it and unless they override it with 20 votes, which as we saw during the smoking ban debate isn't very likely to happen, nothing would change. Under state law if a municipality fails to pass a budget then the budget from the previous year goes into effect and Straub's budget would practically stay the same subject to changes by the administration.

And here is something else to keep in mind, what's to stop the Indiana General Assembly, which may be even more Republican next year than it is now to stop from amending the UniGov statute so the Mayor doesn't have to go the Council to get his appointments confirmed? The Governor doesn't have to deal with that, so why should the Mayor of Indianapolis have to go back to the Council on an annual basis to get his major appointments approved? It's one thing to do that once, when that person is appointed, or perhaps re-appointed at the beginning of a second term, but annually? If I were the chief executive officer of the city I wouldn't put up with that.

And, if I know Mayor Greg Ballard as well as I think I do, neither will he. Let the political games begin.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lessons in gender and government service

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Gov. Mitch Daniels' choice of his former counsel Mark Massa to serve as Indiana's newest Supreme Court justice called attention to two political dynamics.

The most obvious, of course, is the issue of gender.

Indiana is one of only three states in the union not to have a woman sitting on the state Supreme Court. Only one woman – Myra Selby – has served as a Supreme Court justice in the state's history.

And Selby stepped off the bench 13 years ago.

During his eight years in office, Daniels had two chances to place a woman on Indiana's highest court. Both times, he opted to put a man there.

Daniels' decision to keep the Indiana Supreme Court a males-only club doubtless will ratchet up the pressure on the next governor to name a woman.

(Note to Daniels: Don't expect a thank-you card from your successor for that gift.)

Daniels said that he would have loved to name a woman, but that gender had to be a "tie-breaker." He also, curiously, suggested that women in the legal profession are partly to blame for not bringing forth the strongest candidates for Supreme Court service.

That's a shaky argument – both legally and in application.

The courts consistently have ruled in regard to affirmative action cases that gender, race, ethnicity and other characteristics can't be used in determining an outcome. In short, gender can't be a deciding factor in making a decision to hire or promote someone – even as a tie-breaker.

The focus of affirmative action is supposed to be on the front end – in determining who gets considered in the first place. That places pressure on those in positions of power to open up the process, tear down barriers to inclusion and seek out talented and qualified minorities.

The places where affirmative action works are the places that – aggressively, even relentlessly – search for and recruit the best women and minority candidates. It's not enough to say you've put the welcome mat out. You've got to find the people you want and lead them to the welcome mat.

Thus, if Mitch Daniels argues that not enough qualified women are applying to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court, then he's really indicting himself and the rest of state government for not doing effective outreach.

That brings us to the second political dynamic Mark Massa's appointment brought into focus – our ambivalent feelings about government and public officials.

Part of what made Massa a strong candidate to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court was his government service. In the time since he graduated from law school in 1989, Massa has clerked for retiring Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard, worked as a state prosecutor, served as a federal prosecutor, been chief counsel in Daniels' office, run for Marion County prosecutor and been Daniels' appointee to lead the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

Government has been both Massa's incubator and his training ground. It opened not just one door for him – but every door.

Once through those doors, he used the experience he got to develop skills that served him and the state well. He became skilled at public service – adept in the ways of government.

This, of course, is not the way we like to think of government and public officials.

Our mythology is that our government is supposed to be made up of talented but dedicated amateurs – people who take time away from other careers to serve the public. Government is supposed to be so easy one doesn't have to be a career professional to do it well.

But it isn't easy.

Government is hard work that requires precise and demanding skills. The long list of talented people who have failed at it demonstrates that.

Mark Massa sits now on the Indiana Supreme Court because he honed the skills required through a series of government positions. Massa was able to do that because the right doors opened for him and he made the most of his opportunities.

The challenge before us now is to make sure that those doors open more often for more people.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of No Limits WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Woof Wednesday: Clyde the Pit Bull puppy

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Clyde the Pit Bull puppy, up for adoption now at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control.
  • Clyde the Pit Bull puppy, up for adoption now at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control.

Meet Clyde the puppy. The Pit Bull Terrier mix is up for adoption now at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control.

According to his adoption profile, "Clyde is a nice, playful puppy who loves to give kisses. He is very gentle and has good manners for such a young puppy." He sounds like a great way to kick off a new weekly Timesuck feature we're creatively (or not) calling "Woof Wednesday."

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Hammer: Mourner's memories

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 9:52 AM


Tumultuous times are upon us.

National outrage continues over the murder of a young Florida teenager whose only crime was to have worn a hoodie and be caught being black in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time.

Locally, the city lost an incomparable leader with the death of Rev. Boniface Hardin. As founder of Martin University, Hardin's mission focused on opening opportunities for the city's African-American community, but his influence was not limited to any certain demographic. He walked with giants in life and stands among them now; his was the definition of a life well spent. We mourn his loss, along with two other local luminaries — philanthropist Marilyn Glick and my dear friend and long-time NUVO contributor, jazz legend Chuck Workman — who also passed away last weekend.

This sadness builds on a week of personal grief and suffering in the Hammer household. After a long illness, Soja, our beautiful Russian Blue cat, passed away on Friday.

Soja's death has affected me more profoundly than any event since my mother died in 1999.

Soja was that important, and that beloved, to me. And while few outsiders can understand the depth of mourning and grief that the loss of someone else's pet brings, everyone who has tended to an animal for any length of time has experienced such despair.

She was a remarkable being and one of the most unique and irrepressible characters I shall ever encounter. Soja (pronounced SAH-jah) came into my life in 2001, when two elderly women brought her into the animal clinic where my girlfriend at the time worked.

The women wanted to have her euthanized because Soja had started wetting the carpet, probably in jealousy over a new cat being introduced into their home. My ex, to her credit and my eternal gratitude, told them off. "There's nothing wrong with her and I'm not going to put down a healthy animal for no reason," she told them. She brought her to our home instead.

You know how, on rare and magical occasions, two people hit it off so quickly and effortlessly that it seems like fate has bestowed an astonishing gift upon you that you feel unworthy of receiving? That was Soja and me. In time, people said we looked alike and had exactly the same personality.

Like me, she was shy, resisted changes and was slow to warm to strangers. But once she trusted you, she emitted so much love and warmth that it became overwhelming. We were inseparable from the start.

Her silvery coat shone blue in sunlight. It was so beautiful that it amazed all who met her. Her soulful green eyes expressed emotion in a most unusual way.

Not too long after we met, I went through some very serious health issues, both physical and emotional. The latter issues caused many of my friends to abandon me and I suffered a loneliness I have never felt before or since. Soja was there to console, to love, to express belief in me. She helped me recover and took joy in my renewed happiness.

When I met my wife, Soja fell as deeply in love with her as I did and our home filled with happiness, excitement and love. Soja blossomed even more.

My writing skill is inadequate to the task of expressing the depth and breadth of what Soja meant to us. I see her as a catalyst for everything good that has happened to me over the past decade. Our feelings of grief and sadness are incalculable.

Like many cats in her breed, she suffered from kidney and digestive problems. When she took seriously ill last November, the vet we consulted was grim in her assessment. We could choose a series of very costly and invasive treatments, none of which offered very much hope, or we could treat her worst symptoms and let her reach a dignified end.

Last week, her little body began shutting down. She put on a brave face but, by the end of the week, she wasn't eating or drinking and could barely walk. For the first time, she seemed to take no joy in life. We made the tough decision to put her to rest.

We kissed her goodbye and told her how much we loved her. She was too weak to acknowledge us with much more than a grateful look and a resigned disposition. Her end was quick and painless.

It rained all morning Friday but the storms began to clear by mid-afternoon. Standing outside my house, I was idly looking up into the sky when I saw a cloud that was shaped exactly like Soja at rest. Of course, clouds can look like whatever your imagination wants them to be. But I swear Soja was there.

"She belongs to the clouds and the sky," my wife said as we held each other. Our sweet kitten is at rest. My hope for all of you is that you too find the deep, abiding and eternal love that we feel and felt for our beloved Soja.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Off Base: Lingerie knockout; brave ski jump

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2012 at 11:40 AM

5. Great-great paragliding grandma

Mary Allen Hardison wouldn't be out-done by her 75-year-old paragliding son. The 101-year-old courageous great-great grandmother set a Guinness World Record by becoming the oldest woman to tandem paraglide when she took flight in Salt Lake City. "Just because you are old doesn't mean you have to sit on your duff all day," Hardison told Reuters.

4. Samuel L. Jackson vs. Will Ferrell

Will Ferrell was hilarious when he tackled the PA duties at a Bulls-Hornets game. Samuel L. Jackson took on the challenge recently at the Clippers-Hornets game. Jackson isn't quite as funny as Ferrell, but he does bring out a little Jules Winnfield. And that's classic.

3. Twice as nice

Brittney Griner is a 6'8 Baylor basketball beast. Griner became the second women's college basketball player ever to dunk during the NCAA Tournament. Her first dunk shows her power, the second her pure athleticism.

This guy is Baylor's biggest fan.

2. "Bulldozed" by lingerie

Mitchell Mortaza Twitter
Lingerie Football League

Lingerie League Football Commissioner Mitchell Mortaza suffered a concussion. Mortaza's injury was the result of one skimpily-clad league hopeful knocking him on his back and slamming the back of his head on the green turf. There are worse ways.

1. "I can do this!"

10-year-old talks herself into her first ever ski jump...and it is adorable. What fear are you going to conquer today?

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Video: Flying like a bird

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 10:00 AM

We can't get enough videos of people doing ridiculous things, like trying to fly in something other than an airplane or helicopter.

This time: Is Jarno Smeets' flying machine a torture or freedom device?

Via Kat via The Hairpin via Human Birdwings

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Post-Peyton: 5 heart-breaking sports icons

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 6:00 AM

In case you've been living under a rock, let us fill you in: The unthinkable happened...Peyton Manning signed with another NFL team. Our beloved QB went from the beautiful white-and-blue Colts to the unfamiliar orange-and-blue Broncos. As Indianapolis mourns, take solace in knowing he is not the only superstar to don a new uniform and break fans' hearts.

5. Michael Jordan. The greatest-ever retired, returned and unfortunately played for the Washington Wizards.

4. Joe Namath. "Broadway Joe" was king of New York City. "Joe Willie" ended his career with the Los Angeles Rams.

3. Albert Pujols: The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year. Then Pujols left the Cardinals for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - and $254 million.

2. Brett Favre: Sure, he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. But he became an icon in Green Bay. Favre left his loyal "cheese heads" for the bright lights of New York, then for the rival Minnesota Vikings.

1. Babe Ruth: Arguably the greatest baseball player ever, "the Sultan of Swat" won four World Series Titles with the New York Yankees. But he fizzled out with the Boston Braves.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Video: "Motherf*ing Bike"

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Sons of Science's "Motherf*ing Bike" (don't ask me why I censored myself when the video clip below says the naughty word right there) is like a music-video version of elements of Bike Snob, lampooning several breeds of bikers.

With the amazing weather lately, we're buying bikes and riding them for commuting, fun, environmental, and, perhaps like some of the guys in this video, aesthetic purposes.

Can you relate to the motherf*ing cyclists in this video?

Hat tip to Matt W.


I rise in the morning, and greet the day
pull out the bike and I'm on my way
The transportation shows I care
Every turn of the pedal - cleans the air
Greener than green, I'm saving the planet
just like my friends Daryl, Sean, Toby and Janet
no greenhouse gas, a tiny carbon footprint up your ass
I'm on a motherfucking bike

Sharing my aggression is what that I do
Every day I'm riding the 'Tour de Fuck You'
Banging on hoods and kicking in fenders
a right-of-way-aholic on a permanent bender
Running red lights at the fat intersection
Cutout seat protects my erection
You like the bird, in my hand?
Take two from a motherfucking track stand on my bike
I'm on a motherfucking bike
I'm on a motherfucking bike

Skinny-ass pants, the 'stache is fat
the canvas kicks, the ear-flap hat
Got no gears so you best not dis me
yeah bitch, it's a motherfuckin fixie
Middle of the street is where you're gonna find me
a shitload of traffic backed up behind me
Critical Mass is a Facebook "like"
I'm on a motherfucking bike
I'm on a motherfucking bike
(horn and bell solo)

©2012 Sons of Science - all rights (and lefts) reserved

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Our city's hidden crime problem

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 6:00 AM


The shooting that wounded five teenagers Saturday night near the canal once again destroyed the illusion that downtown Indianapolis is a peaceful and safe place with no significant crime problem.

Local politicians, law enforcement and convention and tourism leaders have conspired for years to spin the myth that our downtown is a safe and family-friendly environment where visitors need never fear being mugged, assaulted or murdered.

The massive federal and local police presence during the Super Bowl at times verged on being a military occupation, which is apparently what it takes to maintain law and order in our city's center. The football fans and visitors literally dodged a bullet in that there were no major crime sprees in the week leading up to the game.

Every so often, such as last weekend, there's something to remind us just how big the crime problem is downtown and how decades of efforts to reverse it have mostly failed.

It's easy to blame the city police for allowing this to happen and, in fact, they are not completely blameless in stamping out this problem. There's more than enough blame to go around. The mayor owns a piece of this too, although he shouldn't get all of the blame either.

As anyone who spends any significant time downtown on a daily basis can tell you, Indianapolis is not the shiny, clean, safe place our city's boosters portray it to be. It has the same problems that plague all of our major cities: violence, homelessness and far too many teenagers walking around bored out of their minds and looking for trouble in any form they can find.

The difference between us and other cities is that we try to downplay those negatives for business purposes. Corporations and non-profit organizations don't want to bring their conventions to downtown Indianapolis if they fear their members being robbed or worse while they're here.

The biggest problem with keeping the peace downtown, as I see it, is parents of teenagers treating the city center as a place where they can drop off their kids every Friday and Saturday night. All it takes is a few drunken words being exchanged and then bullets start flying. Only occasionally is it a significant enough event to merit media coverage.

It's not as if this is any big revelation to anyone with knowledge of the situation, but more attention needs to be paid to this.

As Metro Police Chief Paul Ciesielski told the AP, "Parents just need to be more responsible and not use the downtown as a baby sitter. Two of the victims were 14 years old. Why were they there at 10 p.m. without parental supervision? Who are they hanging with while downtown?"

The chief and his men and women in uniform are doing their best but resources are scarce, the department is understaffed and it's impossible to be everywhere at once. Security has been beefed up downtown since the shootings in 2010 during Indiana Black Expo and it's still not enough.

Spend an hour or two any day at the bus stops at Ohio and Pennsylvania and Ohio and Meridian and you'll see just how bad the problem truly is. Drug deals, small-time assaults and plenty of verbal sexual harassment go on non-stop in front of the Birch E. Bayh Federal Courthouse and the cops are too busy elsewhere to care, barring a major incident.

Maybe the police could do more. But ultimately the problem is going to have to be solved, as Ciesielski says, at the family and societal level. Community leaders in Indianapolis have been talking about this for years and years but we only pay attention after a major violent incident.

Even commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, with whom I seldom agree, gets it. In an article on, he speaks quite well for many of us.

"The people who hand out the crime prevention grant money really need to do a second look at what organizations they are giving funds to, because if last night was any indication, it's not working."

His article carries a provocative headline: "Negroes, Please!" That's part of the Shabazz shtick, being all controversial and whatnot, but his admonitions — on this occasion at least — make sense. And he's about the only media figure in the city who could get away with writing the following paragraph:

"It's time to be the bad guy, again, and say what needs to be said because a lot of people won't man up and say it. 'Black people, please start getting some of your unruly children under control or do the rest of us with home training a favor and stop having them.'"

Of course this parenting rule is not race specific.

The point is that leaders have spent years trying to sweep our violence problem under the rug instead directly addressing it and that our city suffers from too many gangs, drugs and teenagers with nothing to do.

That's been the recipe for urban riots for half a century in America now. It's way past the time for our leadership to start taking drastic measures before the problem grows even more out of control.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Off Base: Cleavage, dentures and theft

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Cleavage and Chess

5. Chesty chess

Cleavage has been put in checkmate. The European Chess Union recently implemented a rule for women and their barely there tops at the European Women's Championship. No more than two buttons can be undone, and skirts cannot be more that 3.9 inches above the knees.

4. Pearly (fake) whites

In last week's "Off Base" I mentioned there were bound to be unforgettable March Madness moments. I was referring to the grit-your-teeth intense play on the court. Didn't think the talk of the tournament would be about the "March Madness Dentures Guy."

3. Superstar airballs

Blake Griffin jumps over cars and really, really tall people.

Blake Griffin is arguably the best athlete in the NBA. Blake Griffin didn't even hit the rim on back-to-back free throws. Oh, the humanity.

2. Thoughts and prayers

At times we're reminded that sports is not life and death. A 23-year-old professional footballer suddenly collapsed mid-match last Saturday. Fabrice Muamba was taken to the hospital and the latest update is that he's in critical condition.

1. Superfan swipes cell

Ashley Judd is an accomplished actress and Kentucky Wildcats' basketball fanatic. With her celebrity status, she's able to gain post-game access to the locker room. Usually her visits involve high-fives and smiles. This visit was involved thievery of 6'9" sophomore Terrence Jone's cell phone. Judd accidentally picked up the player's phone and left town. She felt so bad about it she immediately returned it along with a handwritten note.

Terrence Jones tweet

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