There he sits, sipping an iced coffee, the Hero of Hammond, the Sage of Shelbyville, the Larynx of Logansport, the Tutor from Terre Haute, Indiana’s third U.S. Senator, Phinneas Phogghorn.
“How’s the campaign going?” I asked.
He throws back his massive mane and gives forth his loud laugh, “Fine, fine, just as fine as it’s been these many years. Today, I met the adult grandchildren of folks who first voted me into the Upper Chamber of our great U.S. Congress.
“Preparation and education, that’s what does it,” he says. “Yesterday, my economic advisors helped prepare my platform planks on that slippery subject.”
“What did they recommend?” I ask.
“The Song Book of Success,” he says. “Those old refrains voters have heard before, familiar tunes used to good effects by both parties.”
“Like what”? I query.
“Population growth, higher per capita income, and smaller government; the recipe for a comforting confection voters can’t fail to consume cheerfully,” he smiles.
“You see, son,” he continues, “as we attract more people to Indiana, our per capita income rises. Growing places attract high income people and high income people then attract more people and more jobs. It’s the roller coaster to success.”
“Senator,” I say, “National evidence disproves that idea. From 2000 to 2015, that wasn’t true. Not true for the 50 states or for the 381 metropolitan areas. Population growth and growth in per capita income are not related.”
“Further,” I continue, “you can raise per capita income or average wages just as much by giving ten low-paid workers an extra $5,000 a year as you can by giving a $50,000 bonus to one highly paid worker.”
The Monarch of Middlebury looks perplexed. “Indiana’s problems are long term,” I say. “They won’t be resolved by bringing in a new set of people. What are today’s Hoosiers, your voters, going to think when you suggest they’re the reason our state ranks 38th in per capita income and 47th in its growth since 2000?
“But,” he butts in. “Don’t we have to attract high-paying jobs and the people to fill those jobs from elsewhere?”
“Nothing wrong with that,” I say. “But how can we justify spending state and local funds to subsidize a company moving next door from Carmel to Fishers? What’s the benefit there?”
“Nothing’s perfect,” Phinneas answers.
“Perfect?” I sputter. “The uninformed contentment of Hoosier citizens is our leading public policy threat. Just yesterday a friend emailed me, ‘We have too many governments, yet Indiana is probably better than most in this regard.’”
The Senator squirms; I carry along. “Indiana ranks 18th among the 50 states in number of government units per person. Plus, we’re 10th highest in governments per square mile.
“Son,” he confides, “we’re not going to resolve any problems going against the collective satisfaction of Hoosiers with their existing ways.” Then he grins, “Maybe it’s time you converted …. to decaf.”
Some people are slow learners.
In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, many loud voices have demanded a quick solution to the problem of terrorism.
The loudest of the voices, not surprisingly, belongs to the king of the clueless – the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump.
(That rumbling sound you hear is Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan thrashing in their graves at the thought of The Donald bearing the standard for their party.)
Trump used the tragedy in Orlando not to express grief for the victims and sympathy for their loved ones, but to prove that a person can be morally tone-deaf and double-jointed at the same time. He patted himself on the back for being right, he claimed, about banning Muslims from this country.
Really? The shooter in this case was born in the United States in 1986. His parents came from Afghanistan, a country that, at the time, we supported in its war with the declining Soviet Union.
Just how would imposing a ban nearly 30 years after the shooter's birth have stopped this atrocity from happening?
But Trump's complaint – and the complaint of the know-nothings who cheer him on – is that President Barack Obama and others refuse to call the shooter a "radical Islamic terrorist." Trump says that's a case of "political correctness."
What other reason could there be for the president refusing to use those words?
Let's start with the fact that thoughtful and fair-minded people, Republican and Democrats alike, are trying to avoid making this a religious conflict.
That means they refrain from attributing acts of evil and violence to a faith – Islam – that abhors such things. It is no more fair to refer to this shooter or other killers as representatives of the Muslim faith than it is to call Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) or Eric Rudolph (the Atlanta Olympics bomber) a "radical Christian terrorist."
We don't hold an entire faith tradition accountable for the actions of the deluded few. That's the moral argument.
The practical one is that we don't want to make it easier for the folks who wish to do us harm to recruit others to their cause.
We tried fighting a large-scale war against terrorism. It's been more than 13 years since President George W. Bush stood on a flight deck and proclaimed "mission accomplished" in that war.
We're still paying for that mistake.
Bush's swagger and boastfulness – which is nowhere near as pronounced as Trump's – helped energize and, yes, radicalize opposition around the world. The seeds of arrogance and ignorance we planted more than a decade ago have blossomed into murder and mayhem.
Intelligent people have learned from that experience and realized that, while fist-shaking and chest-thumping may make us feel good for a moment, they aren't substitutes for genuine problem-solving.
I also disagree with Trump on the use of the last word in the phrase that means so much to him – the word "terrorist" in "radical Islamic terrorist."
The word "terrorist" grants these folks a dignity they don't deserve. It suggests there is some political purpose or military goal to their murderousness – that they are, in some way, distant cousins to soldiers.
If the nearly 15 years since Sept. 11, 2001, have taught people who have been paying attention anything, it is that some things are too serious – or at least they should be – for posturing. Mass murder is one of them. We don't run victory laps at a funeral.
Donald Trump and his amen crowd aren't among those who have absorbed that lesson.
Some people are slow learners.
And some never learn at all.
Hola Hoosiers! And hello to all you wonderful readers of NUVO. I'm overjoyed to be the newest member of the NUVO family. I'll mostly be dealing with social and cultural issues in our Voices section but over time, you may see me pop up in other parts of the newspaper.
You could say NUVO and I met at the perfect time. I've recently relocated to Indianapolis, and it wasn't hard for me to figure that I was living in a city with a much lower Mexican/Latino population than I'm used to. It made me think so much about my race since moving to Indianapolis. One common question I've encountered in conversations is: "What do I think about Donald Trump?" And I'll speak more about that subject in a different piece.
For now, I will say that I'm hoping to move past this question, and the other most common question I get asked: "What do you think the best Mexican restaurant is here?"
At the end of the day, we don't have to all be the same to call ourselves Hoosiers. We all want to be accepted for who we are — having a mutual respect and interest in each other's cultures is how we can do that. I plan on going out into my community to see what people think about my culture here and what they know of it. I want to shine a spotlight, not just on my people, but all minorities. We'd like to establish a stronger voice for everyone who feels like they are not being heard from enough. I want to share my culture and experiences with others — my culture is your culture.
I'm sure by now you are aware of the fact that immigration has been the hot-button topic during this election year, particularly when we talking about the growth of Mexicans living in America. Mexicans/Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the USA. The numbers really stand out when you consider the amount of immigration into America from some many different countries. So what does this all mean when it comes to cultural assimilation into America? How much value should people put into that? There is no reason to ever sacrifice your roots, history or past, especially when Latinos have become such a large part of the culture in America's society. No matter what minority you are, you should be able to keep your identity and be comfortable even if you stand out from the crowd.
I've only been here for six months but I care very much about this city as if it was my place of birth. Anything I write will be out of love and respect for the people here and the culture that grows more progressive every day. I'll bring the perspective of the outsider. It fuels my curiosity to look at a city in many different ways — sometimes locals can forget how amazing certain aspects of their town are and it's easily taken for granted when you've lived here your whole life. I feel like NUVO will be a great place for me to spread the conversation about culture and race in Indianapolis. I welcome you to be involved: email, share comments, suggest things to look into — I'm all ears.
I'm just your average California-born, Mexican-American Catholic, college-educated, son of an immigrant, liberal PFLAG-waving, locally sourced artisan coffee-drinking, Joan Didion-obsessed, Yorkie-owning vegetarian.
You know, the typical stereotype you have of a Mexican.
Sunday morning I walked down the stairs of my girlfriend's house, burnt and exhausted from Indy Pride. I sat in the living room with her and two of my best friends. All four of us are gay; and I consider them to be family. With them I feel an ease and sense of home, where who we are and love is not taboo.
We, of course, spoke about the attacks at Pulse in Orlando — a violent violation of another safe space.
Late Saturday night, a man named Omar Mateen walked into a club with a pistol and an assault riffle, opening up fire on the 300-plus people inside, killing 50 and injuring dozens more. These people were there to celebrate, to have a brief moment where dress and how you identify isn't seen as "other," where if only for a night they weren't seen as different — just as a person.
That is the value of a safe space.
The concept is hard to explain to someone who doesn't need one. If you have never been harassed for looking too masculine or too feminine, if you have never bitten your tongue in public because you don't know what unfriendly ears are near by, if you have never gotten a call from a friend after they were beaten or raped because of their sexuality, you cannot grasp how much these places mean to us. Places like Pulse are points of rejuvenation and solidarity.
Protection is needed and a safe space provides that — until it is breached.
They're invaded every time someone hateful walks in, every time a member of our community is killed somewhere in the world for who they are and every time one of the 40 pieces of anti-trans legislation in this country are heard in a committee.
We are reminded that there are miles to go before safe spaces are no longer needed — when anywhere you go can be a place of protection.
It's so easy to walk around gathering up pieces of hate after an attack like this, to light a fire against an entire group or mindset. But that's not the answer.
This was not a random act of terrorism. It was precise and calculated, and reflects the way queer and trans people of color are put at risk every day. A Latin night at the club was directly targeted on Sunday. It was a massacre based on race, gender and nationality, aimed at the most vulnerable around us.
This was an attack on America, but mostly it was an attack derived from a systematic oppression that must be addressed. It was driven by a misguided man who did not hear the parts of his faith that call for love and charity. Extremists exist in every religion, but they are and always will be a minority. There is a disposition amongst the dominant discourse for equality, and the sanctity of safe spaces is where that conversation can flourish.
I beg my colleagues in media to not diminish stories about hate crimes, and I beg everyone reading this to be aware of how you can protect people in small ways. And to the beautiful souls who were taken that night:
I don't know you, but every ounce of my being wants to fight for you, to protect you. I will never share a drink with you, but know that I love you, truly, deeply, love you. And you will not be forgotten.
Indy Pride's Vigil for Orlando
Hundreds of members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters and allies gathered Sunday night in the Egyptian Room at Old National Centre to memorialize the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
Many years ago, the newspaper I worked for sent me in search of Muhammad Ali.
Ali lived in those days in Berrien Springs, Michigan, a quiet, almost sleepy little town of fewer than 2,000 people about 25 miles north of South Bend, Indiana. The question the paper wanted me to answer was why perhaps the most famous person on the planet had chosen to live in such a secluded spot.
The townspeople in Berrien Springs told me charming stories about the former heavyweight champ. The best ones came from children.
They were too young, even then, to remember the days when Ali roamed and ruled both the ring and the world's stage. They saw him not as a celebrity, but as a kind of silly old uncle, the kind who came to their school to do magic tricks and make them laugh.
When Ali, body shaking, lit the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the folks in Berrien Springs didn't see the Greatest up there. They saw their neighbor. They wept the tears of friends.
A few years later, I met Ali.
It was in Washington, D.C. The American Civil Liberties Union honored him with an award.
His wife Lonnie delivered his acceptance as he stood behind her on the stage. She made a little joke about him. He pointed his finger toward his skull and twirled it – "she's coo coo" – while she rolled her eyes.
It was a well-practiced, but still charming, routine.
They left the stage after that and the crowd surged around him, the man's magnetism moving in waves through the big room. He was just a few years older than I am now, but he looked and moved like an old, old man, the Parkinson's disease that afflicted him keeping his limbs and nerves in constant agitation.
The people in the room didn't care. He was Ali, the man and fighter who "shook up the world."
As I stood before him, I couldn't help but wonder, not for the first or the last time, what it must be like to live with that kind of fame, to have one's character and contradictions both reduced and expanded into caricature.
Because Ali was such a larger-than-life presence, it could be easy to forget the human being within the myth.
The crying little boy who first wanted to learn to fight to get even with the person who stole his bicycle and the brash young man who boasted he was "too pretty" to beat. The eloquent advocate for strong families and the serial womanizer. The warrior for racial equality and justice who disparaged rival and friend Joe Frazier in the most racially charged terms. The gliding, graceful young champion, a man whose movements were as smooth as polished ice, and the trembling, prematurely old man who stood before me.
They all lived in the same skin and skull.
They all were Ali.
Muhammad Ali died Friday. He was 74.
He lived within the enveloping and perhaps smothering bubble of fame as celebrity, icon and brand name for the last 50-some years of his life.
In these hours following Ali's death, I find myself thinking about his time in Berrien Springs and the question the paper wanted me to answer: Why did such a famous man choose such an out-of-the-way place to live for so many years?
The answer, I think, was that the people there saw him as part of the landscape, another face in the town.
He could pass the time in the local stores without having to be the Champ. He could visit the local schools and be goofy with the children, doing silly little magic tricks even the youngest kids could see through.
In fact, it was a kind of magic trick that brought him to Berrien Springs. He'd lived with captivating and crushing fame for so long, through both triumph and decline, that being able to slip out from under the yoke, even for an instant, must have felt as liberating as a blessing.
That's why Muhammad Ali lived there.
It was a town where he could be a human being, not a celebrity.
It was a place where the most famous man on the planet could disappear.