A pointless exercise

November 18, 2008

Gary’s police department is having budget problems and can’t keep the same size force. So officers are turning on each other.

A group of city dwellers who filed a lawsuit demanding termination for all nonresidents will argue their case before Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo next month.

“It is a fact that Gary City Ordinance 5881 … requires police officers to live within the corporate boundaries of the City of Gary or lose their employment,” a court document states.

I’m not sure why the case is still alive, exactly. That city ordinance is trumped by legislation from the General Assembly, which, in its infinite wisdom, carved out separate residency requirements for public safety employees. They are allowed to live either in the county of employment or any contiguous county. I don’t agree with that. Public employees are different from private-sector employees, and they all should be required to live in the same jurisdictions as the taxpayers who pay their salaries. And they should at least all be subject to the same rules, whether we like them or not. But the state did what it did, and a city can’t supersede its dictates.



November 18, 2008

“Meh,” the sound from “The Simpsons” signifying boredom, has been voted into the Collins English Dictionary, beating out hundreds of other new words such as “textovert” and “MIRF.” My favorite among those that didn’t make the cut:

Deja Moo:

THE feeling that you have heard this bull before.

If you don’t like that choice, go ahead and give me a thumb lashing.

God be with you

November 18, 2008

You may now keep God with you on your car trips, which, considering the skill and attentiveness level of Indiana drivers, is probably a good thing:

Hoosier drivers don’t have to pay extra to sport In God We Trust license plates, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel upheld the General Assembly’s 2006 decision to exempt the newly created plate from the $15 administrative fee Indiana charges on most specialty plates.

The suit was brought by an Allen County resident who had to pay extra fees for his Environmental Trust specialty plate and contended that “In God We Trust” is a “private religious message” that should also be subject to extra fees. That seems like a tricky argument to make, since the message is our national motto and can be found on the money we carry around every day (well, good days). If you haven’t been coerced out your Godless ways by now, the license plate probably won’t pull you in, either. Another hair the ACLU couldn’t split!


November 18, 2008

Those of us inclined to see ominous portents in vague phrasing are a little worried about the meeting between President-elect Obama and the vanquished McCain:

. . . the two men issued a joint statement saying that they agreed “that Americans of all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the bad habits of Washington so that we can solve the common and urgent challenges of our time.”

[. . .]

The president-elect and the Arizona senator hold relatively similar views on issues like climate change and ethics reform, where cooperation might be fruitful. More urgently, Mr. Obama may be hoping for help in pushing for a new economic stimulus package that faces stiff Republican resistance.

Maybe Mr. McCain has gotten over his need to be a maverick enough that he can be part of the loyal opposition that challenges Democratic assumptions and keeps the debates honest. Maybe I’ll win the lottery.

Home rule, up in smoke

November 18, 2008

Our editorial today remarks on the inevitability (though not necessarily the desirability) of a statewide public smoking ban, because of rather than in spite of the 36 counties or communities that already have smoke-free ordinances of some kind:

But the ironic truth is that the more local smoking ordinances there are, the more likely there will eventually be a statewide ban.

[. . .]

The increase in local bans makes people more familiar with the concept and lessens opposition.

[. . .]

Local control” is still the best operating principle – it assumes that communities know what is best for their residents. But it is not exactly the norm. That is especially true in Indiana, where every ounce of home rule for cities and counties is given up by the state only grudgingly.

But the trend everywhere is bigger and more uniform and more central. States are more powerful at the expense of cities and counties, and the federal government looms over states. As of last month, 29 states, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have smoke-free laws in effect. So don’t count out the possibility that there will be a nationwide smoke-free law sometime in the future.

Sure enough, The Richmond Palladium-Item also has an editorial today, saying that “Smoking ban deserves uniform action.”

Persuasive arguments have been waged here and elsewhere, for example, as to whether a private club is deserving of the same privacy protections of an individual’s home, or whether such a club would fall under the broad umbrella of “public places.”

For any anti-smoking effort to survive statewide it is going to have to be relatively simple and very fair, and that can be a tall order, as local governments wrestling with anti-smoking ordinances have discovered.

But how can a state law be both “simple” and also take into account such complexities as the fact that some communities might want to exempt private clubs and some might not? I suppose the law could set a minimum set of rules, which communities would be allowed to exceed in toughness. But that wouldn’t be much different from what we already have, except that no jurisdiction would be allowed the option of having no rules at all. What does it matter to those of in Fort Wayne or to the pooh-bahs in Indianapolis if folks in, say, Spencer County want to accompany their brain-cell-killing excursions with a little smoke? Home rule, it’s a beautiful thing.

The real deal

November 18, 2008

From Wikipedia:

The saying “Do not drink the Kool-Aid” now commonly refers to the Jonestown tragedy, meaning “Do not trust any group you find to be a little on the kooky side,” or “Whatever they tell you, do not believe it too strongly.” Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly is known for using the term in this manner.

Having “drunk the Kool-Aid” also refers to being a strong or fervent believer in a particular philosophy or mission — wholeheartedly or blindly believing in its virtues.

Kind of disheartening that such an infamous expression has Indiana roots. The Indianapolis Star has an interesting 30th anniversary story about Jonestown exploring the memories of a Hoosier couple who lost 20 extended-family members to Jim Jones’ madness. The couple recall a lot of details of Jones’ change from someone who just seemed to be preaching the truth as he saw it:

In a Peoples Temple bathroom, June discovered a box of chicken livers that looked amazingly like the “cancers” that Jones would pull from the mouths of sick people cured at healing services.

“I kept saying to myself to keep quiet,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to be a doubting Thomas.”

Then there were Jones’ incessant morning phone calls to issue what June called his daily “orders.” He wanted Gene to do things such as change light bulbs in the church, fix his car or tweak the choir practice to suit his needs. The calls became an irritant to June, who had three kids in diapers at the time. “I got disgusted with him,” she said.

Scary stuff. In the overheated world of political rhetoric, this or that group of political adherents is sometimes said to be “drinking the Kool Aid” by blindly following a charismatic leader (Obamamanicas being the latest group). It just takes a peek at the real deal to show how exaggerated such claims are.

In the spirit

November 18, 2008

You think times are tough for City Hall in Fort Wayne? Just imagine how they felt in LaPorte, which is so economically stressed that the city decided it couldn’t hang Chrismas lights downtown this year. But then:

The mayor says local contractors Monday morning offered to fix the electrical receptacles for free and have been repairing the 30 to 40 that need to be repaired.

[. . .]

The mayor says these are difficult times and they’ve been operating without money for over a year. But fortunately in these difficult times people have come forward to help and get them back their Christmas lights.

“It’s fantastic. I think it was a shame, but I thank those who came to our defense. LaPorte is good at that,” said LaPorte resident Merle Prozil.

I know some will decry the privatization of another vital service that government should be providing. It’s surprising, now that I think about it, that nobody has yet sued a city government for paying for Christmas decorations.  Oh, wait. I’ll bet they’re really just “winter holiday” decorations. What was I thinking of?

Civic lesson

November 18, 2008

We might not like the bailout of the Detroit Three, but we know it’s necessary, don’t we? It’s impossible to make money building cars in America these days. Oh, wait:

With the domestic automotive industry teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, Monday’s grand opening of Honda Motor Co.’s Civic assembly plant in Greensburg was a dream come true for this town of 12,000 and for a state that has been hit hard by manufacturing job losses similar to those faced by Michigan.

[. . .]

Earlier this year, as high gas prices decimated automotive sales for the Detroit Three, sales of the Civic, a car that has been a symbol of fuel economy and reliability since 1973, soared. So on Monday, as Honda celebrated the opening of its $550-million, nonunion plant, capable of producing 200,000 vehicles annually, the contrast between the healthy Asian automaker and its ailing domestic rivals caused workers and politicians alike to welcome the arrival of Honda.

Since 1999, the number of automotive workers employed in Indiana has declined from 105,100 in 1999 to 81,200 in 2007. And even though the starting hourly wage at the plant is $18.41, or roughly $10 less than an average Detroit Three worker, demand for these jobs was off the charts.

Holy cow — sounds like they make cars people want. What a concept. And, yes, it’s too bad about those salaries, the workers having to accept a mere $18.41 per hour. But, though it’s $10 less than what the average Detroit Three worker gets, guess what else it is: $18.41 more than nothing.

Hard time

November 18, 2008

You know, you just try to do what you can, make the best of a bad situation, then along comes The Man and shuts you down:

Undaunted by a concrete wall separating their respective cellblocks, male and female inmates took advantage of a design flaw in an Indiana jail to engage in late-night sexual trysts. The Greene County inmates–three men and three women–pried open metal security tiles in the ceiling of their respective dormitory-style housing units to gain access to the adjoining cellblock, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in Circuit Court.

Go check out the story at The Smoking Gun and take a look at the six mug shots. You’ve heard that the girls all get prettier at closing time? Apparently, both men and women become more attractive if you’re locked up with them.

Honk, honk!

November 17, 2008

You’ll be glad to know Indiana isn’t being left behind in the great cultural battle of the moment:

SOUTH BEND — Every time a car honked, they cheered. A group of about 20 people stood at the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Boulevard in downtown South Bend on Saturday, waving signs in support of same-sex marriage.

Wow, 20 people — that’s some rally. Honk if you love gays, then let’s go burn a Mormon church!

The number probably reflects an acknowledgement of reality by the gay and lesbian community — none of them are ever going to be married legally unless they leave the state to do it. The General Assembly will never act on same-sex marriage, unless it’s to introduce another bill to ban it in the state constitution. A judge isn’t likely to impose it, and if that ever did happen, the state Supreme Court would probably overturn it. Barring something startling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Indiana will be one of the last states in the union to abandon “marriage between one man and one woman.”

I’ve never understood the “take to the streets” mentality — the right to peaceably assemble has to be one of the most overrated rights in the Constitution. When I was a young’un, I was frequently asked to march in protest of the Vietnam War, and my reaction was, “Are you nuts?” Honk if you love peace, then let’s burn a draft card! The war wouldn’t end, and I’d be exhausted. I did sign a petition or two, though, if some enterprising blograker wants to dig them up and embarrass me.

Sundays with Barack

November 17, 2008

It’s said that all Ronald Reagan had to do was convince the American people he was someone who could be trusted with the power of the presidency. Once he did that in the debate with Jimmy Carter, the election was over. Barack Obama obviously overcame that hurdle, too, or he wouldn’t have won by nearly 7 percent. But his “ordinariness” especially came through during the “60 Minutes” interview. I saw last night what all those who voted for him saw. He came across as calm and reasonable and thoughtful, someone you wouldn’t be worried about taking that 3 a.m. phone call.

On policy, it was a mixed bag. The best thing was that he listed assembling a national security team as his top priority, recognizing that the period of transition is always when America is most vulnerable. The worst was that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt are the presidents he said he is studying and most hopes to emulate. Lincoln and Roosevelt are two of the presidents who made the most profound changes in the way this country operates, especially in the scope and reach of the federal government, so it’s not really comforting that Obama says he is attracted by those two’s pragmatism and willingess to experiment. And Lincoln and Roosevelt were reacting to serious and immediate threats to the nation’s health and security. In the absence of such a grave threat (let’s keep our fingers crossed about the economic meltdown), we should all hope he proceeds with a little more caution.

But this is all second-guessing before the fact, isn’t it? We still really have no idea how Obama will govern, so we’ll just have to judge him as he acts. He will be only the 43rd person to serve as president — what a remarkably small number. The FBI has a bigger pool than that to come up with its serial-killer profiles.

The system did it

November 17, 2008

By now, should be used to bad parents offering lame excuses for their failure and neglect. Still, some are so outrageous that we can’t help but be repelled:

INDIANAPOLIS – A northern Indiana woman who left her 8-year-old son at a Nebraska hospital under that state’s safe haven law says she did so because she doesn’t trust Indiana’s child welfare system.

Stephanie Mote, 30, told Fort Wayne television station WANE in a Friday interview that she doesn’t trust the system in Indiana based on her own experience as a child.

“I took him there where I knew he would be safe because I didn’t trust the welfare system in Indiana and I didn’t want him to go through what I went through when I was growing up through the welfare system in Indiana,” she said. “So I felt like it would be the best thing to do would be to take him there where he would be safe.”

Almost every story about this incident has a variation on the same headline — “Woman explains why she left son in Nebraska” — but of course there’s no real explanation possible. A friend of hers is even quoted as saying she didn’t abandon her son — “She just wanted to get him help.” Right. She didn’t turn him out here because there would have been legal consequences. She took him all the way to Nebraska because a glitch in that state’s law would give her immunity, but she didn’t abandon her son? She offers the alleged failures of Indiana’s child welfare system as an excuse for why she can’t be a decent mother? She has knowledge of how good Nebraska’s system is?

This is either one of the most telling examples of denial on record or a woman so used to just saying anything that she expects us to believe anything. Her son is back with Indiana officials, which is, unfortunately, probably the best place for him.

No, not this time

November 17, 2008

Boy, couldn’t see this one coming, huh?

Bankruptcy. Red ink. Painful shakeout.

Those terms, normally associated with old-line manufacturing, now are popping up to describe what was seen just three years ago as a sure bet for Indiana: high-tech ethanol plants.

Ethanol producers across the Midwest are being squeezed by falling prices, tight credit, overbuilding and the volatile market for corn. As a result, many have seen their profits shrink and their stock prices fall. Several have slid into bankruptcy and have scrapped deals and projects.

Some of the problems with ethanol were foreseeable (we’re messing with the food supply to fix the fuel supply, after all) and some were not (the financial collapse is hurting everyone). But it was certainly a risk, one that would not even have been possible to take without government subsidies. Why am I scared about the auto bailout? Not because government screws up just about everything it touches. Because people who should know better just keep thinking maybe next time government will get it right. Like a bunch of damn Cubs fans.

Bad time to be solvent

November 17, 2008

Darn good question:

Should you keep paying your mortgage?

If you have significant equity in your home, absolutely.

If you don’t, it’s getting harder to answer that question, especially when our government keeps giving people who owe more than their homes are worth so many reasons not to pay.

I just made my last house payment in June. Talk about bad timing! And this just in:

A radical change in perspective could spare the nation a lot of grief down the road. Rather than subsidizing the auto makers directly (and almost certainly sucking Washington into their management), why not give Americans the financial incentive to accelerate purchases of cars and light trucks? The consumer-subsidy approach would be a less wasteful route to the desired end, as well as one that would leave a less toxic legacy of market intervention once the economy has recovered.

I just paid off my car, too, and it’s in good running condition! Man, can’t get a break at all. Maybe I should take out this huge home equity loan and use it to buy a fancy new car. What have I got to lose? Not the house or the car, certainly.

Better off dead

November 17, 2008

What is it about James Dean? He came and went, phhht. And yet:

FAIRMOUNT — James Dean just won’t go away. Even though the young movie actor died 53 years ago after making only three motion pictures, still the James Dean legend goes on and on.

Sorry to break it to all these earnest scribes, but James Dean went away a long time ago. The only thing that won’t die is the pathetic attempt to keep his “legend” status alive. Never has there been such a thin resume — our need for teenage “rebels” is not exactly at its zenith, and being “forever young” only has so much mileage in it. Had Dean lived, he probably would have made several dubious career choices, starred in a few bad Westerns in Italy and Spain, ended up in a treacly TV series and, now, approaching 80, be doing Viagra commercials.

Mixed drinks

November 17, 2008

Support continues to grow, slowly but steadily, to allow grocery and liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sunday. The Indianapolis Star and WTHR (Channel 13) recently commissioned a poll on the subject:

The poll showed 46 percent of Hoosiers support changing that law, while 45 percent favor keeping it. Nine percent were undecided.

That shows a slight change from two years ago, when a poll conducted by The Star found that 50 percent of Hoosiers favored the Sunday ban and 43 percent opposed it.

I’m with those who think the Sunday ban is just a remnant of our old blue laws for which there is little justification today; Indiana is one of about 15 states still clinging to the ban. Some of the strongest opposition to lifting the ban comes from package store owners, who are glad they don’t have to open on Sundays now to stay competitive.

But a good political rule of thumb is that if people are evenly divided on an issue, it’s best to stay with the current law. At least there are known sets of protagonists whose arguments we already know. That rule should be thrown out if current law creates a real hardship for some people or violates some fundamental right, but that isn’t the case here.

On a first-name basis

November 17, 2008

The Journal Gazette does a typical “life is tough in the shadows when you fear being rounded up any minute” heart-tugger:

Pilar can turn on her radio or television and hear Spanish broadcasts. At most specialty grocery stores or Mexican taquería , she can pick up a local Spanish-language newspaper.

But for Pilar and her counterparts in northeast Indiana’s community of illegal Hispanic immigrants, nothing beats good, old-fashioned chisme  – gossip.

“Everyone gossips,” Pilar said in Spanish. (Because of her immigration status, The Journal Gazette is using only her first name.)

I wonder if the JG would pull that “first names only” stunt if this were a bank robber or a burglar. As a matter of fact, would law enforcement let them get away with it, or would some reporter be hauled in front of a grand jury? Says a lot about where we are on this issue, doesn’t it? It’s like the old littering laws, but on a much grander scale. The law is routinely ignored by everybody, but everybody knows it’s there and can be called upon on the whims of the powers that be. Really reinforces a respect for the law, doesn’t it?

Watch your six

November 14, 2008

Dammit, where’s mine?

Three big city mayors asked the federal government Friday to use a portion of the $700 billion financial bailout to assist struggling cities.

The mayors sought help with their pension costs, infrastructure investment and cash-flow problems stemming from the global financial crisis.

The mayors — Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Shirley Franklin of Atlanta and Phil Gordon of Phoenix — made their request in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

I’m only half-kidding. Once the automakers get theirs, the line will start forming. Some are asking how Congress will know which ones to say no to. Don’t think they will. Handing out lots of federal money with lots of strings attached is what Congress likes to do. Any of us who don’t try to get in on it are just being stupid. I’ve seen this described elsewhere as a “reverse John Galt.” Instead of finally turning our backs on the takers and letting them fend for themselves, as the protagonist of “Atlas Shrugged” did, we simply join their ranks. “Hey, I know this is risky, but I don’t care. Obama’s got my six.”

(I had to explain to a friend, not familiar with aviators using an imaginary clock face to orient themselves, that having somebody’s six meant protecting their rear. At first, she thought it was one of the most fascinating locutions she’d ever encountered. But she thought about it a minute and said, “I’ve got your six — but it’ll cost you eight.” Smart woman.)

¡Buen provecho!

November 14, 2008

Did you know that grocery carts have more bacteria than public phones and restrooms? If you use one without at least wiping off the handle with one on the sanitary wipes the stores are starting to provide, you’re taking your life in your hands. But at least, by God, we’re being protected from those dastardly food pushers who are trying to kill us with their evil outdoor grills (third item):

Local health officials are proposing a rule change that would allow restaurants to grill outside whenever they want as long as they prepare and sell the meat inside.

The current ordinance requires food establishments to obtain a separate “onsite cooking” permit that only allows grilling up to 10 days a month. The current rule also allows food to be prepared and stored outside as long as there is adequate cover as well as dish-washing and hand-washing stations.

Yeah, pepare and sell the meat inside. No germs there! How do we ever survive picnics without the help of “local health officials.”

Here’s a plan

November 14, 2008

Some good advice for Republicans:

Expel your base or retreat into an echo chamber: If those choices seem dispiriting, Republicans can take heart. They’re the same false alternatives that the Democrats allegedly faced four years ago. Then a politician who hadn’t fallen behind the bipartisan Iraq war — but, unlike Howard Dean, actually wanted to be president — came out of nowhere to beat his party’s establishment and take the White House.

There’s a lesson there. If I were a Republican, I’d ignore the inane Palin debate and start looking around for a politician who had the good sense to break with the bipartisan consensus and oppose the bailout bill before it passed. Then I’d start planning an insurgency.

Mike Pence in 2012! Your insurgency awaits.

Now, THAT’S bonding

November 14, 2008


 As NASA prepares to double the number of astronauts living aboard the International Space Station, nothing may do more for crew bonding than a machine being launched aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on Friday.

It’s a water-recycling device that will process the crew’s urine for communal consumption.

Don’t even ask about the Soylent Brown.

No. 2

November 14, 2008

Oh, please, no, no, no:

Vice President-elect Joe Biden was all smiles Thursday when he paid a courtesy call the man he will succeed, Dick Cheney. But he has insisted he wants to be nothing like him. Biden has called Cheney “the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history” and said he couldn’t name a single good thing Cheney had done.

But even if he won’t acknowledge any similarities, there’s one way that Biden wants to be like Cheney — a strong partner in governing the country.

Stay healthy, Barack!

Beginning to look a lot like quichemass

November 14, 2008

Times-are-even-tougher-than-you-thought department:

In this brutal season of cutbacks, the office holiday party is getting downsized, too.

From American Express to MTV to the Bend, Ore., city government, employers are canceling Christmas celebrations because of the gloomy economy. At some other workplaces, last year’s catered affair is this season’s potluck.

“It’s grim,” said Daniel Briones, president of the National Association of Catering Executives and catering director at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia. He called the drop-off in business the worst since 2001, when the holidays unfolded in the shadow of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

For some companies, this is about appearances as much as money. No firm wants to be pilloried for plowing cash — in some cases, taxpayer dollars — into ice sculptures and raw bars while workers fear for their jobs and shareholders for their investments.

Grim, indeed. I’m happy to say we here in the newspaper business have been way ahead of this curve. When I started out, at a small chain in Wabash and then Michigan City, there was always an actual Christmas party at somebody’s house — usually somebody from upper management who wanted to seem like a regular guy. And it worked, at least on me — my affections couldn’t be bought, but they could be rented for the season.

When I came to Fort Wayne, I discovered the Christmas party was held at a nearby watering hole, either Henry’s or the back room of Coumbia Street West. In addition to a nice buffet, there was an open bar until the money provided by the newspaper ran out, after which we started paying for our own drinks, which we were more than happy to do.

But that was years ago. For about a decade now, our “holiday” (not “Christmas”) party has been a potluck carry-in. This year, I’m bringing a vegetable dish and my famous quiche.

Bah, humbug. I mean, Happy Holidays!

In a galaxy far, far away

November 14, 2008

Never mind the economy, politics, all that Earthbound stuff. This is exciting:

Earth seems to have its first fuzzy photos of alien planets outside our solar system, images captured by two teams of astronomers. The pictures show four likely planets that appear as specks of white, nearly indecipherable except to the most eagle-eyed experts. All are trillions of miles away — three of them orbiting the same star, and the fourth circling a different star.

None of the four giant gaseous planets are remotely habitable or remotely like Earth. But they raise the possibility of others more hospitable.

Sure, we’ve known there were planets outside our solar system — more than 300 have been discovered in the past 13 years — but we’ve had to accept indirect proof of their existence. The photographs make them seem more real. I don’t think any of our UFO sightings have been anything other than explainable phenomena, but it’s comforting to occasionally think we might not be alone in the universe.

Methed-up hunting season

November 14, 2008

Perils of the modern age:

The start of Indiana’s firearm deer season is this weekend, and authorities are warning hunters not to touch the remains of meth labs that they may find in the woods. Indiana State Police say containers used to cook meth may look harmless, but could contain dangerous chemicals or explode.

“Hey, Earl, watch me shoot that bottle!”