Retention Ponds – CSI: Indy

A year or so ago, I walked out of my condominium door on my way to work only to find that my car window had been busted out. I did what any citizen would do: call my boss and call the police. When the police arrived, I was quick to point out that “I hadn’t touched anything in case you need to dust for fingerprints.” At which point the officer said “One, it’s rained all morning and that would have washed away any useable evidence. Two, you watch too much CSI.”

I’ll freely admit that I’m a CSI, Law & Order, and every other cop and law show junkie. However, I’ve always had a theory that these kinds of shows can’t help but generate a smarter breed of criminal. A criminal with a fairly decent head on their shoulders and plenty of time to spend on a couch (I’m assuming they have plenty of time to watch television when they aren’t playing video games) can learn a lot from these shows.

And I’m assuming they have.

I live on the northwest side of Indianapolis. In the last few weeks our fire department has been called out to apartment complexes and the north side office complex known as “the Pyramids” in order to pull cars out of retention ponds. Witnesses say they saw a car in the water and when the divers entered the water, they found no one inside the car. The car was pulled out only to find out that wasn’t the car that was seen going into the water. So far, they’ve recovered five cars.

I’m wondering if we aren’t inadvertently making smarter criminals. After learning so much about DNA and fingerprint, and realizing that the CSI team can apparently find anything you leave behind, criminals opt to do the next best thing. Destroy all the evidence. They are dumping their cars, these crime scenes/evidence jars on wheels in retention ponds hoping to destroy any trace evidence. The best thing about destroying evidence using retention ponds is that it’s much more low key than, say, setting the car on fire.

Then again, I might be worrying prematurely. Reflecting on the car thief incident, someone went through the effort to steal a baby seat (one, not both of them, mind you), the Bible I had between the seats, and my wife’s 80s dance mix tapes. Tapes. 80s. Dance. Tapes. Maybe they aren’t getting that much smarter. Prisons are filled with all kinds of geniuses.

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Yes We Can

For once, the Indiana primaries–and by proxy, my vote–may mean something. Usually by this point in the election cycle, the candidates for the two major parties have already been decided and, frankly, whatever school board election going on usually isn’t enough to drive folks to the polls in May.

This year it’ll be a little different. Senators Obama and Rodham-Clinton continue to duke it out for the Democratic nomination. This translates into actual presidential nominee campaign stops in our fair state. Suddenly, we’re relevant.

One of the last times we were relevant was in 1968 when Senator Robert Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency in. During his visit to Indianapolis, he had to break the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

Living in Indiana, you kind of take a few things as de riguer. Our screwed up time zones, our love of basketball (despite the state of the Pacers), and our primaries not counting for much. It’s a shame that we get inured to the fact that most times we are kind of left out of the process.

As a nation, we love oppositional politics just as much as we love being cynical about politics. Cynical me believes that whenever the party of the Presidency and Congress are the same, we get a little nervous. However, let’s face it: the differences between the parties aren’t much. The parties are more about consolidating their own power and beating the “other” guys than any real agenda. On the flip side, we “survived” President Clinton, we “survived” President Bush. We “survived” a Democrat-ruled Congress. We “survived” a Republican-ruled Congress.

Not-so-cynical me believes that we can actually make a difference in the primaries this year for the first time in a long time. I’m still hoping for an election that will raise the level of debate in the country, one that will woo us with ideas, no matter how controversial. I don’t want to see a repeat of elections of yesteryear, where pragmatic politicians throw out some platitudes, count on electoral disinterest, and rally their most faithful. That’s the sure route to mediocre leadership. Then again, we get the leaders we deserve.

We’re ready for change.

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My Donuts Bring Me to the Yard

My donut costs 65 cents.

Though you could probably care less about me and my love of donuts, allow me to put this more in context. For the last couple of months, I nurtured a simple morning ritual: I break for a mid-morning snack around six in the morning, take myself down to Marsh, and I treat myself to a donut. The cashiers smile at me, I drop two quarters in their hand, and I go about my day.

Then last month I dropped two quarters in my cashier’s hand and she looked up and said “they’re now 65 cents.”

That’s a 30 per cent increase. For my donut. Did no one think that we’d notice?

We’ve always had pretty low gas prices, especially consider prices some are paying in other parts of the globe. We’re just now passing the (inflation adjusted) gas prices highs of 1981. Let’s face it, oil is not a renewable resource, yet from 1975 until now, fuel efficiency has improved little more than about 10 miles per gallon. Thirty years of technological advancement has only eked out an extra 10 miles per gallon. We need to be developing alternatives, seriously pursuing other technology, but we’re short-term thinkers, so we don’t unless we absolutely have to.

I wanted to take a family vacation, a nice drive down to Atlanta to visit some friends. I remember canceling this same trip last year when gas prices jumped to $3.50 or so. This year, the trip might be possible, but only in light of serious cutbacks in other areas of our life.

And the cost of my donut went up 30%. I don’t think you feel me.

We, as a nation, have had to drive our minivans less, car pool more, and take mass transit more. We had to cut back spending in other areas. What happens when things I can’t live without, things I can’t cut back on, go up? Bread, milk, eggs … 30% adds up quickly as the transportation costs of getting our products to us get passed along. At what point does the economy finally grind to a halt.

I have to start cutting back somewhere. But I’m going to miss my donuts.

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Out of Patience for Politics

I know, I’ve got to quit wading into politics, but I’ve about had it with the shenanigans of Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton and her camp.

This is the first time in a while that I’ve not only paid keen attention to the primary (as opposed to my cursory interest in the horse race the media tends to depict it as). We have an opportunity for a completely fresh slate, no incumbent running, no vice-president running as heir apparent. While the Republican question is settled, since my vote is still up for grabs, I am still interested in what the other side of the aisle has to offer.

And I’m seeing too much politics as usual.

You would think the prospect of either a woman or a black presidential candidate as nominee for a major party would be historic enough. It’d be great to see this campaign as a battle of ideals, ideas, and messages of hope.

Senator Barack Obama has invigorated this election cycle, if only as an outsider with limited beltway experience/taint. What I don’t want to see, Senator Rodham-Clinton, is more business as usual as the alternative. If you want to chew each other up before the real election in the Fall, well, I guess that’s between you and your strategists.

I understand that win-at-any-cost politics while maintaining plausible deniability is the legacy of President William Jefferson Clinton. Veiled racism is a new color to your palette. I wonder just how many Geraldine Ferraros/taking the black voters for granted/ left-wing paternalists are in your camp: working alongside us, in seeming support, until one of us gets a little too uppity and needs to be put back in our place.

Don’t think we don’t know coded language when we hear it. We’ve been tacitly demonized as boogeymen of welfare and crime long enough to know it when we hear it. Just like we recognize someone willing to come into the hood when they need something, only to flee back to the suburbs once they’ve gotten it.

So, Senator Rodham-Clinton, I expect more from any potential leader of this country. I’m tired of having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Do better.

We Wear the Mask

“I can’t explain, you would not understand. This is not how I am. I have become comfortably numb.” –Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb

We put on masks, masks that become part of us, ones we wear in order to interact with others and the world. Before too long, we become trapped by these false ideas of ourselves. These false selves, these lies of who we are and how we see ourselves, start developing when we’re young. How our families shape us, how we let our friends define us, the fronts we put up in order to appeal to potential mates. We may derive our self-worth from what we do, we’re of value because of how we behave or what we have.

And yet some part of us is miserable under this definition of who we are and longs to find a way out from under it.

We come to believe this lie and try to fix it ourselves, essentially creating a self-salvation scheme as we try to re-create ourselves. “I am not”–a man, for example–but “I can be if”I have the right rims, the right car, the right kind of money, the right bling, the right girl, go to the right school, get the right job. “I am not”–where I should be in life–but “I can be if”I have the right job, the right house, the right kind of money, the right family, and live in the right neighborhood.

On one hand, we see ourselves as gods of our own domains, free to live as we choose. On the other hand, we’re trapped by definitions of ourselves that we can’t seem to escape. Part of leading a self-examined life means getting over the fear of facing ourselves. We have to see the obstacles in our lives, realize where we are, then we can overcome it.

Be they problems in your family, addictions, compulsions or bad decision making patterns, we have responsibilities to our lives. We must be diligent. We must strip away anything that hinders us from being the people we were meant to be. We must always be growing, be “becoming”. Start with a few simple questions: What do you want to change about yourself? What do you know needs to be changed in your life?

Think through the issues you need to change, don’t numb yourself to them. Shed the imposter and become fully who you were meant to be.

“Sanctity lies in discovering my true self, moving toward it, and living out of it… While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements, and the adulation of others, the true self claims its identity in its belovedness. We give glory to God simply by being ourselves.” –Brennan Manning

Enjoying a Good Silence

Our lives are noisy. From the moment we wake up to the blare of our clock radios, to the radio to accompany us to and from work to the television which keeps us company at home to music as a running soundtrack to our lives as we jog or run errands, our lives are filled with constant noise.

When we doing have the noise, the sheer busyness of our schedules, our self identities wrapped up in what we do. Too many of us think that we’re indispensable, that we have to be at our jobs, at every meeting, at every volunteer group or whatever, from sun up to sundown. We run ourselves exhausted, fueled by the certainty that there is not enough time in the day to get everything done. But we try anyway. In being busy for busy’s sake, we fail to realize that much of it boils down to empty activity, ways of hiding from ourselves.

Rather than always running around filling our lives with being busy, maybe we ought to try the underappreciated discipline of learning to be still. Our need for constant diversion fuels both our restlessness and our avoidance as we end up never attending to the things that matter most. Ultimately, we become disconnected from ourselves, God, and each other.

Sometimes we just need to disconnect from the world. Silence is the final reduction, to be completely at rest, in solitude so that internal dialogues can best be had. Oh, we don’t want to. Think of how we punish criminals: it’s one thing to lock them up in their penal communities, but when they are too bad among themselves, we put them in solitary confinement. In the silence, you have the madness of yourself and only your inner junk to deal with. When you have to confront who you are, your fears and your doubts. In this unknowing of ourselves, we are left to deal with the depths of your heart, the emptiness, the loneliness.

But this is a fight that must be waged if you are ever to finally know peace. Times of renewal and reflection, silence and solitude, helps us to cleanse our hearts and listen better.

[This blog would have been a lot shorter had I just written: “Thank God Spring Break is over and my kids are back in school.”]

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You Can’t Save Everyone

At three o’clock in the morning, when our phone rings, we have a pretty good idea who it is that’s calling us. We all know folks whose lives s are filled with constant drama, who always find themselves in situations, who always need to be bailed out one way or another. Folks whose tendency towards bad decision making results in consequences that suddenly become your problem.

Their lives follow a familiar pattern: your friend picks the wrong person, and you are left to pick up the pieces. Their temper allows a simple misunderstanding to be blown up into to all manner of new heights. Their work situations are ever untenable, always due to the fault of a boss or some co-worker (never their fault). And this is before we get to the alcohol and drug abuse.

You can’t save everyone, especially folks who aren’t ready to be saved. Folks often don’t recognize themselves as self-destructive, their hard-to-control impulses are merely quirks of theirs that people have to learn to accept because they “keep it real.”

They don’t understand that watching them spiral frustrates friends and those who love them. No one wants to watch people they care about make poor life decisions or hurt themselves and we hate the feeling of powerlessness that comes with ringside seats to their latest drama.

But we also can’t live their lives for them. Sometimes you have to let people make their mistakes, our job is to be there for them, to walk beside them, to help pick up the pieces but not do the sweeping ourselves. You have to know when to distance yourself from them as to not allow their drama to bleed into your life and as to not be the constant maid for their lives.

Some people are their own worst enemies. Granted, some folks attract needy people and like to play the white knight charging to the rescue. It’s always easier to focus on rescuing someone else than dealing with your own life, but you have to do what’s best for both of you. Compassion is good; to drown in their mess is not. Sometimes you have to set boundaries for both of your sakes. Sometimes compassion means helping them find the tools to clean up their own mess. But at three o’clock in the morning, my phone shouldn’t be ringing all the time.

[You know, it’s easy to say this, but I already know in my heart that when the phone rings, I’m going to answer it. I know you can’t save everyone, especially those who don’t want to be saved, but sometimes you just have to keep trying.]

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I Don’t Twitter

Seriously, I hate Twitter. I hate the idea of Twitter. In fact, as I hop on my hypocrisy broom since I have a column and a blog, in this age of blogs and Twitter and Facefook and MySpace, it may be time for many folks to shut up.

There’s a reason we aren’t telepaths: I don’t have to hear your every thought, especially when you think it. Too many of us as is don’t take the time to sit with our thoughts, to mull things over, before we open our pie holes. No, we feel something in the moment and then blog it, let your mouth get away from us (or rather, our fingers get ahead of us as we come down with a case of keyboard courage).

Maybe I’m just disappointed by the level of conversation. More likely, I see myself as a professional writer and with the Internet being largely a medium of words (and porn), I tend to cling to the pipe dream that as written communicators, we should be able to present our ideas and opinions in clear and precise ways. Of course, the other edge of that writer’s sword that I’m swinging is that writers have ego enough to believe that what they write deserves to be read. Unfortunately, Twittering everything that pops into your head gives plenty of room for people to see the shallowness and vacuity of those thoughts.

It’s easy to shoot yourself in the foot on the Internet. As we vomit our gossipy messages all over the Internet, heedless of the mess we make, we forget two things: one, careless words can’t be unsaid, even more so on the Internet; and two, the Internet is forever and we don’t realize that nothing is truly deleted.

Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon who can’t idly flit away a day updating folks on his mood. Keep in mind that I don’t text message. I don’t believe the language of Shakespeare should be reduced to OMG C U L8TR, but that’s a rant for another day.

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My Vote is Up for Grabs

Here me candidates from all parties: my vote is up for grabs. Young, middle class, black male, a prime catch if you can hook me. Technically, I’m a registered Republican (don’t get all excited: When I decided to register to vote, I called up each party. I care, but I’m lazy, so I called the Democrats first since they’re first alphabetically. They told me where I could go to get registered. Then I called the Republicans. They came to my door. That’s why they get the right of first refusal of my vote.)

And since I’m really in the mood to make friends, I’ll add this: though I’m a conservative Christian also, I recognize that I can’t simply litmus test candidates based on two issues. Seriously, I don’t know how much homosexual rights and abortion policy have to do with stances on the environment and foreign policy (and don’t give me “character” because we’re still talking about politicians).

At a cursory glance, Republican rhetoric centers too much talking in terms of money and running the country like a business. That’s good and all, but there aren’t too many things I want run like a business, except maybe a business. Serving the needs of people is very seldom bottom-line nor cost effective. Democrats don’t look much better. Too often they run the campaign position of “we’re not them”.

Have you noticed that a lot of these “vs” arguments no longer matter to a lot of us? It’s like they are more interested in arguing with each other, not realizing that they are disconnecting from whole generations of people in the mean time. At some point, if they wish to remain relevant, they will have to turn around (or outside of one another) and start answering the questions being asked of today’s culture. Because when it comes right down to them, the terms describe camps a lot more than they do people.

So here’s what I’m asking O Red and Blue platforms: show me something. Give me your vision. Give me some real candidates, not cardboard cutouts whose “turn” it is to run. You give me intelligent ideas and a sense of hope for the future, and you will have my attention. If not, I will just sit on my couch with my big bowl of apathy topped with cynicism and pray that there’s something good on television.

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Seriously, You Can’t Say That

Kelly Tilghman, play-by-play announcer for The Golf Channel’s PGA Tour broadcasts, while bantering with Nick Faldo about young players who might challenge Woods she suggested that they “lynch him in a back alley.” I can almost hear her echoing her fictional counterpart, Ron Burgundy, when he said “I immediately regret this decision.”

Of course she came out with the requisite apology (two days later). Tiger’s representatives declared it a non-issue, but she was suspended for two weeks by the Golf Channel. This wasn’t the same as the Don Imus spewing-viciousness-for-its-own-sake situation. Nor was this Tiger’s first brush with folks misspeaking around him (Hello, Fuzzy Zoeller and your fried chicken and collard greens comment).

Yet my gut reaction was to essentially give her a pass for her slip of the tongue, after all, who among us hasn’t ever said something stupid that we (immediately) regret? The greater issue to consider in evaluating the situation is to recognize that such comments happen within a certain context.

First off, Tiger and Kelly are friends. Jokes you make within family that sound horrendous when someone outside the family hears them, much less, repeats them. We can speak one way with our “boys”, one way with our family, and another way in public/on the record. Still, we have to always be mindful: some language and images need a “handle with care” label attached to them.

Because, secondly, there is a greater problem of context: such comments will always be heard within the cultural-historical context of America, with its convoluted past involving slavery, civil rights, and race relations in general. The image of lynching harkens back to an unfortunate, to say the least, time in American history. Lynching is simply not an image to be taken lightly, but rather is akin to making a rape analogy and I doubt she would joke about that. Such a comment would be heard differently to different ears.

In short, it’s stupid and you can’t say it. However, I don’t think she should have been suspended. I think her apology should have stood on its own, she be reprimanded, and allow the conversations to be had about why what she said was a poor choice of words. We can’t police every bad sentence, because that would stifle conversations that still need to be had. We have a First Amendment right to make a fool out of ourselves, but more importantly, if we truly are to turn the page on this chapter in our history, we need to allow these conversations to happen and in so doing, we need to have thicker skins.

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