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The Sacred Cow

Insight into the world from a devoted witness.


The clock hasn't even struck 9 a.m., and already we have a top contender for the daily "Stupid People in the News" award.

David Flanders, 42, a Bloomington man, sparked a fire in his apartment's kitchen Sunday while attempting to repair his motorcycle. A puppy was killed.

Courtesy of IU's Indiana Daily Student:

A man trying to fix his motorcycle in his apartment kitchen sparked a fire Sunday morning that left a puppy dead.

Bloomington Police Department officers were dispatched at 7:13 a.m. Sunday to the 1300 block of West 13th Street in response to a fire at an apartment complex.

BPD Officer Brian James responded to the call and arrived before the fire department, said Lt. David Drake, reading from a police report. James reported the apartment was fully involved in fire, and the smoke was so thick he was unable to see the subjects standing outside the building until he walked closer and heard them speaking, Drake said.

David Flanders, a 42-year-old complex resident, told police everyone had been evacuated except one puppy. Flanders had a burn on his right arm from his shoulder down past his elbow, Drake said. He also had some of his hair singed.

Flanders told police he was working on his Honda Shadow 1100 motorcycle in his kitchen that morning and took off the gas cap, Drake said. The gas then began leaking. He told police he also had a moped in his pantry with a can of gasoline next to it. The home’s furnace then kicked on and ignited the gas fumes in the residence.

Connecting apartments were also evacuated. No one was hurt, but the puppy died in the fire.

Next time, Mr. Flanders, take the damn thing to a repair shop.


There are only two words fitting enough to describe Stephanie Salter, the thrice-weekly opinion columnist and assistant editor for the Terre Haute Tribune-Star: Simply amazing.

We met in person last month when she was invited for a Wednesday Wisdom session at the Statesman. This was at least a day, perhaps even less, after the San Francisco Chronicle announced they must restructure their finances or risk folding. She lamented about that and other topics relevant to the newspaper world.

She did not bring up any of this:

His look of resentment as I drove away in the night rain was withering. For a moment I thought about turning around, going back into the parking lot and trying to explain.

In my mind I couldn’t get past his hurt, offended stare and my own opening sentence:

“I’m sorry, but I was robbed and knifed once by a guy who looked just enough like you, I reflexively reacted before I could see you were no threat.”

How I reacted the other night as I left an all-night drug store with yet another cold remedy in my hands was nothing overt, nothing most people would notice even from a car parked nearby.

But to a young, African American male in his late teens, who’d learned early to read the subtlest eye twitches and body language of white people, I might as well have hissed the N-word.

What happened was this, and it took perhaps four seconds:

Barreling out of the drug store, I raised my eyes from my package and spotted the young man, who was standing alone just out of the light of the doorway about six feet from my car. He was wearing the hood of his dark sweatshirt up and his inner forearms rested at his hip bones.

I stopped in my tracks and my eyes rapidly shifted from the young man to the path between him and my car, then back to his eyes. That was all it took.

“I’m no crook,” he said, turning his head away, and I could see that he, too, had some kind of half-opened package in his hands. A nice bicycle was propped up on a short traffic post near him.

I tried to recover, adopting a breezy voice that sounded like a 1950s TV sit-com mom.

“Oh, I know you’re not a crook,” I almost sang as I resumed walking toward my car.

“I’m wearing my hood ’cause of …” he said, gesturing at the rain, but his voice already was dry with disdain.

I jumped on the weather, trying to commiserate. He was having none of it. The power had shifted. He was the wronged party, I was the racist perpetrator.

“I’m not violent,” he said, as I opened my car door.

“I know that,” I said, less sing-songy, but still too cheerful. “I mean, I assume you aren’t violent.”

He stared at me, unforgiving.

I knew what I represented, what our brief encounter represented. If he had given my humanity one flicker of interest, I might have told him about that night so many years ago, about the similarities — not just in his race — but in his gender, the covered head and dark clothes, the stance, the surprise at encountering him there in the shadows.

But I saw no flicker, so I only said, in my authentic flat voice, “Try to stay dry.”

Then I closed my car door, turned on the ignition and drove away, feeling a swarm of conflicting emotions. It was such a long story to tell a stranger.

I was living on a quiet street in San Francisco near the top of a hill a few blocks from the housing projects in which O.J. Simpson grew up. For nine years I had been coming home — early, late, in daylight and dark — parking my car on the street and walking 30 or 40 feet to the front stairs of my flat in a remodeled Victorian.

It was a little before midnight with a full moon climbing in the sky. My evening had been a good one, spent with many friends at the spirited anniversary party of a popular restaurant across town.

Before I got out of my car, I looked around at the deserted street and gathered my purse and tote bag, something women alone in big cities know to do when they exit a vehicle. I locked my car and, again, from years of vigilance, curled my hand into a fist around my keys, making sure the two longest keys jutted out on either side of my middle finger.

The configuration was supposed to be good for use as a weapon on an attacker’s eyes.

As I neared the sidewalk, a man with a dark stocking cap worn low on his head suddenly emerged from the shadows in front of my next-door neighbor’s house. For a split-second I thought about rushing back, jumping in my car and locking the door. As the cops and a self-defense instructor later told me, that was my primitive, dead-on survival instinct kicking in, and I should have followed it.

Instead, because the man was black, my cognitive brain interrupted and said, “I don’t want him to think I’m a racist.”

I still had the keys jutting from my hand when a neighbor drove me to the emergency room of San Francisco General Hospital about five minutes later. The man in the stocking cap had recognized easy prey, grabbed me, told me not to scream, and when I did, slashed my right forearm to the bone as he cut the shoulder strap of my purse.

Then he was gone.

The surgeon said it appeared the man had used a straight razor. The tendons of my arm had been cut through and had snapped back toward my elbow like rolled window blinds. I was in a bizarre cast for a month, could not work or do my own hair or cooking, and had to spend several months in physical therapy to regain the use of my right hand.

Even though I soon moved to a new neighborhood on a busier street, it took me many years (and the self-defense class and a Mace permit) to get out of my car at night without being wrapped in fear. If I then spotted a lone man in dark clothes — whatever his race — adrenaline would surge through my body.

It’s been nearly two decades, but I still tend to feel a heightening of attention when I leave my car alone and walk to my door in the night. No matter where I am.

The memory is long. Revisiting the details of the attack prompts an aching and burning just beneath the 4-inch, L-shaped scar I have carried all these years.

Even if I had shown the scar to the young man in the drug store parking lot the other night, I would have had to explain the whole story. (It’s a thin, white line that doesn’t look like much now.) I would have had to say things like, “A white guy in a dark hood would have scared me, too,” and the young man would not have believed me.

We have come far in this nation with race relations. So many of our worst problems have been acknowledged and are out in the open where we can work on them, together. But the baggage each of us brings along can still weigh us down.

Some of the bags are packed with the collective abuse of centuries, some with the deep memory of a single act of violence on a summer night. But we all carry bags, and few of us travel light.



So what did I miss?

Let's see: The economy, already in a precarious state when I left this blog in August, completed its death spiral into the septic tank. Barack Obama enthralled the world by being elected the 44th President of the United States. A brave pilot landed a 747 in the Hudson River... and nobody got killed. Barack Obama made history again by being inaugurated, as an enthralled world watched again. Bailouts. Bailouts. Bailouts. AIG.

I know I skipped some things.

On a personal level, I have been spending the past several months redefining myself as a college student, friend and gay man. I officially came out of the closet Christmas Eve (that ordeal will be recanted in a later blog post) and have mostly found acceptance throughout the journey. Then, there's the Indiana Statesman, of which I am assistant news editor.

The Sacred Cow, like The Fourth Estate whose pillars stood strong before it, will lean predominately to the left on the political scale. There will be particular focus on the media, gay rights issues and The White House. I will also utilize RedLasso, once dubbed by me as the best thing to happen to the Internet. This time, there are no copyright issues to deal with (their fault, not mine.)

I may not be able to post every day... certainly not multiple times a day like I did on The Fourth Estate. However, certainly feel free to leave your comments and suggestions. As my friend Lori would say, it should be a dialogue - not a monologue.

The Last Post: Why I Write
Four days before he died on December 30, 2006, Boston Globe columnist Don Murray gushed about the enjoyment he got from a blank sheet of paper.

"Each time I sit down to write I don't know if I can do it," Murray wrote. "The flow of writing is always a surprise and a challenge. Click the computer on and I am 17 again, wanting to write and not knowing if I can."

He quoted E.B. White: "I'm glad to report that even now, at this late day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me - more promising than a silver cloud, prettier than a little red wagon. It holds all the hope there is, all fears."

I can relate to that. Writing is painting a picture without the acrylics, using your feelings and emotions to strengthen the prose. If a hard-news reporter committed such a dastardly sin, they'd be accused of bias, but there has to be something to hook the reader and keep them biting at the bait until -30-.

Take my post about The Matthew Shepard Story on July 25th. Instead of just mentioning Matt was killed, I pointed out that he was "savagely beaten, robbed and tied to a fence" then "left alone to suffer in the cold, dark night." It paints a picture of a heinous and inhumane scene in the open spaces of Wyoming. My intense feelings of hatred towards Matt's lynchers bled through to what should have been just an ordinary movie review.

I write, because like Murray and White, I enjoy it. Writing gives you a creative license that no one in any other profession posesses. Of course, there's ways to misuse it, but crafting sentences is one of the most fun things you can ever do.

My closing line is borrowed from Linda Ellerbee, who on the 367th and final edition of NBC News Overnight quoted Mark Twain's account of the missionary who went out among the cannibals.

"They listened with the greatest of interest to everything he had to say. And then they ate him."

That's -30-.

Clinton's Name in Nomination at Convention

OK, I lied. Post 429 is not the last. We might as well get up to a nice, even number.

I can't leave without putting my two cents in on Hillary Clinton's quest to take over the country, which hit a crescendo today when her name was entered in nomination at the Democratic National Convention.

It's a laughable attempt at making peace, a "bid to heal the wounds of the bitter primary season," CNN reported. Both Barack Obama and Clinton agreed that it was the polite thing to do.

"I am convinced that honoring Senator Clinton's historic campaign in this way will help us celebrate this defining moment in our history and bring this party together in a strong united fashion," Obama said in a joint statement.

It's like putting on a snowsuit when it's eighty degrees. We should probably admire Obama's wish to unify, it'll come in handy when he's trying to get the rest of the world to like us. But Hillary lost. There's no mathematical way in the hills of Montana, or the mountains of Denver, for her to get the nomination.

She suddenly sounds like she doesn't want it.

"With every voice heard and the Party strongly united, we will elect Senator Obama President of the United States and put our nation on the path to peace and prosperity once again," Clinton said.

I thought that's what you wanted to do, Hillary. Surely it hasn't dawned on you yet that Obama is the star. You're just a faded testament to a bygone era.

An unnamed source of CNN's said that Obama's camp "always knew" giving Hillary what she wants was destined to happen.

"They have known since the day she dropped out that she wanted this 'for history,'" the source said.

So why not do the same for Bill Richardson, The First Hispanic? His accomplishment of becoming a serious presidential candidate is just as historic as Hillary's. Of course, he's not been throwing regular hissy fits over the fact that his campaign didn't make it through to June.

I certainly hope that Obama can go to the bathroom or brush his teeth without having Hillary tag along. We've watched them grow from simple presidential campaign opponents, to squabbling presidential campaign opponents and finally kiss-and-make-up Democrats. They are the Donny and Marie of their party - you can't have one without the other.

Party unity be damned. The voters still have ample choice: Obama, McCain, Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney, Chuck Baldwin or Ralph Nader. They can make it without having to see Hillary flaunt her ego up and down the Pepsi Center.

Or at least we hope.

428 Down, 1 To Go
A week from today, I'll be settling in to classes at Indiana State University, day two of what everyone says will be the best four years of my life. Moving day is Saturday and the only thing left to get together are my clothes.

One thing not making the trip with me to Terre Haute will be The Fourth Estate.

Tomorrow is it for this little blog, an offspring of IndyRats, which was abandoned January 10th. I posted my last entry - about Facebook's role in presidential debates - on January 6th, nearly a month after deflecting to LiveJournal. My original intention was to maintain a casual presence on IndyRats and write for a national audience here, but we can all see how long that lasted.

There was no one issue that I held above another, although my concerns for the bleeding newspaper industry seemed to reach a peak recently. I tried to balance the serious stuff (IMPD's disciplinary issues, Ted Kennedy's health...) with the offbeat (drunk man on the motorized cooler, monkey on the loose in Lafayette, etc.) Sometimes, we need a little comic relief.

Some of you might have noticed that deaths always got prominent mention. Over the past nine months, we have said goodbye to Julia Carson, John McWethy, Tim Russert and Tony Snow, just to name a few. Cheryl Downs, who co-owned the campground my family has been regulars at my entire life, and Dick Hampton, who did the brave deed of driving us kindergarteners to daycare, also got send-offs. And we can't forget Elizabeth Rogers.

So of the 427 posts, not counting the one you're reading at the moment, which one is my favorite? "Going Nuts Over N**s", my take on the media's response to Jesse Jackson's "hot mic private conversation," comes to mind. And it wasn't just because I got to mention the names James Westfall and Dr. Kenneth Noisewater. We got a crash course in just how scared the mainstream is to offend, especially since even Drudge censored the comments.

There are some bad words in the English language. Stuff that would have gotten our mouth washed out with soap when we were little. But I've always thought that we, as mature adults, should be able to tolerate profanity in intelligent conversation. There's always a line that can be crossed, but sometimes you just have to go for the gold.

One of my goals since post one has been to give a voice to the underdog. Dennis Kucinich's ordeal in Las Vegas - where he was initially invited to and then barred from MSNBC's Democratic debate - was one of the most disgusting sins The Place For Politics has ever committed. And Ralph Nader got his due credit, as well.

The Fourth Estate was also proud supporter of Nels Ackerson, Steve Buyer's opponent in the Fourth District congressional race. I interviewed him on July 29th when he outlined his pledge to veterans in Crawfordsville and found him easy to talk to and get along with. He is the embodiment of an ideal congressman - putting the people first - and will serve our area admirably.

I hope Buyer can get past his whimpy-kiddie-baby-whining and sit down for an honest and open debate.

This blog is bowing out on the fringes of history. Hopefully come January, Sen. Barack Obama will be President Barack Obama and we can emerge from the Dark Ages with a leader who can unite the world. He's already got a head start. It would also be nice to call Jill Long Thompson Gov. Jill Thompson and speak of Mitch Daniels' term in the past-tense.

Wishful thinking on the state level? Probably.

While I'm sitting in front of the crystal ball, here are some Names to Watch in the months ahead: Gov. Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who has a bright future in his party. He's just not vice-presidential material for Obama. Gov. Charlie Crist, Republican of Florida, who is destined to become chairman of the RNC. Let's hope we don't have to worry about him being veep for McCain. Luke Russert, Tim's son, who will be providing coverage of youth issues during both political conventions for NBC. He's a chip off the old block, but every journalist must have the opportunity to prove their own talents. And Rachel Maddow, currently the evening star of Air America and an MSNBC political analyst, who is one of the most intelligent pundits in the media. To think she hasn't owned a television set since 1990.

I'll save my closing line for tomorrow.

Sandy Allen, World's Tallest Woman, Dies at 53

Update, 11:57 p.m.: Allen's funeral will be 10:00 a.m. Monday at Town and Country Christian Church in Shelbyville, Murphy Parks Funeral Services has announced. Visitation will be an hour prior to service and from 4-8 p.m. Sunday at the church. 

The world was literally too small for Sandy Allen, its tallest woman, but there was more than enough room for her beautiful soul.

Allen, who stopped growing at 7'71/4'', died early this morning at Heritage House Convalescent Center in Shelbyville, the Star reported today. She was 53. Longtime friend Rita Rose, a former entertainment reporter for the Star, said she had been ill since June.

Allen was a normal-sized baby, weighing six-and-a-half pounds at birth, but a tumor on her pituitary gland caused her abnormal growth. She was 6'3'' by age ten and 7'1'' at sixteen. The tumor was removed in 1977.

She wrote the Guiness Book of World Records in 1974, expressing her wish to get to know someone around her own size.

"It is needless to say my social life is practically nil and perhaps the publicity from your book may brighten my life," Allen said in that first letter.

Publicity came in the form of a role in the 1976 film "Casanova" and "Side Show", a 1981 made-for-TV movie.

Allen worked at the Guiness Museum of World Records in Niagra Falls, Ontario, for eight years before moving to Indianapolis in 1987. She served as a secretary/receptionist for Bill Hudnut in 1988, but transferred to the Public Works Department after four months.

Problems with her legs eventually confined her to a wheelchair and she moved to the nursing home in 2003.

Funeral arrangements are being planned with Murphy-Parks Funeral Services in Shelbyville. Memorial contributions can be made to the Sandy Allen Scholarship Fund.

Rose told friend Ruth Holladay she is writing a book based on Allen's experiences as a teenager at Shelbyville High School.

"My book, 'World's Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High' will be published by Hawthorne Publishing in November," Rose said. "It's a fiction-based-on-fact account of Sandy's struggles in high school aimed at middle school and young adult readers. My publisher calls it 'creative non-fiction.'"

I'm reminded of the old adage, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." It's a lesson we should all keep in a mind. Sometimes, the best teachers in this world are ones without education degrees.

(Photo credit: www.indystar.com)

Only in Montgomery County...

Would a shoe-snatching beagle make the front page of the local paper.

He works by night, snatching various types and brands of footwear from front porches in Waveland and placing them on a ledge outside the fire station.

"Shoes started showing up here at the fire station shortly after one of the strong storms we had back in June," well-known local resident Susie Calvert told the Journal Review for a story today. "Since June, he probably has brought over a dozen shoes and dropped them off."

There were only three left Tuesday morning, the Journal reported - two tennis shoes and a Croc. Shoes have also been found in front of the liquor store.

"No one seems to be complaining about it," Calvert said. "No one has even said anything about the shoes that are laying out on the ledge in front of the town office."

They have been claiming them, though.

"The shoes are up on the ledge so I don't think he could be getting them off that ledge and taking them somewhere else," Calvert continued.

Or could he? Da-da-dum.

The mystery has yet to be solved.

"Newsday TV" Launched: Could It Be New Medium for Newspapers?

Cablevision, the Bethpage, NY-based new owners of Long Island's Newsday, has launched Newsday TV on its Long Island television systems.

The channel features promotional information about the paper's features and allows users to buy a seven-day or weekend only subscription. The customer's address is already pre-programmed into the system and the bill is later sent through the mail.

"We're pleased to make it easier than ever before for our cable television customers on Long Island to subscribe to Long Island's daily newspaper, Newsday, through the launch of Newsday TV," Cablevision's senior vice president of product management, John Trierweiler, said in a statement. "With an on-screen subscription form that is pre-populated for each customer by virtue of ongoing relationship, our customers can complete a transaction and subscribe to Newsday's award-winning coverage with just a few clicks of the television remote control."

Newsday's circulation figures dropped 4.7 percent during the period ending March 31st, Multichannel News reported. Daily numbers stood at about 387,000 and Sunday figures were 452,000. Compare that to partial-week figures of 580,069 ending September 30, 2003, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The channel also offers extended video of print stories and the scoop on the "Newsday Insider" program. But is any of this actually going to help badly-needed business?

I don't mean to rain on your parade, Cablevision, but you might be shooting yourself in the foot.

(Photo credit: www.wingwomen.com)

Greg Ballard in Hospital Before Budget Presentation

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard spent a few hours in the hospital before presenting his 2009 budget to the City-County Council yesterday.

Ballard, 53, was admitted to Community East around 1:30 p.m. suffering from chest pains and shortness of breath, Channel 6 reported. He was discharged around 4:30. His office didn't announce these important pieces of information until just before 9:00 this morning.

"Doctors ran an EKG and the mayor underwent a stress test, the results of both tests were normal," Marcus Barlow, the mayor's press secretary, said in a statement, as quoted by the AP.

Ballard will wear a heart monitor today, Barlow said, but otherwise keep his normal schedule.

Maybe we should stop sweating bullets over the budget, which provides more money for police and fire and cuts funding for the jail and arts and parks, and be concerned about Ballard's health. It doesn't sound like he had a heart attack, but anxiety had to play some kind of role. Could this be a problem next August when budget time comes around again?

And why wait nineteen-and-a-half HOURS before breaking the news? Barlow & Company may try to downplay it, but who was in power while Ballard was away from the City-County Building?

Try to be a little quicker next time, guys.