Looking for intelligent life in the blogosphere.....

Dateline: Mon 31 Dec 2007

As 2008 prepares to blow its fresh, frozen and scowling newborn face across central Indiana, perhaps it's time to think about, or re-think, the role blogs play in intelligent discourse among Hoosiers.

First, an anecdote: at a luncheon Dec. 15 of mostly Democrat, affluent and mostly Jewish friends in Indy, I was amazed to learn that only two of the six women present had ever heard of pea shake houses, radio guru Abdul Hakim-Shabazz and/or IndyUndercover. In other words, this group of well-connected, socially active, lecture-going, New York Times-reading women with a swell of leisure time were underwhelmed with the work that had consumed me (and presumably a few other bloggers and blog-readers) for the previous couple of weeks -- obtaining a copy of the police search warrant that exposed Abdul as the brains and host of the shut-down IndyUndercover blog, and in general, obsessing about the possible link between pea shakes, illegal gambling and crime in Indy.

My friends were largely disinterested, although they feigned polite inquiries. "Pea shake? Why pea? Do they do vegetables??" Or as another Northside pal said a few months ago, regarding Indy's robberies, homicides, burglaries, police morale, etc. "It hasn't affected me. Maybe that's why I don't care about it." (She does, however, care passionately about national and world politics).

Perhaps this is what separates the casual Internet reader from those of us who are all tied up by the news in Indianapolis, whether it's Mayor-elect Greg Ballard's transition team, the prosecutor at the Phoenix, the latest homicide, the fate of the schools, all that. Crime in the state's capital has not affected me personally either, but for whatever reason -- curse or blessing -- I do care, a great deal. It's that John Donne reflection from high school: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less..."

Which is why I sincerely appreciate intelligent, honest and accurate writing on blogs. I want to read what Gary Welsh and Jen Wagner are saying, plus a host of others too numerous to mention. I am not a political junkie, not an insider, and I often find myself amazed at the insights found both on blogs and in the comments. So sue me; I'm local, and I'm addicted.

Which is why the deception regarding IndyUndercover was a big deal. I promise, it's the cusp of the New Year's Eve, and I'm going to let this go, but for the record: I was never jealous of IndyUndercover, as someone suggested. I admired and read the blog until it turned so sour and jaded and silly. Still, I read it. While I was disappointed in the direction it sometimes took, I am more disappointed in the fact that Abdul continues to deny his intimate relationship with his very original work. Why does that bug me? I think it's wrong to be deceptive and manipulative, for one's own gain. It implies an unflattering arrogance, all the more fascinating because of the fierce loyalty/denial of his subjects. But as another person pointed out, Abdul is not a journalist. Nor, suggested this source, is Abdul really partisan. He's a guy who likes to be on the inside, who blows whichever way the wind is. The weatherman.

As for IndyU's ties to Abdul, here is one last piece of evidence: a source emailed me a few weeks ago that he had sent some confidential info to IndyU regarding an investigation by the federal Department of Justice into organized crime in Indy. My guy said that IndyU responded immediately in an email, then later promised, in an email, that the info had been given to a trusted media source. Yes, you got it: the story turned up on Abdul's "regular" blog, Indiana Barrister.

I asked Abdul about it; he maintained he had done his own investigation on the matter, presumably without help from IndyU. Or maybe IndyU "passed on information," as he has acknowledged.

Final bit of evidence: the same guy said he never had heard of Abdul until his DofJ/organized crime tip showed up on Abdul's Barrister blog. After that, he fed Abdul some info about a big sign in front of an abandoned Eastside house, placed there to embarrass Mayor Bart Peterson and a host of other prominent Dems. Abdul, said my source, came out and took the photo. The pix showed up on IndyU. My guy's observation: "Abdul had his clean blog, and he had his dirty blog."

OK, dead horse, dead issue, enough beating. Except that there is now a New Indy Undercover, called Reborn! or Version II or some such. The writing on this blog is shallow and yakky, with occasional grammatical errors. Here's some of the introductory commentary: "Yes as you can see Indy Undercover has found a new home and new management. Joe Friday had decided to bow out and continue his life of law enforcement without the continual secrecy of his persona. Well, I decided it should live on and someone else should take the reins."

Well, every other sentence begins with "well." Why should I care? As I said at the beginning, the city and state are in need of intelligent discourse. Some blogs have it, some don't.

And in the end, the rebirth of the blues is not necessarily a bad thing, altho this blogger really should get a new persona; been there, done that, and nothing fails like a pale, limp imitation. But to justify the blog's existence, here's this thought: Playwright William Saroyan once wrote that the country needed a lot of little magazines, to spare us a Hitler. As long as every crackpot had a place to vent his views, we were better off. That makes a certain poetic sense in this here republic.

As for the future, I'm 60 years old; I'm in a mostly benevolent frame of mind, and the only bombs I can see lobbing will no doubt go Gannett's way. Because really, the corporate news giant's sins, mostly of neglect, are a big fat infected log in the eye compared to the tiny splinters of a blog.

I will still enjoy Abdul's radio show when I'm in range, altho some of it is spoiled by now knowing that pretty much the same people call in every day. Yet, he's a funny guy, and I wish him the best in his new role as court jester for the Ballard administration -- he's going to be master of ceremonies at the inauguration, as you've no doubt read on Advance Indiana. I wish him well in his personal life.

So, say goodnight, Gracie. But keep the door slightly ajar, least we shut out any incoming intelligent life headed our way in the Indiana blogosphere.

Happy New Year.

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