Indiana’s Religious Freedom bill really is of the people, for the people

There’s a lot of hate in my Facebook stream today about Indiana SB101 — the “Religious Freedom” bill. Basically it enshrines protection of religion above all else. So if you, Mr. Heathen, try to go to the Leftorium and Ned has a problem with your Heathen-ess, he can legally refuse service.

In practice I’m not entirely sure anyone really gets impacted by this. This notion that gay people (and let’s face it, it’s aimed at gay people) will somehow get refused service is unlikely. Any place a gay person will go probably isn’t the sort of place that’d ever refuse service to someone anyway. And gay people are pretty adept and used to this sort of thing. This is just another one of those instances where the courts will have to right a wrong. That’s what they’re there for, despite it taking years to do.

I for one have some faith in the market on this one in the meantime.

But the anger toward the legislature is almost fiercer than the original gay marriage debates of the last several sessions. I’m not entirely sure why.

In a democracy people elect the person they want to represent them. This is exactly what Hoosiers do every election day, despite Indiana having the lowest voter turnout in 2012.

I assure you the people in Putnam County, or the people in Pekin, or the people in Rising Sun or Plymouth or Washington, Indiana largely agree that this bill is a great idea.

Unlike Illinois where Chicago can make all the calls, Indiana has Indianapolis, Bloomington, and a relatively socially-conservative northwest region that leans sorta Democratic and none of it outweighs the rest of Indiana. And there is a lot of Indiana out there. And those people love this stuff. They care about their guns, religion, and love anything that lets them eek out a little more control over their corner of the universe. Or at least makes them feel more in control.

The legislature did exactly what it was supposed to do. It is made up of an entirely representative group of people. It is functioning exactly as intended and expected.

And seriously, if that bothers people, you just have to move. People in Seattle don’t get to complain about the weather. People in New York don’t get to complain about the noise. People in small towns don’t get to complain about a lack of economic opportunity. People in Indiana don’t get to complain about bills like SB101.

“But Justin, you can’t change the weather.” Well, you can’t change the minds of most Hoosiers, either. That’s sorta our thing.

I recognize it totally sucks. But when I was a teenager living in Salem, I knew to do much else in life I’d have to move, so I did. No sense in trying to change anything, because the majority of the people do not wish to do so. And that’s democracy.

Mom’s notes to me as a kid, from diagnosis to near death

When I was in 7th-early 9th grade, my mom would write me little notes in lieu of her actually being there. Sometimes this was because her 4 a.m. medications made her so drowsy she couldn’t get up when I did at 6:30 for school. Sometimes it was because she and dad were in Louisville getting radiation treatments. Because of time zone differences and my 4:30 school bus arrival, she was normally not home until around 6 or 6:30.

She didn’t know, nor did anyone else, that I started saving those notes sometime around 8th grade. I’ve had them in a cigar box and have moved them everywhere with me. I’ve never looked at them, never re-read them, or done anything with them until today.

I’ve scanned all these notes. I think I have them in a close chronological order.

Earlier notes seemed to center around me never wearing a coat (I’ve always hated wearing a coat). Many notes regarding plugging and unplugging things is a reality of living in a big empty field: anytime a storm came through we were one strike away from blowing every appliance in the house. Also, we had an air purifier because we had a wood-burning stove for heat, so it was necessary to have an air purifier and air humidifier nearby. Very Little House on the Prairie.

It’s pretty obvious that her once very nice hand writing and spelling were slowly destroyed by the brain tumor. Eventually she stopped because she became self-aware of her own inability to think of the proper words and she eventually went blind. I’ve written about that before.

January 18th is the 13 year anniversary of her death. These are her notes.




















Thoughts on Ferguson

This Ferguson, Missouri situation with Michael Brown and Darren Wilson has struck me like the Iraq war. That is, “I don’t have all the information, there are people making decisions with far more evidence and knowledge than me, therefore, I just can’t make an opinion.”

But I do have an opinion, because doesn’t everyone? But mine’s pretty short.

The police generally deal with unsavory people all day long in extremely bizarre and uncommon situations compared to you and me.

When savory people do unsavory things, everyone’s always surprised. School shooter, robber, rapist, you name it, no one comes out later and says, “Oh yeah, that guy was a mess. Totally not surprised.” Because no one wants to think they’re a bad judge of character or are around unsavory people themselves.

So we know Michael Brown robbed a store. We feel pretty sure he was being a jerk obstructing traffic and walking down the middle of the road, and we know that he wasn’t shot in the back and there was likely an altercation that involved Brown assaulting Officer Wilson in his cruiser.

This is the best source I’ve seen.

We also know that he was a teenager and teens make stupid decisions all day every day, so there’s not much sense in asking why Brown would do anything people claimed he did.

I’m pretty cynical most of the time. What I’m cynical about the most here is everyone’s response in Ferguson. I don’t understand the riots, the looting, or the destruction. It makes them look dumb, ignorant, and perpetuates stereotypes of angry black men and women.

The grand jury made their decision, or at least 9 of 12 people thought there wasn’t enough of a case here. Because all the indictment was for was to determine whether a trial was needed or not.

It’s hard not to be cynical at the media — from the right and left — either.

Plus, the prosecutor has given so much information to the press. It’s like screaming, “If you think the jury is wrong, you find the evidence that backs that up.” Why would someone do that if they had something to hide?

You know who I feel really bad for? This guy. That’s a photo of the guy whose store was looted last night. And was robbed by Wilson when this whole mess started.

Even people claiming the store owner has insurance and can rebuild, insurance doesn’t cover acts of unrest or terrorism. He’s just screwed, like so many other people.

Buying a wedding ring is like buying a used car

Have you ever tried buying an engagement or wedding ring? Good god does that process suck — especially for gay couples.

Here’s how it works for most men:

“Hmm, I think I’ll propose to my girlfriend. I’d better drive to a couple jewelry stores.”

“Welcome sir, can we help you today?”

“Yeah, I’d like to look at engagement rings.”

“Certainly, right this way. Would you like anything to drink?”

And the guy gets the ring, gets down on one knee, yadda yadda.

Here’s how it worked for me:

“I think I’ll propose to my boyfriend. …wait, how does this work?”

I went to the “typical” jewelry stores on the northside like Shane, Jared, Kay, etc.  When you walk in, you feel like you’re about to buy a car. People in suits and dresses that look like suits swarm to you. You’re not allowed to just look at things by yourself.

It was 4:15 on a Saturday afternoon and I walked into Jared. A guy in a suit immediately comes up to me and asks me if he can help. “Yeah, I’m looking for engagement rings.”

“Oh, what’s her name?”

I stopped. Two things ran through my head. First, I was dreading this moment though I had prepared myself for it, but I wasn’t prepared for the guy to be wearing a cross on his necklace. “Shit, this is going to be awkward. Now we have to have a moment. What if this guy reads Drudge? This guy looks like the sort of guy who listens to Limbaugh and screams “JESUS!” like it’s “fire!” in a crowded theater.” The second thing was, “Why did you just ask me that like a dad grinning about his 10 year old son’s first crush?

“Oh, uh, Michelle. Her name is Michelle.”

So there I was looking for rings for my girlfriend Michelle, and listening to this guy drone on about their work and what goes into diamonds. All I could think about was, “Who the hell wears these god awful looking “chocolate diamonds”? It’s a rock, not a Reese’s Pieces.”

So after 15 minutes I managed to say, “I’m just going to look around and if I need anything, I’ll holler.” Then I kinda walked around and noticed that nothing has a price on it, and nothing is labeled clearly for people who don’t really know what they’re looking at.

If there are two kinds of people in the world, those who look at a menu’s food and order what they want vs. those who look at a menu’s prices and order what they want to pay, I’m definitely in the latter.

This process repeated itself at three other stores. Then I went to Shane Co. in Fishers and at 5:01 p.m., when I got there, the doors locked. I guess the next worst thing to banker’s hours are jeweler’s hours.

Eventually I just came home with nothing. I didn’t even have an answer on how the process was supposed to work. Do I get two different rings? Just one? Two of the same? Shouldn’t the engagement rings be “lesser” than the wedding rings?

Ever try Googling “how to propose”, yeah, good look with that. Good luck even with “how to propose gay”. Seriously, don’t search for that last one.

Clearly what I needed was a small, independent, jeweler. So I go looking for those and find places that also buy gold and probably sell you bail bonds all at the same time.

Clearly what I needed was a small, independent, jeweler … in Broad Ripple, Fountain Square, or Irvington.

So I found a couple of individuals: Nick Blum in Broad Ripple and Nancy Lee, just east of Downtown. Both were great to work with, albeit a little untraditional. But for this purpose, I like that. It was during this process I came to realize how awesome it is there really are no rules. I don’t have to do the dumb one knee thing. We don’t have to do a thing in a church with people sitting in rows. We don’t have to have some specific dress code or process. How awesome is that?

So the engagement rings came from Nick, and the wedding rings will come from Nancy, who did some initial drafts and ideas I liked so much I wanted to spend more time getting them right later on.

It’s no surprise that the traditional corporate suits at the usual places weren’t good enough.

An update on lousy reporting

I just read another piece of reporting that made my brain vibrate inside my head (go ahead, read it, I’ll wait. Now ask yourself how the people of Speedway, Beech Grove, Mars Hill, East 10th, or Trader’s Point must feel. Basically it’s a guy waxing about what he wishes his own neighborhood should be like).

I’ve been giving more thought and research to what a “new” news service might look like. My notes, while disparate still, are below.

For now, I’m just going to have to let this project go. Maybe someone else will pick it up and run with it and I’ll wish I had followed through, but it probably won’t happen.

My reasons are many. Like this:

Great ratings don’t come from eight-month special reports on Haiti, O’Donnell said. They come from the television equivalent of must-read newspaper columnists.  People tune in to see what their favorite personalities think. “When you get to 9pm in America … what they’re doing with their remote is ‘I want to know what O’Reilly thinks about this. I want to know what Rachel thinks about this.'”

Plus, I don’t have a big network of people. I’ve consistently foregone thousands of followers and Facebook “friends” in favor of something more realistic and manageable. I don’t have access to money and I have a disdain for debt of any kind.

I am unconvinced there are enough people across Indiana interested enough in paying, supporting, or even viewing much from a small team of people that can’t be achieved by an already existing network of blogs and (for now), Twitter.

I described it to someone yesterday like this: “A couple years ago a tornado hit Pekin, Marysville, and Henryville. Has anyone bothered to check back and see if those people stayed and rebuilt? Did they move, and if so, where and why? There was a flap in some counties that new construction was cost-prohibitive to do because old grandfathered-in septic systems now required more expensive updates. What happened with that? Did the State and FEMA do anything to keep or break their promises?”

I want a smart, slow-news source that asks bigger questions and delivers on some useful data and reporting.

I’m pulling a Jony and saying no to this project for now. Though if you’re reading this and want to bounce ideas or be of assistance, by all means contact me.


What does good local news look like?

Local and regional news outlets across Indiana generally report on egregious crimes (murders, rape, aggravated assaults, etc.), traffic accidents — particularly those causing death, and numerous opinion pieces with decidedly understood political biases.

The region lacks a news source that focuses on individuals, storytelling, and reader-friendly design. To name a few examples: TV news stations that have commercial-laden and buggy video playback, news stories limited by paywalls with arbitrary limits, click-bait headlines, ads in slideshows and the middle of articles, and otherwise amateur website layouts.

Readers deserve clean, fast-loading, easily shareable, and easy-to-read stories. Stories that inform, give perspective, and tell a balanced and fair account of conditions or situations.

Stories should include delightful and helpful features like one-page stories, no slideshow galleries (instead placing images in easy to skim thumbnails), estimated reading time, and responsible, scalable, layouts and typography.

What does the business model look like?

Readers should have a tie to their news sources like they do a local co-op grocery store, with minimal advertisements that are unobtrusive and relevant. News should be disseminated freely and treated like a public good, but because writers, editors, and other staff deserve to be paid fairly, readers should feel encouraged and ready to donate or sponsor.

Monthly subscriptions, possibly starting at $19 a month. Donation drives, sponsored posts written about staff.

What else is there?

A weekly one-hour long podcast with a panel of 2-3 people.


The news has no business being a business.