This Morning’s “The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Read”

In Northwest Indiana, a hospital put up billboards:

A northern Indiana hospital that erected billboards with the message “Obesity is a disease. Not a decision” is facing a backlash from people offended by the signs’ suggestion that obesity isn’t a lifestyle choice.

One opponent to the billboard says:

“There is no disease that causes your body to drive to McDonald’s to go get some fries. There is no disease that makes your hands unwrap a candy bar. It’s all habits,” her email said.

And the hospital says:

…the reasons why a person gains and carries weight involve more than just eating.

Sleep, stress, access to healthful food, a decrease in movement due to technology, people’s genes and even what a mother eats when she’s pregnant all impact weight of adults, Stanish said.

And one area resident says:

Ward said she was compared to her thinner sister, who ate the same food she did. She said she tried to get the weight off, sometimes eating only vegetables and cottage cheese.

“No one comes in the world and says, ‘I want to be overweight,”‘ she said. “It’s with you. You don’t choose that.”

After having two daughters, Ward had gastric bypass surgery and lost about 150 pounds. She now has a personal trainer and rides bikes with her daughters to help them live a healthy lifestyle.

So, let’s recap: a hospital thinks being fat is a disease, some people think that’s ridiculous, because what kind of disease makes you eat a Big Mac? A doctor doesn’t seem to grasp that sleep and access to healthy food aren’t all that difficult, considering that crappy food keeps you awake (laden with sugars, harder digest, etc.). And I’ve not been in a grocery store in my life that didn’t have a produce section. A head of lettuce costs 99 cents. A box of hamburger helper and the hamburger is about $5-$6.

The doctor doesn’t seem to grasp the correlation between “sleep”, “stress” and a “decrease in movement due to technology” as all lifestyle choices. Has he ever considered telling his patients to, you know, move? Moving sorta makes you tired, right?

And an area resident sped up the process by getting her stomach tied. Oh, and she started biking and eating better. The two may or may not be related.

I get that if you’re really, really overweight that exercising is almost impossible because of your size. But for a lot of people who aren’t quite “lift me with heavy machinery size”, this does not need to be hard. I refuse to believe that suddenly being fat is a disease. It sounds like restless leg syndrome. If my grandparents didn’t have this problem, I don’t see how it can exist today. People haven’t evolved that much in 100 years. 1,000, maybe, a generation or two, no.

Marketing!

The Jawbone Up

Everyone’s reviewed the hell out of the Jawbone Up over the last couple of weeks, all in a wishy-washy maybe-sorta way. Nothing I read said “buy it” or “don’t buy it”. I’m saying: “buy it and hope for updates”.

I’ve been using the Jawbone Up for a little over a week now. The Up is a rubber band you wear around your wrist. It records your steps, eating habits and sleep patterns in conjunction with the iPhone-only App. It costs $99 and may be worth about $79 of it.

The Band

The band is made of rubber, has a removable cap for the headphone jack that you plug into your iPhone to sync data and is surprisingly comfortable. You’ll probably lose the cap if you’re a loser incapable of holding on to a small piece of plastic, but I’m not worried about that. Because I have the sense to sit down at a table when I’m working with small things.

It’s waterproof, which means you can shower with it…and count your steps? I never wear mine in the shower. That just seems silly. And they recommend you not swim with it. So, feel free to walk out in the rain and use the band to cover your head.

It is comfy, though. I don’t notice it when I’m typing or sleeping. It’s easy to put into sleep, workout or default mode by hitting the little silver button on the other end of the band. And, the package allows you to get the right fit — small, medium or large. I’m a medium but I thought I’d be small. Small would be for kids, I think.

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The App

You use the app to take a photo of your meal. Two hours later, it’ll send a Push Notification reminding you that you ate two hours ago. It’ll ask you to give you feedback about how you feel: energized, normal, tired, hungry, etc. After a while, you’re supposed to use that to help you figure out how you’ll feel next time you eat a similar meal. Of course, if you don’t already know that eating a bowl of ravioli is going to make you feel tired, there’s little this App’s going to do for you. This portion is lame and I never remember to take a picture of my food. I usually end up taking a picture of an empty plate or bowl instead. And you can’t really use it for snacks. If you eat a banana, how are you supposed to feel two hours later? “Freaking phenomenal” isn’t likely.

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The app also shows you graphs and charts about your activity and sleep patterns. More on that in a bit.

Lastly, the app is also how you enroll in challenges. Challenges are Up’s way of being “social”. Since there’s like, ten people using challenges, I’m number one in all the challenges I’ve enrolled in.

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The Reason I Bought It

Up tracks your sleep habits and vibrates on your wrist to wake you up in the morning. It also vibrates during the day to remind you to get up for a break on an interval you set (mine’s 90 minutes). But the sleep tracking is interesting and works pretty well. I have mine set to wake me at 8, which is really “wake me between 7:30 and 8 a.m.”. As I roll around in bed, it knows based on my unconscious movement whether I’m awake (orange bars), in light sleep (light blue bars) or deep sleep (dark blue bars).

I can’t profess to it’s complete accuracy, but in the mornings it wakes me by 8 a.m. when I’m in light sleep and it’s a much more pleasant way of waking up. For that, it was worth buying (although, I think $99 is a bit much at this point). Later, you can see a graph of your sleep, which is kinda neat. In this case, it knew I got up around 4:30 a.m. to get a glass of water:

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It’s only woken me up in deep sleep once, and that was because I had been in deep sleep for the entire half hour before, so it defaulted to just being an alarm. One morning it wakes me at 7:40, another 7:50. If you’re such a baby that you think you must get every last second of sleep the world somehow owes you and the idea of waking up 15 minutes before you “have to” offends your weak little self, I guess you’re not going to get much use out of it.

You wouldn’t think a little vibration on your wrist would work, but it’s a very intense vibration. When it vibrates, you feel it, but it’s not loud or violent like a cell phone’s vibration.

Conclusion

The app is very 1.0. The band only tracks steps, so if you do a lot of cycling or other arm-stationary exercise, it’s not going to be very accurate. At least with me, when I cycle, I take my iPhone in one of my panniers and the App can use the iPhone’s GPS to track my movement. The band, however, still clocks some “steps” as I hit bumps in the road, but it’s horribly inaccurate on that since I’m not really walking. It’d be worthless on a treadmill or stationary bike.

The app needs calorie counting in an easy way to be really great. If I take a picture of a slice of pizza, I’d like to see it say, “That looks like pizza. The average slice of non-meat pizza is XX calories.” Then I could get a clearer picture of my diet and intake.

The band is comfy, has 10 hour battery life (and I believe that) and is stylish enough not to look dorky.

Overall, it’s better than nothing when it comes to metrics. The sleep cycle monitor is worth it, in my book. This would be perfect if you’re modestly fitness-inclined. I think I’m too far above that to be really impressed by it, but for $99, buy it, enjoy what does work and look forward to the free app updates in the future.

I know what killed my mother

Just a quick disclaimer: this is probably going to end up rather lengthy and deeply personal. I’m writing this for myself, for anyone who suffers from depression, anxiety, cancer, disease or any other illness.

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This is a bittersweet time of the year for me. In November, when most people celebrate Thanksgiving, I do not. No one in my family really does anymore since my mom died. November is also the month I put in my resignation to quit my job at the State. December 1 marks the two year mark for me running my own business.

Speaking of December, when most people celebrate Christmas, I do not. The last memory I have of Christmas was in 2000, when I was 14, with my mom sitting on the floor of our living room, her shaved and scarred head wrapped in a thick layer of gauze. She had had her second brain surgery to remove a brain tumor just a month earlier. Like always, she made sure there were presents under the tree for me and my grandmother and my dad. And like always, she made sure to have each of them neatly wrapped and labeled. Except this year, as she sat on the floor, she wasn’t able to write so well anymore. Her spelling was off, her once pretty handwriting had been reduced to scribbles. She didn’t have enough labels, so she was forced to scribble over misspellings. The wrapping paper wasn’t as neatly folded as it once was because her vision was starting to fail in one eye. My memory from that year is of me sitting on the couch, looking down at her, as she squinted at the labels on the presents and refused our help to sort them. It wasn’t long after that that she became completely immobile, blind, deaf, incapable of coherent speech, constipated and in pain. She lived most of 2001 that way and then she died in January 2002, just two years and two days after she was diagnosed.

And in January, this January 18, 2012 at 11:14 a.m., I will travel to a small cemetery outside of Pekin, Indiana, in rural Washington County where mom and her grandparents and her little brother (who died two days after birth), are buried. I will place a wreath of red roses (her favorite) on her grave and mark the 10 year anniversary of her death. She was born on August 26, 1961. She was 41 years old.

Now, a decade later, I’m 24 years old. I know and have experienced a few more things now than I had then. Then, and up until somewhat very recently, I suffered from chronic depression. Taking care of my dying mother, living for two years knowing that she could die at literally any second, coming to terms with my sexuality, puberty and enduring the American Hell that is high school drained me. In recent memory, working at a depressing and draining job, struggling with dating and breakups, close friends that seemingly moved away in a constant stream, balancing finances and avoiding the debt for school, my dad’s near constant four-year unemployment and other things left my physically and emotionally void.

For a while it was incredibly difficult for me on a variety of levels for a variety of things, things that I’d rather not bore you with or rehash at this moment, but know that I’m speaking about things that most people don’t suffer with or endure much (or ever) in their lifetime. I’ve never told anyone personally about the things that happened to me during a period of time in my life between about 2008-2010.

And for a while in 2010 I tried medications to help with the stress and depression. I was diagnosed with kidney stones that year, too, and racked up medical bills that, thankfully, I’ve managed to pay off with the “help” of the insurance company (the same one that later revoked my coverage for ulcers and urinary tract problems). For a while, I tried modifying my diet to reduce some things, but it proved difficult because of my relationship at the time. It was the same ol’ problems, around and around.

And now, in 2011, I feel like I have the knowledge, the experience, the solution and the living proof to my problems of ulcers, depression, kidney stones, headaches, lethargy and weight gain: my diet.

I’ve long sworn-off fast food. I haven’t touched a fast food burger in about 7 years now, since 2005. But it wasn’t until 2010 I got a little more serious, by removing sodas and other sugary and carbonated beverages from my diet. I did it because my research lead me to believe that most kidney stones and urinary tract problems were caused by sodas. I also started filtering my water religiously to remove as much as I can from the city water. In addition, some stones are caused by calcium bond formations in the kidneys, calcium that’s usually delivered in large quantities by red meat.

So, I tried reducing the amount of meat I ate. And I started to feel pretty good.

And now, for the last month or so, I’ve taken my diet to a new level: I eat only whole foods and whole grains, based entirely on plants. I exercise more now than I ever have in my life by cycling, which I found that I love. For it, I feel better now that I have my entire life.

Some say that my diet is too extreme, too hard to live by and too restricting. To that I say: “Name me various kinds of red meat.” To which you will reply “Beef, pork, chicken.” You could go on to say venison, sheep, buffalo, etc., but really, people eat three main animals: cows, pigs and chicken because that’s what’s lining the shelves at the store. And then I will say, “Name me various kinds of edible plants.” To which you will reply, “Grapes, strawberries, cashews, peanuts, lettuce, wheat, corn, green beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, bok choy, celery, oranges, apples…” and on and on. I imagine the combinations of vegetarian dishes works out to many thousands. I do not think three meats can do that. Maybe if you’re generous and pretend that different cuts of meat are in fact different “things”. But in my book, chicken tenders, chicken breast and chicken nuggets are all the same.

Going to a whole foods diet sucks for the first couple of weeks. I lived my entire life around concocting meals by asking, “What meat do I want?” And then throwing “something else” around it. Now that I’ve gotten my bearings around this new style of cooking, the food’s actually just as easy and tasty to prepare as any meat dish ever could be. I don’t miss it.

In the last month I’ve lost about 10 pounds. This morning I weighed in at 158.5 pounds. I’ve been losing about a half pound every two or three days and I still eat about as much as I used to in volume. Heck, I’ve got two dozen oatmeal raisin cookies sitting on the counter right now.

My mood is extremely better, my body is clearly (and trust me on this one) pushing out a bunch of crap. Literally. I didn’t know a person could have so many bowel movements in a day. The high amount of fiber I’m taking in is working.

But enough on that matter; the point is this: I feel and am a whole lot better than I was just a month ago. I’m leaner, happier, more focused and more energetic. I rarely feel “stuffed” anymore, to the point of sickness, but instead I feel “completely full”. You know, like how you feel when you eat at a buffet right before you cram in “just one more plate”. And it doesn’t break the bank, I spend just as much on groceries as I did when I bought a lot of meat. I just spend it on different things now.

I’m able to cycle 20-30 miles in a weekend, plus another 30-50 miles throughout the week. This week I’ve not started my car once; I’m not even sure it will start at this point. Who knows; and I don’t even really care.

I’ve done some research, only after I’ve started eating whole foods, and it backs up what I’m experiencing. I’ve read books from the library, including “Diet for a Small Planet“, which is probably the most all-encompassing that I’ve read. I could go into the science behind it, but I won’t. However, I will say that it seems very clear to me that the science is there and repressed a great deal by concerned interests, particularly in the government. I mean, just this week Congress voted to make pizza a vegetable because it contains 2 tablespoons of tomato paste for sauce. Why? Because the frozen pizza companies, yes, those Titans of Industry, didn’t like the idea of not selling all that gray, frozen pizza to school cafeterias.

The gist of the science is this: plenty of things give you protein, not just meat (ever eat a peanut? Those fuckers are great, aren’t they?). In fact, your body can only absorb so much protein, which isn’t much. The rest is wasted, which means most of that protein in your steak just gets wasted or stored as fat.

Why am I so adamant about this now? Why do I see fit to tell everyone I can about this? Because in addition to knowing and experiencing this now at the age of 24, I also know that the shitty diet you have of sodas, fast food, processed frozen crap like frozen pizzas and fries and macaroni and cheese in a box plus the money-driven drugs for your depression, anxiety, pain, jitters and emotions is killing you.

It killed my mother, that’s for damn sure.

We lived in the wide open countryside of Washington County. We didn’t have pollution problems. We had water from a natural well under our front yard. Mom was a homemaker, so she didn’t have stresses of a job. Dad made good money at his factory job at the time (it’s since gone), so we didn’t have terrible financial troubles. I went to a good school and got good grades, I was not causing her any stress.

Her diet, however, consisted of sodas. In the 14 years I knew my mother, I never once saw her drink a glass of water. It was always sodas or heavily-sweetened tea (I still drink plenty of sweet tea, but only with two tablespoons of natural sugar per 8 cups of water). Mom drank so much Big Red soda her tongue was often just as red. We ate a lot of fried foods, particularly sodium-heavy ready-made things like Hamburger Helper meals, things that came frozen like frozen pizzas and fries, plenty of red meat like pot roasts and pork chops and steaks. In the summer we’d eat a lot of fresh tomatoes from the garden, because that’s what my dad would always grow. We’d slather them on white bread (which is completely void of anything nutritious, at all), Miracle Whip and bacon, hold the lettuce. It was a BLT minus the L (the healthiest thing).

Then, after mom was diagnosed, that’s what we kept eating and drinking. Mom went in for three surgeries, endured intense amounts of radiation — even going as far as implanting radiation and chemotherapy wafers directly into her brain — and was on medications galore. She took a pill for something every hour of the day around the clock, including numerous “experimental pills” that the doctors at University of Louisville and Norton Healthcare claimed did “very, very well in the clinical trials” at reducing the sizes of tumors.

Well, you know what, of course they did well in the clinical trials. Has anyone ever heard of a drug that didn’t do well in a clinical trial? Of course you haven’t because they always “do well” at something.

Then, after mom would have surgery or visit the hospital, they’d feed her Jello and white bread (toast); she’d have a Pepsi to drink. Really? Seriously? Did no one think it prudent to maybe give her carrots or tomato juice? Mom loved tomato juice — it was the only thing she’d drink when she was pregnant with me because she said it was the only thing she could keep down. That and 7 Up, because again, she never drank water.

If I could go back in time, I honestly believe that if mom started a whole foods diet in the mid 90’s or even the late 90’s, she’d still be alive today.

You’re saying to yourself right now, “Well, Justin, we’ve all gotta go sometime! And if we do, I want to enjoy my cheeseburgers.”

To that, I say, “You’re flat wrong.” If you think it’s normal for human beings to sit around like sloths because you’re “always tired”, or for people to die before they’re 40 for something that wasn’t a surreal accident or that it’s normal for people to be grotesquely fat or for you to have random aches and pains in your 20s or 30s, then fine, go ahead. If you think it’s normal to take a pill because you’re always “angry” or “upset” or that it’s normal to give kids pills to make them calm down or that it’s normal for elementary school kids to have diabetes or be so fat they have to use special reinforced chairs, I hope that cheeseburger is freaking delicious. Add a few more and you’ll be dead, or, at best, living on a diet rich in expensive drugs designed to treat symptoms just so you can function.

As proof, one only need to visit Japan. Ever see a fat guy in Japan? No you have not. Ever hear of a cancer epidemic in Japan? No you have not, because they have one of the lowest rates in the world for overall cancers. Rates of some cancers, like breast cancers, barely infects half a percent of their population. This is, of course, changing now that the Japanese are leaving their diets high in fish and vegetables for…”the traditional western diet.” KFC and McDonalds are growing fast there. In addition to the Japanese, this is why I don’t worry about the Chinese, because our diet will kill off their people with hardly anyone paying attention as to why.

Hippocrates believed that the body had an “innate ability to heal itself”. He believed that it was up to the doctor to help springboard the recovery of their patient by just giving them the right vitamins and minerals. The human body would take care of the rest. You have to agree that as our diets have gotten worse, the amount of deaths by cancer keep growing, even after the outlays in spending to research cancer treatments grows and grows each year. I don’t think that’s just a coincidence. And when’s the last time you felt like your government was really doing anything useful for you anyway?

Our medical system is so expensive because we have the worst diet of anyone in the world. All that crap people eat is killing our hearts and brains and keeps us inventing other things that don’t naturally exist to help the problems that also shouldn’t naturally exist! Granted, our system is great at trauma — if you get hit in the head or get stabbed with a rod in a car accident, our system does wonders. But disease? It’s pathetic.

I’m convinced eating crap turns you into crap. I’m convinced that the drugs people take for a medley of issues are completely made-up and designed to “temporarily cure” the symptoms, but never the problem. What use is it for people to take Prozac once if they can’t ever take it again? Keep taking it and paying for it and hey, everything’s “better”. Your Big Macs make you sad and depressed, not your life. If you have to take pills just to “function”, why does that seem normal to you? Do you think people in the colonial era had problems with ADHD and stress and depression? Certainly not at the rates we see today.

You can take expensive pills, or just eat foods rich in Niacin (Vitamin B3; like mushrooms, peas and beans), which has been proven to lift a person’s mood. At a fraction of the cost, that’s for sure. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous suggested that his patients take Niacin to help their recovery based on his own experience and research of dozens of patients. But, by the time he suggested it, other medical groups had already inserted their influence and decided against that. They favored new drugs on the market instead. Somehow, in our society, a multivitamin can be dangerous in large doses, but Ambien is just fine (another pill, of which, I took for a while because of sleeping problems caused by two years of waking up at odd hours of the night to be with mom).

At the very least, stop eating white bread (look for “whole grain”, not just “whole wheat” — by USDA standards, a bread can be considered “whole wheat” just by sprinkling the wheat grains on the top of the bread after it’s been processed out, which makes it completely nutritionally defunct, like sprinkling boiled and rotten apple slices on top of a doughnut.). And stop eating fast food — tacos aren’t supposed to cost 69 cents and come in boxes labeled as “MEAT PRODUCT”. Food isn’t supposed to be manufactured, period.

Why isn’t everyone shaking their heads and wondering what’s gone wrong? How are people not questioning things they put into them more?

I know I’m right about this. I just wish I knew it in 1999.

I think I’m going to run for Indianapolis Mayor

Indianapolis just had an election for Mayor, with Republican Greg Ballard winning, albeit closely, to Democrat Melina Kennedy. I think Greg Ballard’s a pretty good guy and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him a few times, too. I voted for him in the last election.

The next election for Mayor is in 2015, and I want to run for the position as an Independent. This two-party system is ridiculous. There’s no reason why a fiscally smart guy like me can’t also be open to liberal and progressive thought, freethinking and diversity. Those two things can exist inside the same brain. It’s not water-and-oil.

I’m actually very serious about this, and I’m curious whether this strikes your fancy. For now, I wanted to share with you a brief overview of some of the ideas I have. Some won’t win me any fans in entrenched circles, but I’m not really bothered by that.

Transportation

We’ll have to wait and see where Greg Ballard takes us in the next four years on transportation. My assumption is “about as far as IndyGo can take you now.” Which is to say, not very far.

Because of our 19th century model of county government, this region doesn’t actually think like a region. The people in Hamilton County act completely independently of Marion or Johnson and other counties, yet people wouldn’t exist in those locales in the numbers they do today if it weren’t for Indianapolis. As a result, it’s up to the State legislature to approve the funding and taxation required to build a good transit system.

That worked for Lucas Oil Stadium, which arguably, a very small minority of people in the region actually use. Yet we all pay for it with our cheeseburgers and sodas through a food and beverage tax in the nine-county area. There’s two million people and the whole stadium holds, at most, 70,000 people. Someone got screwed, and I think it’s “most of us”. Yet, there’s a big difference between a $720 million dollar stadium and a $2.5 billion dollar 25-year transit plan, albeit, the differences in utility and vast.

Since the State Legislature is comprised mostly of people from places “not Indianapolis”, I doubt anything happens. People in Crawford County don’t give a hoot what Indianapolis wants or needs.

Screw the state legislature, it’s time for Indianapolis to do what’s best for Indianapolis. I’d try to get all the mayors and county councils from neighboring counties together in a room and I’d say, “Look, we can’t just build highways out of this problem. This is not sustainable. Half of you can’t even handle the soil problems coming up because of all the urban sprawl.” With any luck, we could create a mutual transit fund to help our suburban friends get to work.

But since that would require people in far off lands, like, uh, Carmel, to contribute to something that also benefits Indianapolis, I doubt that happens, either.

So it’s up to Marion County to fund what Marion County wants. We might not be able to afford a $2.5 billion transit plan to build light rail and hover cars, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t afford $500 million to beef up IndyGo.

I don’t actually think Indianapolis is quite ready for a light rail system — I just don’t think the density is there. At least not right away, but maybe someday. instead, there’s no reason why Indianapolis can’t have the best damn bus system in America. Currently, we’re ranked 99th — just behind a guy with a potato cart in Boise, I think.

I honestly don’t think there’s any money to be found in making the current IndyGo more efficient. If anything, I think that’s the one agency in Indianapolis we can all agree is barely scraping by and isn’t wasting much of anything except the time and patience of riders and would-be patrons. It costs money to run busses all over the place all the time.

I support IndyConnect’s proposed bus enhancement plan. It’s supported by businesses and residents alike, promotes cross-city routes that means you won’t have to hop a bus to go Downtown only to go up the road to Castelton from Irvington. With the expanded bike routes that Indianapolis is building under Greg Ballard’s tenure, bicycling a short distance to go a long distance is an added bonus. Imagine an Indianapolis where a bus stop runs within with a mile of your front door, at most, and when you get there, a bus is there in 10 minutes or less. Hop on and go.

At least 15% of your income goes to your car if you make a payment, maybe more. Think about the savings you stand to gain.

To pay for it all, there’s no bones about it, it’s most likely going to come from tax increases. I also think tiered rider fees are fair. If you’re on welfare or unemployment, you can get a temporary discount until you get a job or until your discount expires. If you live in a million dollar home in Washington Township, expect to pay full price for a ride.

It puts more money in the pockets of more people, increases disposable income for residents to spend locally and makes us even more attractive to the young, the elderly in need of transportation and businesses looking to setup shop someplace with a lot of people traffic.

Crime

I’ve asked a lot of people and talked to a lot more about crime in Indianapolis. By the sound of some people, you’d think we’re all about ten minutes from a shoot-out at the Ok-Coralle smack in the middle of Meridian Street. Most don’t feel one way or another on crime, however.

Police forces by their very nature are reactive. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they can be proactive by being in just the right place at the right time, like if you were about to see someone back into a car and you could stop them. But that’s rare. Even if the number of police on the streets reached a ratio of 2:1, there’d still be crime. And to be truly proactive, that would require a level of Orwellian surveillance that none of us are excited or impressed by.

Murders, assaults and rapes do not happen because everyone’s crazy or insane. I happen to believe that most people are inherently good. Crime happens when people reach a situation where they are completely incapable of identifying any other alternative. They have no money, they need to eat, so they rob a gas station and someone gets hurt in the process. Again, unless you want to pay for armed guards at every gas station in the city, all the restructuring and rejiggering of the police force in the world won’t solve this problem.

Crime prevention programs aren’t very effective because most criminals don’t exactly pickup a copy of the Indianapolis Star each morning and read about all the programs and things they can do.

And this is because they probably don’t have much respect for education. No one disputes that educated people are much less likely to commit aggressive crimes.

In most of America, it costs more to send someone to prison than it does to send them to school. That’s a pretty striking example of some messed up priorities.

So here’s an idea everyone can get behind because it helps adults, reduces the prison population and saves money at the same time: how about we start turning prison cells into classrooms? There is absolutely no reason why a person in jail, particularly if they’ve done something “soft”, like drug or alcohol abuse, has to sit there and stare at a wall or play basketball or lift weights all day and not know how to read. Instead of training jailers and prison staff to be disciplinarians, how about we also train them to teach?

Give prisoners real support, so we can return them into society and hopefully not encounter another run-in with them again. Plenty of people are in need of just the kind of labor former prisoners can provide.

But what about preventing them from getting into prison in the first place? That leads me to my next issue…

Education

Education at this level of government is hard. The state has an increasingly dominant role in public schools. Indianapolis Public Schools and its Superintendent Eugene White and the school board do  not report to the Mayor. The Mayor’s office has absolutely no control over what IPS or Warren or Wayne or any of the other township schools do or do not do.

So it’s with a heavy set of shackles on our arms that we try to move forward by offering ideas, but ideas are cheap. Execution matters.

Prior administrations have made Charter Schools, a form of public school that exists outside of the control of the school districts and are directly under the Mayor’s office. They’re some good charters out there, and they’re some crummy ones, too, that should be shut down.

Running a sort of phantom school system just to run around another is costly, ridiculous and unfair to students, teachers, parents and tax payers.

But, that’s the boat we’re in now and it won’t be easy or quick to change it. It’s seemingly the only solution we’ve got, so let’s run with it. Ideally, under the charters, I’d like to see an increase in teacher qualifications, standards and prior experience.

I’ve sat in a lot of classrooms, admittedly not charter classrooms, but I’ve sat in a lot of classrooms where the teachers are teaching a topic and they’re not necessarily up-to-date on the content themselves, and they willingly and knowingly admit this to me. This is particularly true of courses centered around science, technology and engineering.

A lot of teachers (not all, but some) might even admit that in retrospect, their training and education was focused on “how to teach”, not “what to teach”. This is useful in a lot of circumstances, like trying to help a young student learn to read when they’re struggling, but this isn’t the best approach for every situation.

Most of Indianapolis’ elementary schools are actually pretty good. Things start to break down in middle schools and high schools are what most would describe as deplorable.

If I’m learning chemistry, I’d rather be taught by a really passionate chemist who actually worked in the field for a number of years, not just someone who went to school 20 years ago to learn chemistry and has been teaching it ever since. Getting professionals to teach brings in a level of excitement, passion and subtle skills and knowledge that’s contagious, and it infects the students around them. My own experience teaching tells me that when students know actual, valuable, useful work is being produced, the interest level is sky-high.

Colleges and universities do it all the time, hiring adjunct faculty that teach a class after having done their trade themselves for years. Some of the best classes I ever had at IU were by those people, not career professors. I want to bring that to our middle and high schools. Let Language Arts be taught by actual writers and poets, let Journalism be taught by actual journalists, let web development and computer programming courses be taught by actual computer programmers and designers.

Giving students the access to people who are actually making something of themselves brings a level of inspiration to the classroom, just like some students get inspired to be teachers by seeing their teachers teach. Let’s broaden that and allow qualified and upstanding professionals teach their trades. No one knows better what they want to see in future co-workers than people in their industry.

Let them do what they do best: innovate, inspire and produce results.

Miscellaneous Matters

  • I want to blog my entire time in office. If the office is to be truly transparent, then that should start with me and my work. If I have a meeting with the water company about repairing some pipes under Washington Street, then I should write about it, let people know and explain the decisions we reached. If we decided to delay repairs because of bad weather, then I’ll explain it. If we decided to do it right now, despite some traffic flow issues, then I should explain that, too.
  • I’d invite a journalist from The Indianapolis Star, IBJ or Nuvo to hang around during the day, but I doubt they take me up on my offer to have someone reporting on everything.
  • I quite literally want to remove every copy machine from the City-County Building. There is no reason why, in 2011, that everything must still be printed on paper. I’d be taking a serious look at the number of administrative assistants in that building, too. Some are needed, no doubt, but people can and should manage their own resources, schedules and work.
  • I think the era of direct-democracy is darn close. I’d like to build a website that functions similar to Digg or Reddit that allows people to vote up or down issues of the greatest importance to them. It’d be secure, allow you to vote only once on each issue (and you can change your mind, of course), and it would help me and the City-County Council keep our finger on the pulse of the city. Residents can propose ideas, post responses and offer their ideas on a host of matters that might otherwise go unnoticed but reflect on the livability of the city.
  • I’ll only stay in office one term unless it’s clear that my leaving after just one term is clearly not the majority opinion of residents.

Sound like a good start? Sound worth my time? Worth fighting for?

Someone has to explain why gross income is a thing

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a baker. I own the bakery, you work for me and I ask you to make a cake. I might say, “I need you to bake me a cake. Make it two layers, with frosting, sprinkles and pretty icing along the edges.”

You say, “OK! Great!” And you get to work. You get all of your ingredients ready and at arm’s reach. You have just enough to make what you need to make a really great cake. But just as you start to work I say, “Oh, but I’m going to need one of those eggs, half of your sprinkles, about a cup of sugar and half a pound of flour. I hope that’s okay. I need it so I can give some smaller cakes to some kids down the street.”

“Oh, okay.” You say. “But, that won’t make for a very good cake for them. And it means I won’t have enough for the cake you requested.”

“Hmm. Well. Just make a cake anyway.” I say. And so you do and it turns out like crap. And the smaller cupcakes I make for the other kids are crap, too.

Now you’re thinking, “Yeah, you’re insane. I can’t make a cake if you take away any of of my ingredients!” Maybe you can do without the sprinkles, but that’s hardly anything in the grand scheme of the cake.

But this is what the government does all the time with benefits and services — it looks at your “gross income”, as opposed to what you actually have to, you know, use. Things like health insurance and other non-government benefits even look at gross income for tax purposes. In this case, the baker had his gross, in that he did have all the ingredients he needed to make a really great cake. But I came by and took some for the benefit of others, a noble goal, but now we’re left with crap. Neither of us gets a good cake now.

Now you’re thinking, “Oh Justin, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too.” Well, yes, actually, I do. Shouldn’t everyone strive for that? I’ve not even been bitten by this problem, either, it just strikes me as dumb.

When I worked at the State and my boss told me I was getting a raise the first thing that popped in my mind was, “Great! Now how much do I really make?” I don’t give a shit if I make a $50,000 dollars a year if I only get to take $30,000 of it home with me to actually spend on food and rent.

Someone has to explain to me why gross income exists. It shouldn’t, because it adds confusion and obfuscation to already complicated matters, which is precisely how you trick people into doing the wrong thing (see: the phone companies).

I wish I could say I had a solution to this problem, but I don’t. My best idea is that you have to do away with tax withholding and send people a bill twice a year — like property taxes. They get their income and they can do whatever, but they have to be prepared. And they would know precisely how much they pay in taxes each year. You show me a guy who has tax withholding and I’ll show you a guy who has no clue how much he pays in income taxes each year.

The existing system is going nowhere positive, but again, this strikes me as dumb. I imagine gross income exists because politicians and companies needed a way to artificially inflate people’s earnings to make them sound like they make more than they really do.

I’m not even ranting about lowering or raising taxes. It’s just that one component to it seems designed from the very beginning to be a way to screw people.