Orlando, guns, and why your dog is happier

There’s this illustration that always makes me smile:

Do-you-know-why-your-dog-is-happier-than-you

I think about that little drawing more than any other cartoon with possible exception of The Simpsons. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this weekend and saw the news about Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting. The first story I read was from the NY Times. It was still early, so details were scant. It initially reported 20 dead, 40 injured. I thought of this drawing, then I thought, “It was probably a gay bar. The shooter was probably some closeted Muslim-looking guy.” Then I thought of that drawing again.

Whether it wasn’t PC for me to think that or not, that’s what I thought.

Jeremiah and I marched in Circle City Pride this weekend. If someone had told me ten years ago I’d be marching in a parade I’d have kicked them in the shin. But there I was, walking alongside a handful of other folks from the Enterprise Republicans, a group doing the daunting work of moving the rest of the Indiana Republican party on social issues. We’re Mitch Daniels types. Indiana’s a Republican state, if you hadn’t noticed. We can’t expect to move tens of thousands of voters to a whole new party to fix one really big, really bad, problem. It has to be done from within.

As we were walking along I kept seeing the faces of people in the crowd. There were a lot of confused looks and people unsure of what the hell we were doing there.

It wasn’t comfortable, to say nothing of the temperatures.

I kept running up to people and saying, “We’re not fans of Mike Pence either.” Others were playing the same riff: “Some of us understand we have to respect everyone”, or, “Not all of us are like what you think.” Ironic given the locale.

Throughout the whole parade route, the thought that someone might have a gun pointed at me crossed my mind. It’s just one of the things in my thought bubble as I was walking. You don’t go through life in Washington County as a gay teen in the early 2000’s and not think about that sort of thing.

Truth is, everyone feels hate toward some other group. I feel it on my commute when people show anger at bicyclists. I felt it in the damn Pride Parade for heaven’s sake.

This country isn’t likely to move on gun control because of a mass killing in a gay bar. If white elementary school students didn’t do it, this won’t either. Plus, we’re fighting an uphill battle against the 2nd Amendment (do you really think we can start to ratify something for the Constitution this year? Next year?).

The connection between gun laws and crime isn’t even settled. Any research showing the more gun laws a state has translates to fewer deaths isn’t even solid cause-and-effect. It could be that low gun deaths in a state just correlates to low gun owners, and low gun owners means less opposition to gun laws. It’s correlation, not causation, even though the outcome looks promising.

It’s understandable that when it comes to feelings of powerlessness, a lot of people will try to even the odds. Many do so with guns. I own a gun, but it rarely moves. But I do think about whether I’d be safer wearing it sometimes. At the very least I think I’d feel safer even if it is more likely to incite an escalation.

Regardless, like most people, I probably won’t do much different. Just file away all those thoughts for later processing like I and many others do. Just one more thing in our thought bubble.

To my urbanist and Sanders supporting friends, a word.

To my urbanist friends supporting Bernie and other government-funded solutions to problems of everyday Americans: I think I can open your eyes to something.

In my earlier post about Trump and Sanders supporters I said that in places like the Ohio Valley, government solutions seldom work because they almost never occur at a useful scale. Not since the Post Office and electricity. And thus the rise of Trump: “Why would I pay for something for someone else when we know we get nothing?”

Let’s shrink this down to a smaller area: Marion County.

Here are some perfectly valid claims, ones that many of you are highly supportive of:

  1. “Can I get some sidewalks near my home? It’s dangerous on the street without them, and at night people can’t go out without risking death.”
  2. “Can we build some trails so my spouse and I can have a place to exercise and lose weight?”
  3. “It’s getting tough to for us and the city to afford to operate a private car, and the city’s unable to maintain the roads well, how about more mass transit?”
  4. “Can we get our now 15-year old road re-surfaced? It floods a lot, too.”
  5. “Can we get more streetlights? Maybe it can help reduce crime?”

To many of my friends, these are all fantastic things that must and should be done. We’ll vote in referendums, we’ll lobby for increased funding, we’ll talk to our political leaders.

I know I have. I’ve been saying every one of those things for about 9 years now. Why such a specific number? Because that’s when I bought my house. In Marion County. 7 miles from Downtown. Just a few miles from Fountain Square and Irvington.

What do I have?

  1. No sidewalks anywhere outside my neighborhood.
  2. No trails nearby except the Pennsy Trail, which is unsafe by any means to get to on a bike from me, and appears to be on a completion time of 67 years. For most of the last 9 years it was a 1.25 mile stretch.
  3. My bus route gets “streamlined” to a 15-minute walk away from my house (it used to be right out the door), and I get to walk along a crap road that’s barely lit with a muddy, hole-ridden, chemical-stained shoulder.
  4. My arterial street hasn’t seen much beyond some quick hot-mix patches over the last 12 or 13 years. Stretches so bad people drive in the turn lanes to avoid the driving lane.
  5. Streetlights burn out and don’t get replaced, or are spaced so far apart I’m better off using my phone’s flashlight function.

What do I get told?

  1. We have a master plan for sidewalks, and we’re building it out 3 years at a time.
  2. We’re working on our master plan for trail connectivity over the next 20 years.
  3. We’re working on a new bus master transit plan with higher frequency and faster service. It’ll be great in 2021!
  4. We’re waiting for funding. It’s on the list.
  5. We’re going to replace every street light with new LED ones and put more in where they’re needed most.

Great!

Except not a single one of those things impacts me at all. And I do mean at all.

  1. The sidewalk plan has me in a tier 2 area. So expect something in about 15 years, if ever.
  2. The master plan for trails doesn’t come within 7 miles of me.
  3. The new transit plan leaves my route largely unchanged. Same 15-minute walk, same 60-minute frequency. Just some longer hours at times of night I don’t go anywhere anyway. In fact, the part of my route I care most about (Prospect, along through Fountain Square) will go away and instead carry me along English Ave. I think there’s a Dairy Queen along in there somewhere.
  4. Southeastern Ave. hasn’t been repaved in at least 13 years. In that same time Fall Creek Parkway is paved like the Speedway and Kessler, another Tier-2 road, has been resurfaced 4 times.
  5. We’ll see if Joe Hogsett lives up to his promise for more streetlights, but I’m not holding my breath.

And why am I told all those? This is where my urbanist friends have reasonable suggestions:

  1. We have to build where there’s the most demand!
  2. The trails will be great in high-density neighborhoods!
  3. Transit works best when it’s simple routes through dense places!
  4. We should have fewer roads so we can afford to maintain them!

You can see where this is going, right? You’ve chosen a set of “winners” and a lot of “losers”.

Can you imagine why a person loses faith very, very, quickly in these sorts of things? Government promises something, and doesn’t deliver. Or what it does deliver is lousy. And the reasons why are simply, “There’s just more over here.” More voters, more money, more everything. And here I sit, in a moderately dense area with nothing special. We’re not 38th street and we’re not Wanamaker.

And you want me to say, “Yes, let’s pay just a little more in taxes to cover these things!” Ok…but, do I like, get to use any of them? I’d rather not have to drive 20 minutes to Broad Ripple to use the Monon with my dog. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

This is how rural voters feel about everything. They don’t even get water. After a while, those of us who live in cities start to look really stupid for promising things to people that never come. These folks aren’t stupid. They’re literally working in their best interests because they’ve seen this movie before.

And here I am, 7 miles from the epicenter of our city, in a house I bought in Marion County to fight against suburban flight and I’m rewarded with, well, not much. Fire protection is pretty good.

So when someone comes along like Trump and says, “You know what, let’s just stop all this nonsense”, there’s some there there for a lot of people. This is why I have such a libertarian streak in me, too. It’s why I trudge along in ways no one else would. Not many of my urbanist cyclist friends would bike where I do and in the conditions I do. Not many people would put up with the walking I do. Because all I can do is what I do for everything: will it into existence. My desire to not spend money on a car is far above my desire to stay a little dryer when it rains. I’ll just wear a rain coat.

I still support all those things for Indianapolis. I just wish that after all my jumping up and down someone would at least throw me a bone. I can hear someone now saying, “Well this is good for all of Indianapolis.” Yeah, that’s nice, but it’s also sorta like saying, “What’s good for New York is good for Indianapolis.” No, it almost certainly is not. That’s patronizing and I wish you’d stop.

You probably are working harder and longer

Pete Ross, talking about Bernie and other countries that spend more domestically:

“That way no one has to live in fear of losing out in the lottery of life. That’s what social democracy is, and those of us who live in them recognize that what we have is pretty damn great.”

This sort of thinking is common outside America, and one that Bernie supporters hang their hat on. They’re not wrong insisting that instead of spending money on foreign matters we should spend it here. But a guy in Australia doesn’t get to claim a high horse for that country’s high domestic spending. The reality is Australia and other nations get to have high domestic spending precisely because the United States is picking up the tab for their defense. Canada, for instance, would be a much different place if they knew we weren’t here. Just as Indianapolis would be a much different place if Carmel would just pay for all our police officers.

This behavior is so pervasive even Barack Obama is pissed, urging NATO allies to increase their funding for defense based on their GDP (which is a really dumb measure: on what planet does it make sense to say “I must spend X% of my income on Y”? That’s like walking into a car dealership and saying, “I must spend $25,000.”)

Anyway, I was recently reading about the research of economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, “Measuring Trends in Leisure [PDF]”. They measured the stuff Americans do from day to day between 1965 and 2005.

“Aguiar and Hurst document what they call an increase in “leisure” that primarily affected men with low education. In the first survey, in 1965-66, men with college degrees and men who had not completed high school had nearly the same amount of leisure time per week, with just a two-hour difference. They were only an hour apart in 1985. Then something changed. “Between 1985 and 2005…men who had not completed high school increased their leisure time by eight hours per week, while men who had completed college decreased their leisure time by six hours per week.”

In other words, if you’re sitting around feeling like you’re doing a lot more work and others are doing quite the opposite, you’re probably right. More Americans, particularly low-educated men, are just plain spending more time goofing off. This research indicates college-educated people are working more hours and producing more, while the bottom has gone the other way. On a chart it almost looks like half the country is working twice as hard to make up for the opposite decrease on the other end.

And here in America, where our culture derives from four virtues of honesty, industriousness, family, and religiosity, goofing off pisses people off in the “industriousness” virtue and part of the “honesty” virtue. No one wants to work all day just so some other guy can coast along. That feeling is so pervasive a lot of people can’t get past the fact our own uncle is drowning in medical issues. This is why Trump/Cruz supporters are so mad, even if they’re the ones most likely goofing off the most.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m aware a lot of people don’t goof off and just have a hard time in life. But it doesn’t change the fact most people know more people who are plain lazy than people who have been bankrupted through medical bills or student loans. I say that as someone who lost a mother to a $2 million tumor.

And to be clear: this kind of leisure activity people are doing isn’t even what you could describe as active leisure, like reading a book or exercising. It’s mostly watching TV.

We’ve found ourselves in a cultural deadlock between not wanting to support lazy people and caring about the truly unfortunate. But apparently we spend all our time working to support a big military so every other country can have high domestic spending. This is a tough nut to crack in either direction for Bernie or Trump/Cruz.

And this increase in useless leisure on the low end and the decrease in available time on the high end probably leads us to a lot more problems, like low civic engagement, low community involvement, and less time building worthwhile relationships.

Why do Republicans worry about immigrants so much?

I’ve been doing some homework lately on political history and beliefs. Things like, “Why do Republicans worry about immigrants so much?” As in, why are Republicans more concerned with immigrants learning to speak English and “act American” than most Democrats?

To the best of my ability from scouring books and threads and editorials and other sources, I’ve formed a reason that makes some sense: immigrants may dilute understanding of the country’s founding and endanger the nation. This is viewed as immigrants not being patriotic enough, loyal enough, or dedicated enough to a unified America.

This notion seems to come from early days of the republic and came to a head around the time of mass Irish immigration. The belief being, “The country is very new, we here are all of the belief we’re better off without a King. What happens if too many people come here and don’t hold that belief?”

It’s not unreasonable that a fledgling American democratic experiment even as late as the 1860’s might sincerely concern itself with the notion of “dilution”. “We all literally came here to get away from that form of government. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to change that.” This is how America’s melting pot theory actually came along as a compromise: you can maintain your customs (we might even come to really like some of them), but this is how our government works. So you can have your cultural-pluralism, but assimilate on a few things, too.

Today this has mutated into more xenophobic arguments. There’s no amount of immigration from, say, Syria, that’s ever going to overtake our democracy with Sharia law. And concerns over draining social services is likely a red herring due to a glut in the market that gets filled. Of course there’s a startling rise in foreign applicants for public benefits once you open it up to them.

If you feed yourself a heavy diet of news on mass immigration, that problem seems much larger to you. However, I’m not convinced the people most vocal about prohibiting immigration are also the same people who understand the historical context. One can also argue that given this crux of the issue, that the American experiment is fragile, it would seem almost insecure to think we’re still insecure today after generations of case law, rulings, policies, and establishment.

I have more faith in the republic today. I have more faith that it will continue to withstand challenges to its principles of democratic rule, for example, than early pioneers and civil-war era citizens likely did.

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.

Pitch

The news has no business being a business.