Indianapolis must stop apologizing for winter

Hallway whiteboard

Last week’s hallway whiteboard outside SuperPixel World Headquarters asked passers-by if expense weren’t an issue, would you move away from Indianapolis or stay here? There was also a little follow-up about why.

It’s highly informal and doesn’t mean much, but it does echo a common refrain: “Indiana’s weather is bad” and “Indiana’s politics are wrong.”

The political issue is what it is. But we have a better chance of changing the weather than we do the Legislature. Or at least we have a better chance of embracing the weather.

Everyone’s gripe is that it’s cold and it snows; which are certainly two defining criteria for “winter.” Indianapolis should stop apologizing for winter. Lots of places have winter. Chicago has a winter. Buffalo has a winter. No one in Buffalo sits around crying about the snow and neither should we.

Instead, Hoosiers should embrace and prepare for it, because there’s another one coming around.

Encourage everyone to put on a thick coat and snow boots and promote sledding, ice skating, skiing (yes, skiing – there are two great slopes just a 90-minute drive away from here), and hockey.

Indianapolis promotes itself as the Sports Capital of the World. We’ve done a lot for basketball, football, racing, and swimming. We’re continuing to improve in baseball, hockey, and soccer. Why not extend that to snowboarding, bobsledding, figure skating, curling, and other winter Olympic sports?

We already have the facility for curling, hockey, and figure skating. Carmel’s interested in building an ice skating rink. Building facilities for Bobsleighs and other winter sports doesn’t seem any more impossible than what we’ve consistently already done. Except skiing, none of this requires a mountain or some other geographic trait we don’t already have.

Open the spectator sports for sports lovers, and you’ll have facilities people can enjoy themselves. Then instead of always complaining about winter and apologizing for it, we can market it and make Indianapolis the most kick-ass winter city in North America.

Is your social media unbalanced? Here’s some help to fix it.

Several people have commented that their social media feeds are depressing, upsetting, bitter, and in most cases: an echo-chamber.

I wrote about this recently on what you can do about “Your Facebook Bubble“, how the algorithm works (particularly on Facebook), and why it’s important. So today I thought I’d share a list of Twitter and other sources you might consider adding to your feeds.

I took the effort a year or more ago to balance out my streams and sources with opposing and bi-partisan sources. if you’re reading a lot of Slate, or getting all your news from Sam Bee, Sean Hannity, or Jon Oliver, try balancing out with some of these folks. I watch Jon Oliver, too, but that doesn’t help the echo-chamber.

I have tried to avoid large “ad” entities, like political parties’ sources, though I follow each just to read what they’re saying. There’s no Drudge or Breitbart here. There’s no hate-mongering people here. I’m looking for smarts, not entertainment.

I also include several Indiana-specific people, too. If you find yourself lacking in knowledge about what’s happening at the State House, these folks are indispensable.

And if you find yourself saying, “Oh, no, I don’t want to see that”, you’ve missed the point and opportunity. If you feel angry at these things, then it’s probably working.

Is this the end-all list? Of course not. But this has helped me understand more sides of important issues.

I’ve linked to Twitter and sites where possible here. Facebook and other URLs can often be found in the bios of these people. You can follow me directly on Twitter @jlharter.

Nicke Gillespie – Journalist at Reason.com, a libertarian-leaning news source.

Reiham Salam – Writer for Slate and the National Review.

Adam Wren – Writer for Indianapolis Monthly and POLITICO.

Charles Cook – Editor for the National Review, frequent panelist on Real Time with Bill Maher

Grover Norquist –President of Americans for Tax Reform (“the tax pledge”), which has the ear of every elected representative in Washington.

Brian Slodysko – AP Political Reporter for Indiana.

Dan Carden – Statehouse Bureau Chief for the Times of NW Indiana.

SCOTUS Blog – Indispensable source for Supreme Court coverage.

Indiana Law Blog – to add to the former, Marcia Odi has done stellar work over the years covering Indiana’s Judiciary.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz – Veteran Indiana politics reporter with a conservative tilt.

Nikki Kelly – can’t recommend following her enough. Great Indiana government and politics reporter covering the State House. One of the few left.

Aaron Renn – Indiana native now working at the conservative Manhattan Institute. An urbanist covering issues related to city growth and economies.

Doug Masson – Lafayette attorney covering Indiana’s politics for about a decade.

Alex Griswold – Media reporter at Mediaite.

Matt Welch – Co-author of the Declaration of Independents.

HHR – The urban conservative blog.

Matt Taibbi – excellent writer and journalist (left-leaning) for Rolling Stone. Also a regular on Real Time With Bill Maher.

Windsor Mann – Writer and editor of The Quotable Hitchens.

David French – Senior Fellow at the conservative National Review Institute.

The Justin Harter Voter Guide to 2016

In case you were wondering who I’m voting for this year, I share my ballot choices here and the reasoning behind them. It forces me to think about my own choices by writing them down. I’ll try to do this in as short and succinct way as I can. Obviously, your ballot choices outside of eastern Marion County will differ.

Public Questions

Amending Indiana’s Constitution to grant the right to hunt, fish, and farm

I voted no. I don’t favor meddling with constitutions and we’ve nearly had 3 measures in recent memory. First among them was the property tax caps, second was barely but not quite a measure to define marriage, and now this. Like I wrote on Facebook, this is a solution in search of a problem for average Hoosiers. Hoosiers haven’t been denied the ability to hunt or fish or farm and likely won’t ever be. What this does do, however, is make it easy for this legislation’s sponsors to run with constitutional authority to build large industrial farming operations. It’s unlikely to impact me in Indianapolis, but if I lived elsewhere and some large CAFO popped up and cratered my property values, I’d be pissed. I’m voting for homeowners, home rule, and local control on this one.

The Marion County Transit Plan – a .25 increase in the income tax

I voted yes. I’m not for or against taxes on principle. I want my taxes to go to things I can at least see and use. In the funding funnel of expensive federal taxes, cheaper state taxes, and even cheaper local taxes, I wish this were inverted. There’s so much confusion about this question in particular and there’s a lot to digest with this.

For one, IndyGo’s banking on this in order to fund the operation of the Red Line rapid transit system. The construction is paid for and likely a done deal. But working within the confines of Washington’s ridiculous funding games, IndyGo has to build the system and worry about funding it later. If this fails, who knows where the money comes from in 2018. But more importantly, I see transportation funding a general win for everyone. If you don’t take the bus, fine. You get to enjoy fewer cars on the road. Neat! If you do, you can get places quicker. Our current system is a tax on people either way. Currently we tax time. We tax people’s time to drive, sit in rush hour traffic, and get to work. I’ll never vote against a measure that helps people get to work – rich or poor.

Elected Offices

President

I’ve written about this before, but I felt pretty okay with my vote for Gary Johnson. Hillary will make for a solid President. Whether she’ll be great, who knows. But in my worldview, the federal government is becoming larger than it can reasonably good at. I’m in favor of local taxation and local control. And, as a matter of health for the country, having more than “two” political parties is a good thing. My two biggest issues with Hillary: I don’t like the idea of the White House passing through families. My first memory of the presidency is of Bill Clinton. Then George W. Bush. I voted against Clinton and for Obama for this reason in 2008 and I still feel the same way.

US Representative, Indiana’s 7th District

Andre Carson vs. perennial runner-up Cat Ping and Libertarian Drew Thompson. I voted for Drew Thompson. I’ve met Drew and he struck me as well-informed, like-minded, and thoughtful. He actually introduced himself to me at an artist’s open house and we chatted for a good 20 minutes. Andre Carson will win because of his family’s name and while I don’t have a problem with him, I believe all elected office holders should have term limits. Carson is past his.

US Senate

It’s Bayh v. Young v. Brenton. This is hard. Really hard. It’s likely a two-way race between Evan Bayh and Todd Young. I voted for Evan Bayh. Which was really hard to do. But I’m not convinced Todd Young knows a dumpster fire when he sees one. He’s moved closer to Trump despite…everything. And I’m unconvinced he’s secular enough or an advocate for personal liberty for gays and lesbians. Therefore, this was my true “lesser of two evils” vote. Bayh violates my term limit rule, but I know what I’m getting with him and if I squint he’s at least been out of the Senate for a couple terms. I expect this race to be very close and thus, I voted for Bayh to ensure a vote against Young where it would presumably count the most.

Governor of Indiana

Anything tied to Mike Pence is to be shunned. Eric Holcomb is too close to Pence. He’s too religious and unlikely to move the ball forward in a progressive Republican way (like Mitch Daniels). Therefore, I’m picking John Gregg.

Ind. Supt. Of Public Instruction

Seeing as how Mike Pence dismantled much of Glenda Ritz’ authority to do anything, it’s hard to say what kind of person she really is. But I’m generally in favor of more school choices, more charters, and more competition. Therefore, I voted for Jennifer McCormick.

Ind. State Senator, Dist. 32

Aaron Freeman strikes me as a loathsome, super-conservative, religious, Pencey toad. I voted for Sara Wiley as a vote against Freeman that would presumably count a little more. Freeman is currently an Indianapolis City Councilor. The kind of dummy who asks questions he knows the answers to just to be spiteful and dickish. He sneaked in on slating for this Senate seat by one last-second vote. The seat is being vacated by 412-term Senator Pat Miller.

State Rep., Dist. 89

A vote for Cindy Kirchoffer is a vote you can feel good about. I’ve met Cindy on a few occasions and have helped knock on some doors for her. If you like sanity in your representatives, you should vote for Cindy. Here’s a fiscally smart woman who bucks her Republican party, presumably despite her own faith, in matters of women’s rights, abortion access, marriage rights, local control, and local planning.

Attorney General

Honestly, this race was so low-key I barely knew it was happening. Attorney General is important because they’re the ones that decides what to waste taxpayer money on “defending”. Judge Arredondo is running from Lake County against Curtis Hill. I don’t know much about either and encourage you to do your own research. But I do know of Judge Arredondo from years ago and found him to be a good fit for Lake County. I voted for Hill.

Judicial Retention

Speaking of judges, two Court of Appeals Judges are up for retention. I voted in favor of retention for Judges Riley and Kirsch.

Indianapolis landscapers should be considered hellscapers.

The funny thing about Indianapolis is how you can bump into people in ways like you might think of in a small town. I guess it’s not impossible a person in Chicago or New York might randomly see someone around town in the course of a day’s errands. But I think it happens more here.

To give you an example I met a guy for coffee one afternoon. I can’t even remember where or why I extended the invitation, but it was probably Facebook. After seeing this guy’s name in a few circles about some website work I figured it was worth a chat. I make it my business to know people in my business.

We meet for bad coffee and service at Mo Joe’s and we talk about the usual niceties. He’s from El Paso, Texas. Works for a local shop that makes websites for high end service groups. In both cases he’s simultaneously more southern and more webby than me. Which is annoying.

Before we go he mentions his boyfriend was at the table right behind me the whole time. Not coincidentally, of course, but we took a few moments to talk about his work. Turns out he’s interested in freelance architecture design that’s more approachable and affordable for average people.

We part ways and a few weeks later my ash tree in the front lawn dies. Those two facts aren’t related, but I also have no proof they aren’t.

And in the funny way Indianapolis ticks, I saw these two guys a couple more times. Once on my bike on the way home. Then again twice in one weekend at two distinctly different places miles apart from each other.

The whole time my ash tree continued its slow death slide into being a literal stick in the ground.

In pursuit of finding a guy to cut down and replace the tree I discovered that the people who cut down trees aren’t the people who put them in the ground. Those seem like obvious lateral business moves to me, but I’m not a lumberjack or a landscaper.

After finding a bunch of quotes from landscapers and tree removers in the range of $500-$1000, these were all far higher than I valued such a service. So applying a process I call “encouraging people to do it for less”, I managed to get a guy to do it for $375. Henson’s Landscaping did a fine job of chopping down the tree and grinding out the stump. I just wish I could have gotten them to give me ideas on the “landscaping” part of their name. But they never returned my call. Like about a dozen other places in town. It was starting to become a vast hellscape of broken promises. I wasn’t indicating anything other than “I have a house. I’d like some landscaping.”

So I turn to calling all kinds of places for quotes on landscaping. All the ones that showed up in trucks with logos on them were immediately out of the running. Too pricey with too much overhead. I know how much guys like me cost, and someone has to pay that logo designer.

And in step with Indianapolis’ modus operandi, these two guys I met for coffee popped in my head. “I bet they know people who know things about trees.”

Turns out they know things about trees. Joey Ponce and Brian Burtch, both operating under the banner of “City in Green” came out to the house and gave me 100% more than at least a dozen other places around here would: in that they actually came to the house and gave me a quote. No other landscaper seemed to bother giving me the quote or showing up when scheduled. Brian’s a licensed architect with his firm NEON Architecture, so the quote even had schematics of my house and property lot. Which was both helpful and creepy.

I like hiring people who operate at small scale. They care more and are way more affordable, but are the hardest to find. I got lucky bumping into these guys.

Brian and Joey gave me an estimate, they stuck to it, and we were able to split things into phases to meet the seasons and my budget. This weekend they came out and replaced the death hole in my front lawn with three new trees. A red maple, dogwood, and eastern redbud. They’ll grow quickly, look good, and they’re not ash trees, so they stand a solid chance of not being eaten alive by supper.

City in Green's first project

Next spring we’ll throw down phase two: a mulch bed off the front of the house with native grasses and plants. And by “we” I mean them while I stand around remembering how much I don’t like to be dirty and Jeremiah makes dinner.

As it turns out this was their first landscaping project. You should be their second. Because this is how Indianapolis works and and stays looking nice.

Dogs

The one thing I miss the most about living on the northwest side of Indianapolis is the close proximity to the Indianapolis Humane Society. For the year I lived up that way I’d routinely volunteer my time with the dogs. Jeremiah would donate some of his time to sitting with the cats. As you can imagine, the dogs are way more fun.

I’d help people check out the dogs, take them out for walks, introduce people to the kinds of dogs they might be describing an interest in (“small”, “short hair”, and “good with kids” was always top of the list). It was always great walking a dog up to the adoption desks with a family.

Here at the house we’re clear on the other side of town and closer to Indianapolis Animal Care than the Humane Society. But Animal Care might as well be on the moon with its clumsy location behind the trash incinerator, the electrical plant, and miles of industrial parks. So I don’t really get to volunteer anywhere now.

Jeremiah and I adopted Ares at Indianapolis Animal Care. He was marked with a relatively lackluster tag that said “Seems friendly, tail wags a lot. Stray, found: Washington and Lynhurst”. He had only been there for a couple weeks.

If you’ve never been to Indianapolis Animal Care, it can be reasonably described as the saddest place in Indianapolis.

The staff there is great. They have volunteers, but nowhere near the army the Humane Society or other shelters have, mostly because of their obscure location. The facilities are adequate. I wouldn’t call them dilapidated or embarrassing like I would IMPD Mounted Patrol’s horse facilities.

The sadness comes from the sheer lack of energy from so many of the dogs. Normally you’d walk through a room full of dogs in kennels and you’d expect them to stand up, jump around, walk, bark, or otherwise be interested in you. Not at Indianapolis Animal Care. Many of them didn’t even turn their head, let alone stand up. Some had been there for months. Because IAC is the tax-funded shelter of first and often last resort, with no ability to turn away anyone or any animal like other shelters, there’s an invisible death clock hanging over the place. They do a good job of working with other no-kill shelters in the state when that deathclock nears midnight, but there’s only so much space.

They routinely divide the open shelter area into two chunks. “Dogs with contagious kennel cough off the left. Those without on the right.” This is about like taking an elementary school classroom and having kids with the flu on the left and the kids without on the right. You can imagine how well that would work.

So when anyone asks me, “Where should I get a dog?” I can’t speak forcefully enough that the answer is: “Anywhere, but you should go to IAC.” Even if you live in a surrounding county, pay the extra few dollars to adopt from IAC.

We’ve had Ares for a couple years now. This weekend as Jeremiah was plucking things out of his garden, another dog wandered up. No tags, looking very thin, and in need of flea treatments and a bath, he seemed to take quickly to Ares in the driveway.

Now we seem to have another dog. We’ve done due diligence in reporting him on Nextdoor and IndyLostPetAlert.com. We had him checked for chips. Sunday was spent at FACE – another place that’s doing more good than you could ever hope to report – to get him checked out.

I didn’t particularly want another dog. But there are just two options and one of them is taking him to IAC. He’d likely get adopted given his size and demeanor. But Indiana rarely ranks high on any “good” list of anything. This is no exception. 125,000 animals a year end up in shelters in Indiana, not even counting rural areas where people just do whatever with who knows what. 40% per are euthanized. 8,000 animals a year are put down in Marion County alone. Interestingly, of all the things we can’t get legislators to agree on, we got one: House Bill 1201 was signed by the Governor this year, requiring all dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered statewide. We’re 30th to do so.  It passed unanimously. Of course, those laws rarely work anyway.

Apparently if you find a dog in Indianapolis, you have to turn it into Animal Care. It’s up to them what happens next. This makes the libertarian side of me vibrate as it assumes no one could possibly do something better and cheaper like just taking care of it.

So you can see my dilemma here. And why there’s now a dog that likes to sleep under the blankets, enjoys chicken, bounces up and down when you walk into a room, and lazily sunbathes around the house.

I guess we need a name. Any suggestions?

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