Thursday, October 27, 2005


Senator Jim's latest move is obviously a campaign ploy. One of Claire's primary campaign platforms is government spending -- as in the so-called small-government GOP has created the biggest, most expensive government in Americankind, and she -- a Show-me Donkey with lots and lots of favors to repay -- is going to be the one to bring it all under control. No doubt this strategy comes right out of the focus groups Claire's Big Dem backers from Back East have paid for, because it sure as hell doesn't jibe with the spirit of Democrats (especially Missouri Dems), who never saw a piece of pork they didn't like, or a crony they didn't want to pay.

So now Talent calls a press conference and announces a bill to give the president line-item veto power, to cut down on all this ridiculous spending he's party to. He's mixed some Eye of Newt into the brew. Well folks, it's just posturing, because it'll never pass both houses of Congress, much less a nationwide vote. He might as well have gotten up to the podium and made fart sounds. This bill will have about the same effect.

Plus it's stupid. This bill basically says that hundreds and hundreds of members of Congress can't be trusted to prevent one another from using our tax dollars as a bribery slush fund. So we should instead trust one man (and, I suppose, his cronies) to control spending. Yeah, right. Like we can expect the President not to play favorites and the bribery game. Graft will just be more focused if the President gets the line-item veto.

But, no matter. Politics isn't about doing right by the people so much as getting re-elected. Senator Jim's gotta keep his job. He needed an answer to Claire's needling. Now he can roll into Rolla, clear his throat and say, "I agree that government spending is out of control, that's why I introduced a bill calling for a line-item veto..."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

race test

I've been at Central since noon, working on debate stuff. After a while, we got bored with debate. The kids decided to try to take the race test. None of the kids could get it to work. They kept filing the images and words in the wrong caterories, and the results were inconclusive. So I took it.

When I first took it, it came back saying I have no preference between black and white. This time it said I have a "strong preference" for African-Americans over Caucasian Americans.

"Huh," I said. "That means I'm racist."

"Against your own race!" Geoffery shouted, laughing. "Welcome to the Dark Side!!"

Seriously, this is a fascinating development. I first learned of this test through Malcolm Gladwell's best-seller, Blink. In it, Gladwell said he often scored as slightly prejudiced against blacks, which alarmed him because he's "half black." Indeed, he reported, blacks often score as prejudice as well.

He did say, however, that he could change this if he took the test after being surrounded by positive images of blacks. This part of the book was one of the best arguments I've ever seen for diversity. He writes that one can reduce prejudice by spending time with blacks.

MMy most recent results on this test would seem to support this, since I took it while spending an afternoon with brilliant black teens.

Kinda cool.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

gut ache

Most folks I know have a hard time with conflict. Today I received a strongly worded, pissed off e-mail from an acquaintance. It was based on a simple misunderstanding, and I called the person up, and cleared it up. But I still feel a gnawing ache in my gut. It won't go away. In fact, it seems to be getting worse. It's in the space just below my rib cage, just above my abdomen, just a little bit below the skin of my belly. It feels like a hole. I've felt this feeling many, many times, always in the same place, almost always after a sour interaction with someone else. It seems to just stick around until it's ready to go, like a cold. I can nurse it, but it has t run its course.

I've read recently that there's a physiological correlation for everything human's experience. I've long felt emotions in this space in my abdomen. Has anyone studied this place in the body? I've long suspected that it's the center of my soul.

Today I went for a long run. I was thinking about stories, the actual structure and phenomenon of them, the way they're impressions of time driven by conflict, struggle, suffering and lead, one usually hopes, to resolution and joy. And I wondered if suffering is one of the many extra dimensions physicist say exist in our universe. I thought as I ran along on this lovely fall day, I wonder if these other dimensions, at least one or two of them, are emotions, struggle, the stuff of story, that which defines, in many ways, our relation to time.

And maybe this makes me sound as though I'm back on drugs, but it's just an interesting notion to play with.

Like, we're in a three-dimensional world. And Einstein says time is a fourth dimension, and that's fairly easy to comprehend. But what about all these other dimensions they say exist -- as many as 12 or 13, according to the string theorists. What on earth might those be like? How could we possibly begin to comprehend those?

One way physicists try to describe other dimensions is to imagine how a being in a two-dimensional world would experience a three-dimensional object. A ball, for instance. They say they would experience a ball as a circle that expands and contracts. Can you picture that? A ball experienced as many succeeding two-dimmensional cross sections of itself? An expanding and contracting circle?

Maybe that's how we experience these other dimensions, if they do actually exist. I thought, as I ran, maybe suffering or ecstacy or whatever is those other dimensions. We cant see them in their totality, just experience them as these clouds of sensation that pass through in ways that seem at times to be mysterious, but which ultimately drive and define our relationship to time.

Anyway, it was just a crazy long thought I had while running. And recounting it here kind of eases the wounded feeling I have because of my little e-mail conflict, which, in the big scheme of things, won't amount to anything, but still has me utterly captivated for the moment, in the worst way.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I've been depressed lately. Some days are worse than others, and today started as one of those days. My weekly debate session at The School felt daunting.

I felt completely empty as I began the class. I was just saying words. My brain was straining. And I sensed that the students could pick up on my emptiness, and this made me feel panicky. My mind froze. I could barely talk.

The teacher and I divided the class into two groups and had them read one paragraph from an Amnesty International report about racial profiling. Just one paragraph. That's it. But the group I was working with didn't want to do it. I tried to get them to try, but it was no use, so I just sat there numbly. I looked up at the clock. A mere ten minutes had passed. This was going to be a long hour.

Then the teacher came over to bail me out. She re-explained the task and one of the girls, K., jumped right in, reading the text clearly and with conviction. She hadn't been in the class before. She pulled the cap off of a highlighter and highlighted the good parts. Explained to her that this would be evidence for her to make a case to the government, and she instantly understood, started constructing a speech. She caught on so fast I grabbed the evidence from my previous classes, and she read that and highlighted it, and understood how it would all fit together to make a case.

Then it was time to give speeches, and she marched right up to the front of the room and cold nailed it. Natural born debater.

I asked her if she'd be into staying after school to practice, and she said yes without hesitation.

There are three other kids in the class who were into it as well, all of them girls. I asked them if they'd be willing to after school, and they said they would -- though one, T, a 17-year-old, has a four-year-old son and will need to work out childcare.

Now my spirits were lifted. I can work with this, I thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

meixcan buffer

ere's one for TKC, who tirelessly exposes the Star's institutionally racist ways.

Yesterday I was at Central and I casually picked up a copy of the Star. I flipped to a story about hurricane Wilma, and I couldn't believe what I read. I read it out loud, to guage the students' reactions (emphasizing a few key points):

Much of Florida went on high alert Wednesday, and the keys ordered visitors to evacuate as Wilma exploded into the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.

Still, a small ray of hope emerged: If Wilma rams into Mexico’s Yucatan region,its expected right turn toward Florida could be significantly altered and the storm system could be considerably weakened, the National Hurricane Center said.

The students all laughed, and widened their eyes.

"Damn," Geoffery said. "That's just blatant."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

a good star blog

No sooner do I diss the Star's early forrays into the blogosphere when I happen across a really good one, Bill's "Faith Matters" Weblog.

Now this is how you do it. He provides good info and lots of links to interesting stuff around the web. But above all it's honest and authentic. I get a real sense of who Bill is when I read this blog, and that makes me trust him. He's willing to be vulnerable, to stand out there in cyberspace as a human being, not some professional contrivance of humanity. And this, I think, is key to journalists' success in this new forum of blogs. My sense is that the reason why blogs are so popular is because they humanize information. They let you get your news from friends. And, conversely, that's part of the reason why newspapers are losing popularity. They aspire to that God's-eye view that's impossible to obtain, that savvy info consumers are coming to resent more and more.

And furthermore (I say from my soap box, wagging a pointy finger), this'll make for better journalists. If blogs can make journalists more trustworthy to consumers, I think they'll also make us more trustworthy to sources, and that'll make for better stories.

Good job, Bill! This one's definitely going to be a daily read.

Monday, October 17, 2005

the best

As of right now, my favorite blog is pomegranate pretty.


On my morning walk today, I listened to a podcast of NPR's Science Friday. The guests were Daniel Nettle and Gregory Berns, two experts in happiness and satisfaction. I found it very interesting, because I was in a bit of a funk recently, and I still have lingering feelings of dissatisfaction.

There were a couple key things I got from the program.

One is that our brains appear to be geared toward a constant quest for new experiences. As Dr. Berns, humans seem to be engineered to learn more and more about the world.

The other was balance. As Dr. Nettle observed, this striving for the new, especially with regards to material posessions can begin to resemble addiction, and this can have an opposite effect. He talked about the differing approaches to happiness in Eastern and Western cultures, with the West in constant search of conquest and the East angling always toward detachment.

II found the whole conversation to be helpful and comforting.

For one, it made me feel good about my career choice. As a jjournalist, it's my job to go out and try experience and understand things outside my day-to-day range of experiences. On the other hand, the conversation offered an exciting challenge, though not entirely new, to try to detach myself some from my desires and find contentment in what I already have.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

revisiting esmie

Last week, a got a big spike in visitors looking for stuff about Esmie Tseng, the 16-year-old girl accused of stabbing her mother to death. There was another hearing in her case on Wednesday, and I guess that sparked the interest. I didn't attend the hearing. From what I understand, it was short and uneventful. I've been told that Esmie smiled a lot at her attorney, which indicates a turnaround in their relationship since the last hearing.

I had intended to go to a hearing in another juvenile murder case which was scheduled for the exact time as Esmie's, but I was too busy trying to earn money. It was a pre-trial hearing for Michael Jones, a 17-year-old who faces second-degree murder charges in the September killing of Steven Peters, a bassist for the Kansas City Symphony. Like Esmie, Michael is being triied as an adult. I became interested in Michael's case because he's a longtime friend of a student I work with at Central High, Geoffery Stone. Geoffery's the leader of the debate squad there, and an all around good kid.

Last month, on the afternoon after I attended Esmie's earlier hearing, I showed up at Central and found Geoffery in a state of distress because he had visited Michael in jail that morning. He felt as though this kid he'd been friends with since kindergarten was being ramrodded into a very long prison sentance, and really had no one to advocate for him. And he was dismayed by his friend's behavior. A few days earlier, Geoffery had seen Michael on TV, walking into the court room with a big smile, flashing gang signs.

"Why did you do that, Michael?" he asked his friend that morning. "They're going to fry you."

"Because," Michael saiid, "I have nothing more to live for."

Geoffery told me that Michael has had a tough life. His mother raised him and his siblings until she was murdered when he was under ten years old. He would go wiith Geoffery to church sometimes and everyone there really liked him. He's mild-mannered and friendly. Geoffery told me Michael's not the least bit violent.

All I know about Michael's case comes from the Star and Geoffery's account of his conversation with Michael. None of these reports place Michael in the room where Peters was murdered. He was in a car parked outside when Peters was shot. But Michael admits that he and his co-defendent had gone to Peter's place to rob him, and this falls squarely under Missouri's secoond-degree murder statutes. If you are committing a felony, or even if you plan to commit a felony, and someone dies in the course of events, then you face second-degree murder charges.

I feel much more sad about Michael's situation than about Esmie's. Yes, Michael appears to have made a very bad decision when he got in that car and headed off to commit a robbery. But I don't think he planned for it to end in death. Perhaps our community will be safer if Michael is tried and convicted as an adult for second-degree murder, if he's locked up for most of his adult life. But I've been around enough kids like Michael to suspect that, for the most part, he's not a menace to society. If Geoffery says he's basically a good kid, I believe him. I just think he needs soome help.

It's puzzling situation. While I want to see young men like Michael take responsibility for their actions, to make better decisions, I'd also like to see our community do a better job of making better decision-makers out of kids like Michael. Much of this burden falls on the folks who played an immediate role in Michael's upbringing. But I also believe that we who never knew Michael, who rarely walk in his circles, also share some blame. To me, it boils down to privilege. My privilege in this society is braced, at least in part, by the relative lack of privilege for kids like Michael. And believe I have an obligation to use my privilege to help, even in the smallest way, level the playing field.

After Geoffery told me about Michael's situation, I told him about Esmie's case. I was curious to know his opinion as to whether or not she should be tried as an adult. After thinking about it for a while, he said he thought she should be. Unlike Michael, there appears to be little doubt that she murdered her mother. And the crime was horribly vicious. The fact that she was so bright and full of potential only makes the case for adult punishment stronger, Geoffery said.

Then I told him about all the people who have been rallying behind Esmie, trying to move her case into the juvenile division. I think this really disturbed Geoffery. Where's the community to support Michael? Esmie had a vast, strong support system for her entire life. Michael's family is poor and broken. His schools suck. His neighborhood dirty and run down compared to Esmie's. It offers few opportunities. And I believe his neighborhood is that way n large part because Esmie's neighborhood is so good. Kansas City's east side exists for the sake of Johnson County.

It all makes Geoffery feel like society places more value on kids like Esmie than on kids like Micheal.

"These people should ask themselves," Geoffery said, "if they would do the same thing if this were a black male."

Saturday, October 15, 2005

long distance romance

A couple of years ago, a group of kids from Azerbaijan came to Kansas City for an exchange program with central High. And some Central kids visited Azerbaijan the following spring. Here's a long-distance IM chat between two of them that took place recently. Very sweet.
Night_Snipers: hello
Narmishka324: hi
Night_Snipers: i miss you
Night_Snipers: so how is life
Narmishka324: everything is Ok...
Narmishka324: how are u?
Night_Snipers: im fine--college is ok
Narmishka324: YOur University??
Night_Snipers: yea
Narmishka324: what is the time in Kansas???
Narmishka324: or where you are?
Night_Snipers: almost 1 pm
Night_Snipers: what time is it there
Narmishka324: 21:23
Narmishka324: sorry 53
Narmishka324: your are not in college?
Night_Snipers: yes
Night_Snipers: we have two days off
Narmishka324: holyday?
Narmishka324: or its' allways like that?
Night_Snipers: no
Night_Snipers: just a fall brake
Night_Snipers: thats all
Night_Snipers: so....have u been getting my emails
Narmishka324: of course... if I answerd them
Night_Snipers: can may i ask....
Narmishka324: ...
Night_Snipers: is there any way that i can contact you---like a phone call--a text messege--a letter in the mail
Narmishka324: your contacting me by e-mail.
Night_Snipers: i wanna hear your voice or at least see your handwritting
Night_Snipers: x100
Narmishka324: what about phone, i just afraid that I cuoldn't understand you, cause my English is very bad
Narmishka324: and I really didn't speak to anyone since you lefty
Narmishka324: so it will be just wasting your money to call me
Night_Snipers: woman i wouldnt care if you couldnt talk--i just want to know your on the other line
Narmishka324: what about handwriting...
Narmishka324: that's nice idea
Night_Snipers: i could write yo u
Night_Snipers: send you a letter
Narmishka324: lets go back to 60ns, and write mail to each other
Narmishka324: Azerbaijan, Baku
Night_Snipers: but i still wanna hear your voice
Narmishka324: Azadlig ave. 151b ap37 for Rustamova Narmina
Night_Snipers: u dont understand--how much that i just wanna come to baku
Night_Snipers: and see you
Night_Snipers: $
Narmishka324: I undesrtand you....
Narmishka324: I really want it too.... maybe me coming to kansas
Narmishka324: But what can we do??????
Night_Snipers: i know--thats that sad part
Night_Snipers: so do you really miss me
Night_Snipers: lol
Narmishka324: of course...
Night_Snipers: x1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
Night_Snipers: you see my crazy pic
Narmishka324: it isnt crazy.... its nice
Night_Snipers: i know
Night_Snipers: goofy americans
Narmishka324: what does it means???
Night_Snipers: that we are speical people
Night_Snipers: lol
Night_Snipers: but you are too
Narmishka324: you show me one more time, that americans like only themselfs ]
Narmishka324: Thats not bad
Night_Snipers: so may i still call you--- i swear it wont be a waste of my money
Narmishka324: I really hesitate... I don't know....
Night_Snipers: it's ok
Night_Snipers: how about i start with a letter to you--and you respond back--lets see how that goes
Night_Snipers: i will have to find something to write about
Narmishka324: I will be really happy to get a letter from you...
Narmishka324: just write your exact adress, so i could mail you back
Night_Snipers: Ebony Rose
Night_Snipers: B0921107)
Night_Snipers: LOL
Narmishka324: have u a mobile phone?
Night_Snipers: Ebony Rose
Box (921107)
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY 40292
United States Of America

Night_Snipers: yes i have a mobile phone
Narmishka324: whats your number.
Narmishka324: what about my adress, I'll write you tommorow bu email.
Narmishka324: cause i don't know the number of our post ofice.
Narmishka324: a should call them and ask .
Night_Snipers: +15026446147
Night_Snipers: what is your address
Narmishka324: that is the number with all codes?
Narmishka324: I'll w2rite you tomorrow
Night_Snipers: ok
Narmishka324: I'v just send u sms....
Narmishka324: You get it!!!!!!!!!!
Narmishka324: woooooooooooooow
Night_Snipers: x100
Narmishka324: thats cool..... never think that our sistem of mobile phones can contact with yours
Night_Snipers: yeap----now every time you need me --you can send me a sms
Narmishka324: u too
Night_Snipers: -narmina
Narmishka324: how are Joe and anny??????
Night_Snipers: they are fine
Narmishka324: didn't they get married yet?
Night_Snipers: not yet
Narmishka324: what about their LOVELY dogs?????
Narmishka324: as allways
Night_Snipers: as always
Narmishka324: doubl "l"
Night_Snipers: only one "l"
Night_Snipers: always i will remember you
Night_Snipers: that's how is used
Narmishka324: so you see.... my English is........................................
Night_Snipers: GREAT
Narmishka324: I jsut haven't any new on my PC
Narmishka324: just
Night_Snipers: do you have some old ones
Night_Snipers: but u can send me some over the mail
Narmishka324: but I gonna scan some, for u and alsou for my Mum
Narmishka324: Of course I will send
Narmishka324: But 1st i wait a letter from u.....
Narmishka324: with pic of u, and your aunti... and everybody a know ...
Night_Snipers: ok
Night_Snipers: U MADE MY DAY AGAIN
Narmishka324: How are them...... Mr Rinehard, geoffrey, day
Narmishka324: ????
Narmishka324: YOud made my nigth cause i'm going to sleep soon
Night_Snipers: Jane is still teaching, geffory is in his last year of high school---day is is her 2nd year of college so is dionnie--antione is in his 1st year of college
Narmishka324: Do you see them????
Night_Snipers: some day soon i will get to walk down the street holding your hand
Narmishka324: Where Antione is? What college?
Night_Snipers: i see them some but not lately b/c im 8 hours away from home
Narmishka324: all of them are i Kansas??
Night_Snipers: Univerity of Kansas City Missouri i think
Narmishka324: in Kansas.
Night_Snipers: we live in Missouri
Narmishka324: I know.......
Night_Snipers: Kansas City, Missouri
Night_Snipers: you know what
Narmishka324: that your living in Kansas City, Missouri!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Night_Snipers: hahahaha
Night_Snipers: hahahahaha
Night_Snipers: u live in Baku
Night_Snipers: i know that
Narmishka324: Say big big HI, to my notholding friend Antione!!!!
Narmishka324: You dont know the name of the state I live in........ hahahaha
Night_Snipers: Azerbaijan
Night_Snipers: hahahaha
Narmishka324: but the region......
Night_Snipers: .....ummmmmm..............Narminaland
Narmishka324: you liv in USA, Missouri, Kansas City
Narmishka324: A live in Azerbaijan, ................., Baku
Narmishka324: Maybe maybe....
Narmishka324: in some yaers they gonna recall it to Narmina, when I become the president of Az...
Night_Snipers: damn right
Night_Snipers: i will be there when that happens
Narmishka324: !st woman president in our state....
Night_Snipers: YEY
Narmishka324: hope u reaaly will.
Narmishka324: do you still listen to Nigth Sn?
Night_Snipers: yea---sounds better when your singing though
Narmishka324: thanks
Night_Snipers: LOL
Narmishka324: last time a changed NP to Nickelback....
Narmishka324: So your listening my music, and I'm to your
Narmishka324: Funny
Night_Snipers: how is the crying song
Night_Snipers: i still listen to SADE
Narmishka324: Crying song.... its always with me
Narmishka324: + your flower made from paper
Night_Snipers: you still have that
Narmishka324: of course....
Night_Snipers: i still have your letter you gave me when your were mad--u made a airplane out of it
Narmishka324: It will always be with me.... even my childred, and grandchildren will lokk at this flower and listen to the Crying sont, and tell their children an old story about me adn you
Night_Snipers: well hopefully i will be with you--to tell the story too
Narmishka324: sorry to say that, but I think that when my grandchildrens children wil come to this wold, we will die for that tiome .....
Narmishka324: that story gonna be a legent
Night_Snipers: how about our children
Night_Snipers: ok
Narmishka324: it was funny
Night_Snipers: what was
Night_Snipers: when i said "ok"
Narmishka324: all that.... about children, and "our children" particualli
Night_Snipers: oh--thats funny--why is that---
Narmishka324: u don't think so...?
Night_Snipers: no--
Narmishka324: why?
Night_Snipers: why not
Narmishka324: what, why not??????
Night_Snipers: you heard me---why is it funny
Narmishka324: just because it is funny... dreaming of legends about that.... and so on
Night_Snipers: oh--so not having "our kids" is not funny but thinking of us as legends is ok
Night_Snipers: oh--so not having "our kids" is not funny but thinking of us as legends is i understandNarmishka324: maybe its not funny, but it's the reality....
Night_Snipers: hahahaha
Night_Snipers: x100
Night_Snipers: telling kids that Ebony and Narmina was using their pillow and bear to talk to each other when the power when out
Night_Snipers: i remember you said to me
Narmishka324: ...
Night_Snipers: Ebony "oh narmina dont leave me" --Narmina "im not leaving you this time your leaving me"
Night_Snipers: i used to sing to you every day
Narmishka324: I cried in the airport
Night_Snipers: i when see you again im going to sing to you everyday--
Night_Snipers: or when you want me to
Night_Snipers: im going to hold your hands and tell you how beautiful you are--every day--and sing the crying song
Night_Snipers: would you love that
Narmishka324: you know, you'r still the onlu man who have ever sing to me... and sit in my room all nigth long
Night_Snipers: hopefully i will be the only man to keep singing to you
Narmishka324: azeri boys can't sing..... you'll always be the only one
Night_Snipers: hahahaha
Night_Snipers: thats good--and if some azeri boy tries to sing to you--tell them "im waiting for ebony to come back"
Night_Snipers: lol
Night_Snipers: x100
Narmishka324: promise
Narmishka324: But now I must go..... I gt some home to do for tommorow....
Narmishka324: homework
Narmishka324: so.... tomorrow i will write you mu adress, and i'm waiting a mail from you with pics
Narmishka324: Have a nice day
Night_Snipers: you too
Night_Snipers: good night
Night_Snipers: x100x100
Narmishka324: Bye>>


Friday, October 14, 2005


I came across Crime Scene KC a couple of days ago and I briefly subscribed to its RSS feed. It's one of the Star's first ventures into the blogosphere, along with Aaron Barnhart's TV Barn.

I guess TV and Crime are relatively smart subject areas for a big newspaper's early forays into blogging, though my sense is that politics is the wisest (the St. Louis Post Dispatch has a pretty good one, managed by the best political reporter in the state, Jo Mannies).

Personally, I don't like either as a subject for a blog, so I won't be subscribing. This is probably a good sign for the folks at the Star. I tend to stand apart from the masses (and the money). With TV, all I watch is PBS and C-SPAN, so I'm not much interested in what old Aaron has to say. And on the crime front. Well. I think this blog is just another force driving our community deeper into the subdivisions of hell.

I'd rather see us all broaden our understanding of crime. It's so easy to focus on violent crimes, and property crimes. They're sensational. They get your adrenaline-laced fear flowing. But they're still anomolies of urban life, for the most part. They don't really affect most people. Even in so-called high crime areas, in the midst of so-called crime waves, the overwhelming majority of people won't be victims of crimes. That's my sense as a resident of a so-called bad neighborhood.

But more than that, these incidents are really just symptoms of deeper ills. And that's where the true crime resides. In the systems and institutions. And I mean these in the broadest sense. I'm not talking solely about back-room conspiracies to keep communities divided and unequal, and to steal from a blind public, to bilk the poor and the powerless, though that's part of it. I mean collective notions of spirit and community as well. As such we all have responsibility -- from the richest and most powerful sons of privilege to the poorest daughters of share croppers.

What's weird is that the author of this Crime Scene KC blog would seem to have his finger on this pulse of underlying injustice. If I'm not mistaken, Greg Reeves used to be theStar's database reporter. He was part of what was supposed to be the new wave in investigative journalism: Computer Assisted Reporting. That's where you sort through all the data the government collects and find statistical proof of unfairness and wrongdoing.

At its best, this style of reporting can produce the kinds of stories that make for bestsellers that have the power to challenge our assumptions and even help us to come up with better strategies for shaping our communities. I fear that a half dozen crime posts a day will only serve to deepen the divides in Kansas City, and it will prevent us from tackling the big issues that actually fuel the crime.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

finally employed...

...though not yet gainfully.

On Tuesday I went for a run and everything suddenly made sense. I had a clear, simple vision of what my next book project will be.

Yesterday, I wrote it out in a breathless e-mail to Agent Lydia. Literally within seconds of clicking "send," my cell phone was ringing.

She agreed: This is it.

So now, the next step is to pull together a proposal. That and just plain diving in.

I even have a working title, which I'm dying to post, but I won't because Allie says to do so would be unwise, and I agree. But if you're a friend or family, send an e-mail and I'll fill you in.

rich christians

I've been reading a fascinating book by Ronald J. Sider called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I came across it as I was researching the Jesus People Movement. It's kind of a classic of radical 1970s Christianity. I'm really enjoying it. It lays out reallly strong, easy to understand case. And it's just as revolutionary as can be, though in a refreshingly friendly, Golly gee! sort of way.

This part really resonated with me:
THE JUBILEE PRINCIPLE Leviticus 25 is one of the most radical texts in all of Scripture. At least it seems that way for people born in countries committed to laissez-faire economics. Every fifty years, God said, all land was to return to the original owners -- without compensation! Physical handicaps, death of breadwinner or lack of natural ability may lead some people to become poorer than others. But God does not want such disadvantages to lead to greater and greater divergence of wealth and poverty. God therefore gave his people a law which would equalize land ownership every fifty years.

A number of things come to mind here. For one, whenever I hear Leviticus I think about all the religious-political hoopty-doo over gay marriage. Anti-gay folks seize on one queerly worded line of text in that book to build entire political campaigns around. Yet here's this long, very specific passage that's essentially Marxist, and nobody says shit about that. What gives?

Of course, it also makes me think of Native Americans. And affirmative action. And Enron.

digital lemming

m ashamed to admit it, because I don't want to seem like a trendy schmoe, but podcasting is the best thing that's ever happened in my life as a comsumer of news. Sure, 99.9 percent of the stuff out there doesn't interest me in the least, and a lot of it is probably just plain crap. But it seems as though there's something for everyone. And I can say without hesitation that the things I've been subscribing to have truly enriched my life.

Top of the list is the podcasts offered by C-SPAN. I subscribe to all three of their offerings -- After Words, Q&A and American Perspectives. The first two are pure gold. They're hour-long interviews with a broad range of people. The third is a little less consistent; it's usually a lecture by some important person, and it's also typically an hour. Over the last month, I've listened to deep, probing conversations with Barbara Eirenreich, Arlen Spector, Artur Davis, David McCollough, David Brooks, as well as folks I'd never even heard of, such as Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and Allan Weinstein, archivist for the United States.

What I love about these is how in-depth they are, and how diverse the points of view, and, honestly, how random the subject matter is. I listen to the shows on my iPod (no, I didn't return it) while I'm walking the dogs or working in the yard or even washing sishes. Not only does it make these mundane acts (chores, on bad days) more exciting and interesting, it actually makes me feel like I'm getting smarter. These recordings give me such a fascinating, fulsome, wide-reaching perspective on some aspect of American public life.

To be perfectly honest, one of the most rewarding things is the opportunity to hear conservatives talk at length about their points of view. It humanizes them, and helps me to see the ways in which my interests intersect with theirs. That's priceless, in my book. Because I'm really getting tired of this knee-jerk partisanship.

(I also subsrcibe to KC Currents and NPR's Science Friday, all very good as well.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

a bit of sunshine

The teacher I'm working with said I actually did a pretty good job yesterday, considering the circumstances. We were working with a bigger, less focused class because we had kids whose teacher was out sick. The teacher and I have been e-mailing back and forth, working on strategies for next Monday. So all is not lost. I feel fired up again.

Full disclosure: I've been pretty blue lately, hence the lack of posts. I could attribute it to a number of things. The catalyst was my second book idea falling through. For the last year or so I've been putting a lot of thought and energy (and, in all honesty, elaborite fantasies about the book's greatness) into the idea, and when I set it aside I was left with a sizable void. Add to this some very real uncertainty about my financial situation past late summer 2006 (until my final payment comes in upon release of Cross-X on August 22), and you have a legitimate case of the blues.

And some other things happened which added to the funk. My financial fears got me playing the magazine game again, which has always been depressing for me. It really is a game. You throw out an idea. Nine times out of ten they don't want the idea, but they reject it in a friendly way. So you take that as an invitation to toss out more ideas. And back and forth you go, trying to figure out what these damned editors want. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. It's hard noot to let it get to you.

This month I've finally gotten some assignments -- the biggest of which won't be running until next October. But these are pretty well kknown magazines, and they pay well, so it feels like a breakthrough.

My duldroms really deepened, though, when I read Jared Diamond's Collapse. It made me feel like a planet-ruining glutton. For the past several days everything -- literally everything -- about my life has felt evil. That's not a great place ot be.

But today I went for a run and somehow that snapped me out of it. Suddenly this new book project I'm working up made sense and I had a clear conviction of my commitment to it. And with that came energy to do all the little life stuff I didn't have energy lately to do. I went ot Central this afternoon and we hada relatively productive practice.

So what needs to happen is that I need to force myself to run at least every other day.

Monday, October 10, 2005

god bless

I had my second session with the fledgling [The School] debate squad today. It was frustrating. Half the class fell asleep. And I couldn't for the life if me get the other half to stay focused.

The goal was to start bringing some substance into the process. I wanted the students to begin to understand the structure of a debate round. And I wanted to get them to start making generally coherent arguments with at least a minimum of supporting evidence.

Failure on both counts. The kids kept going off on tangents, and they visibly recoiled from written materials, and from the merest suggestions of structure.

The worst thing was that I could tell that a number of these kids are unusually bright. You can see it in their eyes when ideas register. You can hear it, too, when they begin to say something brilliant, and with passion. But it's like they're possessed by some sort of demon or afflicted with some sort of disease, and their natural brilliance isn't allowed to take over, it's shoved into the background, overshadowed by a spirit hell-bent on leading their bodies toward a life of obscurity. Sounds harsh, I know, but I've been hanging around a black Pentecostal church lately, and they talk a lot about the Devil. And I've been reading Cornel West's poignant writing about black nihilism. These things are coloring my interpretations.

After class concluded I was told that these kids are in the lowest-level track of the alternative school. And then I learned from a teacher friend that Monday's are always the worst day; kids are less eager to cooperate on the first day of the week. So it seems my challenge is formidible. The teacher I'm working with still feels optimistic, though. So we'll try again next Monday.

When I got to Central High later this afternoon, and heard kids reading speedily through heady debate cases, I felt as though I'd entered a prep school. If I'd gone to an actual prep school, I might well have considered mounting a suicidal coupe against the whole of American society.

Driving home tonight I heard a report on NPR about Liberia. What a wretched mess. Monrovia, the capital, a whole city with no electricity or running water. Of course, their history is mired in American racism and greedy Cold-War hegemony. All around the world people are in misery. Ours here is relatively nice, it seems.

I'm tired and ashamed of my nice car. If I could trade it in for justice, I would.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


It's very hard not to hate over-privileged, stubbornly ignorant, fat, white men like Bill Bennett. Slate does an excellent job of tearing apart the asshole's defense, and that of the asshole's ignorant white defenders.

The scary thing is, I have a hunch that there are lots and lots and lots of Americans who secretly believe that Bennett's statement is true, and that the outcry against it is really just political correctness. In fact, Bennett's comments convey racism and prejudice on a fundamental level. Under these comments is the exact same juice that makes white folks feel a little antsy and on edge when we drive through the black side of town. It's that split second when we catch our breath when we see a black man walking toward us on an empty street.

Monday, October 03, 2005

and so it begins

The debate program at [The School] officially began today when I showed up at 1:45 to introduce eight or so kids in a social studies class to the game. I was very nervous going in, but it went well.

I tried to start off by playing a recent NPR report about the KC Central debate squad, but the students' eyes glazed over, so I jumped right in.

"This year's topic is about civil liberties," I said. "Freedom. Your rights. And the government's control of your rights. And one of the ways government can control your rights is with cops."

Then I asked, "What do you all think of cops?"

The response was overwhelmingly negative. The kids started telling stories about how they'd been harrassed, and how their relatives had been harrassed, and their neighbors, all of which I expected to hear. More than one student said they knew someone who had been shot by the police. Others said they'd known people who'd been arrested for not cooperating with police, for not being a "snitch." I started writing their comments on an old chalk board.

We got a couple of charitable comments about police officers -- they're not all bad, some of them are from the community -- and I wrote these on the left side of the board, opposite the list of negatives, which was getting quite long.

There was a dominant theme: Cops stop these kids and their friends and family because they're black or Hispanic and they live in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

For the sake of an argument, I suggested that maybe it's a good thing the cops stop folks in these neighborhoods, because that's where all the crime is. If it works to catch criminals, isn't that a good thing?

No! They all said.

Then one kid, the only boy in the class, explained that if cops do that they won't get the right guy all the time.

"Ok," I said. "What can we do to make cops good?"

I divided them into two groups and had them come up with two strategies to do this. One group suggested that cops need to get more involved in the community. The other said that cops should be punished more severely for their transgressions. And I mean severely.

"They need to get shot just like us!"

"If they can use tasers on us, we should get to use tasers on them!"

"They should have to meet with the PO," one said, referring to parole officers, more than likely from experience.

I had them write down a couple of points about how to carry out their plans, and why they would work.

Then we had a debate, me against them.

They gave speeches -- sometimes all at once -- making a case for what should be done.

Then I got up and said that if cops get more involved with communities, they might make friends with criminals and let them go free, and then crime will increase. And I said if cops were punished as a severely as criminals, no one would want to be a cop, and then there'd be no one to stop crime, and we would all die.

I could barely finish before they were all up out of their seats, telling me why my arguments were no good.

About 40 minutes into the class, a couple of the students promptly disengaged and started playing on computers in the back of the room. Then a couple more joined them. I was left with three students who wanted to keep going.

"So how do I join this debate team?" one of them asked.

"You're already on it," I said.