Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Apparently December 1 is "Blog Against Racism Day". I'm not sure who started it, but I'm up for it. Anybody else? We'll see tomorrow.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I went to Ebony's house for Thanksgiving. Allie is at her folks' house, in western New York.

When I arrived, there was a friend of the family sprawled out on the floor by the TV, taking a nap. Later he woke up, and when he spotted me his face twisted up, as if to say, "Who the fuck is that white dude?" But everyone else knew me, and were at ease, so he quickly figured out that I am harmless.

It wasn't a vegan affair. I had turkey, duck, ham and brisket. And giblet gravy. In the non-meat category there were mashed potatoes, dressing and several varieties of pie. Ebony's mom and auntie are outstanding cooks. The turkey was very moist. The duck was especially good. Ebony's little cousin Duran said he liked the duck best. I told him it was Daffy Duck. Then I told him I was kidding when he made a face like he believed me.

I brought the camera, and Ebony spent the day snapping pictures.

The Lions game was on while we ate. But it was boring, so we watched DVDs. At first we watched part of a bootlegged movie. I don't know what the movie was called; we only watched a couple of minutes of it. It was one of those hardcore bootlegged movies, the kind that are video taped in the theater. The picture was filmed at a slight angle, and you could see the dark edge of the movie screen on the top and the bottom of the TV screen. You could hear people in the audience cough.

Ebony switched it to Scarface. I've never seen this movie.

Ebony's mom said, "So many black men have died because of this movie. But they didn't get the message. And the message is: The guy dies in the end."

I wasn't upset that she gave it away for me. She repeated this point several times during the film, especially as the violence escalated toward the finale.

Scarface is one of Ebony's favorite movies. He's seen it several times. As we watched, I kept turning to Ebony and saying, "This isn't very interesting. This is just like everyday life for me." When Scarface watched his friend get chopped up with a chainsaw in a bathroom, I said, "I had to go through a similar situation before I could break into journalism."

My tolerance for violence in movies has diminished as I've aged, but I hung in there with this one. It was very violent. But I liked the part where Scarface told the rich people in the restaurant that they need bad guys like him. I wish they'd pushed this concept a little more.

Then we watched Dave Chappelle's concert movie on Ebony's laptop, and I about fell out of my chair several times, I was laughing so hard. Like when he said, in reference to R Kelly's recent dramas, "I'm just saying that if 15-year-olds are old enough to get life in prison, they oughta be old enough piss on."

I miss Allie, and I miss my family, but this was one of the best Thanskgivings I've had in a while.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

brick by brick

Jessi left an interesting comment on my post about the media's response to the murder wave here in KC. A lot of really tough questions.
But how do we begin to tear down the walls? How do you start a movement that people are running away from before it's even begun?

I felt sort of like a schmuck when I read it. I think I come off sounding high and mighty when I try to tackle such a difficult and complicated issue in a little blog post.

And I know I'm a pretty easy target for Tony's criticism that I blame everyone but the blacks who are actually commiting the crimes. I'm probably guilty of painting blacks as victims, and that carries its own set of dangers.

Truth is, there probably is no viable solution. Not in an immediate global sense. This is probably as obvious here in Kansas City as it is anywhere in the country, considering our epic failures at integration.

It's important to remember, though, who these words are coming from, and who they're directed toward.

I'm a white, middle-class American, and my comments are aimed at me and my kind. More specifically, with regards to the post Jessi was commenting on, I feel compelled -- perhaps foolishly -- to challenge myself as a journalist, and other journalists like me, to rethink our assumptions about stories with an obvious racial component. And to consider how these assumptions perpetuate the injustice of the status quo.

There are quite a few books I've read which have really shaped my thinking on this subject. One of the best is Dismantling Racism, by Joseph Barndt. In it he writes:
To study racism is to study walls. We have looked at barriers and fences, restraints and limitations, ghettos and prisons. The prison of racism confines us all, people of color and white people alike. It shackles the victimizer as well as the victim…

But we have also seen that the walls of racism can be dismantled. We are not condemned to an inexorable fate, but are offered the vision and possibility of freedom. Brick by brick, stone by stone, the prison of individual, institutional, and cultural racism can be destroyed. You and I are urgently called to join the efforts of those who know it is time to tear down, once and for all, the walls of racism.

In the book, Barndt (a white man) argues that the first step whites need to take is to realize that there are privileges we're afforded because of the color of our skin, and the class we were born into, and all the history that has carved out our position in the world. And these privileges are made possible in part by others' lack of privilege. We also need to understand, as he says in the passage above, that racial separation hurts us, too.

So the obvious next step is to try to eliminate the separation.

That's where it can get really tough.

I'm reading a great book right now by Samuel G. Freedman called Upon This Rock, about a black church in Brooklyn. In it, the main character, Pastor Johnny Ray Youngblood, tells a group of white seminary students:
"The white person who ministers in the slum better not do it because you feel sorry for poor people or because you think it's the Christian thing to do or you need to feel some leftover liberal guilt. That will get your ass killed...

"We don't need any more Great White Fathers or Great White Mothers."

Good advice, if a bit discouraging. But then he says:
"Don't do for us. Do with us. Don't believe what others tell you about us. Ask us."

And this is where, on the other hand, it can get really easy, and fun, and cool, and rewarding. Like, it feels great to break out of the white ghetto. It didn't take long trying before much of my perspective on things did a complete 180, and my life feels much, much richer.

debate update

Having failed to engage an entire class full of high school kids in the great game of debate, I and the folks at [The School] decided to start trying to teach it to kids after school. I'd be working with only the most motivated kids, and there'd be less of them, and we figured I might be more succesful that way.

Well, no doubt there's been fewer kids. I had two show up for the first practice, one for the second, and three for the third, which was yesterday. This wouldn't be an issue if it were just me running the show. I can work with what I get. But the folks at [The School] really want there to be four kids involved on a consistent basis, so as to make it worth their while. Obviously I haven't quite reached that level.

Still, it's been a pretty cool experience. Two girls showed up to the first practice, and we spent the whole time just talking. I told them why I want to start a debate program ("I'm kind of a radical," I said), then I asked why they joined debate, what they want to get out of it. Then I asked what their goals are in life, and I told them ways in which debate could help them achieve those goals. Finally, I asked, "If you were in charge, if you were the president or the mayor, and you could change one thing, what would it be?"

This sparked a wide ranging conversation, covering everything from murders in the inner-city to reparations for the decendents of enslaved Africans. All the while I kept asking questions, trying to sharpen their focus, until I isolated one goal the two new debaters share: To gain respect for themselves and for their community.

With this mission statement of sorts in place, we turned to the topic high school kids across the country are debating this year:
Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially decrease its authority either to detain without charge or to search without probable cause.

I wrote this resolution on the board and we went through it section by section until the girls understood it. Then we started talking about how this relates to respect for them and for their community. Soon, we were discussing racial profiling, how cops seem to disrespect blacks. From there, we started piecing together a plan, a debate case we might argue this season, that would help us achieve our mission of gaining respect.

It was pretty simple. We'd have Congress pass a Racial Profiling Act, and we'd add on a requirement for cops to have regular meetings with people in the community, to learn more about them and naturally build more respect. If this were to happen, we reasoned, racial profiling would go down because cops would have a better idea of who's who, who deserves respect, and who deserves more scrutiny.

All the while I'm thinking about how this fits into a bunch of evidence I have at home, selections from policy papers and news reports and philosophical books which give warrants to the very arguments we were generating in this little classroom on Kansas City's East Side.

I said, "What would you think if I were to tell you that the ideas you came up with are the same ideas that scholars and people in power have come up with? How does that make you feel?"

They didn't qite know how to answer.

I continued, "See, you're just as smart as the people who run the world. Debate is a way for you to build on those smarts. To get some of the skills people use to get power."

They seemed to like the idea.

More later...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

murder pool

It's interesting to watch the response to the high number of murders in Kansas City this year. I might be wrong, but it seems as though every comment or publicity stunt I've read has operated with the assumption that it's the governnment's responsibility to solve this problem.


The most poignant comment I've heard about the issue came from an old friend I bumped into back in August who blamed the whole matter on the Republican-controlled White House, pointing out that the last time violent crime spiked so high was at the tail end of the Reagan and Bush Sr. years. Seems plausible, especially after hearing from Ebony yesterday that the murder rate has spiked in Louisville as well. Kind of gives me the sense that things are bad all over.

But I'm convinced that the problem goes much deeper than government, and I'm generally uneasy with the conversation so far. I think it's missing the mark. Just about every morning I read my favorite blog taking our local leaders to task over the issue. He's relentlessly slammed Mayor Kay Barnes, suggesting that she cares more about condo developments than about dying black people. I doubt this is true, though the mayor's silence betrays her obvious detachment from poor and downtrodden in her city, which is certainly worthy of stinging editorial comment.

But then, what would she really accomplish by calling some press conferences and making a show of doing something about it?

She'd get slammed.

Tony has consistently lampooned Alvin Brooks, Mike Sanders and Terry Riley for their responses to the situation. And now my former employer has taken an extremely odd, not-so-subtle dig at Brooks with their latest cry for attention, by asking contestants of a twisted betting pool to guess how many more murders will occur, and how many people died before Brooks "proposed the formation of the new Commission on Violent Crime." Aside from being another example of how the paper mirrors the inconsistent personality of its corporate owner, Michael Lacey (which, as the anemic page counts would seem to suggest, might not be a perfect match for Kansas City), the implied barb of this contest, and of Tony's regular sniping, only serve to reveal how disconnected both of these media sources are from the black side of town, where most of the crimes have taken place.

I don't want to prop Brooks up as some kind of saint. But the fact is that he's one of the only leaders in this city who has consistently addressed the issue of violent crime in the black community. He's done so on many, many levels. He founded the Ad Hoc Committee on Crime back in 1977, and he's served on numerous criminal and social justice committees over the years. But perhaps more important than that is the work he does behind the scenes. He routinely visits prisons with the hopes of reaching some young convict and setting him or her straight. He counsels families of young people who are falling into lives of crime. And he consoles folks whose loved ones have been murdered. He doesn't make a big show of this. Indeed, I wanted to profile him a few years ago when I worked for the Pitch and he declined because he didn't really want the attention. But this is all widely known in the black community. (Similar things can be said of Riley, who started his public life as a community volunteer in the Blue Hills neighborhood during the height of the crack epidemic. I've spent just a little time with Riley, but it was enough to see that he's deeply involved in the lives of his constituents, that he's well known, widely respected, and that folks truly depend on him.)

I have to admit that I'm skeptical of how effective this new committee Brooks has founded will be. But that's not because of some lack of sincerity on his part. It's because the problem is beyond the grasp of government. This is a societal thing, stemming from what Joseph Barndt calls "the prison of individual, institutional and cultural racism." And the media's calls on the government to find solutions only contribute to this because it distances the majority community -- the consumers of media -- from the problem. It's the classic middle-class liberal approach: We want to help the poor and the downtrodden, but we don't want to get our hands dirty.

It's doubly sad that I'm singling out Tony's Kansas City and the Pitch for this criticism, because, aside from The Call, Carter Broadcast and KC Currents, they're without a doubt the media sources in this city that are the most proactive in airing diverse points of view. I would count them among the good guys. So if they're contributing to the problem, then the problem is very, very bad. Indeed, the focus of my fury should be on the Star for its dangerous and irresponsible series rating suburban communities, because that -- the cult of separation -- is what I think is truly at the heart of the issue. (In fairness, I should note that the author of the Star's "Rate the Suburbs" series wrote an excellent series ten years ago called "Divided We Sprawl" about how disconnected this metro area is.)

History has shown that segregation is a blight governments simply cannot solve. The solution lies with us. Bottom line, we all need to get off our asses and start tearing down the walls of separation.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

earth to america

Allie and I watching Earth to America. Larry and Laurie David are brilliant. The should be given jobs with the DNC.

This is like a two-hour long sustained attack ad against the GOP, except it's funny as hell and totally entertaining. I about fell off the couch during Will Ferrell's impression of George W. Bush talking about global warming from his ranch in Texas. And when Triumph the Dog interviewed four stubborn Republican congressmen.

Seriously. If the Dems have Hollywood on their side, they shoul use it like this, over and over again.

But maybe I'm biased.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

emasculation complete

When Allie first suggested the notion of watching a five-hour BBC production of Pride and Prejudice I grew quite distressed. It sounded most insufferable, yet I suspected I was going to have to suffer through it.

And yes, it did wind up in the Netflix queue, but, no, it wasn't as awful as I suspected. Actuallly, I really got into it.

Honestly, my favorite character was Mr. Collins, who is this hideous, stupid suck-up. I also loved the scene where Lizzie had it out in the garden with ultra-snob Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And both Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet were suitably swoonworthy for Allie and I, respectively. The whole thing was captivating, thoroughly entertaining.

At the end, Allie felt victorious. "A five-hour chick flic," she crowed, "and you liked it!"

Friday, November 18, 2005

kerry james marshall

I surfed around today and wound up on the site for PBS's Art:21. They have a bunch of video clips about some really cool contemporary artists. I was happy to find some stuff on Kerry James Marshall. I'd almost forgotten about him.

Marshall's been one of my favorite artists ever since I saw one of his paintings at the Denver Art Musuem back in the late 1990s. It was such an awesome painting. Huge. Like, ten by twelve. It was of a housing project, painted in crisp lines and brilliant colors. It suggested the American Dream of a clean and sturdy place to live. The people posed in these environs were black -- very black, like, pitch black -- and they were well dressed and they had perfect postures. It was like something out of a 1950s' Life magazine ad.

But at the same time the canvas was strewn with dozens of sloppy strokes of runny paint, loose spirals that looked a lot like graffiti and garbage but were oddly beautiful at the same time. Indeed, at first glance some of these intrusions appeared to be flowers until one looked closer. They were like ghosts from a rotten future.

When I go to museums I usually find at least one painting or sculpture that I simply can't stop looking at and this was one of those. I kept coming back to it. It was as deep and vast as a novel.

Anyway, it was nice to be reminded of his work -- even if the images on the web are maddeningly small:

work update

At several points while I was working on my book I was overcome with doubt and anxiety. In fact, it happened again recently, as I was going over the copy-editor's comments on my manuscript. As I reread my own work I felt convinced that it was subpar and that it'll be a flop.

Fortunately it was just a bad day. I'm actually having a very good time rereading this work for the umpteenth time, and I think that's a good sign.

Lately I've been distressed about my next project. My idea is a book about a particular area of contemporary Christianity. The subject is rich, particularly from a historic perspective, and while there've been a number of books written about it, none that I've found really succeed at telling a good story. So I've been spending a lot of time lately at several churches in the area. And I've been vascilating wildly between confidence and uncertainty.

My main challenge has been figuring out where the story is. With the first book, I had a clear narrative structure: A debate season. And I lucked out when the team I was following finished tenth in the nation.

But with these churches there's not as clear a structure for a complete story. I'm sort of jumping into the life midstream and seeing where it'll take me. It's a lot like a ride-along with the cops, and I remember hearing a person say once at a journalism conference that these experiences rarely result in good stories because they don't offer clear beginnings, middles and ends.

For now, though, my spirits are up, and I'm feeling confident I'll find my hook. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a process. I'm just trying to make incremental progress, and I feel as though I'm succeeding.

At this point, I'm mostly just conducting in-depth interviews, and trying to find characters to focus on, and negotiating access. The interview process has been particularly fruitful. I'm using an interview technique I picked up at another journalism conference I attended years ago, from a lecture by Leon Dash. Dash won the Pulitzer for his work at the Washington Post investigating the root causes of poverty and teen pregnancy. To get to these deep underlying stories, he would conduct several series of very in-depth biographical interviews -- one of the subjects' family histories, another of school history, another on church and still another on the subjjects' social lives (their friendships and romantic relationships). All of these interviews begin with the subjects' earliest memories and progress very slowly from there. Each history is typically explored in several interviews, each lasting an hour to 90 minutes. These are all tape recorded and transcribed prior to the subsequent interviews.

He started doing this because when he sat down and tried to ask folks directly about things like teen pregnancy and poverty he would get canned answers that weren't particularly enlightening. But by facilitating an autobiographical discourse, he found that subjects would eventually get around to describing the deep underlying forces that drive their lives.

It's really hard work (especially the transcription part, which is maddening), but the results are remarkable. I conducted one on Wednesday night, and by the end of it I had gathered some fascinating information about the subject's spiritual life, which is one of the primary aims of my journalistic inquiry.

I'm starting to think I might be ready to start piecing together a proposal. I think I'll begin Thanksgiving weekend, right after I ship my manuscript back to the publisher for them to begin laying out in an actual book.

So exciting!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

channel 41's big investigation

Last night I did something I rarely do: I watched the news. I lucked out, I guess. Channel 41, our local NBC affiliate, was airing a big woopty-doo investigation of the Kansas City School District.

I heard about this investigation back in September. That's when district officials sent teachers an e-mail informing them that the station had filed a Sunshine Law request for the e-mail address of every teacher in the district. In the memo they reminded the teachers of district policy that no one is allowed to talk to the media without first getting permission from Central Office.

In last night's report, the NBC reporter made a big deal about this, saying that their report offered information district officials "don't want you to know." He added indignantly that district officials blocked the station's domain name from their e-mail system.

Channel 41 got a few sympathy points from me here. It's a crime how hard it is to get information out of the school district. When I was working for the Pitch, it got to the point where I had to CC the lawyer for New Times (which owns the Pitch) on every info request I made of the school district.

But then it's hard to blame the district for playing interference when the info winds up in lazy and dumb reports like this.

OK. Maybe I'm being unfair. The district has a real challenge with regards to school safety, and they don't always meet it. Case in point: Early this year a kid got his throat slit at Central High. From what I gathered on the gossip chain, the alleged assailant had snuck an Exacto blade into the school. Worse, the blade bearer is rumored to have been transfered to Cedntral from another school after being kicked out for violent behavior, but the administrators and teachers at Central were not informed of this, nor of the student's history of mental health problems.

On the other hand, KC school officials are so vigilent about safety that schools like Central feel more like prisons than places of learning. Plus, as Superintendent Taylor said in the news report, the school system has to provide an education to the city's kids. Presumably this includes the so-called problem kids.

So the issue is much more complicated and difficult than Channel 41's report would lead us to believe. The reporter continually harped on the district for allowing students back into schools after they'd done something violent, such as threatening or pushing a student.

But what then? Where do the presumably bad kids go? Do they just disappear? Are they sent to jail? Do they walk the streets? What?

I have some real problems with such simplistic thinking.

Worse, the reporter didn't even try to get at what might be causing the violent behavior they were raising alarms about. For instance, they mentioned instances of arson at Southeast High. But they said nothing about how notoriously wretched that place is as a place of learning. Nothing about the high rates of turnover in that school among teachers and administrators. And certainly nothing about the racist block-busting and white flight that shaped that school's history.

And it really bugs me that the story package was billed as a "School Safety Survey." If you read the actual survey results, you see this is a deceptive title. Out of 24 questions, the survey offers just four on safety. Really, it's sort of a fishing-expedition survey, with a wide range of general questions.

Indeed, if you read through the answers you'll find hints at a much more dangerous violence in the KC school district, a cognitive violence that, in my humbly radical opinion, is nothing short of dehumanizing.

The 20th statement in the survey was "I feel the Kansas/Missouri Assessment is an accurate measure of a student's ability." Eighty two percent of the respondents disagreed, and only ten percent agreed.

This was by far the most decisive response to any of the statements in the survey.

This tells me that the professionals who work most closely with our community's children day in and day out are in almost unanimous agreement that the fundamental basis of our educational system is intrinsically flawed.

That's where the investigation needs to go.

Fix that and I would argue that safety will become a non-issue.

But that wouldn't win sweeps month, would it? The fear associagted with the prospect of violent black kids is a much easier sell.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

jane austen interrupted

Today was a big day for Allie and her Jane Austen buddy, one they'd been looking forward to for weeks. The new Pride and Prejudice opened this weekend in KC. They went to the matinee at the Cinemark on the Plaza. The place was packed with Jane Austen fans, some of whom had driven more than two hours to see the film.

Then, after a half hour of previews, 15 minutes into the movie, the screen went blank, and there was nothing but sound. It was a pivotal moment. "When she first meets Mr. Darcy," Allie tells me. "Elizabeth first meets him. At the ball!"

It took the theater people forever to even do anything about it. This throng of Jane Austen fanatics were left to just sit there seething with neo-Victorian rage. "You could people in the theater shifting around," Allie says, "and maybe like cursing under their breath."

Finally, the lights went on, and they could hear the sounds of people trying to fix things up in the projection booth. But all they could get was pictures and no sound. "So this key, key scene was going by, and you couldn't tell what was going on," Allie says.

After some banging around upstairs, the theater hacks got the sound fixed, but now the pre-movie slides of Coke and popcorn were being projected on top of the film, which was "supremely annoying."

As if that weren't bad enough, the screen then started going blank intermittantly until it ultimately succumbed to complete darkness.

At last, a man came in and said, "I'm not with Cinemark, but I'll tell you what's happening because they're not going to come in to tell you."

Allie and her pal got up to leave. They were pretty steamed. Allie's friend said, "If this had been any other movie, I would've been ok with it."

In the lobby, they encountered an angry mob of Jane Austen fans, shouting stuff like, "This is a big theater! You should have someone working the projector!!"

The manager, I'm told, was being quite pissy about the whole thing.

One woman appeared to be about nine and a half months pregnant. She was especially furious, because she knew this would be the last movie she'd be able to go to for a long time. The woman she was with said to her, "You could go into labor right here!"

"If I do, I hope that manager has to clean it up! Anything to make his day worse!!"

Allie got her money back, and free passes.

george w. bush's head

Regular readers might know that our youngest dog, Gobo, is a biter, which is usually a drag. But then we got him ">George W. Bush's head, and now we're very happy. It squeeks!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


This blog entry is on point. And gutsy -- it's written by a reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News, which is owned by Knight-Ridder (which also owns our beloved Star), and it actually takes a few smacks at the corporate ownership.

What's great about it is that the fictional part that opens the passage is probably the best prediction I've yet seen about the future of news. And I like it! It looks really cool.

I know I bash on the local paper here quite a bit here, but the truth is, I'm scared to death at the prospect of the Star or any other big daily paper going under. Grumbles aside, these papers still have the the only real institutional heft to carry the Fourth Estate forward in our country. Bloggers can't do it. Alt-weeklies can't do it. And TV news is racist drivel.

So this idea of the "norg" being a converged salon of information where folks can enter from whichever direction they feel comfortable, interact with the info, repackage it, share it with one another -- I think it's exciting.

This Attytood post reads in parts like a manifesto:
We prefer to talk down to the public rather than talk to them. Even at our very best – and there are many, many talented newspaper journalists in America – we are more likely to aim at wooing contest judges than at wooing new readers. And we have a knee-jerk tendency to defend our narrow world of messy ink printed on dead trees, when instead the time is here to redefine who we are and what we do.

We are, and can continue to be, the front-line warriors of information -- serving up the most valuable commodity in a media-driven era. But that means we must be the message, not the medium, and so we must adjust to give consumers news in the high-tech ways that they are asking for, not the old-tech way that we are confortable with.

Damn right!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

the last abortion clinic

I was an unplanned pregnancy, pre Roe v. Wade, and I'm happy to be alive. So, on a very superficial level, some of the rhetoric associated with the so-called pro-life movement appeals to me. But I can't get around the hipocracy.

Tonight Allie and I watched Frontline's "The Last Abortion Clinic," about how a seldom discussed Supreme Court decision of 1989 has made it increasingly difficult -- in some cases, almost impossible -- for a growing population of women to choose to have an abortion. The documentary focused on Mississippi, where there's basically just one abortion clinic still in operation. And even that clinic could close its doors early next year.

The show offered lots of interviews with so-called pro-lifers, and it showed them praying outside of the clinic in Jackson. Most of them were men, and I can't recall seeing a black face among them. And I kept thinking, You don't really care about these babies you think you're saving.

After just two minutes of Googling, I found a handful of Mississippi counties where 40 percent of the children live in poverty (that's federally defined poverty, which is artificially low, not actual poverty), and the infant mortality rate is as high as 20 per thousand. Statewide, 24 percent of Mississippi's children live in poverty, the highest rate in the country. Twelve percent live in "extreme poverty."

Mississippi ranks 50th among states (including DC) in per-pupil expenditures on education.

And this:
Mississippi families who pay for care spend an average of 9 percent of earnings on child care. Families with incomes below 200 percent of poverty spend an average of 14 percent of parental earnings, more than the 7 percent of earnings spent by families with incomes at or above 200 percent of poverty.

In Mississippi, at least 41 percent of families with incomes below 200 percent of poverty get some sort of child care help; at least 15 percent have government/organization help and at least 20 percent have all their child care provided free by relatives. The percentage of these families with government/organization help is lower in Mississippi than in the United States as a whole. (Urban Institute)

And, of course, there are lots of kids in Mississippi who are waiting for someone to give them a stable home, as there are in every state.

I'm not necessarily trying to bash Mississippi.

But come on! What are you doing for the kids that are already alive?

In the Frontline show, the Mississippi so-called pro-lifers crowed about these "Pregnancy Crisis Centers" they've established across the state to help poor women deal with their lack of choice. I yelled, "Right on!" at the screen when an anonymous abortion clinic owner addressed these outposts of dubious benevolence.
Right now it seems that the crisis pregnancy centers want to help women have babies, but really offer no real alternatives for women to raise these babies and have no resources truly available to them for the long term.

And again, a woman with children already, some baby clothes and formula and even a stroller isn't going to help for that long. That's just not what's required to raise a child. The whole thing that is really problematic for me is the disconnect between the pre-born and the post-born. I just don't understand that. It seems that so many of these groups, so many of the hardliners, when they say, "I'm pro-life," they mean "I support the pregnancy in utero," in the uterus. But I see so little sustenance and support for women and children, particularly poor women and children. Those are the ones that are castigated and blamed.


I found this description of Central High on a Xanga site:
teachers threaten your families safety to get you on the debate team, and the scariest person in the building is a 5 foot red-headed white woman with a knack for making you feel like less of a man. also there're like 26 people with the nickname toot. and 90 percent of the female population have 'esha' or 'aunda' or 'shaun' at the end of there name. every other female has slept with [BLANK BLANK]. they confiscate cell phones but let people with knives run rampant. only thirteen percent of the enrolled students show up on any given day, and half of the ones that do are late the other half are leaving early. prison is a guarantee for 7 of the 14 people who graduated last year. a dog comes in through the front door and chases a four foot 5 inch girl around the building, twice. the nerds can't spell their own names and can beat the sh- out of any given member of the surrounding suburban schools. everybody wants to be a lawyer and graduate from CMSU. nobody actually graduates from CMSU... i can't think of anything else... lata nigga!

Cross-X by Joe Miller

Monday, November 07, 2005

hard to believe

The first thought that crossed my mind when I read about prison conditions in Africa was, You should be happy. You're life isn't that hard.

Ugh. How self absorbed.

News like this really challenges my faith. Lately I've been praying with fair regularity. Pretty much every morning. I ask God to guide me, to put me to good use. And, down in the bottom of each prayer, mostly unspoken, is a request to feel happy, light of spirit.

Then I read about people stacked up on top of one another in disease ridden shacks in Africa, and I think it's all absurd.

God's plan for me??!!

I just can't make sense of it.

What kind of God would intercede in the life of a privileged American schmoe like me, and yet let so many people live in absolute misery?

To me, that's the hardest question.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


This blog entry is on point. And gutsy -- it's written by a reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News, which is owned by Knight-Ridder (which also owns our beloved Star), and it actually takes a few smacks at the corporate ownership.

What's great about it is that the fictional part that opens the passage is probably the best prediction I've yet seen about the future of news. And I like it! It looks really cool.

I know I bash on the local paper here quite a bit here, but the truth is, I'm scared to death at the prospect of the Star or any other big daily paper going under. Grumbles aside, these papers still have the the only real institutional heft to carry the Fourth Estate forward in our country. Bloggers can't do it. Alt-weeklies can't do it. And TV news is racist drivel.

So this idea of the "norg" being a converged salon of information where folks can enter from whichever direction they feel comfortable, interact with the info, repackage it, share it with one another -- I think it's exciting.

This Attytood post reads in parts like a manifesto:
We prefer to talk down to the public rather than talk to them. Even at our very best – and there are many, many talented newspaper journalists in America – we are more likely to aim at wooing contest judges than at wooing new readers. And we have a knee-jerk tendency to defend our narrow world of messy ink printed on dead trees, when instead the time is here to redefine who we are and what we do.

We are, and can continue to be, the front-line warriors of information -- serving up the most valuable commodity in a media-driven era. But that means we must be the message, not the medium, and so we must adjust to give consumers news in the high-tech ways that they are asking for, not the old-tech way that we are confortable with.

Damn right!

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Yesterday, I got an e-mail from a student at a local high school who apparently reads my blog regularly (I read his, too; when he posts). He wanted help on a homework assignment, which was to interview someone and write a poem based on the answers. I quickly sent my answers back to him, and this morning I was greated with one of the nicest and most touching messages I've ever had delivered to me. I feel a little weird posting it. But I've been pretty down lately, dealing with a lot of very intense, bizarre conflicts. So... I don't know. Just, so, here it is:
The Writer

Through his wireframe glasses, the Writer views
A world in which all the people must choose
Between good and evil, virtue and sin
And all this he incorporated within
Five hundred words in the local news rag
Informing us all, raising a red flag
When injustice rears its horrible head
We march the streets, he uses words instead
Opening doors and breaking down walls
Making us rethink who we pass in the halls
But now he has moved into penning books
Telling a tale of teens judged by their looks
Who overcame the obstacles to win
In a contest ruled by well-dressed men
Even though at times he has pennies to his name
And he might not bask in the glow of fame
Passion for knowledge is what guides his life
Learning as he writes of a world full of strife
As well as joy, and fear, and loathing of all
And through it he continues to stand tall
Never wavering with his true morals
Even if it will strip him of his laurels
On the internet he scribes of his days
And looks at the world with an unflinching gaze
He speaks for others who have no choice
And are screaming, but without any voice

being right

Years ago, when I lived in Boulder, I had a spiritual advisor of sorts. He wasn't some far-out, long-haired dude like you might think. He was a machinist. An old gearhead.

I used to call him when I was in a jam, or I wasn't quite feeling right. Often, this was during periods of conflict.

He'd patiently listen to all the details of whatever drama I was living, and then he'd say, "Would you rather be right, or dead? Because there's no life in being right."

It's so true. When I feel as though I'm "right" and someone else is "wrong," it's as if I cease to fully live. All I do is think over and over and over in my head all the ways I'm right and they're wrong. The thoughts are so persistent and strong that I become numb to pretty much everything else. Dead, in a way.

Cross-X by Joe Miller

Thursday, November 03, 2005

good debate

I spent some of the afternoon at Central High debriefing about the tournament this past weekend. The next stop for the squad is the Shawnee Mission East tournament in Johnson County, which Geoffery and Ebony won last year. It's going to be interesting this year because they won't have the same judging pool. It'll be more folks from the community, and they might not be as open to the "exclusionary norms" arguments Central runs. I think it'll be an interesting challenge, though.

The following weekend, Geoffery and Leodis will compete in Chicago at The Glenbrooks, one of the biggest debate tournaments in the country. There'll be something like 200 teams in their division. Last year, Ebony and Geoffery went 3-4, though Geoffery picked up fifth-place speaker, which was pretty huge.

This tournament's a challenge not only because of its size, but because it's more likely there'll be judges who are resistent to so-called nontraditional arguments. But I think Geoffery and Leodis might have a better chance this year, becauuse they've gottenn a lot better at controlling debate rounds and making it really clear why judges should vote for their case. Which -- Duh! -- is what it's all about.

Debate practice provided a nice break from this weird resentment/conflict hole I dove into over the last couple of days on this blog. It's such an incredible game, really, and sometimes I feel as though I learn more than the kids. It sharpens soo many skills. And I just loved sitting in that classroom at Central for an hour or so trying to figure out how express arguments more clearly, to get down to the essence of

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

mr. journalist

I've been following the adventures of Mr. Cellophone, a brilliant student at Oak Park High in suburban KC, for some time now. I'm particularly pleased with the recent twists of his life story. It seems he's gone and gotten himself enrolled in newspaper class. Today he reported that his first story got published in the school paper, but it wasn't very satisfying:
I got my thing published in the school paper. It's kind of cool to see your name on the front of a paper with several thousand copies. But, ya know, meh. Doesn't change the fact that it's boring as hell. I want to start an Oak Park alternative news magazine. We'd print really subversive and inflammatory and unnecessarily long features about how the administrators are fucking us over with their MAP testing and their socialist philosophies and their high cafeteria prices. Maybe some investigative journalism about how our assistant principal used to be a transvestite stripper or something. We'd write reviews of really obscure Italian films and the newest avant-freak-folktronica albums. It would be called OP Weekly.

Hmm. Sounds like my early career.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

good gates

'm midway through a fascinating and deeply challenging New Yorker article about Bill and Melinda Gates and their efforts to eliminate diseases that affect the poor. By challenging I don't mean tough read, but because it has quotes from world health officals:
"There is one sad fact about the malaria community," kent Campbell, a former chief of the malaria branch at the Centers for Disease Control, told me. "We have always been so wedded to failure that we don't even have the leadership necessary to risk the additional failure to get where we need to be. This would cost two or three dollars a person." He was referring to treatment and prevention services for Africans. "It has gone on for too long. I would love to believe that in the United States this effort is being driven by a decent desire to help, but I don't think most American's give a rat's ass about the death of millions of African kids each year. I don't think they ever have."

Meantime, the Gates foundation has spent "six billion dollars to address health issues in the third world -- more than nearly every other... nation" that contributes to the World Health Organization.

I recall not so long ago believing that Bill Gates was evil. Sort of a 21st Century railroad baron. But, man, if this is where he's going to put his money, I'm all over the Microsoft products.

Gotta dig this:
Gates owns more than a billion shares of Microsoft, which at times have been worth as much as a hundred billion dollars. Today, after his contributions to the foundation, his net worth stands at roughly half that amount. "We knew that we wanted to give virtually all of it away instead of having it go to our kids," he said.

Right on!

Cross-X by Joe Miller

iowa caucus 2005

Some of you more loyal readers might recall a post I made last year about Central High's fantastic performance at the Iowa Caucus, a big debate tournament in Cedar Rapids. Well, we returned this year and did even better.

All of Central's varsity debaters had winning records. Dominique Baker and Sean Easterwood went four-two, though they didn't clear to the trophy rounds.

Geoffery Stone took first-place speaker for the second year in a row:

(BTW, when his name was called at the awards ceremony he received a standing ovation, which is something I can't recall ever seeing at a tournament, though I haven't been around the game for long.)

Sophomores Aaron Thomas and Matheno Frasier-Bey advanced to octofinals, where they lost to eventual champion LeMars High of Iowa:

(This is quite an accomplishment, considering the two are sophomores; the jump from novice to varsity is very, very difficult.)

Geoffery and Leodis advanced to semifinals, where they got beat by a very good team from Wichita East:

(in the process, they picked up their first TOC bid of the year, which is a pretty big deal if you're sompeting on the national debate circuit.)

It was a great weekend, with many highlights. Above all it was great to see our squad (coaches, like me, included) having good, friendly interactions with folks from other schools. There were a lot of Kansas schools there, and it was cool to get to know some of them, and to see them do so well in the competition.

I came home exhausted, but with my spirits lifted considerably.