Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Allie and I are stepping up. We're taking our rightful place in the pack.

A friend of ours loaned us The Dog Whisperer. It's the weirdest thing. Most of the advice is to ignore your dog. To treat 'em like a second class citizen. It seems mean. Like, when we come home, we're not supposed to drop everything and great them with hugs and kisses. We're supposed to ignore them. Not even look then in the eye.

When we feed them, we're supposed to eat a cracker right in front of them, without looking at them, before we give them food.

I definitely wouldn't treat a friend or a relative this way. But the dogs love it. It's like they can finally relax. They don't have to worry about protecting the pack (bite), making decisions and boss around (bark), anything. They can just kick back and feel safe.

snakes alive

The countdown begins.

Thanks, Dreadnaught.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

funny guy

Salon's Video Dog is particularly good today. Check this one out:


A friend of mine, who has more coaching experience than I do, sent me an e-mail this morning:
you can never predict when kids get tired and frustrated and don't want to compete. You're certainly not alone as a coach in feeling that frustration and it's probably not just an urban black kid self-esteem thing. Any coach can tell you that they've had debaters quit on them at the oddest moments when you want it so bad you can taste it.

A touching film

Monday, May 29, 2006


Geoffery and Leodis finished fifth at the National Catholic Forensic League championships. They bowed out in quarters to the eventual champion, Highland of St. Lake City. This was the best any Central High team has ever done at a national championship.

But still, I'm pissed. The guys basically tried to lose that Highland round.

This is a common tactic among our kids, believe it or not. They play it off as arrogance, like they're making some kind of a statement about their superiority. Like they're too good for the competition, that their effort isn't worth the challenge.

But I think it's a race/class issue. They sabotage stuff so that they'll have an excuse for failing. I think it gives them an illusion of control. Instead of giving a best effort and taking a chance at defeat, they decide to just go for the loss. That way it's their choice.

But under this is the obvious believe, however subconscious, that they're inferior, that they're bound to lose no matter how hard they try.

If they lose for not trying, according to this lack of reasoning, at least then they can play the sour grapes card. Somehow that breaths life and pride into their ghetto also-ran ribbons.

I know they're going to be pissed reading this, and they'll come up with a thousand reasons why my interpretation is wrong. And in Leodis's case, a lot of those reasons are probably true. He was sick of debate. And if you don't like what you're doing, it's kind of hard to succeed at it.

Yet, I must say, Leodis delivers this mea culpa valedictorian speech on Wednesday about how selfish he is and how he wants to help others. Then he turns around and farts in the face of a person who has given selflessly of herself for him for the past several years.

The person whose feelings are most hurt by the whole thing is Jane, the coach. After we learned of their loss, she said to me, "I just wanted semis so bad." That woman works so hard to get those kids to these tournaments, and they thank her by deciding they don't care, and trying to lose.

But Geoffery? Ain't no excuse for his bullshit. He's the best debater I've ever seen, and he usually has the taste for blood. I know he wants to win.

But then when Geoffery heard last night that Highland went on to win the whole thing he said, "If I'd known they'd win, I would have tried harder to knock them out."

I watched three of the rebuttal speeches in that round, and I'm convinced they would have won if they had only wanted it. The other team had not one warranted, substantiated argument against ours.

But Geoffery delivered his final speech -- the last speech of his high school career -- sitting down, with almost complete apathy. He had shown up for competition that morning in baggy pants, an untucked shirt and a do-rag.


I just want to ring his neck.

Now Highland gets to go home believing they're the best. Sure, Geoffery can ride the train home thinking he's better. And Jane and I might even believe him. But that's all in our three little heads. All the glory is going to the supposedly inferior team. Everyone in the country believes that Highland is the best. And they ain't thinking shit about little Geoffery Stone and his delusions of grandeur.

I hope Geoffery takes something out of this when he goes to debate for Oklahoma next year. I hope he remembers that every opponent could be the eventual champion. And that if he applies himself every single round, one of these days that champion will be him.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

a sunday

I am in Chicago, paying the Hilton corp (Paris?) $10 to acccess the web. Now regretting the purchase, because I had no e-mail waiting for me, and that's why I forked over the cyber-cough, hoping I'd have a message waiting.

Geoffery and Leodis advanced to quarterfinals of the National Catholic Forensic League championships. It's the best finish Central has ever had at a national championship tournament. Not bad.

I went for a seven-mile run along the lake front. Freaking gorgeous. Especially when I rounded the corner at Shedd Aquarium and the whole Chicago skyline opened in front of me.

Then I went with Sean to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where they had a mediocre Warhol exhibit and a slightly more interesting one by some hotshot photographer. I bought a Sox cap.

Now I'm writing this $10 blog entry. Do you think it's worth it?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

new superintendent

I haven't read much about Anthony Amato, the man hired yesterday to be the Kansas City school district's next superintendent, but I like what I've read so far. Tony found an excelent article in an education trade mag that paints Amato as a reformer who got run out of town for shaking things up too much. That's what we need here -- minus the run-out-of-town part.

I'm a little distrubed by the vote, though. I generally like and respect Marilynn Simmons, Helen Ragsdale and Claude Harris, all of whom voted against him. The Star article states that they dissented because Amato was wishy washy during the application process. I'm not sure if that's a good enough reason, and I'm tempted to read between the lines, though try as I may I can't detect the subplot.

Though I thought the DA article was good, I was deeply disturbed by it. I just can't understand this corruption-in-the-school system stuff. Like, how can you steal from kids? I know it's happening here in KC. I've recently learned that $15,000 has come up missing at a local school -- $15,000 that had been donated by a local business. How can these grown-ups do this crap?

I have hard time believing in the whole concept of hell. But folks like this make me desperately hope and wish that hell is true, and that it burns and hurts and sucks to the infinite power.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Hopefully at some point in the near future the Star will run a story about Leodis McCray, Central High's 2006 valedictorian. I've had the enormous priviledge of getting to know Leodis over the last couple of years. He's one of the brightest and most gifted individuals I've ever known.

On Wednesday, Leodis delivered a speech to his fellow graduating classmates. It was hard to hear against the echoey din of Municipal Auditorium. Here it is in full:

Good evening ladies and gentleman.

When I awoke this morning I realized two things. At first I realized that I had a chance. One last chance to leave an impression on you all. This was it, the last chance I would ever get to prove that I was something other than the nerd sitting by himself at the back of the bus. But, When I was much younger than I am now, I knew I was going to throw that last chance out the window. I’ve always known what I needed to say. In no situation have I ever been at a loss for words and now is no exception. As I stand here peering out at your faces the only word I can say with clear conscience… is sorry. Now I do realize that you may think that I’m being overly dramatic, but please, give me a chance to explain to you what I mean.

Four years. Four long years. I do realize that for some of our older patrons tonight, that four years is only a drop in the pond. But for my peers and me it’s a little over a fifth of our lives. Four years is longer than a lot of people have to live. It takes four seconds for someone to give up the ghost, to the children who never got a chance to breathe four years seems unfathomable. So I’m forced to ask myself that… that in the time people have lived and ended their lives, what have I done of importance? The unfortunate and inevitable answer was and is… nothing. The sad and miserable truth is that in one generation my name won’t mean anything to anybody. Four long years, and I have managed to change nothing.

It’s true that I have earned a diploma, that I’ve achieved a level of higher education the likes of which has been denied to my ancestors for centuries. But that education won’t help anyone but me. I can’t take the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the last eighteen years and place it into the mind of someone else. Pretty words and good grades doesn’t fill a belly or help the hurt and sick. So once again, I’ll apologize for selfishly maintaining my focus on my own petty pursuits. I was so caught up over the last four years that I didn’t remember what was important. Now don’t get me wrong, an education is important. But should never be the only thing that makes life worth living. I’ve let myself become so consumed by obtaining the knowledge that I forgot to apply it. Not once have I used my skills, talents, or knowledge to make the world a better place.

That, and that alone, is the cause of my remorse.

I owe each and every one of you a debt of gratitude, and it’s one I fully intend to pay. Because over the last four years you have been the ones who helped me. I did a kind deed here a good turn there, but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. Because I am who I am I’ve neglected my responsibility to you all. And I feel guilty, not because I feel personally responsible, but because I never got to know those lost friends of ours… our brothers and sisters who aren’t here. Those of us who should’ve been here. Those of us who were robbed of this honor. You all know those names, and I have no right to utter them here. Instead I’ll ask you all a favor. Make me a friend. Now I know this is a strange request, but I mean it. Make me one of those people you turn to when everyone else has turned away. The circumstances are inconsequential to me. I’ll do everything in my power to use what I have gained here to help you. All you’ve got to do is find me and my limited power is at your disposal. I pray that you all will do the same for me. And Yeah, I know it’s a little corny. But I don’t care because the other thing I realized when I woke up this morning… is that I like to help people.

Thank you all, and good luck.

Leodis will be attending Fisk University in Nashville this fall on a generous scholarship. He intends to become a doctor.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

class of 2006

I went to Central's graduation last night. Central's ceremonies are always raucus affairs. There's usually at least one person screaming at any given second. The woman behind us kept screaming, "Michelle Broadway is my niece!!!

This year it was at Municipal Auditorium, also known as the echo chamber. Family members and well-wishers were seated in the upper levels of the stands, a fair distance from the floor, where the graduates sat in rows dressed in their caps and gowns. This detachment, plus the echoing wails, made the whole thing feel surreal, as if it were a dream of a graduation, not a real one.

City Councilman Terry Riley spoke, and I couldn't understand much of what he said, other than to wait until you're married to have kids. And outgoing superintendent Bernard Taylor spoke too. He mentioned the recent study that showed that black men are essentially disappearing and dying off in the United States. In light of this he was thrilled that Central's valedictorian and salutatorian were males. He also noted that Central had a much larger graduating class than in years past, and he turned to the principal, William McClendon, and commended him for a job well done.

I turned to Allie and scoffed, "Yeah, it's easy to graduate them when you don't teach them anything."

I thought about how just the other day I was riding in a car with Dominique and he mentioned he was getting a B in Spanish. To which I said something really simple like, Como estås? or Te gustas Español?

And he was like, "Joe. I said I got a B in Spanish. I didn't say I know Spanish."

Spanish is the only foreign language offered at Central. Dominique is going to the University of Oklahoma on a debate scholarship. I hope he can survive.

Afterward I caught up with Geoffery and gave him a small gift. He told me, with a note of amazement, that there were 250 students who crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. I repeated my crack about not learning. And he said, "No, Joe. Half these graduates are GEDs."

He pointed at a man in a cap and gown.

"That's my cousin," he said. "He's twenty-two."


Here's the headline of the day:
A busier-than-usual final day

Sheesh. That's like something out of the Onion.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

bad business

I'm no business-world genius, but I'm smart enough to know that Warren Buffet is. Seems to me the guy from Omaha has a pretty good sense of what will make money and what won't.

So what did he say about newspapers?

They're in permanent decline.

I can't help but wonder about the Star's beautiful new printing press. Is that going to become a financial albatross around their neck?

If I were still working for a local news outlet, I'd be pouring over documents made public in the Knight-Ridder sale to find out how much they owe on that thing.

Again, I wonder about their web presence. Are they going to put as much effort into making their website look good as they are into their print product?

To me, Buffet's warning seems obvious. I don't subscribe to the paper and I doubt I ever will again. It's big and awkward, too demanding physically. I can't scan it digitally. I have to clean my hands I after I read it. And every week I've got to lub a heavy pile of the old news out to the curb.

No thanks.


Allie sent me another classic from our local paper:
Fear mounts as pair, second woman linked



Tonight, Dominique graduates from high school. He is officially a grown man, I suppose.

Last Friday, as we our plane came in for landing in Chicago, he wailed and reached out to Leodis.

"Hold my hand!" he begged.

patrick dobson

I'm going to vote for Patrick Dobson for Jackson County legislature. Tony says he can't win, but so what. I think I might even give Pat $25.

Here's the deal. Pat and I used to work together. We had a bit of a falling out, I guess you could say. I've said some mean things to him and about him. We haven't talked for years.

But I can say emphatically that he's not the sell-out type. I have not doubt whatsoever that he'd fight for the little guy. Like me, he gets genuinely angry when the game-playing rich snobs continue to run this city and county into the ground for the sake of their own interests.

Personally, I think it's great when impassioned, caring, everyday people decide to get involved in politics. I think this is the sort of thing we should be encouraging instead of poo-pooing. It might be true that Pat doesn't have a chance to win because he's not an in-crowd type. But isn't that all the more reason to get behind him?

Go Pat.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I spent the weekend in Evanston, most of it on the Northwestern campus. The landscaping there is genius.

It's right on Lake Michigan. It's one of those dense campuses, with a bunch of massive buildings crammed together, all built in different eras, so they don't quite match architecturally. In between these monstrossities are small, odd-shaped slices of land. Here grow shrubs and flowers and grass and trees and trees and trees, such that every parcel seems its own complete world.

The trees are particularly stunning. It's as if each one was painstakingly calculated, planted and pruned to provide a perfect mix of shade and sun. I loved the way the branches and leaves shrouded some of the buildings almost completely. It was like walking through a city, with its collage of geometric shape, that had been cut up and remixed with nature.

I wonder who the head landscaper is.

(The photo above links to more blurry camera-phone pix that do the place no justice.)

my namesake

One of the highlights of my weekend was discovering Burger King's new coffee product, "BK Joe." I know I'm quite behind the times, as this product launched in October. But still, I'm thrilled.

  • It's made from delicious, dark brown foreign beans
  • You can order it "turbo-charged," meaning with 40% more caffeine
  • It's got my name written in cool retro helvetica on the cup.

  • What this means is that when I'm on road trips and in need of caffeine in the boonies I can probably find something delicious and druggy.

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    first review

    The PW review came out. You can read the full text of it on Amazon. The verdict:
    For anyone who thinks of high school debate and envisions nerdy teens, the story of the Kansas City Central debate squad will be eye-opening... Lively and engrossing.

    Friday, May 19, 2006

    good news

    Lately, this blog has become is my primary means of keeping my farflung friends and family informed of what's going on in my life. Most often this means dispatches about mundane things and an odd rant or two. But things are really starting to heat up with my book, so I'm probably going to be posting a lot of info about the ins and outs of bringing a book to market.

    I guess that's all well and good, and to be expected, and it might even be interesting to a stranger or two, bla bla bla.

    But there's a dark side: I worry that folks will think I'm putting on airs.

    So I guess I'm in a bit of a pickle. I want to share every trial and triumph with my loved ones, but I don't want to grandstand.

    So, with that disclaimer, I announce that I will be receiving a Starred review in this week's Publisher's Weekly. Apparently this is a big deal.

    This article explains:
    a "starred" review in PW still increases a book's chance of getting media coverage and showing up in your neighborhood bookstore

    (in the end, I guess, it like, screw it -- it's my blog. If I can weep here, I sure as hell oughta be able to holler.)

    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    kind words

    I got another endorsement for the book today. I posted it over there on the right.

    Things are heating up. It's all very exciting.

    on the beat

    Yael Abouhalkah has been doing a great job lately punching the mayor and her cronies in the face with cold hard facts about what shitty money managers they are. And I mean that sincerely, even though I won't seem so sincere after I write this:

    I wrote about this shit more than two years ago.

    That's cool though. People actually pay attention to the Star. My little article had absolutely zero impact.

    (That was back in the day, before Pitch ... stories spurred government action.)


    I'd pretty much written off the MySpace. Then I get this message:

    I dont expect you will remember me, but when I was a freshman at Smoky Hill, you were a senior, not only did you get some jocks off my back (I was a little punker who had just moved from NY), but you turned me on to early Pink Floyd, just wanted to say thanks. I have been running since 1997 and in essence, because of you. Looks like you're doing well, which is great, keep on truckin!


    Totally made my day. And it isn't even six in the morning.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006

    buzz buzz

    This KC Buzz blog is getting really good. Especially the posts by DeAnn Smith. These dishy, inside-baseball tidbits are exactly what I'd hope to see in a newspaper blog. Hell, it's what I hope to read in the paper, but almost never do.

    DeAnn is sort of a polite acquantiance of mine, though there was a time when we just plain didn't like each other. She was my main competition on the KC School District beat when I wrote for the Pitch. She's a tenacious reporter (she won an IRE before she came to KC, which is a HUGE deal). I scooped her a couple of times, but only once did I dig up info that she didn't know about (Elma's lawyer). She knew pretty much everything, but for one reason or another she couldn't get everything into the paper. With this blog, though, it looks as though she'll have an outlet just report and report and report. I hope the other contributors step up with the same moxie.

    And if any of you at Der Buzz are reading this, especially Keith Chrostowski, can I risk appearing arrogant and offer a suggestion?

    The thing about blogs is that it's a community. We read one another's stuff and we link back and forth. I think it's cool that you're linking to these various polls and stuff. But when a local blogger steps up with something really solid -- like Tony Kansas City's interview with Mark Forsyth today, or his killer immigration editorial yesterday -- you'd be well served to give a nod to it. This is something the they did at the best newspaper blog I've ever read -- Philly Daily News's Attytood (it appears to have disappeared from the 'net) -- did quite often, to great effect, IMO.

    I know my opinion plus a buck will buy you a small coffee at Broadway Cafe. But what about Rupert Murdoch? Regardless of how you might feel about the journalism his companies produce you have to concede that he knows how too make money on information in the rapidly changing info age. He recently told a conflab of newspaper editors that the audience of the future is resistent to detached news sources, the God's-eye-view persona of the old newspaper. What he seems to be saying is, "Get out there and mingle with your audience."

    I guess what I'm saying is, if you really want to be a part of the local blogosphere, this community, our community, you really ought to do as we do: join the party, share the love.

    Just my two cents. I hope you don't take offense. I'm really digging the blog.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006


    Last night I had a dream that the Star started posting a link on its site that read "Submit Your Headline Suggests." It wasn't until midway through my tooth-brushing that I realized it wasn't real.

    More WTF? headlines:

    Woman might be allowed to return
    Issues of life and death
    He has no spite over this slight
    Guard increasingly rides to rescue at new flashpoints
    Judge says no to media request

    recommended reading

    Once again, Tony is on point.

    Sunday, May 14, 2006

    more great headlines

    From today's Kansas City Star website:
    Distribution of school funds criticized
    Young competitors take to the stage
    By the numbers
    Empty buildings eyed for center

    Again, all lumped together in a big, confusing, unattractive list.

    Would you want to read any of these?

    Saturday, May 13, 2006

    young love

    This is classic.

    Friday, May 12, 2006

    the truth is out there

    Last month, Curb Girl wrote a poignant post about a supposedly anti-pot billboard on Troost that reads more like an ad for pot. I commented that I thought it was a conspiracy by The Man to get inner-city kids hooked on weed.

    Well, now I'm 95 percent sure I know the real church. According to my very reliable sources, the slogan was devised by inner-city teens, one of whom is a debater who I know fairly well. She's a cool kid -- she won a recent slam poetry contest -- but she's definitely not a smoker. In fact, she's a church-going type, which is totally cool, in my book.

    But the thing is, while she's the kind of person who would be moved by an ad warning that a drug would make you not care, she's also the kind of person who would never take the drug anyway.

    I'm gonna have to razz her about these ads. Curb Girl aren't the only ones in town who've noticed the unintended message of the ads. It's kind of the talk of the neighborhood, near as I can tell.

    foreign objects

    I had a layover in Detroit, so I paused at Caribou Coffee for a breakfast of two delicious muffins. If I am not mistaken, Caribou Coffee is owned by Muslim foreigners. One of the muffins had maple syrup frosting. The young lady behind the counter heralded my choice of this particular variety.

    As I sat there eating, gazing blearily across the busy concourse, a man said, over and over again, if "a stranger approaches you about carrying a foreign object, contact an airline representative or the airport police immediately." And I thought that this is a regulation that I would very much like to induce people to disobey.

    It would please me greatly to one day walk through this airport pushing a cart full of imports. How joyous it would be to stop a weary travelor then hand them a giant sombrero or a gorgeous silk rug.

    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    the visitation

    We all gathered at a funeral home in Elkhart on Saturday afternoon to welcome wellwishers, friends and family alike. At one point I stepped outside for some fresh air. It was a lovely spring day.

    I noticed an older gentleman ride up on a bicycle. Even from a distance of 30 paces he looked rundown. He struggled to chain his fancy red mountain bike to a tree, and he stumbled as he approached the front door. I offered my hand to shake. "I'm Mark's nephew," I said.

    He told me his name was Richard, but Mark knew him as "Bud Man."

    He sported a crewcut and he was missing quite a few teeth. His arms were covered with crude blue tattoos, the kind you get in jail, and they'd grown blurry in his aging skin. One was of a naked woman, another was of a pointy knife. On his right arm was written, "I love to pop."

    He told me he was beside himself with grief; he'd been sulking and drinking all day. "Mark had a good heart," he said. "He was my best friend." I would hear many people say the same two sentences all weekend -- people I doubt anyone in my family had ever met.

    To Richard, Mark was a protector of sorts. "I like to fight," he explained. "And when I'd get mad at somebody Mark would say, 'They ain't worth going to jail over.'

    "I usually listened to him," Bud Man added, smiling. "But not always."

    We went into the funeral home and I introduced Bud Man to one of my aunts. After she politely shook his hand, she whispered to me to keep him away from my grandfather. All day Mark's friends came through the funeral home, and several of us younger members of the Minichillo clan were assigned the task of running interference. They were easy to spot by their clothes, hairstyles and teeth, and they were all friendly and very, very sad.

    We paused for a while at the collage of photos, and the images triggered memories for Richard. By and by I learned that Richard had been to jail a couple of times, once for manslaughter. He'd killed a man in a bar fight back in the 1970s and got twenty years, though he was released after ten. When I asked him what the "love to pop" tattoo was about, he said, matter-of-factly: "Oh, cherries."

    "Mark said to me he knew I ain't a bad guy," Richard added. "He says people should know if they mess with some people they'll get what they get."

    I introduced him to another aunt and he told us a story. He and Mark were in a bar, and Mark didn't believe Bud Man was blind in one eye, so Richard pulled his eye out of his socket to prove it. Mark about fell off his bar stool in shock, Richard said. It was one of the better bar stories I'd heard about Mark, but not the best. The best came from my aunt Lora, a day later.

    We wandered over to the guest book and Richard signed "Bud Man" in shaky cursive.

    I lingered with him for a while on the front steps of the funeral home. He said for the fourth or fifth time that Mark was his best friend. I doubted that Mark would have agreed, but I'm sure Richard was sincere.

    I thought again about the measure of a man's life. I think we all thought at various times that Mark was a failure, and by our standards he might have been. He lived with his dad when he died, unemployed, with no real wealth to his name. But to Richard and the other forlorn friends who stopped by the funeral home on Saturday he was a pillar of the community. A kind heart. A best friend. A foil against jail, or manslaughter.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006


    I found about my uncle Mark's death on Saturday morning, just as I was leaving to a debate tournament in Belton. Mark had been hit by a car and had died instantly. He was 52 years old.

    At first I felt nothing, which is not unusual when such news arrives. The last time I saw Mark was a little less than a year ago. We had coffee and pie at a diner in Elkhart, Indiana, and he seemed unhealthy to me -- physically, yes, but more so spiritually. A few months after our lunch I received news that he had attempted suicide. He recovered fairly quickly, and over the fall and winter I received sporadic reports suggesting that he was getting better. Mark and I didn't really talk much.

    It hadn't always been that way. When I was a kid Mark was a jolly uncle, and I loved it when he showed up at my grandparents' house. I first learned that he smoked pot when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and by the time I was in high school we were party comrades of sorts; we'd do it up whenever I came back to Elkhart or when he came to Colorado. I got into AA when I was 20 and he kept on going. He did more than pot and beer.

    With a few years of sobriety behind me, and with the ignorant arrogance that comes in one's 20s, I came to believe that I knew what was best for Mark. I felt that his parents were enabling him. They baled him out of the myriad crises he stumbled into, and I was convinced that he'd never come around unless he could feel the full consequences of his actions. My prescription was a full-blown intervention, the kind where the family all gets together and lays down an ultimatum: Get sober, or forget about us. It's an effective method, proven so by that Stuart Smalley, but in this instance, I was the only one on board.

    So one day near Christmas in the mid 90s I accosted Mark and told him that if he didn't get sober I'd disown him. I can still picture the look of shock and hurt on his face.

    Things were never the same for him after that. I matured and came to realize how stupid and mean I was. And I had my own lengthy relapse, at the end of which I woke up in Kansas City. I tried on several occasions to make amends with Mark. In fact, I think I mentioned my regret again when we had lunch last year. He always accepted my apologies. But the damage was done. We were never buddies again.

    And -- I have to be honest here -- as sincere as I may have tried to seem in my acts of contrition I was still judgmental of Mark. I couldn't, or wouldn't muster compassion for him. Addiction is a peculiar affliction. I do believe that it's a malady -- no different, really, than my own periodic depression, or, say, chronic fatigue. But its most apparent symptoms are choices, at least they're choices for those who aren't afflicted, and it's hard to reconcile those choices with social norms and expectations. It's hard not to judge, even if (or especially because) you yourself have made plenty of choices that are ripe for the judging.


    Soon after I got to the tournament I began to feel tremendous grief, and it took most of the day before I could understand why. As I said, Mark and I weren't very close. He's not been a steady presence in my life for a good many years, so it would be disingenuous to say that I'll miss him with the ache I've missed others who've passed on, and I'm guessing he might feel the same way. But as I made my way through the day and I continued to probe the feelings I was having I found myself trying to size up Mark's life.

    Like most of us on this planet, Mark was subservient to history, not a shaper of it, so his impacts have been contained to those he had relationships with, and they'll likely disappear when those he touched pass on to to join him, within a generation or two thereafter. So once I got past the superficial assessment of where he wound up in life, or what little material he'd amassed, and began to dig into what he meant to me, that's when I could start to understand why I was so shaken.

    I won't be so arrogant as to say that Mark was sent to earth to test me, but I do believe that there are those who test us. It's like that old line from the Bible, I'm not sure which book or verse, where Jesus says to treat everyone with kindness because they might be Jesus himself. I always think of that line when I meet beggars on the street, and it usually inspires me to search my pockets for something to give.

    But bums are superficial tests. It's easy to part with spare change. I believe that in my relationship with Mark there was an opportunity to achieve something truly wonderful, whatever that might be. And now that he's gone it's equally clear that I blew it. Sure, it was a tough test, one that anyone might fail. But on Saturday the grade came in, and I felt the way anyone who failed would feel.

    internet scandal

    Against my best interest, I agreed to field a few questions from Tony of Kansas City. As suspected, he has completely taken my words out of context, and he may well have destroyed my career. Please watch at my own peril.

    True, I read Tony's blog four or five times per hour day, but I'm not proud of that fact. His sexist and racist screeds and buxom j-pegs are an affront to all that is Kansas Citian and Hispanic, and I am quite frankly shocked that They allow his mother to serve the community as a volunteer.

    Thank you, Tony

    Friday, May 05, 2006

    poor planning

    This is another outrage.

    One argument the Central High debaters often make is that when policy makers are all rich and white, they make policies that are bad for folks not like them.

    This article proves them right.

    And, ultimately, this hurts whitey, too, as the above article suggests, what with the dumb white people bitching about a dearth of workers.

    ax falls on wrong heads

    This is an outrage.

    I'd heard through the grapvine that the KC school district was planning to cut jobs to save money. The way I'd heard it, they were going to axe teachers and demote some vice principals to teaching postions.

    It's a seniority thing.

    That was the theme of the Star article I link to above. Heartbreaking story. Two totally qualified, enthusiastic and energetic administrators get the boot simply because they don't have enough seniority.

    Well, here's a dirty little secret about the KC school district: Seniority equals ineptness.

    That's right. For the most part, the longer folks last in the district the worse educators they are. To survive in the KC district, you have to be a bureaucratic animal who cares first and foremost about self preservation, maintaining the status quo and treating students like numbers.

    If the school board really wanted to make this district better, they'd straight-up fire 90 percent of the vice principals, and 90 percent of the teachers who've been with the district for more than 15 years, and hire young, idealistic and creative teachers out of college at a discount.

    But, obviously, unions and tradition mean more than kids.

    Thursday, May 04, 2006

    a season ends

    Since October I've been teaching debate at a local alternative school. We've only been to one tournament. And for that only one kid showed up.

    Still, we met pretty much every Tuesday and thursday and did the best we could. This weekend we're gonna give another go at a tournament, and, if all goes well, we'll have three kids there.

    Tonight, though, we put on a little demo debate at a school ceremony for the school's donors. It went pretty good.

    Our debaters:




    bones and pickles

    Big night tonight.

    I came home with an order of Arthur Bryants short ends and fries. One sniff and the dogs were beside themselves with lust.

    They stared at me raptly as I sucked clean the bones. Then we retired to the kitchen and I started tossing them bones and fat and gristle and slices of bread soaked with sauce and grease. Their eyes were wild with passion as they gulped and gnawed.

    When all that was left was a handful of pickle slices I started offering those. I held them high and the dogs lept up on their haunches, leaning in, yaps wide.

    But when their nostrils took in a whiff of the bitter pickle stench they paused, confused, looking up at me like, What have you done to me meat?

    Maddy, the priss, retreated, looking wounded and betrayed.

    But Gobo, the biter, stayed up on his hind legs, mouth open, and calculated his options. I could see him thinking through it:

    Not meat. But... This might be the last food I'll ever get



    Interesting column in today's Star.

    I've heard said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It's an old maxim often recited by recovering addicts.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that what the mayor's doing?

    She keeps pushing this economic development agenda. Debt. Tax breaks. Tax increases. More debt. Saying, over and over again, This is how we grow a city.


    Every audit of the city's tax incentive program that I've ever read shows that the projections for revenue are almost invariably overblown. All the evidence out there seems to back up Yael's skepticism about the projected tax income for this big downtown rehab will fall short.

    (I have to throw out an aside here: Yael and I were both at the press conference where they announced some out-of-town company would be developing the downtown district. I asked the muckity-mucks why they're doing a big planned development when all previous big developments seem to have bombed in Kansas City while the unplanned ones (Westport, 39th St) have thrived. I was barked down by Mr. Snooty Developer and made to seem like a fool.)

    But I digress. I have another yet.


    In 1997 a bunch of this city's finest citizens and public officials gathered to try to figure out why our budget's all shot to hell, why we can't afford to do basic city stuff like fill pot holes and fix sidewalks and have sewers that can handle what we flush. They put together a landmark report that said, in no uncertain terms, The city keeps gambling on these big-ticket projects, and the city keeps crumbling and crumbling. Stop the insanity!

    It was a scathing indictment of two decades of major debting and tax-breaking, from which we got dubiously beneficial things like the two big (almost empty towers) downtown, flush creek, Union Station rehab, Crown Center.

    It would seem that all of those were "This is how you grow a city" style schemes.

    But all it seemed to grow was a multi-billion-dollar backlog of unfinished infrastructure chores.

    It's interesting that Herroner the mayor came into city politics during that go-go era of the 70s and 80s.

    I mean, am I an idiot? Can it possibly be so simple?

    From my point of view it looks like plain, old, addiction-variety insanity.

    Like, they keep doing the same shit. It hasn't worked before. But they keep saying This is how it works.

    good things

    I had a nice chat tonight with Regan Senkarik, general manager of the San Jose Mercury News's website. I was surprised to hear from her that I'm in the minority with my beef about Knight Ridder sites' long lists of cryptic headlines. She told me that focus group data has shown that folks like lists of stories without a lot of extraneous info on their news sites.

    But before I go into all of that, I want to deliver on an early promise of giving props to some of the cool stuff I've found on Knight Ridder sites.

    Pretty much all of the papers have blogs. The best one, near as I could tell, was the Miami Herald. But that's kind of a no-brainer: Who else can claim Dave Berry on their in-house blogroll?

    Closer to home, I've got to give some kudos to the Star. While I personally have issues with the KC Crime Scene blog (I think it's Satanic, frankly, but that's just me), I'm happy to see that it's building an audience (of people hooked on good old American fear), as its copious reader comment pages seem to indicate. More importantly, they've done a good job packaging it. It's smart to put it high on the page. And the headlines are intriguing enough to almost lure even me over to look at the page.

    And now they've got this KC Buzz political thing starting up, and I'm totally stoked about that. So far the offerings seem a bit tame, which is to be expected. But I'm guessing the comment action will be pretty exciting. And for bloggers like me it'll provide a lot more fodder to riff on.

    So it's no wonder that when I asked Senkarik what stuff has been working for them as they've experimented with new media she first said blogs.

    Other than that, she didn't seem so sure. She said video offers some promise, but not a lot of Knight Ridder outlets have been working with it. She said the Star has been the front runner in that area, which I had already figured out on my earlier tour. The other site that appears to be experimenting with moving images is the Fort Worth paper.

    But... I spent a little extra time checking out our local video offerings, and it looks like they've still got some work to do. I kknow this was supposed to be a nice post. But... The first video I clicked on was 20 seconds of commercial followed by five seconds of some dude pushing a broom near a highway wreck (I tried to find a link, but apparently someone their discovered this lame thing and mercifully yanked it). Then I clicked another link -- this one for some story about the Chiefs -- and I got... 20 seconds of commercial followed by five seconds of some dude pushing a broom.

    Still, they're trying. And there are a heck of a lot of videos archived on their site. It's promising.

    bad drudge

    transcribing + transcribing = :-(

    good drugs

    endorphines + iPod = :-)

    Wednesday, May 03, 2006

    battle of algiers

    Ebony and I watched The Battle of Algiers last night. Incredible film. It's a faithful account of an early battle in the Algierian revolution to overturn French colonial rule. The events take place in the late1950s.

    For one, it's just an awesome film. Fantastic cinematography, editing. Tight script. But it's also an incredible glimpse into a revolution. So much of what happens dovetails perfectly with much of what you might read if you were studying such things.

    Much of it also seemed quite relevent to what's happening in the woorld right now, in particular the use of torture. The French tortured members of the resistance. Now, with perspective of history, some theorists point to the battle of Algiers as evidence of the inefficacy of torture. True, the French won the battle. But they lost the war.

    But it was probably more than just that. As an imperialist power in the mid 2oth century, the French were on the wrong side of history.

    There were several scenes that really resonated with me.

    About three-quarters of the way through the film, a high-ranking member of the National Liberation Front (FLN) converses with one of the revolution's mastermind, Ben M'Hidi. It's late at night, and they're standing on a terrace overlooking the Casbah, the Muslim quarter of Algiers.

    Do you know something Ali? Starting a
    revolution is hard, and it's even harder
    to continue it. Winning is hardest of all.
    But only afterward, when we have won,
    will the real hardships begin.

    A real-life picture of Ben M'Hidi (I think).

    Later, Ben M'Hidi is captured and paraded out in front of a mob of French journalists.

    Mr. Ben M'Hidi ... Don't you think it is
    a bit cowardly to use your women's baskets
    and handbags to carry explosive devices
    that kill so many innocent people?

    And doesn't it seem to you even more
    cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed
    villages, so that there are a thousand
    times more innocent victims? Of course,
    if we had your airplanes it would be a lot
    easier for us. Give us your bombers, and
    you can have our baskets.

    The actor in the roole of Col. Mathieu

    After a couple of on-point answers like this, Colonol Mathieu, who is directing France's counterattack against the Algierian uprising, cuts the interview short, "before it becomes self-defeating." Then he fields questions from the press

    Colonel Mathieu ... Much has been said
    lately not only of the successes
    obtained by the paratroopers, but also of
    the methods that they have employed ...
    Can you tell us something about this?

    The successes obtained are the results
    of those methods. One presupposes the
    other and vice versa.

    Excuse me, colonel. I have the impression
    that perhaps due to excessive prudence ...
    my colleagues continue to ask the same
    allusive questions, to which you can only
    respond in an allusive manner. I think it
    would be better to call things by their
    right names; if one means torture, then
    one should call it torture.

    I understand. What's your question?

    The questions have already been asked. I
    would only like some precise answers,
    that's all ...

    Let's try to be precise then. The word
    "torture" does not appear in our orders.
    We have always spoken of interrogation as
    the only valid method in a police
    operation directed against unknown
    enemies. As for the NLF, they request
    that their members, in the event of
    capture, should maintain silence for
    twenty-four hours, and then, they may
    talk. Thus, the organization has already
    had the time necessary to render useless
    any information furnished ... What type
    of interrogation should we choose? ...
    the one the courts use for a crime of
    homicide which drags on for months?

    The law is often inconvenient, colonel ...

    And those who explode bombs in public
    places, do they perhaps respect the law?
    When you asked that question to Ben
    M'Hidi, remember what he said? No,
    gentlemen, believe me, it is a vicious
    circle. And we could discuss the problem
    for hours without reaching any
    conclusions. Because the problem does
    not lie here. The problem is: the NLF
    wants us to leave Algeria and we want to
    remain. Now, it seems to me that, despite
    varying shades of opinion, you all agree
    that we must remain. When the rebellion
    first began, there were not even shades
    of opinion. All the newspapers, even the
    left-wing ones wanted the rebellion
    suppressed. And we were sent here for
    this very reason. And we are neither
    madmen nor sadists, gentlemen. Those who
    call us fascists today, forget the
    contribution that many of us made to the
    Resistance. Those who call us Nazis, do
    not know that among us there are
    survivors of Dachau and Buchenwald. We
    are soldiers and our only duty is to
    win. Therefore, to be precise, I would
    now like to ask you a question: Should
    France remain in Algeria? If you answer
    "yes," then you must accept all the
    necessary consequences.

    an inventory

    OK. I've been around the Knight-Ridder world today. I've done a quick inventory. I found some sites that were actually pretty damn good. A few that were almost there. And a lot that were just flat-out hideous and dull and damn near unusable.

    The two best, hands down, were the San Jose Mercury News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    I guess it makes sense the Merc would be the best, seeing as how they're in the veritible center of the online universe. Their homepage had a lot of intriguing energy. I especially liked the celebrity news bar across the middle, with the splashy pictures of the beautiful people. The stories were sorted neatly into categories. I could click on all the news categories and find more stories nicely arranged by topic. And the feed subscription button popped right up with each category. It's a little annoying that the top of the news page looks pretty much the same as the top of the front page. But it's a good start. Definitely something for the rest of the corporation to aim for, in my humble, nearly worthless opinion.

    The Miami Herald is pretty good with categories, too. But their "news" page is still quite bland. No art. And hardly any descriptions of the stories. Seems like just a bunch of sorted headlines.

    On the other hand, The Pioneer Press has a nice local news page. Everything's divided by geographic area. And the clearinghouse of headline/links includes some info about most of the stories, so you get a sense what they're about. The Macon Telegraph is the same, maybe even a little better.

    Contra Costa Times is so-so. Some art on the front page. A few more stories with descriptive link packages. Some categories. But not enough. Especially in the local news department. My sense is that this paper's community (East Bay) is a lot like mine here in KC -- a vast array of municipalities. And, like our local paper's website, they don't do enough to sort out their information by geographic area to help me quickly find what I'm looking for.

    One really good thing about the Star, though: They have a collection of links at the top of the local news page to various "neighborhoods" around the metro area. That's a good start. But it'd be nice to have some of the daily headlines divided in this way. Plus it'd be cool if I could easily find an RSS feed on each of these neighborhood pages (if they even exist). The San Luis Obispo Tribune has these neighborhood news pages too, and they go a step further by categorizing the stories on those pages. Very cool. But, again, couldn't find an RSS feed.

    There were a couple sites that didn't hold to the ubiquitous Knight-Ridder design. Both had strong points and weaknesses.

    The Olympian in Olympia, Washington, is pretty sweet. Up top there are pull-down files. Like, if you click on "news" you get a list of categories, such as "South Sound", which I'm guessing would mean something to me if I lived there. Then if you click on that you get a fairly intelligible list of stories that offers a headline and a brief description. Only drawback: Couldn't find any RSS feeds anywhere. Not good.

    Kind of the same thing with the Idaho Statesman. The pop-up menu navigation buttons are very helpful. But when you get to the local news page, it's just another list of cryptic headlines. And there's no easy-to-find RSS feed.

    From there, it's all downhill.

    The Philladelphia Inquirer might have won a bunch of Pullitzers. But they're a long way from winning a Webby. No local news link on the front page. If you go to their "News" page, it's just a file dump of often cryptic headlines. And it takes three clicks to get to the local news page. And once you do, it's just another big ugly list of links and bylines. Horrible!

    I like the photos on the Bradenton Herald's news page. But when you scroll down it becomes another long, boring, confusing list of cryptic phrases.

    All-out boring and hideous:

    Lexington Herald Leader
    Grand Forks Herald
    Fort Wayne News-Sentinel and Journal Gazette
    Duluth News Tribune
    Biloxi Sun Herald
    The Bellingham Herald (this one steps out of the Knight-Ridder box. But -- Ish! -- what an ugly mess!)
    Akron Beacon Journal
    Aberdeen News

    Ok. So now we know what we're dealing with. Tomorrow I want to give some props to some of the creative things these news organizations are doing online. I saw quite a few on my little tour.

    After that, I'm gonna start making phone calls. It's time to stop bitching and start reporting. Time to get to the bottom of what's going on at the 300-lb. gorilla of the daily newspaper world.


    As I said earlier, the Fourth Estate is too big a responsibility to entrust entirely to the New York Times. More than that, though, I don't think they deserve it. Too often the so-called paper of record in this nation comes off as out of touch. Yet, incredibly, they're snobs about it.

    Case in point: Their response to Stephen Colbert's speech at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

    First they barely even mentioned Colbert's newsmaking speech in their initial report on the event, choosing instead to report on the Bush impersonator, which no one else in the country seemed to care about. Then they come in four days later -- typical tardiness for the Time's response to cultural phenomena -- with this droll backhanded slap of the whole thing.

    Are these Manhattanites really the people we want to give sole authority to define reality in our nation? Don't you think we ought to have at least a few well-paid and capable reporters stationed in places like Aberdeen, South Dakota, and Charlotte, North Carolina? Wouldn't that give us a little less elitist view of our world?

    All the more reason why Knight Ridder must make their websites understandable.

    Tuesday, May 02, 2006


    When I was in junior high I went to Chicago to visit my aunt. I was an avid runner then, and my caloric demand was huge. My aunt fixed me breakfast one day. She can still recite everything I ate. It was something like:

    - A dozen eggs
    - A half loaf of bread (toast)
    - Three pounds of bacon
    - Two packages of Jimmy Dean Sausage
    - For gallons of orange juice
    - One slice of melon

    I think she saw it as an experiment. Kind of like seeing whether or not a dog will keep eating if you keep feeding it, until it explodes.

    I didn't explode. But I got to thinking about this today because I've been running again and my appetite is enormous.

    I like endorphines.

    P.S. This made me laugh out loud.

    garden document

    I don't know what this plant is. I can't figure out if it came from a little plant I bought at a nursery I bought last year or from a pack of seeds I scattered. I did both in this spot, I think. Regardless, it has exploded into a fury of pink and green. I think it's quite lovely. But I fear I'm not a good steward of it. Will it consume everything? Is this how it all ends? Are we to be overtaken by pretty flowers?

    For a springtime State-Of-My-Garden report, click on the photo above.

    more great headlines

    Here's a selection of headlines/links from across the Knight-Ridder universe. Each of these cryptic sentences and phrases represent the sum total of information provided about the articles they link to. Worse, they're lumped in with every other article in a long, boring list of links. There aren't even category subheds to offer some clues about them, to help readers zero in on the information they're looking for.

    Restaurants donate Tuesday

    A lovely day

    Resolved to stay

    Biocube becomes a vexing hexahedron

    Board votes to appeal

    Split forces county out of tax bill

    Attorney wants vigil held

    Circle of life comes to fore

    Just what the patient ordered

    No time to rest -- she lives to help

    Get involved, May 2

    Turn it in

    Days Gone By

    One positive note: I'm beginning to see some variety among Knight-Ridder websites. Not a lot. But the individual papers do seem to have a bit of latitude with their presentation on the Internet. A couple of news organizations actually have designs that depart completely from the Knight-Ridder model, and at least one is actually quite good -- The Idaho Statesman. I'll look a little more closely at those in the coming days.

    Monday, May 01, 2006

    more knight ridder

    Didn't have time to pick up a Star on Sunday to compare print headlines with those online. I'll give it a try later this week, Sunday at the latest.

    I liked my buddy Joel's thoughts about news gathering and packaging. He's definitely on point.

    The issue, obviously, is packaging. A lot of folks seem to prefer getting their news in a repackaged form, be it comedy or blogs. But we still need real reporters going out and getting real news. You need a package to repackage.

    But if all the eyeballs are shifting to the repackaged stuff, where we gonna get the money for the actual stuff? Journalism isn't free. We need to have journalists drawing steady paychecks and earning annual raises.

    So, duh! News organizations have adjust the way they deliver their product.

    No, I don't think the Miami Herald or the San Jose Mercury should become more like Steven Colbert. But they should at least make their websites usable. They should make it so an average schmoe like me can easily figure out what the hell stories their links lead to.

    Last fall Rupert Murdoch gave a lecture to some association of newspaper editors. The folks at Knight Ridder should track down a copy of it and study it. Regardless of what you might think of Murdoch and his effect on journalism, you can't deny that the dude knows how to make money on information. And the gist of his message was: Catch up with the online generation, or die.

    He said newspapers' goal should be to make their website the first place people in their coverage area visit when they go online each day.


    If the Star's website made sense, if I could log onto it and not have to guess what the damn stories are about, if it had a broad array of stories arranged in logival categories, I would likely make it my home page.

    And I'm betting there are a lot of folks like me. People who want good, mostly straight information with a particular focus on my community.

    But as it stands, I go to Tony's Kansas City first everyday. Which is kind of jacked up, really. Not (just) because he's sexist racist pig, but because even he admits he's not a good thorough source for news.

    But at least his damn site makes sense.

    Why can't a multi-million-dollar news organization figure out how to make a news product that makes sense?

    the clash

    Found some footage of The Clash circa 1980. What an awesome band. The best is the stuff from Tomorrow with Tom Snider. Kind of a double treat there -- I had insomnia during Snider's final run on CBS, and I liked him in a post modern sort of way. Anyway, the versions of "Magnificent Seven" and "Radio Clash" are phenomenal.