Monday, April 30, 2007

prophetic image

Pit bulls are the most vicious, angry and dangerous animals on earth. Or so the powers that be would have us believe.

Does God talk to us via YouTube? At least sometimes?

Sunday, April 29, 2007


I begin a new job on Tuesday. I'm excited about it. But more importantly, my new situation has blessed me with two pairs of mentors, a couple of older couples who've been married for a long time, and who've had long, effective and ethical careers in service to others.

I want to crow a little bit about the married part here. I can't believe how lucky Allie and I are to have been given such incredible role models at the exact moment we were planning our wedding. Allie's probably the luckier one in that regard, at least on the surface, because I've suddenly got two outspoken women watching my every move, telling me to treat my woman good.

Case in point: I was e-mailing Gloria back and forth about some minor nuisance or another when she added a PS to one of her notes: "Now, go be nice to Allie - I suggest 24 things today."

This refers to her secret to happiness: Everyday, give your wife 6 reasons why you're lucky to have her. Or 12. It depends on the day. I guess the e-mail in question called for 24.

Believe it or not, it's not the easiest habit to get into, despite the many, many reasons I'm lucky. You know, you get busy, and you forget to do the things that are most important.

But today, on such a beautiful day, with such an incredible life change and opportunity looming on the horizon, and, above all, with such and incredibly beautiful wife, I decided to go the full 24.

Amazing experience. That's all I have to say.

And, of course, I mispoke. I'm much luckier. So long as Allie is happy, I'm the luckiest man alive.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


In what has become an annual rite of spring for me, I went to the DEBATE Kansas City awards ceremony tonight, and by the end of the night I felt happy, hopeful and inspired.

One reason is that the program has been growing like gangbusters. The league started in 1998 with seven schools in one school district. According to a recent report from the league, it now has "29 member schools in five school districts: Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas, Turner Unified School District, Center School District and University Academy Charter School. In the first five years of operation debate related services were provided to 930 students. In the last two years DKC has grown to serve over 1,000 students, including over 600 this year."

But the best part is seeing all the kids I've gotten to know over the years climb the stage to claim their medals and trophies, to hear where they're planning to go for college, and to make fun of some of them for any silly reason I can think of.

And the even better best part is seeing Central totally kick ass.

The league's been around for almost a decade, and, so far as I know, they've won the sweepstakes award (the top prize) all but one of those years.

They won it again this year.

I mean, you know the story by now. The way our system is set up, kids from Central aren't supposed to succeed, let alone be the best. Yet, year after year, they beat the charter schools, and the Kansas schools, and Center School District, and the college prep school that supposedly gets all the district kids. And then they go out into the suburbs and they beat those kids too.

That alone makes the DKC awards night a veritible holiday for me.

(And next year's going to be even better; Central won sweepstakes with a squad that's almost all Juniors.)

this cat's in the cradle

Cross-X has been named as a finalist for the 2006 Harry Chapin Media Award.
The Harry Chapin Media Awards, formerly the World Hunger Media Awards, were created in 1982 to encourage the media to "tell the story of hunger and poverty." The Media Awards honor print and electronic media for their outstanding coverage that positively impacts hunger, poverty and self-reliance. The Media Awards also honor work that focuses on the causes of hunger and poverty and the forces creating self-reliance. This includes work on economic inequality and insecurity, unemployment, homelessness, domestic and international policies and their reform, community empowerment, sustainable development, food production, agriculture, nutrition and the struggle for land.

The winner will be announced June 7.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

monkey business

More evidence in support of evolution. (As if we needed any.)

Turns out that human politics aren't far advanced from chimp politics:
Nepotism is known to be important in chimpanzee society, but male chimps' ability to cooperate extends beyond family connections, new research reveals...

Extensive cooperation among non-relatives suggests that chimps do it for selfish reasons, with the expectation that favours will be reciprocated, says Langergraber. Human societies use cooperation with similar motives – another behaviour shared with our primate cousins.

It's only a matter of time before scientists expose elaborate jungle kick-back schemes.

Monday, April 23, 2007


When I was younger, I was a huge sports fan. I especially liked basketball and baseball. But those games bore me now. These days, the only sport I like is politics. Nothing beats the thrill and excitement of power wrestling. It can work you up into a fist-pumping high or a blood-boiling rage, and all emotions in between. Sometimes it can even make you laugh out loud. Check out this story from the Star:
JEFFERSON CITY | Rep. Trent Skaggs, weary of Republicans slashing Medicaid but proposing tax credits for every industry in sight, found a way to stop one proposal in its tracks.

In debate last week on a proposal to increase the tax credit for companies that produce movies in Missouri, Skaggs offered an amendment the Moral Majority would love.

“No tax credit shall be issued,” the amendment said, “for any film production that does not promote Missouri values (including) the sanctity of marriage and abstinence from illegal controlled substance usage.”

“Those are the issues that they run their campaigns on and it appeals to the constituency that they have kowtowed to,” said Skaggs, a North Kansas City Democrat. “So I was trying to give them a choice: They could stand up for Missouri values or support the film industry and the jobs that could potentially create.”

Skaggs argued that the Republican-controlled legislature should not be subsidizing Steven Spielberg when it had eliminated health care for more than 100,000 poor people and was satisfied funding higher education at its 2002 level.

As Skaggs expected, the amendment left the social conservatives who dominate the House utterly flummoxed. Rep. Bryan Pratt, a Blue Springs Republican, tried to have the amendment ruled out of order, but he was overruled. Others argued that it infringed on free speech rights.

But there was no stomach for taking a vote on whether to subsidize movies that do not promote Missouri values. The bill was pulled from the floor with the amendment still pending.

“I don’t know why they were so afraid,” Skaggs said. “I guess they just don’t want to make tough decisions.”


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

power structures

I got some interesting comments on my earlier post about city power structures. I want to respond to one of them here, rather than in the comments section, because it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Robyne wrote:
A classic indeed. but the issue is not the position held by these folks, but the resources they bring to the table - ie investment. substitute developers in our modern era for the industrialists. KC is the last of a dying breed of family run cities that thrive on corporate and civic networks and cronies. But change comes to every city and it's happening in KC too.

I think a lot of this is on point. Except it's a more accurate description of the "Second Rate" and "Third Rate" levels of Floyd's power structure model than it is of the "First Rate" level. The one phrase I'd like to focus on for a point of friendly debate is "substitute developers in our modern era for industrialists." I'm not sure that's true, at least not here in Kansas City.

A little context from Floyd's book. He described the "First Rate" power brokers as a very small group that is not highly visable. They tend to not serve on as many boards nor appear in the newspaper as often as those in the Second and Third levels. And their influence tends to be on the really big projects and policies which shape the city as a whole. For instance, Kay Barnes's focus on downtown was an idea that came up out of the First Rate power circle, as did the current push for major public subsidies of bio sciences research.

What the Second and Third Rate power brokers do, by and large, is tend to the smaller concerns of the city, and go about the work of making the First Rate power brokers' wishes come true.

Which brings us to developers. With just a few exceptions, they are Second and Third Rate, in my opinion. While they benefit greatly from the schemes of the First Rate folks (after all, there's a lot of money to be made rebuilding downtown), they can also be put in their place very quickly if they get out of line.

I think this is what is happpening right now. A handful of developers and their attorneys got out of line with their use of tax incentives. By using these incentives to develop in places that needed no incentives (IE the suburbs) they've run afowl of both the general public and the First Rate power brokers.

That had everything to do with Mark Funkhouser getting elected.

Think of it as a market correction. My sense is that over the next four years we'll see a realligning of the Second and Third levels. New faces will appear on key boards and commissions, and new parameters will be drawn. And I think a lot of good can come of that.

But the First Rate level won't change, I don't think. My sense is that the "industrialists" and big business owners and CEOs will still quietly set the larger agenda. At any rate, they're not going anywhere. And that's a goood thing, because KC wouldn't be in too good of shape if we didn't have a few anchor tenants, so to speak.

Friday, April 20, 2007

jr. high blues

Changes are happening very quickly in the KC school district. The new superintendent Anthony Amato is really shaking things up. Not sure yet what to think of it all. But at the onset I'm kind of excited about his plan to eliminate most of the city's middle schools.
Amato wants to phase out most middle schools and begin adding sixth through eighth grades to elementary schools...

patron Stacy Evans said she likes the idea of children growing through a neighborhood school all the way to high school.

“I don’t think middle schools work,” she said. “I really like the idea” of K-8 schools.

Amato cites research that says middle-years students perform better in K-8 schools. Students will grow up “in a familial atmosphere where they know the teachers, they know the students."

I'm not an expert on education. Not by any stretch. But when I was working on my book, interviewing kids and their parents, a consistent plotline emerged:

Kids tend to fall off in the sixth grade.

I've got a lot of theories about why this happens, some of which are outrageously radical, so I won't go into them here. But one theory that seems to have some credence is the notion that kids need the nurturing environment of elementary to extend into the early years of puberty.

The years of 12 through 14 are already traumatic enough without having to add the stress of going to a whole new school, with a whole new culture and set of rules (and without recess).

I'm not sure yet about Amato. He's making a lot of changes, real fast. But this K-8 idea really resonates with me.

I don't know if it's the solution. But we have to try something. We're losing way too many kids during these crucial adolescent years.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

floyd hunter

I'm reading Floyd Hunter's classic Community Power Structures. It was published in 1953, and it's about Atlanta, but it's amazing how accurately it describes Kansas City today.

From the book, here is my current Rosetta Stone:
FIRST RATE: Industrial, commercial, financial owners and top executives of large enterprises.

SECOND RATE: Operations officials, bank vice-presidents, public-relations men, small businessmen (owners), top ranking public officials, corporation attorneys, contractors.

THIRD RATE: Civic organization personnel, civic agency board personnel, newspaper columnists, petty public officials, selected organization executives.

FOURTH RATE; Professionals such as ministers, teachers, social workers, personnel directors, and such persons as small business managers, higher paid accountants, and the like.

This is a hypothetical hierarchy of power, obviously. It seems harsh and unfair, I know; and it's certainly arguable. But it's amazing how much things make sense once you understand the order and accept it. Frankly, it's liberating. Knowing the lay of the land, as it were, promising possibilities can suddenly seem possible and promising.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

new blogs

I got some new blogs in my RSS feed. Here they are in no particular order:

  • toellner tells it

  • the kansas city post

  • kc dog blog

  • blue girl, red state

  • the flogging of america

  • hey cameraman

  • well hell michelle

  • Checkum out.

    more good news

    I'm kind of into the good news thing lately. I think it might be because I'm about to become a government flak.

    At any rate, I got all inspired watching a rerun on 60 Minutes tonight about a liberal arts degree program at a maximum security prison. It's offered by Bard, a high-dollar East Coast school.

    I see things like this and I think solutions are so simple. Seems to me we've got everything we need in this country to do what's right. Maybe the reason we don't do it very often is so it'll be news when we do.

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    the joe miller foundation

    After watching Frontline/World this week, I hopped on the Kiva webvsite intending to spend $100. But my donations kept not showing up on my portfolio page, so I kept resubmitting, so I wound up actually donating $175. A good thing, probably.

    So it is my distinct honor to introduce you to the recipients of my initial foray into venture capitalism:

    Novrasta Tagiyeva, Azerbaijan

    Jocqueson Alexi, Haiti

    Previlus Adeline, Haiti

    Philoude, Haiti

    Rosenie Louis, Haiti

    Alejandrina Contreras, Honduras

    John kipkoech Tallam, Kenya

    I can see myself doing this often. I'd like to have a monthly allotment for this sort of thing. And I think it's very doable.

    scary doggy

    Allie and I have become big fans of KC Dog Blog, because we love doggies. But recently the site has taken a particularly profound turn, with a series of posts called Fear Mongering in America.

    From Part 2:
    "We often worry about things that … are not very dangerous, but which seem it. And the reason they seem it is because of … the media who show images and tell stories about terrible, terrible things that happen," said Stephen Dubner, author of the excellent book Freakonomics. "People see those things and they think that they are the norm, and in fact, they are a great exception."

    Dubner goes on to explain how "child resistant packaging, flame retardent pajamas, drawstrings on clothing, children dying from the impact of airbags, side airbags in cars" to name a few "and in fact, the loss of life in each of these is very, very small. But as a marketing tactic, it's an extremely powerful effect."

    Also see Part 1.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    best books for youngins

    CROSS-X has been nominated for consideration by the Best Books for Young Adults 2008 committee of YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association, which, in turn is part of the American Library Association).

    That's tight.

    Isn't that what they're saying these days? Tight?

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    good tv

    It's not often I watch a news program and actually feel happy at the end. Tonight Allie and I caught the tail end of Frontline/World, which is always a favorite. Fortunately, we missed the segment on the war in Afghanistan and went right into a piece on a person-to-person microloan program.

    Absolutely amazing. Middle class folks in the U.S. can type their credit card number into a website and give a $100 or $500 or $50 or whatever-dollar loan to someone in Uganda or some such place. And on the other side of the ocean, people are able to buy stuff that helps them make a living, like tools and stoves. And the lenders can track the actual businesses they support. Like, you can e-mail them and stuff.

    One of the lenders, who started off with something like $100, said:
    There’s something about the tangibility of this compared to a straight donation. I’m helping to buy a bicycle or a chicken farm or a taxi, and I’m helping to expand something that already exists. That to me felt like -- if I don’t get my money back, great, it’s a donation. But if I do, I can reloan the money to someone else. And I can actually feel like a little Bill Gates Foundation or Rockefeller Foundation in my own way.

    Allie and I were so inspired we grabbed our laptops and Googled the company. But apparently a bunch of other people got the same idea, because the website is down.

    This is a good thing, I think -- the website overload, that is. Just so long as the other Googlers out there are motivated to keep trying, like Allie and I are. We're damn sure going to make a loan or two.

    the fiddler

    I think my uncle would find this interesting.

    It's an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

    Good questions. Kinda leaning toward Kant.

    cool stuff

    I've run across a few exciting things lately.

    Like, there's a couple people who live on KC's Eastside who've started this project called viable third. From their manifesto:
    1. I will choose to only spend my money in kcmo's third council district.

    2. I will keep track of what purchases i make that are within and outside of the third on

    For those who don't know, the 3rd District is one of the poorest areas of the city. It could use all kinds of economic revitalization. I'm just thrilled these folks have decided to step up and take a stand.

    And that's not all they're doing. One of the project's backers, airick leonard west is into all kinds of creative things.

    Then, just a couple of minutes ago, I came across a story about Philadelphia trying to lure artists from NYC. This seems like something KC could totally do. I know there are lots of people out there who would love own a whole lot of house for the price of rent on a dinky Manhattan apartment. Or Seattle, for that matter. Hell, you could probably buy ten three-story houses in the Northeast for the price of a 1,000SF condo in them places.

    And the art ... scene ... here ... ain't ... bad.

    Sunday, April 08, 2007


    Guy Fieri, of Food Network fame, spent some time this week with some of my Indiana kin.

    Here's the lede from the story in today's Elkhart Truth:
    GOSHEN -- Guy Fieri tried a forkful of Carol Miller's peanut butter pie.

    He was elated, to use a $5 word.

    But he doesn't use $5 words.

    The Food Network star said, "I just had the peanut butter pie. It was out of bounds, man. I don't like sweets, but that pie was smokin'."

    The Carol Miller in question is none other than my grandma.

    He was in Goshen filming a segment for his show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which premieres later this month.

    Grandma's reaction?
    "I think he likes pie," Mrs. Miller said.

    It's all very exciting.

    Still, I'm a little disturbed. I don't recall ever eating this pie. What gives, Grams? Is it my fault for missing out? Or have you been saving it for a moment of fame?

    puppy update

    I must apologize. It's come to my attention that I've been derelict in my duties. A number of loyal readers (i.e. my mom and aunt) told me recently that they were worried sick about Sadie, the little puppy I almost killed while trying to save. Well, I'm happy to report that she's settling into her new home this weekend. From an e-mail from her new parents:
    Everything is going really well. We've got her all set up with a crate and toys. She seems to like her crate and keeps her toys inside of it. Thank you so much for taking such good care of her. We've already got some great training resources and my husband is enjoying working with her. We haven't even had 1 accident (yet!).

    So there you have. A happily-ever-after finale.