Tuesday, May 29, 2007

pretty colors

Allie has gotten majorly creative lately. Her first order of business: Bring color to our porch.

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(When finished, that window will hang on one end of the porch, blocking out the neighbors we don't like.)

Looks pretty cool, doncha think?

Monday, May 28, 2007

memorial day weekend

In honor of our fallen dead, I worked my ass off in the yard this weekend.

I planted flowers:

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Even in some unusual places:

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I planted veggies:

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I mowed the lawn:

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Oh yeah. And I made retaining walls and planting beds out of chunks of pavement I busted up with a jack hammer:

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I'm going to be sore for a week.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

failure

I had dream. I wanted to get on Cute Overload, and I thought my hedge hogs with tubes on their heads would do the trick. But no. Someone else had to do the head-tube thing and add a cute soundtrack and shots of the little hog flailing in his back.



I think the only thing left to do is torture Gobo again with coffee.

Monday, May 21, 2007

let me see your grill

On Saturday, I was presented with the 2007 William Rockhill Nelson Award for nonfiction. I was also presented with a $500 check, so the next day I headed off to Home Depot to buy one of those gigantic gas grills.

So I marched into the big orange box on Metcalf, in the strip-mall heart of Johnson County, ready to bag my capitalist prey: a Weber Genesis E-320. I'd been eyeing that green-and-chrome bastard for the better part of a month. Now it was finally mine.

As luck would have it, they had an assembled model all ready to go. All I had to do was wheel it through check out and load it into the hatchback.

Then something amazing happened.

As I pushed that grill through the store, every man I passed stopped in his tracks and watched me go by.

One man said, "That's a mighty nice looking grill." Another: "I'm coming to your place for dinner tonight." They all smiled at me, small smiles that seemed to say

God, I wish I had a grill like that!

or

Reminds me of when I got my grill... what a day that was!

or

Isn't it great to be a man?!

It was touching. I actually got a little verklempt.

I think it's going to be a good summer.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

cousin

My cousin Jake is going to be a big star.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

hedgehogs

One of my goals in life is to get something on Cute Overload. I've been turned down once, so here's my second attempt... Hedgehogs with tubes on their heads:







(These were filmed at the KC Pet Expo earlier this month.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

second thoughts

A funny thing happened when I rode my bike to work. I lost my car keys.

And I didn't have a spare set. And my car was parked behind Allie's, so neither of us could drive anywhere until I got a key, which didn't happen until late this afternoon.

So I took the bus to work today, and it was more than a little fun, so now Allie and I are thinking about getting rid of my car and just sharing hers.

The financial benefits are obvious. In total, I probably spend more than $500 a month on transportation. That's almost double my paert of the mortgage.

Plus, busing and biking is pretty fun, at least from my neighborhood. For $40 a month, I can go door-to-door home to work and back again in a little more than 30 minutes a day. And, when it's nice out, I get to bike on Cliff Drive.

Hell, that alone is worth $500 a month.

more oligarchy

In the previous post I mentioned Political Parties, by Robert Michels. I only got about 30 pages into it before setting it aside, at least for now. I guess an early 20th Century tome on the doomed nature of democracy isn't quite the best literary compliment to spring.

So I picked up Robert Caro's The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the fall of New York. And wouldn't you know it? It's pretty much the same thing, only in story form.

In a nutshell, it's a 1,100-page book about a man who started out as an idealist and wound up a self-serving emperor. Caro, in characteristic genius, sums it up in the book's intro:
In the beginning -- and for decades of his career -- the power Robert Moses amassed was the servant of his dreams, amassed for their sake, so that his gigantic city-shaping visions could become reality. But power is not an instrument that its possessor can use with impunity. It is a drug that creates in the user a need for larger and larger dosages. And Moses was a user. At first, for a decade or more after his first sip of real power in 1924, he continued to seek it only for the sake of his own dreams. But little by little there came a change. Slowly but inexorably, he began to seek power for its own sake. More and more, the criterion by which Moses selected which city-shaping public works would be built came to be not the needs of the city's people, but the increment of power a project could give him. Increasingly, the projects became not ends but means -- the means of obtaining more and more power.

As the idealism faded and disappeared, its handmaidens drifted away. The principles of the Good Government reform movement had once espoused became principles to be ignored.

That seems to embody Michels' "Iron Law of Oligarchy," except it takes it further -- at least based on the little I read of Michels' book (the introduction, to be precise). The sense I got from the Michels book is that he was looking at an inherent flaw in a system. And here Caro is writing about human nature, he's breaking it down to its barest elements. He's telling a story that's been told since long before Genesis and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. An old story that is nonetheless always startling. It doesn't gibe with the reality most folks would prefer to create. Certainly not idealists like me.

oligarchy

On a bright, sunny day during the campaign, I caught a ride with the future mayor back to campaign headquarters, better known as The Doublewide. I said to him, "I've been thinking about these insiders we keep talking about" -- a big part of our campaign platform was against The Insiders -- "and it occurred to me that a lot of these people were reformists 30 years ago."

At this, Mark kind of laughed and nodded his head.

"So do you ever wonder if we'll wind up the same way?" I asked.

Mark immediately said no, claiming he's "too old" to fall into such pitfalls. "Besides, that's why I have you," he added. "To keep me from (messing) up."

But, he admitted, there is this thing known as "The Iron Law of Oligarchy." It's an old political science theory, advanced by a man named Robert Michels in the early 20thn Century. Michels studied labor movements in Europe in the 19th Century and he found that they invariably lost their democratic and populist spirits and were taken over by exclusive groups of insiders. They inevitably became oligarchies.

When I pressed Mark a little bit on his optimism and resolve, he admitted, "I'm as human as anyone." But, he said, "I have a lot of faith in democracy."

I went ahead and ordered Michels' Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. I cracked it a couple of weeks ago. It's kind of bleak. From the introduction, by Seymour Martin Lipset:
It is organization which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delgates over the delegators. Who says organization says oligarchy.

These words, first published in 1911, sum up Michels' famous "iron law of oligarchy." In Political Parties, Robert Michels, then a young German sociologist, laid down what has come to be the major argument against Rousseau's concept of direct popular democracy which underlay much of the traditional democratic and socialist theory. For Michels argued that the malfunctioning of existing democracy, in particular the domination by the leadership over the society and popular organizations, was not primarily a phenomenon which resulted from a low-level of social and economic development, inadequate education, or capitalist control of the opinion-forming media and other power resources, but rather was characteristic of any complex social system. Oligarchy, the control of a society or organization by those at the top, is an intrinsic part of bureaucracy or large-scale organization. Modern man, according to him, is faced with an unresolvable dilemma: he cannot have large institutions such as naton states, trade unions, political parties, or churches, without turning over effective power to the few who are at the summit of these institutions.

A pretty high hurdle.

But then, it'd also make for a wicked good debate card.

Monday, May 14, 2007

commute

This week is Bike to Work Week. So, guess what? I biked to work.

Not bad when the bulk of your commute is Cliff Drive.

I'll probably do it a few more times this week. Then, why not? I'll ride again this summer. Might do it once a week or something.

So this is how we save the world?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

lion

A sure sign of summer: Haley get's a lion cut...

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(click for slide show.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

funk

I showed up at Grinders at the same time the Mayor did. I gave him one look and asked his daughter, "Why is he wearing a suit?" Hardly the proper attire for meeting the Prime Minister of Funk.

So we get in and the place is great. Funk shakes a few hands, and in no time he's on stage saying, "These folks have done a lot of creative things over the years, but they probably never thought they'd ever help a big white guy get elected mayor."

But the Prime Minister is nowhere to be seen. The band plays without him.

Thenn, three songs in, Clinton arrives, hair bright red. And what's the first song? Why it's our campaign theme, "Tear the Roof off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)."

In the excitement of the moment I think to myself, It's fate, and I rush over to the Mayor and say, "You should get up on stage with him."

"No," he says to me, as sternly as he ever has.

(BTW, Clinton has the absolute best guitarist on earth. Great show!)

Monday, May 07, 2007

job description

I wrote a week or so ago about Floyd Hunter's classic sociological work Community Power Structure. I borrowed it from my new boss. A day or so after I cracked the cover and dove in, I got an e-mail from him saying "With regards the regular folks, the entire point of the book is the paragraph highlighted on page 1."
There appears to be a tenuous line of communication between the governors of our society and the governed. This situation does not square with the concepts of democracy we have been taught to revere. The line of communication between the leaders and the people needs to be broadened and strengthened -- and by more than a series of public-relations and propaganda campaigns -- else our concept of democracy is in danger of losing vitality in dealing with problems that affect all in common.

My new boss continued: "Your job, Mr. Miller, is captured in that paragraph."

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Saturday, May 05, 2007

the man

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Marcus Leach, one of the main subjects of my book, graduated today from UMKC. Next up: Law school at Howard University.

It's amazing how much he's changed over the last four years. During his freshman year, he kept sending me these absurd e-mails about how many women he'd seduced. It was like three, four a night. And then there was Jane Rinehart's annual Christmas party, during which he referred to himself entirely in third person.

But then he ran for student body president and won in a landslide. Only to be impeached for completely bogus reasons. Only to be reinstated, or something like that, by the chancelor, or someone like that. And for this graduating class he was chosen as the sole representative of the College of Arts and Sciences. He was the only undergrad to cross the stage and have his name called.

Suffice it to say I'm quite proud of Marcus. Here's hoping he comes back home with his law degree and picks up a leadership position here in KC.

Here's a picture of him with his mom, Evaline Lumpkin:

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BTW, Marcus is going to be on TV. His life, anyway. Lifetime Network officially bought the rights to Cross-X yesterday.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

true power

My wife is more powerful than the mayor of Kansas City.

It's true.

Today, at a meeting in the mayor's office we were working out the protocol for how to deal with press inquiries at night and on weekends, I sheepishly said, "Um, but Allie said she doesn't want me bringing my Blackberry along on dates."

To which Hizzoner leaned forward and declared, "Well, anything Allie says trumps me!"

And he was serious.

Toward the end of the day he called me into his office said, in no uncertain terms, my little family comes first.

Not a bad boss.