Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tony Botello's low level of indignation shines a light on some of the absurdity of Kansas City priorities

Tony Botello, when he isn’t testing the boundaries of libel law or propriety, is the king of juxtaposition. His forte is a sort of critical thinking I wish we could teach more often.

In education, unfortunately, we’ve settled on a safe sort of critical thinking to teach – problem solving. Now, I’m not against problem solving, but what we really should teach is the ability Tony has shown to put two things together and – heaven forbid – compare them critically – with the emphasis on critically. Teach kids to take a stand. To call bullshit. To say something is unfair, wrong, needs to be changed, doesn't make sense.

Tony’s work is strongest when he does this. He seems to just naturally see the world this way. That’s the real skill here – seeing the world through this lens. I’m not sure how you teach people to see this way – it may be that life has to teach you to see through things with this lens.

Journalists are supposed to have a bullshit alarm. They’re supposed to possess a really low level of indignation. Supposed to…

Tony struck the sacred with a recent post. He noted the fear some people might be feeling about their safety at the Plaza Art Fair, given the disruptions a few weeks ago by kids with text machines in their hands (and at least one idiot with a gun). Sounds reasonable, eh?

Then Tony did a little genuine critical thinking. Of course, increased police presence would reassure art lovers their annual love fest on the Country Club Plaza would be safe from those people. But what about the safety of, say, a family living east of Troost, enjoying the evening on their front porch? Extra police in their neighborhood?

I'm not sure from reading if these are Tony Botello's words or the words of one of his "awesome" tipsters or the words of the author of the photograph he displayed, but they are words with a lot of power:

"Oh my god will the lily white folk at the plaza art show be safe this weekend with the extra security?? Meanwhile the over/under on young black men being killed this weekend on the east side is 3, and where's that extra security?..."

Now, I’m not sure that argument really holds up. My guess is the East Side already has extra police. A good journalist would check this out. So, Tony only took the argument halfway… BUT AT LEAST HE GOT THE IDEA ON THE MOVE, which may be more than you can say for the gaggle of columnists at the rest of Kansas City media.

A good reporter did find out the numbers. Alan McArthur at the K C Reporter found that each person in the Central Patrol Division is protected by more than two officers for each officer protecting a person in the North Patrol division. In other words, the police department stations one officer for every 320 residents in the 17 miles covered by the Central Patrol while in the 85-mile North Patrol Division the department deploys one officer for every 688 residents, more than double the force.

The department stations one officer for every 564 Metro division residents and one officer for every 474 East division residents, but only one for every 701 residents in the South division and one to protect every 764 residents in the Shoal Creek division.

So, in fact, the department DOES deploy a larger force on the East Side than in other portions of the metropolitan area. But perhaps Tony's argument is that the east side force could use a "surge" of troops given the guns and death there.

Yesterday, Tony Botello’s bullshit alarm went off again, and he landed this nice barrage of punches:

"In Kansas City we don't like making excuses for students caught in a failed school system.

"We don't want to make excuses for people trapped in the desperate circumstances of the urban core.

"We (rightfully) vow that not even women dressed like "sluts" deserve to have their appearance used as an excuse to justify assault.

"We don't like excuses from politicos about increased spending or so many other infrastructure issues that they've pathologically ignored.

"There are some people who still want to make excuses for The Kansas City Chiefs and their pathetic losing streak."

Add something to Mr. Botello’s argument. The fate of the Kansas City Chiefs, or Kansas City Not-So-Royals, isn’t in any league with the serious issues to which he compares them. The fate of any city’s sports teams pales in comparison to education, rape, and crumbling bridges.

But take a look at the list of “most read” stories in the Kansas City Star at 11:08 a.m. Monday morning. Talk about screwy priorities:

· 1. Will Missouri follow Texas A&M out of Big 12

· 2. Cassel’s quarterback play…

· 3. Chiefs lose…

· 4. Two Johnson County residents injured…

· 5. Fatal shooting at car wash…

· 6. Chiefs cling…

· 7. Kicker Succop struggles…

· 8. Royal’s Mendoza…

· 9. Chiefs blitz…

· 10. Olathe drowning victim…

This calls into question the critical thinking skills of Star readers, as well. As teachers, we’ve got our critical thinking work cut out for us, eh?


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moneyball interview with the real Billy Beane contains a reality shot for local baseball fans to ponder in otherwise baseball empty October(s)

Well, as long as I'm into quoting other people, here's some wisdom from an interview today in the New York Times about Billy Beane. Of course, the interview is about the release of "Moneyball" to theaters nationwide. But this is not Beane talking. These are Adam Sternbergh's thoughts, and they make great sense in the conversation we've been having here the past couple of weeks.

Never fear, I'm not out of ideas. Or lazy. I've got some things cooking in the old noodle for later. But ponder this in the meantime:

.... "A five-year dry spell actually places the A’s among the more fortunate have-not franchises in baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays have not made the playoffs since 1993. The Pittsburgh Pirates have not made the playoffs since 1992. The Kansas City Royals have not made the playoffs since 1985.

"Each year, a small-market team with a midrange payroll, like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Tampa Bay Rays, does make the playoffs, usually thanks to a few canny personnel moves, the judicious allocation of limited funds and, most crucially, a stockpile of young talent, collected through high draft picks that are a result of years and years of being absolutely terrible. Such a team has a few seasons to compete with the big boys — the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, primarily — before its young talent matures and bolts for big money, offered up by the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, primarily.

"These occasional breakthroughs by midmarket teams allow those who defend the inherent competitive imbalance in baseball to point and say: “See? It’s not impossible.” Conversely, when a free-spending team like the Los Angeles Angels does not make the playoffs, those same people can say: “See? Money doesn’t guarantee wins.” (These people are, more often than not, Yankees fans.) ...."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Star writer's glass half-full; mine half-empty... prune juice in mine, Boulevard Beer in his

Interesting how two similar ideas can result in completely different arguments. Here is a classic example of the half-empty / half-full glass of water. I hate to be the half-empty glass. This piece about the "new look Royals" by Rustin Dodd from today's Kansas City Star follows the same contours as my more depressing (more realistic?) post Sept. 18, but with a positive spin... to say the least.

As the Royals wind down a season of transition and prepare to enter the offseason, those are the shadows of doubt that follow the franchise.

The Royals are 30-30 since July 19, a steady infusion of youth providing a lift in the season’s second half. But the club has also clinched its 16th losing season in 17 years.

Ratings for Royals telecasts on Fox Sports Kansas City are up 31 percent over last season, including a 65 percent bump in August, according to Nielsen Media Research. But the franchise is still on pace for 90 losses, the 10th time it would reach that mark since 1999.

Attendance at Kauffman Stadium improved over the last two months — the Royals drew 23,980 per game in August and September while averaging 21,289 for the year — even as Kansas City fans were finishing up their 26th straight season without playoff baseball, the longest active drought for a single city in the majors.

“They’ve been waiting a long time,” manager Ned Yost conceded.

Now, the Royals enter their final road trip of the season with a 12-7 record in September, and the numbers suggest that they may have tapped into a fresh source of energy — on and off the field.

Rookies Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez are hitting. Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur are finishing up breakout seasons. And some of Billy Butler’s doubles are finally flying out of the ballpark.

There are still questions.

A few questions, maybe. Like, what the hell are the "new look" Royals? I think everyone who has followed the Royals knows, by heart, the look of rebuilding. The question is, what year are the Royals rebuilding from? 1985?


For a more sober look at this, try this post from Kings of Kauffman: http://kingsofkauffman.com/2011/09/20/counting-chickens/

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chiefs lose 89-10; Royals lose 958 games in 10 years... why? Because you get what you deserve

Kansas City Chiefs: Forty-eight - 3. Forty-one– 7. Cumulative score for 2011: 89 – 10.

Kansas City Royals: From 2001 to 2010, 958 loses. Average 95 loses per dreadful season. 2011? Eighty-six losses and counting with nine games left in the season. Eighty-seven just an inning and six runs away.

Why are Kansas City football and baseball teams so relentlessly dismal?

Two reasons:

  1. 1) Kansas City fans allow them to be.
  2. 2) Absentee landlords.

Kansas City fans allow them to be terrible: The reason here is simple. They don’t vote with their feet. They continue to go to the games. They watch the games on television, despite having in the modern age a plethora of choices to watch other, much more interesting, games. They buy the jerseys. They call into talk radio and they continue to dream.

As long as they continue to do these things, management will have no reason to put winning teams on the field. As long as people buy your cheeseburgers, the restaurant brass has no reason to improve the meat underneath the special sauce.

And, in the case of baseball, they continue to believe in next year, to substitute hope for reality. They continue to prefer the possibilities in Omaha to the realities at Kauffman stadium. How do you think Mike Aviles (three-run home run just now for the Boston Red Sox, who say they have had their eye on him for years), Wilson Betemet, Willie Bloomquist, Raul Ibanez, and Zack Greinke (seven innings, two hits today), feel about the Royals'various rebuilding plans?

Pretty damned good, is my guess, since all five are playing for teams leading their divisions and will no doubt be playing ball in October when the Royals’ brass are busy planning for 2012 and the ballplayers are thinking about fishing, hunting and reseeding the lawn.

You can add Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Alberto Callaspo to the happy list since they all toil right now for three other teams still in the hunt.

I've always believed you get what you deserve in life. Better said: You get what you take. You get from relationships exactly what you are willing to tolerate. Jobs always expand to fill whatever space you give them in your life . People treat you exactly how you allow them to treat you.

Absentee landlords: The hard fact is, the Royals and Cheifs live in rental houses. If you’ve ever lived in a rent house, you know the drill. The landlord collects the rent every month and hopes you don’t call in between. Need the toilet fixed? If you don’t want to use the can at Quik Trip for the next two weeks, better do it yourself. Roof leaks? Get out the buckets.

What incentive does a landlord have to make the rent house top tier? None, if the city is full of renters willing to fork over whatever the landlord wants to charge for the house he offers. That’s the drill. Ask anyone who lives in a rent house.

No one in Kansas City has been willing or able to step up and buy these franchises since Ewing Kauffman died. The big money here – what there is of it – is far more interested in the arts. That’s their choice. The social payoff in a cowtown for supporting the arts is much greater than the payoff for owning a baseball team. That sounds backward but it isn't.

Can’t buy a house? Rent houses are how you live.

Wish it wasn’t so, but it is.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

On a Tuesday morning

Ten years ago this morning, I was sitting in a classroom at Park University listening to a professor speak about public relations. A fellow student came into class late and seemed agitated, and while the professor was in mid-sentence the student said, "Do you all realize the World Trade Center is under attack?"

That was the moment our lives changed. But as President Obama said in an interview with ABC News this morning, our lives really haven't changed that much. People still work in skyscrapers. We still laugh and love and cry, just like before (although we may do all those things with a little more feeling now). We still fly on jumbo jets. We still cross bridges and go through tunnels that have been labeled "potential targets."

As I write this, survivors are reading the names of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some of the survivors are in their teens; they can't be old enough to remember much from that day. I think back to the 21-year-old kid I saw in the mirror back then. I'm glad I was old enough to remember it. I'm glad it's burned into my brain. And I know I'll never forget.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Joe Posnanski on the value of wins in pitching -- The more you know the less you know


This is not a mathematical response to Joe Posnanski’s feeble (on purpose) attempt to resurrect the win as a measure of pitching on his blog and in the Kansas City Star today. I appreciate the power of math as much as the next guy, so don't think of this as some anti-science Republican contender crazy-ass response.

But... I'm trying to wrap my mind around watching a baseball game in which the pitcher is irrelevant. In slow-pitch softball this is very nearly the case but we still spend the winter trying to perfect knuckle balls and teeny dinky little curves and screwballs. Of course these trick pitches don't matter at 20 miles per hour but we simply can't resist. Mentally -- and visually -- it is impossible to take the pitcher out of the center of the diamond. I mean, what if Jeff Francis had not given up four runs yesterday? Would the Royals not have won 6-5?

It seems to me the more we know -- open our minds and allow math to tell us -- about baseball, the more complex and interrelated, and ultimately unknowable, the game becomes. Which is not a bad thing. Just an uncomfortable thing.

Twain wrote that becoming a river boat pilot spoiled the magic of the Mississippi River for him. The river was never the same once he learned its tricks and the mathematics of navigating it.

Like many of my friends, I really like Joe’s blog. Seems to me his writing has improved dramatically across the years. Gone are the cutsie phrases he liked to repeat across the breadth of a column until you yelled ‘Uncle.’ The subject matter is often richer, the writing even more elegant, and the substance enhanced by a lot more interviewing and – yes – more math. I’ve always liked reading him, even before I saw him tip the kid at D’Bronx who made his sandwich.

But I’m wondering why so much of his writing is even better today. Probably getting away from the Kansas City Star is one reason. It would be difficult to shine consistently in that organization – what with the lack of competition among the company he kept (was Jason Whitlock ever really any sort of competition for a writer, let alone a reporter?), the lack of demanding editors, the limit of the small stage. How can you really expect to get up for yet another column for such a small, somewhat unsophisticated audience?

And, you can’t discount the way writing about losing teams must have worn on him. This is a problem many small market writers face daily. Can you really expect his best stuff every morning when he has to write about yet another nine-six loss? Look at what writing about a losing small market team is doing to Lee Judge. He’s been reduced to writing about whether it is better to lose early or lose late.

And, of course, Joe writes A LOT more now than he did in Kansas City. He writes every day in the blog, tweets constantly about what he intends to write, and works on several big takes at once for publication elsewhere – meaning on much bigger stages. Red Smith wrote something about the winning percentages of daily columnists – I think he said he thought two wins a week was pretty good. But he was talking about writing two winners out of five tries. Joe has far more opportunities to win each week (and also to clunk), so you’d expect his wins to be higher but – because you do get better the more you write – you might also expect his skills to improve which means those wins might be inflated by just more practice.

Then again, he writes in the ‘dead bar’ era of newspapering. Whereas most newspapers had their own bars back in the day, and newspaper men wrote a lot more columns on damp bar napkins, you’d just naturally expect Joe to write more winners and less soggy, get-me-over, losers.

But the thing about Joe that is truly stunning is how deep he goes into a column or a post or a story with quality stuff. Many writers – most writers – can knock out a few good graphs at the top of the piece. But, Joe is a finisher. Good to the last drop. Of course, some of that is because he writes – I’m guessing – on very portable computers which – unlike typewriters – can be drug along with you nearly anywhere. So, he doesn’t have to finish in one sitting. And, since he is probably not antsy to get to the company bar in the middle of his column, and because the stakes are higher at the better organizations for which he toils, he has more stamina and better equipment. You’d expect him to go deeper into a column, wouldn’t you?

I mean, how much of how good Joe Posnanski is, can we attribute to Joe Posnanski and how much is out of his control? We’re used to reading one of his pieces and saying, ‘Man, that was well-written. Another winner for Joe.’ But when you really think about it, how much of that winner is really Joe’s doing?


PPS: In looking around for the Red Smith winning percentage I happened on this wonderful piece by David Halberstam about the Great Walter Smith. It is a book review, but it is much more. Please, if you are a writer -- or reader -- don't miss it.

Beauty in math courtesy: http://www.ct4me.net/math_methodology_instruction_resources.htm

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The biggest problem with this country is our inability to educate people to be thoughtful, functioning adults with the ability to think critically

I will not read
the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web. I will not read the comments under articles in the newspaper on the Web.