Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why I'd Be Calling You From Jail

I'm a law-abiding citizen. A "standup guy", if you will.

My worst legal transgression is my habit of driving 5-7 mph over the speed limit.

I know what you're thinking: a real wild man, this guy. *eyeroll*

Well, I am what I am, and right now I'm an adult with a wife, a mortgage, a job, and a retirement account.

In other words, I've got shit to lose. Even if I have a stupid impulse (and these are more and more rare as I age), it only takes me a moment to consider the negative consequences of acting on it. Impulse purged.

Unless...something gets in the way of that purge. I don't worry about peer pressure, lust, any of that stuff.

Nope. I know myself pretty well, and the only thing that worries me is that someone will just royally piss me off / get my goat / push my buttons.

And I will pummel him.

Mind you, a single act is never enough to get me that angry. I will always present an opportunity to defuse the situation. Even a modicum of remorse, humanity, or explanation is enough to talk me down.

What am I getting at?

Today, I spent my lunch hour at Oak Park Mall shopping. As I left the mall, I noticed a car one aisle over swing into the parking spaces a bit aggressively.

Sure enough, the car pulled all the way through about 5 feet in front of me without looking.

I'm glad I saw it coming; even so, I had to slam on my brakes to avoid a collision. I laid on my horn as well. Yeah, I was kinda pissed. It was a really damn close call.

However, the whole thing could have been over quickly. If he had raised his hand and waved or given any acknowledgment whatsoever that could be construed as "my bad", I would have waved back, calmed down, and the situation would have been over.

Recognition. Apology. No escalation. Done.

The next best option would have been what usually happens in this type of scenario: Driver is embarrassed by own incompetence, puts head down, and hightails it away hoping no eye contact will happen.

No acknowledgment, so I would have stewed on it for a few minutes (again, it was really close) but I would have been over it by the time I sat through a traffic signal.

But no.

Bastard flipped ME off.

And I about lost it.

YOU messed up. YOU don't get to flip ME off!

My mind danced with visions of the furious beating I dreamed of laying on this asswipe. That middle finger of his was emboldened by the false sense of security his car provided.

After realizing that I was still right behind him, he got scared, cut through another gap in the parking lot, and ran a stop sign.

Right in front of a Sheriff's vehicle. He was pulled over immediately.

This isn't the first time karma has been repaid so swiftly. That calmed me down pretty quickly.

And I like to think that in any situation I'll calm down, no matter what fingers are raised, no matter what words are spoken.

But I acknowledge that one day, someone might say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and a lesson will be taught.

I doubt this will ever happen. But if you ever get a call from jail, and it's me on the other end of the line, just know that something like this will probably be the reason why.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bar Dating: Where to Drink in NoJoCo

One of the few downsides to life in NoJoCo is the dearth of good bars.

Most drinking establishments in the area are either unintimidating dive bars or sterile sports bars. There isn’t much to distinguish between one place and the next.

Therefore, my wife and I turned a critical eye to some local establishments through a series of "bar dates" in the hopes of finding a decent place to get a drink.

We needed some criteria for judgment.

-Obviously, location is important. Anything more than 10 minutes away, we might as well go to Westport to drink at the bars we already know we like. The closer, the better.

-Jackass clientele is a big hurdle to overcome anytime you’re drinking in JoCo; in fact, it’s generally the biggest hurdle. You’re very likely to be surrounded by preening fauxhawks, loud assholes in frathats (chewing on cigars if they’re outside), or 'woo girls' whose every inane statement is inflected like a question. It can be rough.

We judged ambience as the vibe of the place after extracting the clientele. Music, noise level, and the feeling we got from the place in general. Highly subjective, but like most people we know when we’re in a place where we're comfortable.

Service matters! Friendliness and attentiveness go a long way.

Finally, beer is our drink of choice. We don’t drink Bud Light (or the ubiquitous Boulevard Wheat, for that matter). Having at least a few beers we really like is vital.

(Food was not a factor; we have plenty of places nearby where we like to eat.)

All categories are rated from 1 (lousy) to 5 (excellent).

The Other Place – Downtown Overland Park

Sterile sports bar. Utterly average and vaguely pleasant all the way around. Lots of TVs and an interactive trivia game. Quite a few beers on tap, but few of any real interest – I think 1554, Sam Adams Octoberfest, and Guinness were my top 3. A bit far from our house to become a regular spot.

Location 2, Clientele 2.5, Beer Selection 3, Ambience 2.5, Service 2

Total = 12
Maloney’s – Downtown Overland Park

With the spacious patio, they were considerably busier than the Other Place due to the pleasant weather the night we visited. Not a great beer selection, though they did have Tank 7 on tap. Pretty friggin’ douchetastic on the people front. Service was very friendly, though they appeared to be understaffed the night I was there.

Location 2, Clientele 2, Beer Selection 2.5, Ambience 3, Service 3.5

Total = 13
Birdie’s – 75th and Antioch

Dated but comfortable décor, with lots of brass and old-school bar stools. A slightly older, more modest, well-behaved group of people having drinks. Bartender was super-friendly and took great care of us. Not a lot of beers, but I was impressed that they had the Boulevard seasonal and porter on tap (along with wheat and pale). Can’t really complain about this place.

Location 3, Clientele 4, Beer Selection 3, Ambience 4, Service 4.5

Total = 18.5
Barley’s Brewhouse – 435 and Midland Drive

When we sit on the restaurant side, we’re always pleased with our experience. But if we’re going for a drink, we sit on the bar side, and that’s where the problems start. Make no mistake - it’s a nice place, the servers generally know their stuff, and they have an elite beer selection. But damn if I don’t end up aggravated every time I’m there. Whether it’s the 50-something couple whose makeout-induced spittle almost landed on my shoulder or the assholes who just finished 18 at the muni on the other side of highway who are harrassing the waitress and jostling our table, the people who drink there just piss me off. That and the fact that it is almost as long a drive as the Foundry means we only go here if we’re eating.

Location 1, Clientele 1, Beer Selection 5, Ambience 4, Service 4

Total = 15
Bilski’s – Johnson Drive and Merriam Drive

Nondescript little dive. Its best quality is its location, since it’s about a mile from our house. They have Boulevard Stout on tap in addition to Pale and Wheat, and that’s about it. The epitome of the unintimidating dive. Hardly anyone in there during our visits (early evening), so it was difficult to judge clientele.

Location 5, Clientele 3, Beer Selection 2, Ambience 3, Service 3

Total = 16
The Pour House – 74th and Nieman

Jesus Christ, what a trainwreck. Dark bar, lots of black paint. Patrons yelling at the top of their lungs and pounding on tables, and the staff is okay with it. Bartender didn’t look at us for close to 10 minutes despite sitting at a table next to the bar. Waitress finally approached and said, “How are you?” When I responded with a smile, “Fine, how are you,” she sighed/smirked/expressed her utter displeasure before grunting “fine” as if I’d asked her to clean my toilet. We ordered Pale Ales, a fallback beer for me (and a last resort for my wife). The server went outside, took others’ orders, and forgot about us. After another wait, we told her we had to leave, and we left without having a drink. Thank god, because karaoke was about to start. I’m pissed that I even have to technically give them the location points.

Location 3, Clientele 1, Beer Selection 1, Ambience 1, Service 0

Total = 6
Aftershock – 53rd and Merriam Drive

As much performance venue as bar; we later found out it was the headquarters of the KC Rockabilly Society. However, they had an indie rock show that night in the form of one of those battle of the bands scams where the promoter (not the venue in this case) makes all the entrants sell a certain number of expensive tickets in the hopes of loading the crowd. The bouncer didn’t make us pay because we were just there for a drink and the show was almost over. The band we saw was pretty damn good though, and we thought maybe we had found something great: a place to see music with non-pretentious people, the shows don’t start super late, and it’s a mile from our house.

As the night progressed, we made some realizations. One, all they had to drink (for us) was Guinness. Two, it doesn’t appear they’re open unless there’s a show. Three, by the end of the night, we discovered a large number of those non-pretentious people…were underage. In some cases, like high school age (they apparently have all-ages shows rather frequently). Which really made me feel betrayed, because there’s a covenant between me and a bar: if the bar attracts good-looking people in revealing clothes, I get to observe guilt-free so long as I’m not an ass about it. Now every time I see this in any bar, the first thought through my head is, “Is she 17 or 22?” ‘Cause I damn sure can’t tell the difference. Sigh.

Location 5, Clientele 4 2, Beer Selection 1.5, Ambience 4, Service 3

Total = 17.5 15.5
Waxy O’Shea’s Irish Pub – 63rd and Quivira

There is no singular stellar aspect to this place, but everything is above average. Good bartenders, a few beers on tap that we would actually drink, not far from the house, bonus points for regularly having people 55+ enjoying a pint or two, bonus points for having Bob Reeder and other Irish acts from time to time. It looks like a suburban chain restaurant from the outside (which it was in a previous life) but inside is cozy and welcoming. Until we try a couple more places on our list, this is likely our go-to place for a nearby drink.

Location 4, Clientele 4, Beer Selection 3.5, Ambience 4, Service 4

Total = 19.5

Where else should we try?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Property Taxes: KCK v Merriam

Last week I got my property tax statements.

Yes, that’s “statements”, plural.

Before my wife and I purchased our little slice of heaven in Merriam, I bought a vacant, mostly wooded lot on the WyCo side of the county line. We thought we wanted to build, but we came to some realizations.

First, it would cost a lot more than an existing house. Second, every single person we know who has gone through building a house said it bordered on nightmarish. And HOLY CRAP were there a lot of existing houses for sale.

We ended up with a house we really like, and in retrospect there are even more reasons that building a contemporary home on that lot was better left to our imaginations.

Practically speaking, the lot wasn’t all that great. In the full foliage of summer, the highway noise emanating from the junction of interstates 35 and 635 was a bit muted and the bright lights of the public storage facility behind the lot were shaded from view. In the winter, not so much.

We would have had way too nice a house for the area. This is a commentary on the area, not a commentary on our lavish lifestyle and tastes.

And then…there are those property tax statements I mentioned.

The mill levy in Merriam – that’s the sum of all the taxing jurisdictions, including city, county, schools, JuCo, etc. – is 118.2210.

In the Turner School District (where the vacant lot is located), it’s 177.8620.

Bottom line? The tax rate is 50% higher there than in Merriam. (It trumps northern Overland Park by more than 70%).

To put it another way: a $150,000 house in KCK has roughly the same monthly payment as a $170,000 house in Merriam once you factor in the property taxes.

KCK is still fighting an uphill battle. The tax base has continued to erode in two ways, as people continue to move away (albeit more slowly than before), and their property values took much more severe hit than most areas during this downturn.

I feel for my hometown, but not as much as I did when I lived there.

I don't feel so great when "it's not my problem anymore" runs through my mind. It doesn't stop me from thinking it, though.

Monday, November 15, 2010

George W. Bush on CBS Sunday Morning

Our Sunday morning routine usually involves watching CBS Sunday Morning and reading the paper.

This week's episode included an interview between president George W. Bush and Jim Axelrod, which you can watch here.

On the sickening feeling he got when there were no WMDs:

"Well, because, sickening is the fact that so many people felt that that was the only reason we went in to liberate Iraq," he replied.

"So in a way, the case became undermined, and it frankly, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction let Saddam off the hook."

"Then once it was shown that there were no WMDs, didn't it undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. invading?" Axelrod asked.

"Well, you know, that's part of the problem. You know, in some people's minds, they said, 'Wait a minute, if this is the main part of the case, we made a mistake,'" Mr. Bush said.

"I don't think, I don't agree with that," he chuckled. "I, I think that the liberation of Iraq not only makes America more secure, it gives 25 million people the chance to live in a free society. And that free society, over time, will have a transformative effect in the Middle East."

"And so the liberation, in your view, justifies everything."

"Well, I think, in my view, what justifies everything is the removal of a threat," President Bush said. "[In] other words, the decision to leave him in power, and my judgment, would've been a decision that could've created enormous chaos in the world. Now, as one could envision a nuclear arms race between Saddam and Iran, and then they'd have been saying, 'Wait a minute - the failure to act created enormous stress.'"

On Katrina:

When asked why Katrina was one event where he took too long to decide, President Bush said, "I got caught up in the legal system. [it's] not an excuse. I'm just giving you the facts. And that's the purpose - "

"But you're the President of the United States," Axelrod said.

"No, I know. But that, the purpose of the book is to show you the decision-making process. And in this case, it, in order to send troops into New Orleans, the law says that the governor must declare an emergency and request [them], or I have to declare an insurrection.

"In retrospect, now, knowing what I know today, which is, you know, it's not exactly what you get to do when you're sitting there, I would've sent in troops a lot quicker."

"There was a common feeling that after Katrina, you could never fully regain the trust of the American people," Axelrod said. "Did you feel Katrina was a fork in the road for your Presidency?"

"I felt Katrina was a part of a very difficult period for my presidency," Mr. Bush chuckled. "[in] other words, I said, 'Let's reform Social Security,' and a Republican Congress didn't. Iraq was very difficult in '06. And Katrina was just a part of a narrative that, that, you know, began to undermine me personally with some of the public, a lot of the public for that matter."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Big Show

After 12 years and something like 800 performances, I may have reached the pinnacle of my improv career Friday night.

Tantrum got to perform at the annual conference of the National Collegiate Honors Council. We had a captive, energetic audience of over 1,500 people.

Our show was at The Midland, on the same stage where Jerry Seinfeld had just performed the night before.

It was the largest crowd I’ve ever entertained, and the largest and best venue I’ve ever played.

And we were ON. Just a tremendous show.

Instead of running onto a small intimate stage, we waited--music cranked--for the enormous curtain to be lifted.

Instead of entertaining a few dozen family, friends, and fellow improvisers, we were making more than 1,500 very intelligent people laugh big and laugh often.

It was quite a rush, and of course it was over too soon.

And that, in retrospect, is the bittersweet part of it. Realizing that these opportunities don’t come along very often, that we may never do such a great show for such a big room again...it’s not hyperbole to say that Friday night may have been a once-in-a-lifetime gig.

Damn, was it fun.

P.S. This happens to be my 200th post on this here blog. It took less than seven months to get through the first hundred, and almost seventeen months to get through the next hundred. Thanks to all of you who still check in, even though my output isn’t what it used to be.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Overheard at the Gym

After I finished my workout today, I climbed off the cardio machine du jour and removed my headphones.

A woman, probably about 40 years old, was on the elliptical in front of and to the right of me. She was talking to a girl, probably 13 or 14 years old. I'm assuming it was her daughter.

As I walked past them to return the magazine I was reading, the girl says:

"What are 'show-ers' and 'grow-ers'?"

My head whipped around to catch the mom wrinkling up her forehead, as if puzzled by the question.

The guy on the machine next to her happened to be taking a sip of water, and he did the most wonderful, honest spit-take I've ever seen. As he coughed the excess water away, the mom said, "Well it looks like HE might know!"

The guy looked mortified, and he violently shook his head side-to-side as he tried to gather his speaking voice.

Finally, he said, "That's WAY out of my jurisdiction. I would suggest that you [the mom] look it up first and proceed with caution."


Monday, October 4, 2010

Your 2010 Kansas City Royals

Well, another lost season has come and gone for the Royals. After flirting with 4th place most of the year, they finished with authority and ended the year in the cellar. At 67-95, they had the 5th worst record in baseball. At least they didn’t lose 100.

The 2010 Royals were strange. The first half of the year featured Guillen, Ankiel, Farnsworth, and Podsednik—middling veterans who we knew (hoped?) would not be around in August. The second half showcased…Betemit, Blanco, and Ka’aihue.

Yes, it was an odd year, but at least they didn’t bother getting our hopes up (Ned Yost’s All-Star Break “we’re still in it” comment notwithstanding).

Random observations:

-The Royals leader in home runs was shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt with 16. Yeah. Him. Technically, he was tied for the team lead with Jose Guillen, who was traded in August and only played in 106 games for KC.

Sixteen home runs is tied with the Oakland A’s for the worst team-leading total in baseball this year.

For perspective, Betancourt would have finished NINTH on the Toronto Blue Jays in home runs, behind such luminaries as John Buck.

-Quiz time: Who had the lowest ERA among Royals starters this year? If you said Zack Greinke you are correct. But if you said Bruce Chen, you are also correct – they tied at 4.17. So yes, last year’s Cy Young winner and a career journeyman who throws 86 mph had roughly equivalent seasons. Chen led the Royals with 12 wins.

Speaking of Greinke, he never looked dominant this year. The lack of motivation may have something to do with it, but he never seemed to have any of the electric stuff he showed last year. More alarming, he got absolutely SHELLED a few times. I have no idea what to expect of him next year.

-Joakim Soria is probably the best pick in the history of the Rule 5 draft. The Royals might have the best closer in the game right now, which is about as useful as owning a motorcycle in Alaska.

-Alex Gordon, who is ready to “dominate” next year, batted .215 in a couple hundred at-bats.

I don’t expect much in 2011, and that’s as it should be for a Royals fan. We might see our first glimpses of the future in Montgomery, Moustakas, and Hosmer. But I see another win total in the 60s, while bigger crowds than they really deserve cheer them on between texts and facebook updates.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Final Thoughts Before Kickoff

My posts have been sporadic lately, but I had to get this in before kickoff to lend it any credibility.

Really, this post consists of a single question aimed at a single group.

To those who have been saying:

Yeah, I think the Chiefs are probably an 8 or 9 win team.

Not "if everything goes right and Denver and Oakland are wretched and Philip Rivers gets hurt".

Not "best case scenario".

But with a matter-of-fact tone that suggests a sentiment of, "Yeah, that sounds about right. I'm making a statement with a reasonable level of confidence."

My question is this:

What the hell have you seen that makes you think it is likely that this team will win half its games?

Todd Haley is still a pompous prick who sounds constipated when he talks inanely about guys "caring" and "buying in".

Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis are nothing special; they are simply reputations created as underlings in New England.

Though Eric Berry can't hurt, our defensive front is the same one that allowed a Cleveland Browns journeyman to run for almost 300 years last year.

And last I checked, Matt Cassel was our quarterback.

Enlighten me - what the hell have you seen that suggests doubling last year's win total? I would even have accepted a preseason performance as evidence at this point...but there's not one to point to.

I really hope I'm wrong.

Posted at 8:13pm, FWIW.

Don't Get "Mad"

I don’t get Mad Men.

Granted, I’ve watched only two episodes, but two hours of my life is all the show’s going to get.

People blather on about how beautifully the show captures the 1960s—the clothes, the sexism, the smoking. I got over that in about 15 minutes. Yes, you’ve done your research. Now have your characters DO something.

I’m told I’d appreciate it more if I watched the whole series. Well, yeah; that’s normally the case with serial dramas. It’s just that I’m way past the point of investing time in things while hoping they’ll get better. I prefer instead to move on to better, more promising things. I would far prefer to miss out on something than wish I could precious hours of free time refunded.

I’m not saying it’s a bad show. It’s fine. The acting is good. The subtlety present in the storytelling is a nice counterpoint to the melodrama and David-Caruso-style jackassery so common on the procedural du jour.

However, I think the pendulum swings too far toward style and nuance. If you want me to watch the show, I need something of substance BEFORE your final commercial break.

I guess what I’m saying is I just don’t understand the hype.

Friday, August 27, 2010


So I turn 35 tomorrow.

I’ve been asked how I feel about that.

Not too shabby, thanks for asking.

Don’t get me wrong – the number sounds a bit odd, like it’s not real. It doesn’t seem quite right. It seems like life hit the accelerator about 11 years ago and started flipping calendar pages with reckless abandon.

It doesn’t seem possible that I graduated high school literally half my lifetime ago.

So…although I’ll admit to the occasional head-shaking as to how NOW got here so quickly and stealthily, I can’t complain about life at 35 one tiny little bit.

I’m in good health and in good shape. No ailments, aches, pains, or meds.

I have great friends who make me laugh.

I live in a nice house in a nice area.

I am able to do lots of things in my life that make me happy. Travel, improv, softball, food, drink…in no particular order.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…I like my job—the work, the people, the company. I like all of it.

Most of all, I married the right woman. She makes all the aforementioned stuff 10 times better.

Not too shabby.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Responsible Fast Food Consumption?

It would be nice to have a healthy, sit-down meal loaded with fruits, vegetables, and lean protein 3 times a day.

It would also be unrealistic.

Sometimes the drive-thru happens.

However, if you play your cards right, there are ways to avoid dropping a 1,200 calorie bomb on your attempts to maintain your weight. And I’m only going to mention things that leave me satisfied enough to avoid raiding the vending machine at 2:30.

General rule: Stay away from fatty sauces (regular salad dressings, and anything cheese- or mayo-based). Also, there’s only so much you can do if you order something with a shitton of rice or fried potatoes.

Taco Bell:
It might surprise you to know that a regular taco contains only 170 calories. Three of these makes a reasonably-sized meal. You can even shave 20 calories apiece by ordering “Fresco style”, which replaces the cheese with pico de gallo. I don’t do this, but you can. Also good choices: the new cantina tacos, which have the traditional corn tortilla/meat/onion/cilantro/lime construction. They’re not bad, especially for drive-thru food. Steak (the tastiest of the three) = 160 calories, Chicken = 170, Carnitas = 200 calories.

Panda Express:
There are plenty of good choices here, and they make it easy by displaying the “Wok Smart” logo next to any entrée with 250 calories or less. Get a two-entrée plate, avoid Orange Chicken and Beijing Beef, and you’re set…as long as you choose the mixed vegetables as your side. Here's why: Chow mein noodles (400 calories), steamed rice (420), fried rice (570!)…and vegetables (35).

Lots of low-cal choices, but that doesn’t matter when I am famished two hours later. Plus, it’s just not tasty. I rarely eat at Subway. If you must, do one of the lean 6-inch subs (they're marked as such) with double meat.

They finally published their nutritional info after refusing to do so for many years. It’s probably because a standard burrito there with cheese and sour cream weighs in at 970 calories. Even now, they have a very defensive disclaimer on their info insisting that their calories are far better for you.

To the numbers: the tortilla itself has 290 calories. With that in mind, order a Burrito Bol, or better yet, a salad (if you do the latter, use salsa instead of the 260-calorie dressing).

A Bol with rice, beans, meat, salsa, and cheese will come in under 600 calories. Sub fajita vegetables for beans and it’s under 500. A salad (again, use salsa for the dressing) removes the rice and about 100 calories.

Note: All the meats have roughly the same calories; if you feel like steak or pork, they’re no worse than the chicken.

It’s tough to stay under 600 calories and still get enough to eat here. A McDouble is 390 calories. A six piece McNuggets with one small sauce is 330. Get one of those with a small fry (230), I guess. When I have to resort to this I’m usually hungry again sooner than I’d like. I guess you could do a fruit and yogurt parfait (160) instead of the fries. I mean, if you're into that.

The grilled chicken salads are a reasonable option at 220-320 calories before adding dressing. The balsamic (80 calories/packet) and Italian (120) are the best dressing choices. I just don’t care for the salads I’ve had there.

This is kinda fun. I’ll do a few more when time permits.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A-Rod's 600th and the Hall of Fame

When Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th career home run yesterday, lots of discussion was stirred about his legacy.

The biggest topic: will he be elected to the Hall of Fame?

As most of you know, A-Rod admitted using steroids before this baseball season began. That put him squarely in the company of convicted cheats (Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez), assumed cheats (Bonds, McGwire), and admitted cheats (Canseco, Giambi).

Note that every single one of these players would be a Hall of Famer (yes, probably even Giambi) if we knew nothing of PED use among major leaguers.

Why does the steroid issue bother baseball fans so much more than, say, football fans?

Simple: baseball's history and context and the ability to compare players from different eras are what make the sport special.

The steroid era has made those comparisons impossible, at least right now.

There needs to be a contextual adjustment to understand the full effects of PEDs

And that's why my answer to the question--will A-Rod (or Bonds, or McGwire, et al) get into the Hall of Fame--is yes. Eventually.

In the 1980s, 400 home runs was a magic number. The only person with that many home runs who wasn't in the Hall was Dave Kingman, whose only skill was hitting home runs. He was also a notorious asshole, which didn't help.

But that's basically all it took - 400 home runs.

Now, some people are saying players with 600 home runs (or 762, for that matter) shouldn't be in the Hall because of what they've been caught/admitted to/are suspected of doing.

That leaves two options: close the Hall of Fame to an entire generation of players, or let the chapter close and look at the numbers to understand the context in which they were achieved.

Baseball fans - the seamhead, sabermetrician type - are notoriously obsessed with numbers. Once the pre- and post- random testing numbers have been posted by the players, they will be applied an infinite number of ways in an infinite number of iterations to statistical career norms to understand what they really mean.

From there--and this will likely be 10 years down the road--we will finally have context.

And this numerical context will finally let us know who was truly great, steroids or no.

From a moral standpoint: Look, I'm not a moron - I know steroids had a huge part in shaping the statistical history of MLB's last two decades. But I also believe that the players are no more guilty than the owners, the union, and the commissioner in allowing their use to be as prevalent as it was.

Steroid use undoubtedly provided an unfair advantage. I also believe their use was not only condoned, but encouraged.

I think this middle-ground opinion and time will be the things that get those tangled up in the steroid era to their proper place in history.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gen X Radio

It's hard to find stuff I actually want to listen to on the radio, and my commute is too short to justify hooking up my iPod and looking for something good on it.

The Buzz is ostensibly what I'd listen to, at least if I wanted to hear Spoon's The Underdog for the eleventy billionth time or the Chili Peppers rhyme syllables with words (hey-o / say-o) or the morning crew do a set-up skit about roses.*

*You do know that almost everything you hear on a morning show--the calls, the fights--is a setup, right? It's been planned in advance. The people on the phone are being paid.

So I hit seek a couple times and ended up at 99.7 FM. It's now billing itself as "Gen X radio", which I find a bit patronizing. However, I figured I'd give it a shot.

I tuned in during Fiona Apple's Criminal. Okay. Fine (though overplayed) song. This could go one of two directions.

Next was Tal Bachman's She's So High. Yeah, they're going that direction. Poppy 90s stuff. Great. Well, I'll give them one more shot...

Who Let The Dogs Out.

Really. I actually waited about 10 seconds because I figured it was some sort of commercial for a pet shelter.

It wasn't.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Beer Roundup Continued

A few more beers to get out there:

Ska Modus Hoperandi India Pale Ale

Ska Ten Pin Porter

The first Ska beer I had was their Red Ale, and it was utterly boring. Never one to give up on a brewery for one crummy beer, I picked up a six pack of Modus Hoperandi. This is a good IPA, though I’ll admit I can detect no subtlety in that style of beer. They all taste roughly the same to me, with some being weaker and not-so-good (Red Hook, Tallgrass) and others being bigger and more flavorful (Bell’s Two Hearted, Great Divide Titan). This beer falls into the better side of that comparison. You could put Titan, Modus Hoperandi, and Lagunitas in front of me and I probably couldn’t tell which was which. It’s better out of a glass (naturally), but isn’t too shabby out of a can either. The can makes it a good choice for tailgating or float trips. $7.99/6 pack CANS

The Ten Pin Porter is a good beer, but just an okay porter. I like a balanced porter, and this one fits that bill. Some malt sweetness, some coffee and chocolate notes, some hops. Definitely worth a try in a make-your-own sixer application; not worth an entire sixer when there are so many better choices out there (including Bell’s, Anchor, Founders, Bully!, Cutthroat, Avery…). $8.99/6 pack

Rogue St. Rogue Dry-Hopped Red

I’ve found that a hoppy red is one of my favorite summer beers, and this one does not disappoint. It’s a nice-looking amber/red color. The taste starts nicely balanced (not sweet, not bitter) and finishes with a crisp, dry hop flavor. Hence the name. This one is a good beer…but if you like this style and can still find Odell Red (it was a late spring seasonal), do that instead. I slightly prefer the Odell anyway, and it was selling for $8/six pack while I paid $12.49 for this Rogue.

Odell St. Lupulin

Speaking of Odell, their summer seasonal is out now. St. Lupulin is an “Extra Pale Ale”, and it’s delicious. Hoppy, with an interesting lightly sweet (but not overwhelming) flavor. It’s not a sweet beer by any means…I can’t figure out a good way to describe it. It’s a Pale Ale with a little something I can’t quite identify. Bull @ KC Beer Blog did a nice back story to the beer last week. I had it on tap at Barley’s a couple weeks ago, and Dish Pizza in Liberty carries it (though I may have had their last bottle Tuesday night). $7.99 to $8.99/6 pack

Southampton Abbot 12

I drank a bunch of good beer when I was in New York last month, but I haven’t bothered reviewing any of them because I made it a point not to drink any beers you can get in Kansas City, and why should I just brag about all the stuff I got to try that you didn’t? Well, I’m making an exception for Southampton Abbot 12.
I was in Manhattan for a training/licensing seminar the week after Memorial Day. My wife came along so we could do some vacationing as well. While I was there, my company called and informed me I needed to stay there to audit a school district. This left me with a good part of the weekend to kill by myself, so I drove out to Southampton Public House, did a beer sampler, and picked up a couple 750ml bottles to take home.
One of these was the Abbot 12, a quadrupel. It looked amazing, smelled amazing, and tasted PHENOMENAL. When my wife and I took our first sip, we looked at each other and just gave each other the silent “whoa” expression. Two more sips in, and she was getting sad because we couldn’t get the beer in Kansas City. This beer was just stunning. Caramelly, a little spicy, a little…figgy? Very complex and interesting. A wonderful special occasion beer; truly one of the best beers I’ve ever had. TRY IT if you have a chance. $12/750ml bottle

My wife was saddened by the bottle’s emptiness:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tantrum Improv Comedy with Bryn Donovan, Author of "An Experienced Mistress" - Friday @ 8pm

Date: Friday, July 16, 2010
Time: 8:00pm - 10:00pm
Location: Westport Coffeehouse
Street: 4010 Pennsylvania
City/Town: Kansas City, MO

There's only one place to see KC's most interesting personalities live, unscripted and uncensored: the Tantrum show on Fridays at the Westport Coffeehouse. Our special guests will tell true stories based on audience suggestions, and Tantrum's team of professional improvisers will spin them into scenes.

Joining us in July:

Bryn Donovan is a poet, a writer and the newly published author of An Experienced Mistress. Her romance novel features a smart, funny painter-chick...the hot, charming ex-soldier who falls for her...and some fantastically written love scenes that make us blush if we think about them too hard. She lives in Kansas with her romantic husband and their goofy golden retrievers.

Tantrum with Bryn Donovan
Tickets: $10
Will almost certainly contain adult material.

Call 816-678-8886 for reservations.

Get to know Bryn: http://bryndonovan.blogspot.com
Get to know Tantrum: http://www.tantrumkc.com

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

(The Appearance of) Diversity in Education

I got this postcard from Johnson County Community College, and I thought the forced diversity depicted in the student photos was rather funny.

Sorry the pictures are lousy…but here’s what we’ve got:

-Asian girl
-White guy
-Middle Eastern girl
-Black guy
-Hispanic guy
-White girl
-Black guy

A veritable Rainbow Coalition, eh?

From their own website:
Female students make up 54 percent of the student body. About 16.5 percent are non-Caucasian.

In other words, 71.4% (postcard), 16.5% (reality).

I think I like this commercial even better, as it divides time equally between academic programs and jackass students messing with their mobile devices.

Dude at the end giving the “what’s up” shrug and going right back to the phone…exactly how does that sell your school?

(Dotte aside: I wish I could find the KCKCC commercial online. It's even lower budget, if you can imagine that. It consists of a white guy, black guy, Asian girl, and Hispanic girl, each slowly turning to the camera. The two guys were menacing as HELL, mugging 'Dotte style for all to see. Oh - and one of the quotes at the bottom of the screen used the word 'exiciting'.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Overdue Beer Roundup

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so I figure it’s about time. As requested, I added the price I paid.

Lagunitas Imperial Red (2009)
First things first: I opened one of the bottles from the previous post. It was still rather tasty and drinkable, but there were little hints of “off” flavors that indicate it was showing its age a bit. That, or I was really trying to find them. Either way, I’m not throwing it out. I wish they brewed it again this year. $8.99/6 pack

UPDATE: The 2nd bottle I had was more or less ruined. Definitely not right. I won't be going back to Lukas any time soon.

O’Fallon Wee Heavy
This is a Scotch ale, and a potent one at that – it comes in a hair over 10%. Virtually zero carbonation. Syrupy and a bit overwhelming. It would be an okay sipper in November in front of the fire, but not this time of year. Overall, just too much if you’re not in the mood for brandy. I struggled to finish a half-bottle. Great Divide’s Claymore Scotch Ale is a much better, more drinkable choice. $7.99/4 pack.

Crown Valley Big Bison Ale (Belgian Dubbel)

Flying Dog Garde Dog (Biere de Garde)

I put these together for a reason.

Crown Valley is a winery in St. Genevieve, MO that recently got into the brewing business. They’ve been in KC for maybe a month. There were four or five styles to choose from at the liquor store. I picked up some Big Bison Ale because it was marketed as a Belgian Dubbel, one of my favorite styles. It barely resembled some of the Dubbels I know and love. The yeast flavor wasn’t right, the toffee/caramel finish wasn’t there…the flavors simply lacked the depth and complexity that usually bring a smile to my face with a good Belgian.

Flying Dog typically disappoints me; I like their Gonzo Imperial Porter and that’s about it. I tried a bottle of this as part of a make-your-own six-pack, so I figure my risk was minimized. It had the nice, unfiltered look, but didn’t really deliver any complexity.

Both beers are simply cheap versions of Belgian (ok, Bd’G is French) styles that taste…well, kinda cheap. They’re not horrible beers, but they’re not good examples of the styles they purport to represent. It’s as if both beers need full-on recipe tweaking, along with some time. Hell, Biere de Garde literally means “Beer to Keep”; in other words, it’s a brew that is supposed to age somewhat.

Both are $7.99/6 pack. If you want a cheap Belgian dubbel, buy New Belgium’s Abbey for the same price. If you want a very good, mid-priced dubbel, get a 4-pack of North Coast’s Brother Theolonious or Ommegang’s Abbey Ale for about $10. For Biere de Garde, there aren’t many choices in KC. Schlafly does a decent job with a 750ml bottle for $7.49. An alternative would be to try the similar but less sweet Belgian Saison (such as Saison DuPont).

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale
This would be something akin to an Imperial ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Huge hops, huge bitter flavor. It’s still around in most liquor stores despite being a spring seasonal. Delicious beer, but you only need one at 9.7% ABV. Recommended, unless you just got done playing softball in 90º heat. Then it’s a bit much. $8.99/6 pack.

I've got a couple more I'll add when I have a chance.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lukas Liquor Superstore: A Word Of Caution

Last year, one of my favorite beers was Lagunitas' Imperial Red Ale. Hoppy, rich, super flavorful, and only about $8.99 per six-pack made it a great find AND a great bargain.

I've been on the lookout for it this year as well, but I hadn't seen any until this past weekend. My wife and I made a trip to Lukas Liquor Superstore at 135th and State Line to check the selection. We're closer to the one at 119th and Metcalf, but the Missouri store has a somewhat larger selection due to a larger number of breweries licensed to distribute there.

Sure enough, as we made it to the back of the store, two six-packs of the good stuff were sitting there on the shelf.

I was happy, but the fact that Lagunitas beers are just about everywhere these days made me a bit suspicious that I hadn't seen the Imperial Red anywhere else in the Metro.

(That, and two different people have told me they have found a lot of old beer on Lukas' shelves.)

I looked at the bottles for clues only to find a lengthy serial number stamped on each with no obvious "code" to determine the brew date.

After picking up a couple other treats, we headed to the cashier. I asked if there was any way to make sure this wasn't left over from last year. She emphatically told me there was no way this could be left over from last year; they keep a very tight inventory and there's no way it would be old.

Fair enough; off I went with my beer.

Most who know me would understand I could not leave it at this.

I emailed Lagunitas:

I'm a fan of Lagunitas out here in Kansas City.

I've been looking around for the Imperial Red this year, and I hadn't seen it...until I happened to find some last night.

Problem is, I get the sneaking suspicion it's left over from last year.

So I thought I'd ask:

1. When did you last brew the Imperial Red?

2. If this is an old batch, how does it hold up to aging?

It was one of my favorites last year, so I won't throw it out unless you tell me it's going to be hella skunky.

In the meantime, the Undercover Shutdown will keep me company.


The response (emphasis mine):

Hello (jjskck),

We have not brewed the Imperial Red since last year. It should hold up well if the storage conditions were good. For obvious reasons, I cannot guarantee that it was stored properly or that there were no temperature changes in storing the beer.

I would suggest that you open one up and see.

Hope this helps….


Lagunitas Brewing Co.

I haven't tasted the beer yet, since I'm in the process of finishing a sixer of Rogue's dry-hopped red. But that's not the point.

The point is: if you're shopping at Lukas, you should check your beer to make sure you're getting fresh stuff.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Two Dwindling Industries

I was at dinner with my wife and my mom last night. My wife reminded me that we needed to pick up stamps, and my mom asked whether we had seen that stamps were set to rise in price again.

“They’re going to put themselves out of business.”

Well, possibly, but a two-cent increase in the price of stamps isn’t going to be what does it. I still believe $0.46 is an incredible bargain to send a letter anywhere in these United States, and some things still call for more formality than email. Also, there are still plenty of entities who use direct mail advertising via the USPS.

Ironically, the slow fade of the USPS will benefit from the rapid decline of the newspaper.

Retailers are now pulling their weekly circulars from the daily newspaper, opting instead for direct mail.

When I stopped at Hyvee over lunch, the sign on their door said something like, “For your convenience, our weekly ad will be mailed directly to you beginning July 7.”

Walgreens is about to start doing the same, and I’ve noticed several other retailers no longer appear in the Sunday paper.

The downward spiral for newspapers began some time ago, but that vortex has accelerated dramatically.

It’s a familiar pattern: starting in the 1960s, the KCK population base began to erode. This was followed by an increase in tax rates. More people left, creating a smaller (and less wealthy tax base); therefore, taxes rose again. Repeat this for about 40 years and you’ll see why they’re in the bind they’re in.

Same thing with the newspaper: the circulation dipped, and manpower (and therefore content) was reduced in response. This resulted in even fewer subscribers, and therefore fewer advertisers, which resulted in further staff layoffs until you’re left with…well, the paper we have today.

I love the Star. There has been a newspaper in my house since I was born.

I just don’t know how much longer they can hold on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Burnt Bridge

The following was emailed to everyone in my company, which amounts to several hundred people. The author works in a different city, and I've never met him. I can only assume the author will not get a positive reference in the future. Identifying info removed.

Also, whose fault is it that this person didn't read the employee manual before leaving? Isn't that a no-brainer?

To my shock, after giving notice and having an HR interview, I was never informed of the information below.

Per the (Company) Policy Manual, we do not pay out for unused vacation time unless an associate is employed for at least 18 months. Our Policy states:

“If an associate’s employment terminates for any reason after the associate has been employed by (The Company) for at least eighteen (18) months, the associate will be entitled to pay for vacation which has accrued but which has not been taken. Vacation pay is based on regular base pay.”

Now I believe in professionalism (ed. note: Really? Keep reading.), but I also think the policy above is used to punish employees that do not stay longer than 18 months.

Everyone should know that ANY employee of (The Company) that have been with the company for less than 18 months and are considering leaving for another opportunity, are not entitled to be paid for, or allowed to take accrued vacation.

This is the only company I have ever work for that has this kind of policy (the policy is backed by the department of labor).

In my opinion, if you have less that 18 months service You Should not give any Notice Period it is not required and you gain nothing by giving notice. I would go as far as to say, use all accrued vacation before handing in your notice or quiting.

I wish you all luck and the very best for the future,
(Person Who Quit)

OK Go Still Makes Good Videos

This one is for their song End Love.

The creative use of timelapse and one epic goose make for yet another brilliant video.

“The fastest we go is 172,800x, compressing 24 hours of real time into a blazing 1/2 second. The slowest is 1/32x speed, stretching a mere 1/2 second of real time into a whopping 16 seconds. This gives us a fastest to slowest ratio of 5.5 million. If you like averages, the average speed up factor of the band dancing is 270x. In total we shot 18 hours of the band dancing and 192 hours of LA skyline timelapse – over a million frames of video – and compressed it all down to 4 minutes and 30 seconds! Oh and don’t forget, it’s one continuous camera shot.”
-Jeff Lieberman [Director]

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Wedding

I am now married! Yes, it happened 6 weeks ago...and yes, I’m just now writing about it.

We got married on 5-5-10 at El Dorado Royale, an adults-only “gourmet inclusive” resort located about 25 minutes south of the Cancun airport. We were joined by 16 family members and friends. I’m going to go out on a limb and say everyone had a great time.

For anyone even a little bit interested in a destination wedding, I highly recommend it. To take it a step further: if you KNOW anyone who is getting married, I would plant the proverbial bug in their ear and say, “Have you thought about a destination wedding?“ Because it was a whole lot of fun.

If you’re going to do it, you’re not going to do any better than our resort.

All the details are handled professionally, the place is gorgeous, and all your food (oh, the food) and drinks are included.

It’s an interesting process. You reserve a date and pay a small deposit. Then, you go through and select all the details: flowers, aisle runners, chairs, etc. Instead of contacting 15 different vendors, you can handle it all online. It’s as if you’re shopping on Amazon.com…

Turquoise chair covers? I need 12…*update quantity*…done. Photographer? Yes, please.

It seemed a little strange at first, but once we got down there we found that a highly competent wedding coordinator was handling all the details. We went through a checklist item by item to make sure everything matched up.

The setup was quite nice:

The wedding itself was perfect, and I know everyone says things like that, but I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better ceremony, better treatment, or a more beautiful setting.

We got married as the sun was setting, hence the difference in light levels:

Besides the ceremony itself, there were all sorts of little extras that the resort adds for weddings, honeymoons, and anniversaries. Examples:

Our jacuzzi, decorated on our wedding night

Breakfast in bed the next morning, which included...rack of lamb?!?

Candlelight dinner on the beach, including a custom dessert

The resort advertises itself as “gourmet inclusive”. This means all the food is both delicious and beautifully presented. They have 7 different restaurants, each of which serves a different type of cuisine.

The restaurant in the main lobby serves a breakfast spread that is just a perfect way to start your day. Everything from fresh papaya and pomegranates to empanadas and wedges of expensive cheese…you know, if you’re tired of all the chorizo, bacon, and cinnamon French toast with maple-infused whipped cream.

The dinners are all a la carte, and you can order as many courses as you want. If you’re in a group, you can even ask the server to bring out a sampler of everything and the chef will happily oblige.

Though the beer selection is limited to Mexican labels, you can drink premium spirits and crazy blender drinks all day. Their house wine isn’t bad either.
Most of all, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get a group of people together and go on a nice, grown-up vacation. How often do you get to do THAT?

Since we had 11 people willing to go, we were able to take a private tour of Chichen Itza:

Followed by an incredibly refreshing swim in a cenote (sinkhole).

There’s even horseback riding onsite:

All in all, it was an amazing experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to get married next to the ocean in a tropical climate with delicious food, great friends, and waking up to this on the morning of your wedding.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Operation Bedding, Or: How I Became Outraged Right Before Memorial Day

As I was leaving for work today, I saw a news spot on Operation Bedding.

Adam Conboy, a soldier serving in Iraq, called his mother, Mary, one Sunday. She asked if there was anything she could send him. He said he could use some sheets and pillows...and asked if there was any way she could send these supplies for the other 40 members of his company.

This request caught Mary off guard, so Adam chuckled and said, "Get Operation Bedding going, Mom."

Adam was killed 5 days later.

In his memory, his mother quit her job and devoted herself full time to ensuring our troops get to experience some of the little comforts of home.

It's a bittersweet story, illustrating the sacrifices of war and the outpouring of support that comes in the wake of those sacrifices.

But seeing this story also made me angry.


The reason this soldier was asking for sheets and pillows is because THEY WERE NOT PROVIDED SHEETS OR PILLOWS. He and his fellow soldiers were sleeping on bare mattresses.

Let me get this straight, government--you have troops in a foreign land, risking their lives, paying them squat while they're away from their families...and you can't spring for $25 worth of bedding so maybe they can get a decent night's sleep?

Our prison population is provided bedding. Hell, the ACLU would be all over the penal system if this weren't the case (rightly so, IMO), yet our soldiers have to rely on charity for the same privilege.

Operation Bedding is a noble cause doing wonderful work, but it shouldn't have to exist.

Seeing the story was a reminder that all of our soldiers make daily sacrifices, from small to large to unspeakable.

Keep them in your thoughts this weekend.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Farewell, 24

Tonight marks the two-hour series finale of 24. I’m really sad to see it go.

I have watched the show from the beginning, intrigued by its gimmick: 24 one-hour episodes, ostensibly in “real time”. I was hooked immediately.

The suspense, the twists, the doublecrosses, the assassinations…I’ve seen them all. I’ve lived through both of the Palmer administrations. President Nixon Logan’s impeachment and fall from grace. President Taylor throwing her punkass daughter in jail. Dennis Hopper with a horrible Russian accent. And yes, Jack's daughter getting caught in a friggin' BEAR TRAP.

(Honestly, this last thing was probably the best thing they ever did with Elisha Cuthbert's character. The most common refrain among 24 fans was how dreadfully annoying Kim Bauer was.)

At its peak, the show became a huge hit. I was something analogous to the hipster who “discovered it first”, though I never abandoned the show when it became popular. There were just more people to discuss it with.

Interestingly, the writers of the show do not write the entire season at once. They write some storylines, shoot episodes, then make decisions from there. This stemmed from the first season, when the creators weren’t sure whether the show would catch on or if it would be cancelled at midseason. They had to have a contingency plan so they could tie the series up if Fox did not pick up more than the original 10 or 12 episodes.

Despite lukewarm ratings at first, Fox had faith in the show and its concept. It paid off in spades. Jack Bauer is now a pop culture icon; most everyone knows the name even if they’ve never seen a single episode of the show. Fox also figured out the best way to run a serial drama is nonstop: the last several seasons, the show has had a 4-hour Sunday/Monday kickoff with no shortage of action, thus getting people hooked. This was followed by a new episode every week without taking a break. No reruns, dammit.

To be fair, the show is a demanding one to follow. Like any serial drama, context and backstories are extremely important. Unlike Law & Order or CSI, an episode of 24 is not a story in and of itself. There is no beginning, middle and end wrapped up with a tidy bow at the end of an hour.

The show also requires a major suspension of disbelief. The world of Jack Bauer is a world where cell phones never die, one can get all the way across Los Angeles or New York in less than 10 minutes, big moments happen every hour on the hour, and there is nothing that a 5’-10”, 140lb. man can’t do; no one he can’t kill.

But damn, the stories are fascinating. My jaw still drops at least once an episode.

And although I will sincerely miss 24, I can’t wait to see how they go out tonight.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saturday: Open House for Architecture / Green Living Buffs

First things first: the wedding was fantastic! It truly couldn't have gone any better. I'll post something when I have time to do it justice.

Instead, just a quick note: Studio 804, a group comprised of architecture grad students at KU, has an annual design-build project every year.

This year, they are constructing a LEED Platinum home in KCK. Besides extensive insulation, the vast majority of the heating and cooling is done passively (i.e. not mechanically).

The open house takes place this Saturday, May 15, from 10:00am-3:00pm.

It is located at 32 S 16th Street. Make a day of it and have some Mexican food on Central Avenue!

View Larger Map

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekend Recap

What a weekend.

I went to the Flaming Lips show Friday night. My level of busy-ness in recent weeks and the threat of nasty weather caused me to be less than stoked for this show.

That was a mistake.

The Flaming Lips, if you like their music even a tiny bit, are a must-see. Their show is just a visual and sonic onslaught on your senses. Fabulous stuff. It is a truly joyful experience.

I didn't care much for the Dead Weather, Jack White's current project. He's the drummer for the band, and all the energy and charisma he brings to a show is wasted when he's at the back of the stage behind a drum kit.

Those were the only two bands we saw, as the show started at 4:15pm and we didn't have 7+ hours of music in us.

Saturday was my bachelor party, and it was a blast. BBQ was ingested, beer was consumed, and we may have seen a couple things not appropriate for a family blog. It was wonderful to just be taken care of for an evening. Thanks to all who came out, particularly my brother Jarod and brother-from-another-mother Pete for organizing everything. I couldn't have asked for/hoped for a better time.

And speaking of bachelorhood, this will be my final post as a single man. I am going to marry the love of my life next week.

I am beyond happy.

I am beyond excited.

I never thought I could have it so good.

I occasionally have that wonderful Talking Heads "Once In a Lifetime" moment--you know, the beautiful house, beautiful wife, how did I get here moment?

She's how I got here. She has changed my life immeasurably, and I never want to be without her.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Head v. Heart: The Economy Edition, Pt. 3

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

There are people with obvious advantages. Dad owns a business; son is hired as a manager. Family is wealthy; daughter’s college years are paid for.

People like me had less tangible and less obvious advantages; however, ultimately these are the most important ones.

I didn’t have a lot in terms of material items or wealth. My advantages came in the expectations placed upon me, both internal and external.

My mom nurtured my intellectual curiosity, starting when I was a toddler. My dad provided for our family.

They both expected me to behave. For the most part, I did.

They both expected me to succeed. For the most part, I have.

I had high-quality teachers for most of my classes, from kindergarten through high school.

I chose friends, consciously or not, who wouldn’t steer me down a dangerous path. When I found a friend who tried, I quietly distanced myself from him.

Most of all, I expected myself to succeed.

So why the soft spot for those whose lives get derailed?

Because most kids who grew up where I grew up didn’t have these advantages.


When my brother graduated from Schlagle (KCK) in 2000, the friends and family of many of the graduates made huge spectacles of themselves as the names were called. It annoyed the hell out of me at the time…but not long after, I realized: a lot of these kids would be the first in the families to graduate high school. Not college. HIGH SCHOOL. Getting through the 12th grade was a monumental achievement for a lot of those kids.

Also of note? The valedictorian had a 3.5 GPA. Seriously. Out of 250 graduates, in the age of AP courses with extra grade points attached, the top graduate had a 3.5.

Another example--when I was a substitute teacher my last semester of college, I distinctly remember my first day teaching high school. I was at Wyandotte High, and we had those Scantron attendance forms to track attendance.

There were 27 kids enrolled in my first hour Spanish class. As I called attendance, only 13 were present. The other 14 had been “bubbled out” on the Scantron form for two weeks.

Point being, over half the class had dropped out of school.

That was in 1998. Things have only gotten worse.

Sumner Academy is a double-edged sword for the KCK school district, in my opinion. Yes, it provides a great educational opportunity for the top 20% of the district, but it robs the other four high schools of talent that is sorely needed to push other students and set examples.

KCK’s graduation rate is 49%, and that INCLUDES Sumner’s 90%+ rate.

Blue Valley is at 99%. Expectations, people.

Result: If you aren’t expected to graduate, you probably won’t.

The inner city culture, by and large, does not promote education. In fact, school is often ridiculed as a waste of time (and money, if you’re talking about college). If you thought studious kids got picked on in suburban schools….

And never mind that money for college is available in abundance to low-income kids--if a kid is told he’s too dumb for college even once, that kid probably never has the confidence to bother.

Besides, what wins out when you’re 16: the teacher you think is a punk, telling you about Pell Grants? Or your friends who have already dropped out of school and drive cars financed by bags of weed and “pre-owned” Alpine car stereos?

Forget about having a long-term perspective. No one has more than a year of foresight at age 16.

Do you see how early and easily a life can start to derail?

At least 6 kids around my age (that I know of) who grew up within a couple blocks of me were felons before they turned 20, and these are just the ones who got caught. One of them shot and killed someone. Another was shot and killed by someone else.

I can’t begin to count how many have given their lives to drugs.

Result: When education is not valued, something else is valued in its place. That alternative is not likely to be very good.


Based on family income, some children qualify to have their school lunch costs reduced or waived completely.

The percentage of kids in the Shawnee Mission School District receiving free or reduced lunch is 21%.

Olathe? 13%

Blue Valley? 4.3%

Before I start, no one is claiming life is rosy for every kid in the suburbs. Far from it.

However, in terms of having a path to becoming the proverbial “productive member of society”, even the least wealthy of these kids have some or all of the advantages I did.

They have an educational system with high expectations and graduation rates. That’s institutional support.

They are much more likely to have parents who expect them to succeed; their mere presence in the superior suburban schools is at least in part due to their parents consciously moving there. That’s familial support.

The vast majority of these kids are not surrounded by drug dealers and gangs, digging their claws into them and pulling them out of the classroom. That’s societal support.

The poor in Johnson County are surrounded by people who have made good lives for themselves. Over half of the adult population has at least a bachelor’s degree. Those are examples to which they can aspire.

90% of the KCK district is on free or reduced lunch. Yep. NINE out of TEN kids.

A family of 4 must gross less than $40k to get reduced lunch (and $28k to get free lunch).

Think about that for a second.

Socioeconomic cues, while not all-important, are still significant. When the family is scraping, it’s because the parents have not found gainful employment. They have not found gainful employment because…well, because of the reasons above. They weren’t expected to succeed or get educated (less than 12% of KCK adults have bachelor’s degrees). They didn’t have the role models—the good examples…which means they tend not to be good examples themselves. The people next door, across the street, and down the street are all in the same boat.

Thus perpetuating the cycle. Where are those kids’ examples?

That’s the reason I can’t be angry about subsidizing things—health insurance, college, housing—for those who didn’t get the best breaks.

It’s not all their fault. Most of the people who will read this are unaware of what some people have to deal with to even make it to adulthood unscathed.

If you didn’t grow up in the sort of environment I've described, you’re fortunate.

It’s a 99% positive thing for you. Just know the 1% downside is comprised exclusively of YOU DON’T F*&@ING GET TO ACT AS IF YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO GROW UP UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES.

I’ve seen it. Hell, I was surrounded by it. And it really affected my perspective.

I can’t lavish a world of blame on people for poor decisions made that early in life based on such faulty cues and information.

Do I agree with all government programs? Absolutely not. Do people abuse the “system”? Sure.

But when it comes down to it, I prefer to judge my society based on how it treats its least fortunate citizens—not its wealthiest.

And as tax day cometh in America, I’m happy to pay my share.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Head v. Heart: The Economy Edition, Pt. 2

(Continued from here)

Quick background: I grew up in Kansas City, KS and lived there until last June. I never lived in an area that I would consider full-blown “ghetto” for KCK, but that’s all relative: those from JoCo call far nicer areas of their county “ghetto” without a hint of irony, so keep that in mind.

I attended Kansas City, KS schools and graduated from Sumner Academy.

Socioeconomically, it’s hard to say where we stood. Relative to those around us, we were probably near the middle. (Again, emphasis on "relative".) We were a single income family until my youngest brother was old enough to be in school all day (I was 13 or 14 at the time). At that point, my mom dove into getting her teaching degree and subbed along the way. She graduated college a year or two before I graduated high school.

My dad, who is now retired, did grueling work as a laborer at a sand and gravel quarry. He was an incredibly hard worker, probably to a fault (dude – bronchitis means you should probably stay home).

I say all this to give you perspective. I didn’t usually get the things I wanted. I always got the things I needed. I never went hungry. We didn’t have extra money at the end of the month, but (unless they did a great job of hiding it) we weren’t upside down either.

Result: I appreciate all of life’s little luxuries that I enjoy now—steak instead of Hamburger Helper, Great Divide instead of Natty Light--more than most people. My tastes still haven’t even bothered with life’s big luxuries.

My father was a great example of the importance of work and earning an honest living. My mother was a great example of budgeting and handling money responsibly. Of course, I didn’t understand or appreciate any of this as a selfish youngster, but it definitely rubbed off.

Result: My mom taught me not to spend frivolously, and to keep track of where my money was going. I’ve never bounced a check, even in my broke-est college days. I’ve been late on a utility bill only once in my life. Though I’m half the worker my father is/was, I treat my job with respect and do what it takes to maintain a high standing at the office.

Sumner Academy is a magnet high school (grades 8-12) in KCK. It is a public school, but you must be invited to attend. This invitation was based entirely on standardized test scores when I was there; my understanding is that they’ve added some GPA and behavioral considerations in recent years.

The focus of Sumner is a college preparatory curriculum. Put another way, your race, background, or socioeconomic status didn’t matter—if you went to Sumner, you were expected to go to college. Your parents expected it, and the faculty expected it. With few exceptions, my entire graduating class at least started college.

Result: From age 13 to age 17, I was more or less surrounded by kids who were going to college and adults who expected me to go to college. It was never a question of IF I would go, but rather WHERE I would go.

I’ve never had a long-term, disabling health problem that has caused me to miss out on significant amounts of income or cough up a huge pile of money. Neither have my parents. This is mostly just good fortune, though the importance of having a job with benefits factors in.

I selected my major (mechanical engineering) partly due to my math/science aptitude and partly due to future employment and salary projections. I will admit up front that I was not at all happy with my career choice for the first 7 years or so, but it got better after that (and significantly better once I took my current job).

Result: I’m covered if my health heads south, and I have the education and skills that are likely to help me find another good job if I need one.

Now, I would be well within my rights to simply say, “I came from a low-income area. I worked hard. I made something of myself. I made good decisions. Why am I picking up the tab for those who haven’t done those things?”

But there's a reason I don't say those things. I’ll tell you why shortly.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marcia Merrick

I read about Marcia Merrick on the Plog yesterday, and it was a great story (featured on NBC Nightly News) about a selfless woman who has prepared and delivered food to homeless people for 40 years. Happy stuff, right?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Well, reality isn't so rosy.

Marcia Merrick herself is on the verge of being homeless.

Victoria Hudgins profiled Marcia and describes her situation--the one that didn't appear on NBC. In a nutshell, she has the option to either buy out her ex-husband's half of their home or move out. She doesn't have anywhere to go. Her alimony is only enough to cover her health insurance premiums.

Bottom line? The story touched me and I wanted to help. I am sending a donation and spreading the story so others, if they feel so compelled, can do the same.

Click here and scroll down for info.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Head v. Heart: The Economy Edition

Get a job.

Heard that derisive phrase recently? I would guess not, with the jobless rate persistently hovering near 10%. The stigma attached to collecting an unemployment check has evaporated for society as a whole, even if the individual getting the check worries how he or she will be seen.

But what happens in (2? 5?) years when the rate drops back to the level of “full employment”?

Do we go back to making all those unfortunate enough to be assisted by the government feel like second-rate citizens?

This is where my life experiences and circumstances crash into my economic and moral ideologies and make a big ol’ mess.

First off, I am fiscally conservative. My beliefs bear this out, and the way I live my life bears this out.

I despised the bank and auto bailout plans (though it now appears it will cost us far less than originally thought). The thought of rescuing individuals who leveraged themselves to the hilt to buy houses and toys with asinine credit “products” makes my stomach churn.

I believe in the antiquated notion of balanced budgets, be they individual or federal. My fianceé and I practice what we preach. Aside from our (15 year) mortgage, we have zero debt. We live well, but we live below our means. We save and invest a substantial portion of our incomes. We have both made thoughtful career decisions (education and job changes) to enable us to earn healthy salaries.

However--and this is key-—we have three major things going for us:

-We have had no unfortunate interruptions in our earnings

-We educated ourselves on the finer points of personal finance, which gave us the know-how to build this type of life for ourselves

-We had internal and external expectations (and examples) that led us to do the things that made this type of life possible

This is where the empathy comes in.

This is why the first 34 years of my life--surrounded by unintended consequences, abysmally low expectations, bad examples, and sketchy education--made me understand that we don’t all have the same road to the good life.

This is why I believe strongly in financial responsibility, yet have a difficult time finding fault in government programs that benefit the poor.

To be continued…

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Long Time, No Blog

Yeah, so...life's been happening the last couple of weeks. Between wedding planning (we leave in 3 weeks!), houseguests last weekend, a trip to Staten Island last week, and trying to get a roof contract wrapped up, there's been little time to write.

However, I figured I should share this.

Here at work, we had to take an online ethics training course. It was fairly ridiculous, with lousy voiceover actors talking about how they might have a hot inside stock tip, or maybe a country club membership if the other lousy voiceover actor could just make sure that contract gets signed or that PO pushed back into last fiscal year.

It was an hour of inanity I'll never get back.

Now, full disclosure here: I'm a dynamite test taker. I'm sure this won't apply to many of you out there, but I think I could have answered all these questions without even listening to the lousy actors. You're welcome to try.

If you learn that laws or regulations have been violated, you should:

( ) wait and see if anyone finds out about it.

( ) make sure you're not involved and get rid of any troublesome documents before a real investigation starts.

( ) report it to your supervisor or through appropriate Company channels immediately.

( ) launch your own investigation to gather more information and to avoid wasting the Company's time.

A coworker has recently made jokes about shooting up the Company. He seems angry a lot. What should you do?

( ) Transfer to a different department.

( ) Talk to him and try to calm him down.

( ) Make a note of it so there's a record in case something happens.

( ) Report the jokes to management.

What should you do if you notice a safety hazard in the workplace?

( ) Take steps necessary to keep the hazardous condition from affecting others and report it to your supervisor.

( ) Review the MSDS and try to work around it.

( ) Fix it yourself.

( ) Keep quiet unless someone else notices.