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Archive for November, 2012

Perhaps some of you saw the obituary in Wednesday’s paper for 20-year-old Ariel Jo May.

(I was unable to link to it, but you can find it online in The Star’s obituaries.)

If you’re like me, your reading of the obits is always arrested when you see that a young person has died…The natural and obvious questions that go through your mind are, “What was the cause of death?” and “Why?”

Those would have been my questions, too, except that I have more than a passing interest in and knowledge of Ariel’s case.

The tip-off as to the cause of death is found in the first paragraph, where the obituary says one of the charities where the family would like contributions to go is the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education organization.

The reason I have a more than passing interest in the matter is that Ariel and our 24-year-old daughter Brooks were in rehab treatment together in Chicago in recent months.

Brooks has been getting treatment for an eating disorder, and Ariel was getting ‘being treated, I believe, for self-harm tendencies and depression.

My wife Patty and I met Ariel briefly one day — while visiting Brooks — in a Michigan Avenue CVS. We were there to pick up a prescription for Brooks, and Ariel was there to get meds of her own. Brooks introduced us, and we chatted for several minutes. She was an attractive girl with an engaging smile and a relaxed, friendly manner.

The one thing that struck me as odd that day was that Ariel came away from the prescription counter empty-handed. “I have a lot of prescriptions,” she explained, “and I don’t have enough money to pay for them. I’ll have to come back later.”

Seldom do you see a young person picking up “a lot” of prescriptions, so I figured that whatever her troubles were, they must have been fairly significant.

That’s the last we saw of Ariel, although Brooks later went to a White Sox baseball game with Ariel and a friend of Ariel’s.

Later, in October, I believe, word came from Brooks that Ariel had been admitted to a behavioral health hospital outside Chicago because of an overdose of prescription drugs and perhaps alcohol. The next I heard, which was early this month, as I recall, was that Ariel was back home, in the Kansas City area.

With Brooks still in Chicago, I pretty much forgot about Ariel. Last week, Brooks came home for the Thanksgiving weekend. She returned to Chicago on Sunday night and texted us about 10 o’clock that she had arrived safely. About midnight, as I was preparing to go to bed, my cellphone rang and it was Brooks, again.

Voice trembling, she said, “Dad, do you remember Ariel?” I braced myself for what I knew was coming…”She killed herself.”

She gave me the few details she knew — that Ariel had overdosed on prescription drugs, apparently at her father’s house. While she was talking, I sank to my knees and began crying. I handed the phone to Patty. I continued crying for a long time…In fact, I hadn’t cried that hard and that long since my best friend committed suicide in 1984.

There’s something about a young person committing suicide that is maddening and crushing at the same time. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. My first and persistent thought about Ariel was — “Why did this precious young life, with so much potential, have to be lost to the demon of depression? 

On Monday, I located the address for her father, John May, in Bonner Springs. I went to his house, called his home number from my car, and explained my connection to Ariel. He stepped outside the door. Stocky, with neatly trimmed, gray hair, he looked straight at me as I approached. His eyes were puffy and red, and his chest was visibly heaving. He extended a hand and then, with the other, wrapped me in a long, firm embrace. When he spoke — again looking straight into my eyes — he said, “I feel like a piece of my heart has been ripped out of my chest.”

I offered to help him in any way I could (he’s divorced from Ariel’s mother), and I ended up helping write and assemble the obituary. I learned a lot more about Ariel when I went back to the house on Tuesday, and the more I learn, the more I think help for Ariel was not far away and the farther I go down the “what if” road.

But she’s gone, and that’s the terrible finality. Today, I, along with friends and family, will mourn for her at her earthly send-off. And I will pray, as I have for years, that somewhere today, God will spare a child.

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A Times-ly Thanksgiving

I have always loved reading the paper on Thanksgiving Day; it’s the biggest paper of the year and usually holds some of the best stories. When I was a reporter, I loved nothing more than having a story on a section-front of The Kansas City Star.

As reporters, we knew very well that we had a huge audience that day and that thousands and thousands of people were actually taking the time to read the paper carefully.

Blessedly, my wife Patty and 24-year-old daughter Brooks are also avid newspaper readers (our 23-year-old son Charlie is another story; he’s still in bed as I write this), and today the kitchen table is overflowing with sections of The Star and The New York Times.

I think the Thanksgiving Day paper should give you a little bit of everything — hard news, appealing features, quirky elements, and it should call the readers’ attention to this very special, American feast day. The Star did a pretty good job of covering the bases today, but, of course, The Times outshined it.

With that, let me direct your attention to several highlights in today’s Times — highlights that can be appreciated whether you live in Manhattan, in the Heartland or on the West Coast.

***

The most intriguing and compelling story, in my opinion, was a front-page account of how inmates at the Rikers Island jail lent a hand — many hands, actually — to victims of Hurricane Sandy. At the initiation of New York City correction commissioner Dora Schriro, Rikers inmates did 6,600 pounds of laundry for people in emergency shelters. In addition, the jail supplied generators and gas to neighborhoods with power outages, and corrections officers delivered truckloads of canned and dried goods from the island’s food supply. Clothing, including jackets stored for inmates, was sent to relief centers.

The writer, Corey Kilgannon, didn’t portray the story as a “Thanksgiving story,” but that’s part of what made it a good “Thanksgiving story.” Kilgannon didn’t have to sell the story; it sold itself.

Rikers Island inmates preparing to wash clothes of Hurricane Sandy victims…Photo by Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

***

The Op-Ed, humor and political columnist Gail Collins delivered another winner with a column titled “The Turkey Chronicles.” With a headline like that and Collins at the controls, you can be pretty sure you’re in for a good read.

Collins cast the column in the form of a Q and A, in which she supplies both the questions and the answers. Here’s a sample:

Q — I’m not sure I want to quit talking about the election. I really liked  watching the Republicans denouncing Mitt Romney, and going hehehe under my breath.

A — Time to let go. If you are a Republican, be thankful it’s the end. If you were rooting for President Obama, give thanks that your particular demographic group was responsible for his win. We have excellent statistical evidence that it was Hispanics who made all the difference. And also blacks, gays, young people, unmarried people and and women. If any of you had bolted, next year Mitt Romney would be pardoning the turkey.

***

How about this headline from an Arts section music review: “Flouting Flute Convention, Flautists Flute en Masse.”

That’s one you have to think about for a while…I say give that copy editor an extra helping of stuffing to keep his or her brain functioning at that level!

***

And, finally, consider this excerpt from an editorial, titled “When Thursday Vanishes,” at the bottom of the editorial page.

“Over the years, we have come to love the fixedness of Thanksgiving. Always on a Thursday, by proclamation, this holiday is unmindful of anyone’s inconvenience. Even Christmas Day must fall on a weekend some years, but never Thanksgiving. It causes as much fuss as possible — a stir that disrupts the entire week, year after year. Yet when the last of the guests have arrived and everyone is seated at the table, there comes a pause, a toast, a grace — long or short secular or sacred, vocal or silent — that says what this holiday is for. Thursday vanishes, and it its place Thanksgiving.”

So, let’s give thanks for all our blessings today…including the First Amendment and a long line of great newspapers, which have kept us informed and in contact with our community, our country and our world.

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The Professional Golfers’ Association tour has a lot of young guns with beautiful swings and tapered physiques, but many of them are about as dry as the rules of the game.

Yes, there are some exceptions, like Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who has an engaging style, which includes a brogue and a swagger.

But there’s a guy on the European Tour — sometimes plays in the U.S. — whom you should know about, if you already don’t.

His name is Miguel Angel Jimenez — a 48-year-old Spaniard who has a style all his own.

Yesterday, Jimenez became the oldest winner on the European Tour when he shot a 5-under-par 65 to win the Hong Kong Open — the third time he has won the tournament, and his 19th career victory.

The Associated Press reported that Jimenez celebrated his success as he usually does — with a cigar and a glass of Rioja, a wine made from grapes grown primarily in the La Rioja area of Spain.

Jimenez celebrating his victory

He attributed his victory to the “olive oil in my joints,” drinking Rioja and his stretching routine. Yes, stretching. Not weight-lifting, not jogging, not doing push-ups, just stretching.

“That’s the main thing to do to keep the body to compete with the new guns,” he said.

Now, that’s a regimen I can identify with — stretching and smoking cigars. Actually, I take his fitness program to another level: I walk the dog…almost daily.

Jimenez likes his cigars so much that he has a cigar holder that keeps his cigars off the ground when he’s hitting golf balls on the range. Fittingly, it’s called a Hole-in-One Cigar Holder. (Personally, I don’t smoke cigars when I play golf. I have enough trouble keeping track of the ball and worrying about my next shot. And, of course, I don’t practice much, either.)

Here’s another thing about the easy-going Jimenez…He hit the most remarkable shot I’ve ever seen — live or on TV — in the 2010 British Open. At the 17th hole, he hit a lousy third shot and ended up in the rough, next to a rock wall that flanked the green. Without enough room to get his club behind the ball to hit it toward the hole, he turned and faced the wall and hit the ball against the wall. The ball caromed off the wall, flying high in the air in the opposite direction and coming down on the green.

Even as the ball was still in the air, Jimenez turned and started walking toward the green, casually watching the ball’s arc. After it landed and the crowd began to roar, he gave a nonchalant wave of acknowledgment, as if it was a shot he had practiced 100 times and fully expected the result.

Just like that shot, Jimenez is one of a kind. Today, I’ll smoke a cigar in his honor…but I’ll use a conventional ashtray.

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My first feeling, after learning Tuesday night that Barack Obama had won re-election, was that happy days aren’t just here for four more years but quite possibly 12.

And for the additional eight years of prospective, Democratic control of the presidency we can thank Obama for naming Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State when he took office.

If this 12-year scenario comes to pass, Rush Limbaugh might well be dead before the Republicans regain the White House.

All Hillary will have to do, it appears, is defeat New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie…and even The Tubular One might drop dead between now and then.

Hillary has grown, in my opinion, by leaps and bounds. She is much more confident and sure handed than she was during her husband’s years in the White House, especially the early years. She turned 65 at the end of last month, and she would be 69 (a nice age, better than 70) at this time in 2016.

A lot of people thoroughly dislike Hillary — maybe as many as can’t stand Obama — but many more admire her greatly. Also, as Charles M. Blow, a New York Times op-ed columnist, put it so succinctly and accurately several months ago, conservatives “are on the wrong side of demographics.” In the presidential election, 45 percent of those who voted for Mr. Obama were racial minorities. That’s a record percentage.

With the tide of Latino, African-American and Asian voters — not to mention our mostly liberal-minded young people — the Baby Boomer white class, which held serve so long, has been run off the court. In an online column that The Times posted today, Blow said, “Republicans are trying to hold back a storm surge of demographic change with a white picket fence. Good luck with that.”

The loud exhalation we heard around the nation Tuesday night was not a sigh of relief at Obama being re-elected; it was the dying breath of the white conservatives — the farmers, the pro-lifers, the wealthy and the rednecks (most of whom don’t have any idea what party is working for their best interests).

That crowd? They’re hosed…Somebody should assemble a representative group, tell them to say “Sean Hannity” and snap their picture for posterity.

I know that my multitude of loyal Republican readers out there, led by John Altevogt and somebody else whose name I can’t recall, won’t like this assessment. But if I were in their shoes, I’d be feeling queasy.

Where or in what does their hope lie? How will they change to become competitive again? Will the ultra conservatives clean the mud off themselves and crawl up out of the well?

I guess it will be interesting to watch, but I’m not really concerned about it because my guy won, and I’m going to find a button that says, “I LIKE HILLARY.”

***

Not everything came out as well on Tuesday as most logical-thinking Missourians and Kansas Citians could have hoped.

Consider:

:: Depressingly, and almost inexplicably, the proposed increase in Missouri’s tobacco tax narrowly lost — 51 percent to 49 percent.  I say almost inexplicably because the proponents of Prop B ran a lousy, nearly invisible campaign.

How can you fail to sell this pitch: Let’s raise cigarette prices for the 23 percent of Missouri adults who smoke so that we can give our kids better educations?

Somehow, the proponents found a way. At the same time, the opposition ran an effective campaign, financed primarily by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. Convenience stores posted fliers — and the campaign committee ran TV ads — that diverted attention from smoking and focused on higher taxes. Taxes, taxes!

:: Kansas City voters fell into a trap by narrowly approving a proposal to raise the mandatory retirement age for municipal judges from 65 to 70. Now, truly, that’s an outrage. These people work four short days a week (Fridays are so casual that they don’t go to work), and their salaries are about $145,000 a year. That’s more than any other state-system judges, including those on the Missouri Supreme Court and courts of appeal.

The pitch to voters was that the retirement age for Municipal Court judges should be brought in line with that of other state-system judges. The city attorney went so far as to say that Kansas city’s lower age limit could subject the city to a lawsuit! 

Well, holy shit…We couldn’t have that now, could we? I guess that would have brought the trash trucks to a screeching halt and deepened the potholes.

So now, after Tuesday’s election, the featherbedders on the Municipal Court are going to get to stay on an additional five years. I’ll bet that even the female judges are smoking bit, fat, Honduran cigars today.

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In my daily scouring of The Star and The New York Times, I consistently come across highlights — and sometimes lowlights — that make me stop, re-read and note things to pass on to others.

In this case, that would be YOU, loyal readers.

So, here goes — first on the local front.

:: Hereford House arson

Can you believe we had such a slimy but juicy case right here in Kansas City? You’d think it would be something out of Chicago or Miami — one of Kansas City’s most famous restaurants being torched for insurance money?

Mark Morris, federal courts reporter, provided his usual, outstanding trial coverage. The most compelling testimony, to me, was Jennifer Sorrentino’s testimony that her former husband, Mark Sorrentino, came home early the morning of the fire and started “screaming from the top of his lungs” for her to come to the garage.

When she entered the garage, she said, she found her husband “beet red,” with his shirt off and reeking of gasoline.

Wow…Could there be any more dramatic account of what a nasty, nasty business arson is…even from the perp’s side?

Another trial highlight was testimony (which you might have missed because Morris didn’t write about until the verdict story), that the company providing security at the restaurant had planted a dummy video camera in one room and had placed the real, working camera in another. Even Rod Anderson, part owner of the restaurant and the most prominent of the three defendants, didn’t know about the set-up, and it ended up hurting him.

According to testimony, Anderson learned about the second camera in a conversation with the restaurant group’s chief financial officer, James Stanislav. When Stanislav was on the witness stand, a prosecutor asked him how Anderson reacted upon learning about the second camera. “He was somewhat surprised,” was Stanislav’s answer.

Surprised? I bet his eyes bulged and his stomach flipped.

***

Now, onto the national arena, which, of course, is awash in politics.

About once a week, dueling New York Times columnists David Brooks (moderate conservative) and Gail Collins (full-blown liberal) engage in an online give-and-take, which is consistently funny and insightful.

Recently, when they were predicting how they thought some of the key races might would out, they engaged in this exchange:

Brooks: “I think there will be one or two wild results. Like Akin winning in Missouri…”

Collins: “If Akin wins, I will personally set up a charitable foundation to help humiliated Missourians move to another state. There are a lot of jobs in North Dakota.”

I also got a kick out of this Collins commentary in both the printed and online editions:

“Romney is bringing half the Republican Party to Ohio to kick off the new ‘Romney-Ryan Real Recovery Road Rally.’ Everybody’s coming — Ann, the sons, Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan’s wife who we have yet to actually meet, Rudy Giuliani, a couple of Olympic medalists and pretty much every Republican elected official except He Who Must Not Be Named in New Jersey…Sudden plans for a road trip are usually the sign of a pressing need to escape reality.”

By now, my army of conservative readers is probably jumping up and down, thinking I’ve exposed myself as an unrelenting liberal. Well, hold it right there! (as s a prominent local blogger friend of mine would say).

Here are three withering (and funny) observations offered up by the entertaining and erudite George Will of The Washington Post.

:: “Obama’s oceanic self-esteem — no deficit there — may explain why he seems to smolder with resentment that he must actually ask for a second term.”

:: “Tis said two things not worth running after are a bus or an economic panacea, because another will come along soon. Obama’s panacea is to cure what he considers government’s unconscionable frugality.”

:: “It is remarkable…and evidence of voters’ dangerous frivolity regarding the vice presidency, that (Joe) Biden’s proximity to the presidency has not stirred more unease.”

Finally, a grab-bag column like this would hardly be complete without a reference to our beloved, bumbling Kansas City Chiefs.

This is not from print but from Soren Petro, host of “The Program” on radio station 810, WHB.

Last week, Petro was talking with Kansas City Star reporter Adam Teicher, who has covered the Chiefs for about 15 years. Petro put Teicher on the spot, asking him why Chiefs’ General Manager Scott Pioli shouldn’t be fired immediately. Teicher, whom you could almost envision squirming in his chair — it can be very difficult and self-defeating for beat writers to bash the people they work around every day — tried to rationalize why Pioli should not be fired, at least right now.

As recently as a couple of months ago, before the Chiefs showed their true colors, Teicher noted, most people probably would have predicted that the Chiefs were going to have a good season and that Piolo seemed, at that point, to be doing a good job. So why, Teicher suggested, should a guy who recently seemed to be doing so well be fired so quickly.

Without missing a beat, Petro fired back, “Half an hour before the battle, Custer thought he was going to kick ass, too.”

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There’s nothing like bad news in the newspaper business to make a semi-retired blogger forgo golf on a beautiful Thursday in Kansas City.

But this is really big and unpleasant news for The Kansas City Star.

(I hate to be ghoulish, especially the day after Halloween, but, as you know, it’s still the bad news — arson convictions, super storms and the like — that prompts some of us to jump out of bed every morning.)

On Tuesday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations came out with its circulation numbers for the period from March 1 to Sept. 30.  The numbers show that, over the last year, The Star has lost at least 8 percent of its subscribers in the three major circulation categories — Sunday, Monday-Friday, and Saturday.

To me, that is a breathtaking loss, even in these days of a relentless circulation retreat for major metropolitan dailies throughout the country.

It has to be terrible news for publisher Mi-Ai Parrish, who told readers in a recent column that The Star would implement in December charges for online access to The Star’s content.

As an aside, Parrish foolishly teased readers in her column by laying out absolutely no specifics. For instance, she didn’t say if print subscribers would have to pay for digital content, and she gave no idea how much subscribers and others might be charged for online access. To me, that is the equivalent of telling an employee that he or she is going to get a pay cut at the end of the year and then saying, “We’ll tell you in December just how much your paycheck is going to be slashed.”

But back to the new numbers…

As of Sept. 30, The Star’s average Sunday circulation was 275,784, including online subscriptions. That compares with 300,450 at the same time in 2011.

Not only is that an elevator-crashing percentage (8 percent), but the paper also now appears to have lost any chance to stay at or above the 300,000 mark for Sunday.

That 8 percent decrease will either force The Star to drop its advertising rates or almost certainly will drive some advertisers away.

Average daily circulation also plummeted 8 percent, from 199,222 to 183,307. Saturday circulation fell 8.5 percent, from 204,919 to 187,343.

For the daily paper, 200,000 is another key benchmark that The Star has been clinging to and which now appears out of reach.

What makes these new numbers even more disturbing is that just six months ago, ABC’s statistics for the six-month period ending March 31, showed average Sunday circulation at 310,500 and average daily circulation at 200,365.

Search me as to what went haywire the last six months, but it would appear that April stats were simply an aberration.

I suppose the new numbers shouldn’t be too surprising because a recent Pew Research Center study showed that the percentage of Americans who read printed newspapers has fallen from 41 percent in 2002 to 23 percent now. In addition, a New York Times Co. survey found that just 22 percent of 18- to 34-year olds read print newspapers, compared to 53 percent in the over-55 age category.

In the past, however, The Star, has been relatively fortunate because its circulation dipped less rapidly than that of many other papers. I attribute that partly to Kansas City being a good, deep-rooted newspaper town (thank you, William Rockhill Nelson) and The Star having maintained a quality product while the content of many other metropolitan dailies has slipped badly.

Now, though, it looks like the whirlpool has The Star firmly in its grasp.

To a blogger who spent 37 mostly happy years writing and editing for the powerhouse (still) at 18th and Grand…that is very disappointing.

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