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Archive for April, 2014

For me, Sunday was a tremendous day of TV watching.

The Masters golf tournament is the only “show” I can watch for five hours and not get bored or irritated.

The reason it is such a great broadcast — even if it doesn’t always offer a hair-raising finish — is that the guys who run Augusta National golf course have steadfastly held onto the reins of the programming.

mastersAs far as I know, it’s the only event where the people staging it have been able to keep the TV networks from dictating how things will go.

For example, the Masters limits coverage of the four-day event to 17 total hours — four hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and five on Sunday, closing day.

In a story posted on Thursday, USA Today said:

“Augusta National is protective of its tournament. For years, there were no cameras on the front side (first nine holes) of Augusta. The first nine was like the dark side of the moon — only a few had seen it. Masters officials had been worried that too much television coverage would cut down on crowds. Even as recently as 2001, when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were in the final Sunday group, CBS would come on air at 4 p.m. on Sunday to only show the second nine.”

But the absolute best thing about the Masters coverage — hands down — is that Augusta National limits commercials to four minutes per hour.

Four minutes an hour!

That’s unbelievable in these days of three-and-a-half-hour baseball games and NFL games of at least equal length. Those games are interminable, and it’s mostly because of the glut of commercials. It’s commonplace on NFL games to have a fairly long commercial break after a touchdown or field goal, then the ensuing kickoff and then another extended commercial break.

It’s insufferable…I like the Chiefs, but there’s no way I can watch an entire game any more. In fact, as I’ve weaned myself away — or, I should say, as TV has driven me away — I find myself watching less and less of Chiefs games. Now, it’s down to maybe part of the fourth quarter, if the game is interesting.

In addition as much as I like golf (second to women’s college basketball, in my book), I can’t watch the Golf Channel’s coverage of tournaments, either.

I swear, the Golf Channel has just about as much commercial time as it does actual golf coverage. If the FCC cared about the viewers, it would run the Golf Channel right off the air. It’s a complete waste of time…And when the Golf Channel is not airing commercials or precious minutes of actual play, analysts like the insipid Brandel Chamblee yammer about obscure points of the game and dissect golf swings to the point of nausea.

So, what a relief and pleasure it was to watch five hours of coverage (actually I got in on it a little late because I had lunch-clean-up duty) with only 20 minutes of commercials. It was a challenge to get to the kitchen and back with a snack and not miss seeing an important shot…Now that’s compelling coverage.

Moreover, the commercials that do run are not the grating, banal kind that you see on every other show. The Masters limits the marketing to select “corporate partners.” The partners this year were IBM, AT&T and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. Those three companies used their limited time to get their messages across quickly and efficiently.

In addition to minimal commercials, Sunday’s coverage offered an irresistible story line: A hard-fought battle between the free-swinging, likable Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, a fresh-faced, fiery Texan who was competing in his first Masters.

In the end, Bubba’s experience and ability to hit 360-yard drives proved to be the difference, with Bubba winning by three strokes.

But it was a hell of a show, from start to finish.

So, I say, thank you, you old sticklers who run Augusta National…Thank you for keeping the network executives’ grubby hands from getting a stranglehold on one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

Long live Augusta National and long live a commercial-limited Masters!

 

 

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Sometime between 2005 and 2009, I was at Knuckleheads in Kansas City’s East Bottoms and rubbed elbows (almost) with a celebrity.

On the dance floor next to me was then Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and her husband, K. Gary Sebelius.

I was pretty impressed…not just that I was in proximity to the Kansas governor but also because she and her husband were “out amongst them,” as we used to say, at an everyday establishment for everyday people.

I say it was sometime between 2005 and 2009 because those were the years that Matt Blount was governor of Missouri. A one-time, political flame-out was Blount, if you remember him at all.

So, word gets to the band leader that the Kansas governor is in the house, and after one song, the band leader announces, “The governor is with us…the good governor.”

She got a nice round of applause, and everyone went back to dancing, and most people left her and her husband alone, except for one guy who took advantage of her accessibility and bent her ear for too long a time.

sebeliusPartly because of that occasion and partly because of the composed and confident manner in which she, a Democrat, carried herself amid the Railing Republicans of Kansas, I always liked Sebelius. So, I was disappointed this morning when I read she was resigning as Secretary of Health and Human Services, a job she had held since 2009.

Yeah, she screwed up by not getting the best computer wonk in the country to oversee the healthcare.gov sign-up. And, yes, she didn’t always say the right thing (insisting, for example, that the website had not crashed — just going slowly, she said — when it most certainly had).

But, still, she always carried herself with that composure that had long appealed to voters in bloody-red Kansas. And she had some notable accomplishments.

The New York Times’ story about her resignation included this noteworthy paragraph:

“White House officials were quick to point out the many successes during Ms. Sebelius’s tenure: the end to pre-existing conditions as a bar to insurance, the ability for young people to stay on their parents’ insurance, and the reduction in the growth of health care costs. In addition, Ms. Sebelius helped push through mental health parity in insurance plans and worked with the Department of Education to promote early childhood education.”

As I have said here before, the changes on pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until they were 26 have been a godsend to our family, and I will always be thankful to Sebelius and the Obama administration for that — and I’m sure millions of other Americans agree.

You’ve got to like the classy way in which she resigned, too. No big to-do. Not to the shrieks of the Railing Republicans. Just in her normal, composed way.

Quoting again from The Times…

“Last month, Ms. Sebelius approached Mr. Obama and began a series of conversations about her future…The secretary told the president that the March 31 deadline for sign-ups under the health care law — and rising enrollment numbers — provided an opportunity for change, and that he would be best served by someone who was not the target of so much political ire.”

She had a nice touch, too, in an interview with an NYT reporter, whom she told that she had always known she would not “be here to turn out the lights in 2017.”

Well, in my opinion, the best political light that Kansas has seen in many years has now been clicked off. The Railing Republicans are no doubt happy today.

But Sebelius is probably happy, too. She’s 65, has had a hell of a political career and can go out with her head held high. Unfortunately, she had one big screw-up that blemished her career and that will be long remembered.

But haven’t we all had big screw-ups? I sure did, but because I was not operating under arc lights, I weathered most of the ensuing storms pretty well. In 2006, at age 60, I retired from a business that was about to go over the precipice…although I certainly didn’t realize it. But I got my pizza and sheet-cake party. Wooo-hooo! I’ve had a great retirement, and I wish the same for Kathleen Sebelius.

Hope to see you on the dance floor, Gov!

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I just got back today from Nashville, where I attended the Women’s Final Four basketball tournament.

I had never been to Nashville, even though I grew up in Louisville, KY, which is only about three hours north of Nashville.

Nashville probably wouldn’t have appealed to me in my Louisville days, anyway, because I didn’t develop a taste for country western music until the 1980s, long after I had moved to Kansas City.

The only country western music I like, however, is from the 80s and 90s — sometimes called the country legends — when the great artists like George Strait, George Jones, Alabama, the Bellamy Brothers, Pam Tillis, Kathy Mattea and others were in their primes.

You can find plenty of live music being played from that era — as well as the new stuff — in downtown Nashville. For at least two blocks of Broadway, narrow, dark and deep bars (for the most part) line both sides of the street. Western wear stores and other retail establishments are interspersed among the bars, but the bars are the main attraction.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is just off Broadway, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the live music long enough to get over there.

An interesting thing about the bands is that there’s a core group of musicians, all of whom seem to rotate from group to group, joint to joint. For example, I saw the same guitar player with three different groups, at three different places, on three separate days.

You don’t seen any signs bearing the names of bands and nobody asks. The only thing the bands have in common is that there’s always a tip jar near every stage…and the band leader reminds the patrons about that. (My advice: tip generously; this is good stuff!)

Another interesting thing is that most of the bands solicit requests, and if you ask for a song they haven’t played before, sometimes the players will put their heads together, strum a few notes, talk about how they’ll approach it, then resume their positions and…one, two, three, four, hit it! That’s how versatile and experienced these players are.

I’m definitely going back — and I intend to find that same skinny, ball-cap-wearing guitar player.

…Of course, Nashville isn’t just about music. Other attractions include good restaurants; the State Capitol; LP Field, where the Tennessee Titans play; and Bridgestone Arena, where the Nashville Predators hockey team plays and, of course, where the Women’s Final Four was contested.

The semifinal games were played on Sunday and the championship game — won by UConn, of course — was played last night.

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, here are some photos…

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The name of the place? “I like it like that…” No, no, make that The Second Fiddle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the left is that guitarist I mentioned — the guy I saw with three different groups on three different days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Broadway by day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Broadway by night (at least basketball finals’ night)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ryman Auditorium, first home of the Grand Ole Opry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking up Capitol Drive at the State Capitol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The library

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The UConn and Notre Dame teams warming up before Tuesday’s game

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just like that, it’s over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today is a day for endorsement and indictment.

First the endorsements, although I am aching to get to the indictment. (Does the headline give you a hint of where I’m headed?)

On Tuesday, we will have what could be the most important Kansas City School Board election in decades.

Five of the existing nine board seats are up for election, but come 2019, the board will be reduced to seven members. As a prelude to that change, Tuesday’s winners will serve five years instead of the usual four, so they will be in there a long time and will have significant opportunity to take the district up — or down.

My focus is on the two at-large seats that are up for grabs. (“At-large” means the winners will be elected by voters throughout the district.)

Four candidates are vying for the two open district-wide seats, and I hope you will give strong consideration to the candidates I think offer the most hope for district improvement.

My recommendations are 55-year-old Pattie Mansur and 60-year-old Amy Hartsfield. Both have been endorsed by Freedom Inc., the political organization I worked closely with last year to trounce Jackson County’s proposed half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research.”

Mansur also has the endorsement of The Kansas City Star.

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Mansur

Mansur is communications director for a charitable foundation that supports health services for low-income children and adults. She and her husband, Mike Mansur, public information officer for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office, have three children, two of whom graduated from KC public schools. Their youngest child is a sophomore in high school.

Pattie Mansur has served as a parent leader at three public schools and on numerous school district planning committees, with her focus being on student achievement and parental involvement.

Mansur has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and an MBA, with an emphasis in marketing, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She and her family live in the Brookside area.

Hartsfield works as a counselor and assessment consultant at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee. She also does volunteer work with a program that provides meals, tutoring services and other educational opportunities for Kansas City Public School students.

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Hartsfield

She and her husband, Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II, spent many years in Atlanta before returning here in 2008. At that time, her husband succeeded his father, the legendary Rev. Wallace S. Hartsfield, as senior pastor at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 2310 E. Linwood. (The Hartsfields live a few blocks from the church.)

While in Atlanta, Amy Hartsfield was an intake counselor for the Georgia Department of Mental Health.

An ordained minister herself, Hartsfield has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Barnard College in New York and a master of divinity degree and a doctor of theology degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

The Hartsfields have two grown children and two young grandchildren, whom Amy Hartsfield would like to see attend KC public schools.

As you can see, Mansur and Hartsfield have tremendous qualifications to serve on the school board, and I think they could spearhead an era of new and inspired leadership for the Kansas City Public School District.

**

Now the indictment…

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that a 14-year-old girl with autism was raped repeatedly — over the course of a month — at Southwest Early College Campus.

I’m sure that most of you also are aware that another girl — a 17-year-old — was raped at the school last August. In that incident, two boys dragged the girl through the halls in the middle of the school day and assaulted her in a small, second-floor room.

In the wake of the most recent assaults, six staff members, including the principal, have been placed on administrative leave, and prosecutors have charged a 14 year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl with one count of rape and one count of sodomy.

The Star has reported that the victim was attacked by the boy repeatedly over the past month in an area out of view of security cameras, while the girl stood by as a lookout.

Today, I spoke with both Mansur and Hartsfield about the latest scandal and how it reflects on the district as a whole.

**

Mansur:

“I was stunned. I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ How does this happen a second time?”

The latest rapes, she said, reflect a set of failures at both the building and the district level that lead her to believe that Southwest “is just left to its own devices.”

In other words, the place has been virtually devoid of sound administration.

“It seems that the conditions in the school were being ignored over a long period of time,” Mansur said. “Where were the adults responsible for this school?”

The ultimate responsibility for the debacle, she said, lies with District Superintendent Steve Green because he makes the staffing decisions.

While Green does not deserve to be fired, Mansur said, he must be held to a higher level of accountability. His top priority now, she said, should be to conduct a thorough review of leadership at all Kansas City public school buildings, with the goal of establishing “a pipeline of really strong administrators” whose primary charge is to establish a safe, respectful and positive climate at each and every school.

Hartsfield, while not assigning as much blame to Green, agreed that the district’s top priority now should be a rigorous assessment of leadership at every school, with a view toward identifying the buildings with the most “difficulties and challenges.”

Administrators, she said, should know “where every student should be at specific times.”

(Allow me to offer an aside: How is possible that one or more students are unaccounted for long enough and often enough to sexually assault a girl many times during the course of a month?)  

Like Mansur, Hartsfield said it was imperative that the district establish a safe environment for its students.

“That’s our responsibility,” she said. “Once we take them in (to the district), we have to develop the capacity to provide safety for them.”

She also pointed out that some students, such as the girl with autism, need more oversight and protection than others.

**

It’s a sorry commentary on the district and on Green as the top administrator that at least one Kansas City public school — and probably a few more — still feel unsafe when you walk through the doors.

It will be up to the next school board to demand that Green insure that every school has an environment where parents don’t have to worry about their children becoming crime victims while in their school buildings.

Is that too much to ask?

 

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The New York Times’ online comments section lit up tonight with the astounding news that more than 7 million people had enrolled in insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

The Times’ story, which ran under the headline “Obama Claims Victory in Push for Insurance,” had drawn more than 570 comments by 10:20 p.m.

It was like a collective, spontaneous explosion of joy from Democrats who have been pulling for the ACA to be successful and who have had to endure the relentless attacks of narrow-minded Republicans like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who locked jaws behind the trite assertion that the ACA was a “jobs-killing bill.”

The Times began its story this way:

In an afternoon Rose Garden ceremony, Mr. Obama announced that a late surge of customers to HealthCare.gov before Monday’s deadline had pushed insurance sign-ups to 7.1 million, slightly more than the administration’s original goal. The achievement was somewhat remarkable considering the bureaucratic and technical nightmare that surrounded the website’s debut last October.

“Armageddon has not arrived,” the president said to an audience of White House staff members and supporters who greeted the announcement with an extended standing ovation. “Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans, and in the coming years it will help millions more.”

Regardless of the Republican David Jolly’s victory in a special congressional election in Florida last month, I think the surprising success of the March 31 sign-up deadline is going to alter the opinions of a lot of people who initially got seduced by the Republicans’ “job-killing” mantra.

I’m very eager to see what the 2014 national elections bring.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of those NYT comments:

Stu Freeman, Brooklyn, NY: “We have to stop this president or every American is going to find himself eligible for affordable health care!!”

Klattt1996, Birmingham, AL: “Congratulations Mr. President and America. While it may not be perfect..it is a wonderful start for opening the doors to Health care for all. A victory worth touting.”

K. Yates, Connecticut: “I don’t need the Affordable Care Act for my body but sure needed it for my soul. Thanks, Mr. President, from one who feels proud of her country for the first time in many years.”

Jim Steinberg, Fresno, CA: “The sound of Republican teeth grinding is deafening.”

pbug56, Suffolk County, Long Island: “So now the Heritage Foundation-designed health care plans are in effect. Romney Care is national. And for all its flaws, including some people who had so-so plans that were cancelled, many more now have coverage — or better coverage then they had as of December 31, 2013. The garbage plans that I had didn’t provide me usable coverage; ACA, for a bit more per month, does. I can finally start dealing with my health issues again.”

Andrew, Vermont: “Thank you, President Obama. And of course the N.O.P. (i.e., the Nihilistic Old Party) will continue to wring their hands in response to this news (and spread lies to displace their anxiety), as they have from the moment Obama was elected. Why? Because they are sore losers. After several years of their abysmal leadership, when next to nothing was done to address the health crisis, some progress is finally being made. And while they had power, they drove the economy over a cliff, mismanaged one ostensibly justifiable war (in Afghanistan), and carried out (very poorly) an unnecessary war of aggression in Iraq, which costs the U.S. 4,000 troops and trillions of dollars, and Iraq 100,000 lives. While President Obama has fallen short of many people’s expectations, he has at least had the courage to work for someone other the corporate elite and the military industrial complex. It’s remarkable that more Americans don’t see through the core level bankruptcy of a party that preaches ‘freedom,’ spends trillions of dollars in taxpayer money to allegedly bolster it (on war and increased military spending), and then bends over backward to deprive their own citizens of the right to vote and have access to healthcare.”

Peter L Ruden, Savannah, GA: “My wife and I are 60 years old, and have a teenage daughter. Due to the recession I was unemployed for a time and lost my health insurance. Then I became ill and required surgery, incurring thousands in medical bills. I thereafter found employment, but my employer does not offer health insurance at his small firm. I could not afford the $1,200 per month that insurers wanted to charge me if they offered any coverage at all. Last Friday, through an instance agent we signed up for Obamacare through an insurance agent. We now have platinum coverage for only $74 per month. A great weight has been lifted from our shoulders. We could not be more thankful.”

My family is benefitting, too. Onward and upward with the best medical-insurance program yet — Obamacare!

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