Archive for October, 2015

Okay, get the children out of the room because I’m now going to deliver what my daughter Brooks has dubbed my “stodgy old-man rant.”

Of course, she’s wrong about the first two parts — that I’m stodgy and old — but I will accept the rant part.

I just can’t hold back any longer. As far as I’m concerned, the Smartphone and the iPhone — which are less phone than constant communication devices — are, to some degree, ruining social interaction as we have known in since the advent of civilized society.

My benchmark for this judgment is my parents. They were two of the smartest and most gracious and refined people I have ever known. My father had a CPA and master’s degree and was a college professor most of his career. My mother had a master’s in English Literature and also taught at the college level. My father was a brilliant conversationalist and story teller, and my mother always got in her share of conversation and made each person around her feel like they had her undivided attention — which they did.

So, I can tell you unequivocally that the presence of a dinging, beeping, buzzing or ringing electronic device in social company would have absolutely horrified both of them. I’m pretty sure that if they were alive today and had people over who had their phones out — referring to them every few seconds or minutes for “important” updates from the outside world — those people would never have been invited back.

God bless them. I tell you, it makes me proud to be able to say that about them and know exactly what their reaction would have been.

On his deathbed — he died eight years ago — my father didn’t say, “JimmyC, promise me you’ll never pull out your cell phone when in the company of others,” but I did scare the crap out of him more than once when I was highway driving, talking on the phone and holding the steering wheel with one hand.

I don’t do that any more. I seldom talk on the phone while driving, and when I do, I use the Sync system — when it works.

Much worse than talking while driving, to me, is being with people in their (or your) home or at a restaurant and one or more of them have their phones out, either on the table or in their hands — fielding texts, emails and sometimes calls.

To me, that is virtually the same as looking over the shoulder of someone you’re talking to at a party and checking out the crowd.

As daughter Brooks so aptly put it (and by the way, even though she knows a rant when she sees one, she totally agrees with me), with the “phone-out” culture, “it’s become socially acceptable to be rude.”

Amen, Brooks, amen.

…The difficult part about this is that I have some very good friends who do exactly what I have described. My best friend, who lives in our hometown of Louisville, has become a slave to his phone. He’s a busy realtor, which is one reason for his dependency, but still, even in the evenings, he frequently lets himself be sucked into the “I-must-be-missing-something-more-important-elsewhere” syndrome and yields to the temptation to absorb himself in the phone.

Also, Patty does it to some extent. My wife! What’s a guy to do? Am I going to dump my best friend and my wife? Of course not. I’m stuck with these people…Scratch that; it’s off the record…What I mean is I’m going to be true to the friends I’ve already got and just grit my teeth and suffer the indignity. But as for any fledgling, prospective friends who find their phones more interesting than me — well, they’re not going to be good-chum candidates. They will find themselves on permanent hold.

Now, I guess you’re wondering how “Mr. Manners” of the local blogosphere handles the phone dilemma.

Well, I (that’s who I was referring to, in case you were confused) have a flip phone, and all I do is text occasionally and make and receive calls.

I keep the phone on vibrate 95 percent of the time. (That can cause problems, of course, because recently I lost the phone in the house for 24 hours and couldn’t find it partly because it didn’t ring when I called it with Patty’s phone.)

If I feel the phone vibrate when I’m actively engaged with others, I don’t pull it out and check to see whose calling or texting. I wait until there’s a break and I go to the restroom or another room away from the gathering and check there. If it’s important, I will make a quick call or send a text. As we all know, however, 95 percent of the time, it’s shit that can wait — usually a long time.

I’m not suggesting that we turn back the hands of time and go back to flip phones. What I am suggesting is that the dipsticks out there who can’t muster the willpower to resist the seductive siren of their cellphones wise up and develop some good cellphone manners.

Brooks said it’s become socially acceptable to be rude. No, I won’t accept that. It’s never acceptable to be rude. If you’re guilty, knock it off.

…I’m done spewing.

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When Rex Hudler first came to Kansas City as TV color commentator for the Royals in 2012, I couldn’t stand him.

Over the top. Mangled the King’s English. Came across like a jackhammer.

As time went by, however — and I think I speak for many others — I came to like him.

And now I love him.

His enthusiasm is infectious and irresistible. His belief in last year’s Royals and this year’s Royals is impenetrable. Instead of grating, his garbled grammar has become part of his appeal. Plus, of course, being a former major league infielder, he knows the game and consistently makes the game more enjoyable for the listeners by pointing out nuances most of us would otherwise miss.

With Fox Sports taking control of the series on the TV front, Rex and his announcing partner Ryan Lefebvre have been cut out of in-game duties.

Fortunately, however, he and his post-game partner Joel Goldberg are still holding forth on the FSKC Boulevard Royals Live show from Lot A outside Kauffman Stadium.

…Mercifully, compared to Tuesday’s 14-inning marathon, last night’s game went the conventional nine innings and took slightly less than three hours. So, it was no trouble staying up to watch the post game show…And, I’ll tell you, it was one for the ages.

Rex was at his intense, superlative-laced best. Wearing a winter, waist-length coat and gripping (as always) a baseball in his left hand, he gushed like a waterfall, praising the Royals’ brilliance in the game they had just won 7-1 and needling the New York Mets for the torment they had just experienced and the torment that Rex saw on the horizon.

joel and rex

Joel Goldberg (left) and Rex Hudler

…Relatively early in the broadcast, Rex talks about the way the Royals manhandled Mets’ starting pitcher Jacob deGrom — he of the wild, curly hair that springs from under his cap like an electrified bird’s nest. He says…

“I love tonight, the way they were squaring de Grom up…They were all up the middle, Joel, and I loved it. You’re hitting the ball when you know you’re going right back up the middle…That’s where the money is. Believe it!”

At that point, the viewers are seeing a replay of a Royals runner crossing home plate, with de Grom backing up the catcher. Transitioning to retrospective commentary, Rex shouts at de Grom…

“Go ahead and back up home…and, by the way, get a haircut!”

A few minutes later, when Joel is talking about Royals’ winning pitcher Johnny Cueto — he of the peroxide-tinted dreadlocks — Joel points out that Rex has not called for Johnny to get a haircut. Rex splutters…

“Oh, no. No, no, no! He’s got to keep those locks on; it really looks good.”

Another reference to personal grooming touches off a second Rex run of the mouth.

When a photo flashes on the screen of former Royals center fielder Willie Wilson, Joel points out that in the photo Willie has a mustache. Rex says…

“You know what? That looks really good on him. I couldn’t get away with it, but he can. Willie Wilson’s a b-a-a-a-a-a-d man!”

Rex then leapfrogs to a key point about the Royals, saying…

“But I’m gonna tell you what. It don’t matter…Hair or no hair, these guys are talented; they’ve got experience now, Joel. And look, when you put those two together…”

In mid-sentence, Rex pauses and starts looking around, back and forth, toward the clutch of cheering fans gathered behind the stage where Rex and Joel are seated.

Then Rex finishes his thought —

“…hopefully a World Series title. It’s going to be a beautiful thing!”

Ever the perfect straight man, Joel says, “What are you looking at?” And Rex, almost elevating from his chair, turns directly toward the fans and says…

“I can’t help it! I’m looking around for the people. Come on, people, let’s go!”

A few quick, vigorous pumps of the right fist polish off the exhortation.

Joel then calmly turns to the camera and says: “There’s our segue, whether it works or not, into the next topic.”

Which is the pitching match-up for Game 3, Friday in New York, between Yordano Ventura and Noah Syndergaard.

Laying the groundwork for another oratorical flourish from his partner, Joel notes that each pitcher has an interesting nickname: Ventura is known as “Ace” and Syndergaard as “Thor” — after the hammer-wielding god in Norse mythology.

“So, it will be Ace versus Thor,” Joel states in a foreboding tone.

Rex drops his jaw and his eyes pop open in a feigned look of fear, but he quickly recovers and says…

“The Royals continue to hit like they’re hitting that hard fastball that Thor throws, they could…show Thorthe door!

Just before sign-off, Rex contributes a final, steely-eyed assessment…

“Believe it. It’s going to be happening right there in the Big Apple! It’s gonna be fun! He’s (Thor) a good pitcher, but so are the other two we’ve faced!”

…Good night, Rex. Thanks for being you. See you Friday from the Big Apple.

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The disturbing incident at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC, where a school resource officer — a deputy sheriff — wrenched an uncooperative student from her desk Monday and dragged her out of the classroom struck a chord with me.

In nine years as a substitute teacher since retiring from The Star in 2006, I have experience dealing with students who are difficult to “redirect,” as we say in the teaching business. For those unfamiliar with the term in the school setting, redirecting is simply calling a student’s attention to inappropriate behavior or conduct and getting him or her back on board the lesson or activity at hand.

But let’s back up to the Spring Valley incident. Video showed Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields dealing with a 16-year-old girl who had refused to stand and leave her math class, after her teacher reportedly caught her using her phone.

After an administrator and Deputy Fields arrived, both asked the girl to leave several times and requested that she cooperate. She remained quietly in her desk as they continued to ask her to leave and then, apparently with no warning, Deputy Fields grabbed the girl, flipped her desk over and dragged her to the front of the classroom, where he cuffed her hands behind her. One student said he saw the deputy put his knee on her as he tried to arrest her.

One of the oddities of the video is that only two other students can be seen clearly, and both appear absorbed in their work at the outset of the incident and then appear only slightly distracted from their work as the officer extracts the girl from her desk and drags her away. After the deputy has the girl on the floor in the front of the classroom, he says, “Gimme your hands; gimme your hands.”

Before you read any farther, I urge you to view the video, which is linked in this NYT story.

By any measure, the video is shocking, and it’s clear that Deputy Fields badly overreacted.

So much so that Sheriff Leon Lott, his supervisor, has washed his hands of him — suspending him and saying he will never return to school duty anywhere. Deputy Fields could also be in deep legal trouble. The Columbia office of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina have opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.

FBI Special Agent in Charge David Thomas said in a statement Tuesday, “The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated.”

At the very least, the girl’s family will almost certainly file a civil suit against Deputy Fields, and my guess is the family will win a significant monetary judgment.

Some of more than 1,000 people who already have commented on today’s New York Times story on the Spring Valley incident have defended the officer’s response. One person said that once the girl refused to leave the classroom, she was, in effect, trespassing and that Deputy Fields was justified in resorting to violence to uproot her.

That’s utter balderdash, of course. We’re talking about a public school, a public school the student had been going to every day.

Certainly, though, something had to be done. Administrators couldn’t just shrug their shoulders and say, “Never mind” and let the girl continue using her phone in violation of school rules — or let her stay in the classroom indefinitely after she refused to leave.

For sure, in my experience, similar situations can be very, very challenging.

A couple of times, I have had to call a school office and summon administrators to collect a student who refused to be redirected and then refused to leave the room. Fortunately, in those instances, the students got up and left when administrators arrived.

My worst handling of an incident occurred in my early substitute days. It was at William Chrisman High School in Independence. I let a girl in an English class get under my skin because she was fiddling with a case of some sort and she was very slow in responding to my directive to put the case away.

(I should note here that the girl wasn’t really disrupting the other students, she was just being inattentive. I learned from that incident, and similar ones, that the best thing to do when a student is “off task” but not bothering anyone else is simply ignore them. It’s just not worth the time and emotional energy to make a big deal out of it.)

Where I made my biggest mistake was after approaching the girl’s desk, I placed my index finger on her knee and said, “Put the case away!” With that, she jumped up, started screaming, “He touched me! He touched me!” and ran out of the classroom and down the hall to the office.

Immediately I realized I had screwed up royally. I didn’t hear anything for a few days, but then a school administrator summoned me to the school for an interview. Her immediate intent was to determine if I had been guilty of sexual harassment. Fortunately, she quickly determined that was not the case, that it was just a terribly misguided attempt at redirection.

The official told me to never touch a student below the shoulders and to never touch a student at all in a “redirecting” situation. The official also banned me — for my own good and that of the student — from substituting at Chrisman in the future.

It was a tremendous lesson for me in dealing with difficult classroom situations. As you might imagine, I’ve never touched a student in a redirecting situation since then and never will.

…Now, back to the Spring Valley case. Like I said, something had to be done because the girl was not only disobeying school rules but flouting authority.

Had I been the administrator, the first thing I would have done was to take charge of the situation and not defer to the officer. The officer should be secondary to the administrator, unless a fight is in progress or a student is attacking a teacher or administrator.

After telling the officer to give me the opportunity to handle it, I would have carefully considered the options. As in my situation with the girl at Chrisman, there was no compelling reason to rush to a showdown.

To me, the main options would have been:

:: Turning the German-Shepherd sheriff’s deputy loose on the girl.

:: Allowing the girl to stay where she was and immediately call a parent and have the parent talk to the student on the phone or ask the parent to come to the school. (I realize that might not have been possible on short notice, but it still should have been considered before resorting to mayhem.)

:: Waiting until the bell rang for the end of the period. At that point, the girl probably would have gotten up as other students entered the room and took their seats for the next class. Staying put would have put her in a very awkward position.

:: Asking the other students to leave the room and stand in the hallway or take them to an empty classroom. That would have isolated the recalcitrant student and probably prompted her to end her sit-in.

The point is the administrator had a number of viable options and the girl had very few. She had leverage at the moment, but her standoff would soon come to a natural end as the school routine unfolded.

Where the administrator and Deputy Fields erred badly — as I did at Chrisman — was immediately submitting to a power struggle with the girl: Who’s gonna win? You gonna win? Oh, no. We’re gonna win. Just watch and see!

Now the deputy has cost himself his job, and the administrator has demonstrated he or she was incapable of calmly and professionally defusing what was, initially, just a knotty situation.

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Once your team is in the World Series, it’s never too early to start thinking about a World Series victory parade.

And, from Kansas City’s 1985 experience, the only time the Royals won the World Series, I hope the people who are put in charge of the parade will do some serious brainstorming.

I was one of several reporters who covered the 1985 victory parade, which went up Grand Avenue from the River Market (then theRiver Quay) and ended at the Liberty Memorial, where various officials and players spoke to the huge throng that packed the Liberty Memorial Mall.

I guess it’s too strong to say the parade itself was a disaster, but it was pretty close. In summary, classic cars, overheated catalytic converters and shredded newspaper combined to form a combustible concoction that forced several parade participants, including then-Manager Dick Howser and his wife Nancy to bail from their cars and proceed either on foot or in other vehicles.

ticker tape

The parade proceeded south on Grand.

…When you think of a downtown victory parade, the first thing that comes to mind is confetti, right? Well, there was no confetti at this parade; it was all shredded paper — shredded paper that quickly balled up. And, unfortunately, that paper became both a weapon and a fire accelerant.

The first thing I noticed as I stood near The Star building at 18th and Grand was that some people were taking chunks of balled-up paper and hurling them at the occupants of the cars. Instead of light, fluttery confetti wafting down on the players and their cars, our World Series heroes were being pelted with meteor-like objects with tails. Plus, there were no barriers lining the streets; as best I recall, people pressed right up to the line of cars. The street was a mass of humanity, cars and globs of heavy paper.

That part alone was unsettling to me. But then it got much worse. As the paper piled up on the street, the slow-moving cars began passing over the paper, and in the case of about five cars, the heat from the catalytic converters (emissions-controlling devices) ignited the paper.

I mostly saw smoke, but I’m pretty sure some cars were in flames. As you might expect, the occupants of those cars simply bailed.

I distinctly remember seeing the car in which the Howsers had been riding. The back seat was empty, except for one ladies high-heeled shoe. I didn’t see Nancy after that, and I don’t know what she did, but I imagine she took the other shoe off and proceeded barefoot.

I have read that the car in which Royals’ third baseman George Brett was riding was one of those that caught fire, and there’s a photo of Brett riding a horse and wearing a cowboy hat. Whether the horse ride was planned or spontaneous, I’m sure George was glad he was able to get up and away from the worst of the newspaper onslaught.


“Cowboy” George Brett

Some of the drivers abandoned the cars, which resulted in the parade being re-routed around Crown Center. Thousands of people lining Grand in that vicinity didn’t see the parade as they had planned. I don’t know exactly how the parade was re-routed, but it must have jogged west on one of the numbered streets and then gone up the Main Street hill.

I just remember being glad to finally arrive at the Liberty Memorial, knowing that the players, their families and team officials were out of harm’s way. I was never so glad to see a parade end.

So, if any potential parade planners are reading this, please, do whatever you have to do to get real, sliced and diced confetti. If necessary, import it from New York. Spare no cost.

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So where were we on the subject of The Star’s price schedule for the print edition?

Oh, that’s right, it’s all over the place.

As you might recall from an informal survey I conducted last week, retail prices ranged from about $16 a month — for a 26-week introductory offer — to about $35 a month, among people I contacted.

In addition, two retired Star employees — architecture critic Donald Hoffmann and society editor Laura Hockaday — said they were getting retiree discounts that put them at $14.83 per month, or roughly half of what most retail customers appear to be paying.

S0mewhere along the line I let the retiree discount slip between the cracks and have been paying a whopping $34.51 per month, having it charged to my MasterCard. (By contrast, I pay $36.66 for a 7-day-a-week subscription to The New York Times, although I get a 50-percent-off, teacher’s rate.)

Several people complained, either in private emails or in the comments section, about the poor state of The Star’s circulation customer service. The complaints ran in polar directions — either how hard it was to get through to circulation or how people were getting dunned by solicitation calls.

Against that murky backdrop, I plunged into action, determined to break through any walls of resistance and get the retiree discount.

Here’s how my crusade unfolded:

Call #1: Circulation, care of “my account.” After a hold time of slightly more than 15 minutes, a helpful-sounding fellow named Vin picked up. In the Phillipines. Confirmed my current rate but, after consulting someone else, said he couldn’t change the rate, that I’d have to call “account billing” in Kansas City. Well, that was a good start: I was on the precipice of getting through to a person at The Star, in Kansas City.

Call #2: The number Vin gave me. But, a recorded message from Phyllis said that number was no longer working and directed me to one of two other numbers, one of which was Phyllis’ new number.

Calls #3 and #4: Got recorded messages from Phyllis, as well as from the person at the other number, assuring me I’d get a return call.

Calls #5 and #6 (24 hours later): Left messages on the same voice mails.

…Within two hours of placing those calls, I was on my way to The Star, the venerable building at 18th and Grand that was the center of gravity for my 36-plus years at The Star.

I didn’t expect to get very far into the building, and I didn’t. Made it as far as the foyer, where a mild-looking, elderly security guard slid the glass open and said, “Hi, may I help you!” — or at least some version of that.

The guard dialed up Phyllis and left a message on her voice mail. He dialed another number and left a message. He dialed a third number and got through. Pretty soon, he extended the phone through the window, saying “Here’s Phyllis.”

Gotta tell you, I almost jumped for joy.

Phyllis was very receptive, listening as I laid out my case and my bona fides as a fully accredited, sheet-cake and pizza-party retiree (class of 2006).

Then she said The Star had recently installed a new computer system and that she herself was not able to go into the system and change my rate. But…but, she knew who could! A woman named Bev who works in Phyllis’ vicinity!

(Editor’s note: In my Oct. 12 post, I quoted a longtime Star carrier who said, “The new system hasn’t worked from Day One.”)

Phyllis said she would talk to Bev and call me back right away. After I gave her my number, the sliding of the glass window officially ended my first visit to The Star in years.

Fortunately, Phyllis was under the impression that I was waiting at the guard station, and she called me back in less than 10 minutes.

The news was not entirely negative and not entirely positive…Bev also couldn’t get into the “new system” and make the fix. Phyllis assured me, however, that she, Phyllis, would make it happen. She would go “across the street” — presumably the green-glassed printing plant across McGee Street — and talk to the technical people in charge of the computer system.

“I’m going to get it done, and I’ll call you to let you know when the new rate is entered,” she said.

Before saying goodbye, I profusely thanked Phyllis for “taking an interest in my case.” I don’t mind saying I gushed because, at that point, the price that I would pay for my paper lay completely, utterly and unequivocally in this fine woman’s hands.

…That was Tuesday. Today came and went without a call from Phyllis — who, I’m sure, is beautiful and has never sinned. Nevertheless, I was not sitting and stewing. Far from it. I laid the groundwork for a bold flanking attack. I called a buddy who is now in ad sales but previously worked in circulation for many years.

Rob said, “I know right where her office is” and assured me he would intercede for me whenever I bugled “Charge!”

So now it’s Wednesday night. Can hardly wait for tomorrow. As Ernest Hemingway once said (by the way, he once worked briefly at The Star briefly):

“I like getting up in the morning not knowing what’s going to happen but knowing something’s going to happen.”

Something good, I trust, something good.

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A truly remarkable, singular story led Sunday’s New York Times.

The story — “The Lonely Death of George Bell” — was about the death of a 72-year-old, retired moving company worker who had no relatives, one friend who hadn’t seen him in months and an apartment full of junk and empty cans and packages of food.

His body was only discovered because a woman in a neighboring apartment in Queens observed that his car hadn’t moved from its parking spot in several days…and then she noticed an odor coming from his apartment.

Reporter N.R. Kleinfeld, who goes by the nickname Sonny, decided to follow the case of George Bell after he started to wonder about two things: What happened to people who died lonely and their bodies went unclaimed, and how is it that people can die alone in a city the size of New York without anyone paying heed for several days or longer?

(Be advised: The story is long, very long. But it is worth every word. As George Zimmer, formerly of Men’s Warehouse, used to say, “I guarantee it.“)

The story struck deep and wide: Thousands of people either commented or shared the story and, in addition, The Times did a follow-up story on reader response.

The follow-up said, in part:

“For some of the thousands of people who shared or commented…’The Lonely Death of George Bell’ offered a moment of reckoning, a haunting reminder of the pockets of solitude that swallow people in every community.”


New York Times writer N.R. Kleinfeld

Kleinfeld, who is in his mid-60s, is no stranger to memorable stories. A Times staff writer for more than 35 years, he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer for a series called “How Race Is Lived in America” and the lead writer on a diabetes series that was a Pulitzer finalist. In addition,he has written eight nonfiction books and has written for several national magazines, including Harper’s, The Atlantic, Esquire and Rolling Stone.

Kleinfeld meticulously reported the George Bell story for more than a year, as the case sifted its way through probate court and the medical examiner’s office, and as government officials attempted to track down people named in a will Bell had prepared more than 30 years before his death.


Kleinfeld’s exhaustive reporting was just 50 percent of the reason the story resonated so deeply — and why it will likely win the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

The other 50 percent of the story’s resounding success lies in Kleinfeld’s compelling and distinctive way of writing.

Listen to the first paragraph of the story…When I say listen, I mean read it aloud. Slowly. Chances are you’ll feel the tentacles of the opening sentences begin to slowly envelop you as they did me.

They found him in the living room, crumpled up on the mottled carpet. The police did. Sniffing a fetid odor, a neighbor had called 911. The apartment was in north-central Queens, in an unassertive building on 79th Street in Jackson Heights.

Now, focus on the three adjectives in those lines: “mottled”…”fetid”…”unassertive.”

They imbue the opening sentences with a richness that James Joyce would envy.

…But the biggest hook in that opening paragraph is the construction of the first two sentences:

“They found him in the living room, crumpled up on the mottled carpet. The police did…”

Think of how much more impact those sentences have as written, rather than if the writer had said…

“The police found him in the living room, crumpled up on the mottled carpet.”

That is a brilliant stroke of writing — flipping the discovery by police to a subservient position. The reason he wrote it like that is because the point is not that the police found him, it’s that he was found at all. It didn’t particularly matter who found him.


A particularly sensitive pocket of great writing occurs about halfway through the story, when Kleinfeld describes a funeral director named John Sommese retrieving George Bell’s casket at the morgue and transporting it to a crematory…

 “Next stop was U.S. Columbarium at Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, for the cremation. Mr. Sommese made good time along the loud streets lined with shedding trees. The volume on the radio was muted; the dashboard said Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’ was playing.

“While the undertaker said he didn’t dwell much on the strangers he transported, he allowed how instances like this saddened him — a person dies and nobody shows up, no service, no one from the clergy to say a few kind words, to say rest in peace.

“The undertaker was a Christian, and believed that George Bell was already in another place, a better place, but still. ‘I don’t think everyone should have an elaborate funeral,’ he said in a soft voice. ‘But I think burial or cremation should be with respect, or else what is society about? I think about this man. I believe we’re all connected. We’re all products of the same God. Does it matter that this man should be cremated with respect? Yes, it does.’ “

george bell

The late George Bell

The same section contains at least two instances of striking phraseology:

— “He (Sommese) consulted the mirror and blended into the next lane.”

consulted the mirror…

— “Squinting in the sun, Mr. Sommese paced in the motionless air. After 15 minutes, the dock opened up and the undertaker angled the hearse in.”

…paced in the motionless air…angled the hearse in…

Exquisite, wouldn’t you agree?


Anticipating a strong reader reaction and curiosity about his story, Kleinfeld wrote an accompanying “Times Insider” story, explaining why he was drawn to George Bell:

“The people I spoke to consistently wondered why I was writing about George Bell. He was just another man. Well, that was why.”


The hallmark of a great photographer is that he or she produces special photos regardless of the assignment.

Last week, for example, The Star’s Keith Myers was in the thick of the biggest story we’ve had around here in years — the fire at Prospect and Independence avenues that took the lives of two firefighters.

Yesterday, Myers was a Dub’s Dread Golf Club in Kansas City, KS, covering the Kansas Class 5A individual championship. He got this picture of the winner, Caroline Klemp of St. james Academy getting a “sandwich hug,” as Myers described it, from her mother, Joni Klemp and her sister Audrey.


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The only place where I’m pretty good at haggling over prices is outside sporting events when negotiating for tickets.

My biggest coup was in 2000, when I bought a $500 face-value Kentucky Derby ticket for $200. It got me into the lofty, 4th-floor “Jockey Club Suites,” where I was among celebrities such as then-University of Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino and then-U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. (I was so lucky that day that I even had the Derby winner, Fusaichi Pegasus.)

Normally, however, I overpay for items and services that don’t carry non-negotiable prices.

Five years ago, for example, Patty and I paid at least 30 percent more than we should have for two rugs while we were on a trip to Turkey. I went into the negotiations uninformed and uninitiated and was hornswoggled by a charming salesman named Celal Belli, who also went by “Jelly Belly.”

So, it came as no surprise to me when I learned in recent days I was paying more than several other people I know for the print edition of The Star.

I had heard that because of the steep drop in circulation the last several years, subscription prices were somewhat negotiable. I’ve never tried to negotiate it, however — just paid what they said I owed and charged it automatically each month to my credit card.

At the start of this year, my subscription price rose from $27.51 to $34.51 per month, right at 25 percent more.

Within the last few days, a friend got a special, discounted price of about $16 a month for six months.

Told how much I was paying, my friend suggested I conduct an informal survey of several friends to find out what kind of disparity there was.

So, I sent emails to several former Star colleagues and asked what they were paying.

Here’s what I found:

— Former business reporter Julius Karash said he was paying $35.39 a month before he recently dropped the print subscription because of delivery problems at his downtown condo.

— Former Metro reporter Kevin Murphy said he was paying “about $30 a month.”

— At the other end were former architecture critic Donald Hoffmann and former society editor Laura Hockaday, both of whom are paying $14.83 per month. Laura didn’t know why her rate was as low as it is, but Don said it’s because former KC Star employees are entitled to a 50 percent discount.

I knew that many years ago, probably back in the 80s and 90s, I was getting The Star delivered to my home at a discounted price — probably the 50 percent Hoffmann alluded to. But I thought the Star had dropped that perk years ago, and I hadn’t inquired about it or thought about it in years.

Don said he had been getting the discounted rate since he retired in 1990.

If that’s the case, I say, good for Don and good for Laura and other former Star employees who are getting a great discount…And one more thing: I’ll be calling The Star this week to try to get the discounted rate.


On the haggling, my survey yielded a lively email thread among me, Julius and a another former reporter who declined to be identified.


Julius Karash

Julius had suggested that I include the other reporter in the survey because “he says whenever they try to hit him with an increase, he tells them he wants to drop the paper and then they back off.”

When I sent that reporter an email telling him what Julius had been paying and asking what he was paying, he wrote back saying, “J (Julius) is being robbed.”

Conspicuously missing was how much he — the other reporter — was paying, so I pressed him, saying, “Out with the number!”

He wrote back, “They pay me!”

…I don’t think I’d want to be in a poker game with that guy. But then again, he probably doesn’t engage in games of chance because he’s obviously very good at holding onto his money.


If you’d like to get in on this survey, pray, tell us here at jimmycsays what you are paying for your print subscriptions…Even if you aren’t a former Star employee, if you are armed with enough “comps” — the term used in the real estate business to help set home prices and tax assessments — maybe some of you will be able to fight back and shave a few dollars off your monthly rates.

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Enough of the negative…Let’s turn to some of the great work Kansas City Star reporters have been doing.

As much as readers and we self-appointed critics highlight the deficiencies of The Star and its owner, the McClatchy Co., it is important to acknowledge that The Star remains a lot better than most other major metropolitan dailies.

Maybe you saw former business reporter Julius Karash’s  comment on my previous post, saying basically it would be a debacle if McClatchy sold its papers to Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain.

As I said in responding to a comment on that post, my impression is Gannett is a cookie-cutter — a marionette operation that gives local publishers and possibly editors little latitude. You walk the line and take the generic filler copy that Gannett provides. McClatchy, on the other hand, while its papers operate on razor-thin margins, doesn’t hover over local operations — at least to the best of my knowledge.

The last few days, we’ve had two huge stories taking place in Kansas City: the Royals and the deaths of firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh. Let’s take a look at how The Star has handled those stories.

Royals coverage

The Star has been doing a fabulous job on the Royals, publishing special sections every day on the American League Division Series with the Houston Astros. Putting out special sections is a significant financial commitment, but it’s the right thing to do.

The columns by Sam Mellinger and Vahe Gregorian have been insightful and unfailingly interesting. As usual, the headlines have been outstanding.

After the Royals came back for a 5-4 win Friday in Houston, putting the best-of-five series at a game apiece, The Star’s front-page headline was “Houston, we have a series.”

The headline on the combined front and back pages of today’s special section was “Houston, welcome back to the “K” — with the “K” reversed for baseball’s iconic indicator of a strikeout.

Never take this sports section for granted, Kansas Citians. It is one of the best in the country, and management keeps finding one great columnist after another.

Many of us never thought they’d be able to adequately fill the shoes of the Jason Whitlock and Joe Posnanski, but these two guys we’ve got now are right up there in Jason’s and Joe’s league.

The Fire

The fire in the three-story building at Independence and Prospect broke out 7:25 p.m. Monday. That gave The Star just three or four hours to get the story. And believe me, it’s not easy to get a story on deadline when all hell is breaking loose and you’ve got firefighters crushed in the rubble of a collapsed wall.

But veteran reporter Bob Cronkleton (whom I oversaw in the Wyandotte County bureau about a dozen years ago) and relative newcomer Ian Cummings did an excellent job of producing a compelling and crystal-clear story for the Tuesday morning print edition.

The fifth paragraph began with a telling quote from Fire Chief Paul Berardi: “This is the worst day.”

They didn’t get the names of the two dead firefighters in the paper, but they were on the website in the morning. Excellent work.

The hardest and most challenging part of covering a huge breaking story, however, is how well you follow it up in the days after the event, particularly the next day.

The Star delivered masterfully. They put two of their most seasoned and reliable reporters on it: Laura Bauer, who covered the Brandon Ellingson drowing at Lake of the Ozarks, and Brian Burnes, who formerly was stationed in Independence, when The Star had a bureau there. (I worked there, alongside Burnes, from 2005 to 2006, when I retired.)

Cronkleton was also back on the story Tuesday morning, probably working on very little sleep. Cummings and longtime, top-notch photographer Keith Myers contributed to the report. (Myers also had two good photos.)

The main story, more than 60 column inches, laid out what happened from start to finish…It had everything except what caused the fire — hasn’t been determined — and the last firefighter fatality in Kansas City. (I’m not sure about this, but it might have been 47-year-old Battalion Chief John Tvedten Jr., who died in a warehouse fire in December 1999.)

Accompanying the story was a helpful timeline; an easy-to-digest graphic by artist Neil Nakahodo; and a stunning overhead photo by staff photographer Allison Long, showing the still-smoking building and the pile of rubble that engulfed Leggio and Mesh after a wall collapsed.

For an accompanying story, or “sidebar,” The Star dispatched investigative reporter Judy Thomas to interview the building owner, Bo Tran…In Thomas’ capable hands, Tran came across as genuinely more devastated by the deaths of the firefighters than the loss of his building. She quoted him as saying:

“I feel real hurt. Really, really hurt. There’s nothing baetter than people like that.”


After my previous post lambasting McClatchy and The Star for various felonies and misdemeanors, an email from a former KC Star staff member jolted me into focusing on the positive.

At one point, the former staffer said, “I hate to be one of those things-were-better-back-when guys.”

How well expressed…and something for all of us backseat drivers to think about.

So, thank you, Star staff members, for providing us with outstanding reporting and writing on two of the biggest, most important stories we have seen around here since at least the fall of 2014. It’s time-consuming, demanding work, and I’m now getting out of my chair to applaud you.

Post-Royals-victory addendum

It’s abundantly clear after tonight’s great Royals’ win over the Astros in the American League Division Series that I should never venture into sports prognostication and commentary.

Here are some of the things I wrote about the Royals in recent weeks.

Aug. 23:

“The Royals…probably aren’t going to win the American League Championship.”

“Alex Rios is a pretty boy who can’t hit.”

“Lorenzo Cain looks like he’s on a sea cruise.”

“Yorlando Ventura is a kid…who probably wont’ make it with the Royals.”

Sept. 7:

I facetiously dubbed Johnny Cueto “The Fantastic Johnny C” and linked to the song “Boogaloo Down Broadway.”

— All I can say now is that, as most of you know, I have a lot of hats, and tonight I’m starting to eat them one at a time. Yea, Royals! (And after the Royals beat the Blue Jays for the American League championship, please join me in boogaloo-ing down Broadway.)

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For the sake of the loyal, hard-working journalists remaining at The Kansas City Star, I really dislike flogging the paper and its owner, the McClatchy Company, for their shortcomings.

Fact is, though, the problems are increasing, and subscribers, readers, employees and former employees are entitled to know about them.

Here’s the latest:

:: The Star is now running some editorials that are not being written by the four members of the editorial page staff. 

The Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others, are “outsourcing” some editorials to a service called “Opinion in a Pinch,” run by an Oregon man named Chris Trejbal, a former editorial writer for the Roanoke Times in Virginia.

The Columbia Journalism Review had an interesting story on Trejbal, who has shrewdly capitalized on reduced editorial-page staffs at newspapers across the country. The journalism review story says of Trejbal:


Chris Trejbal

“One of his first clients was The Kansas City Star, whose editorial page was then run by Miriam Pepper—who, after retiring from the paper in 2014, would go on to join Opinion in a Pinch as a freelance editorialist.”

…This is all news to me — The Star running some outsourced editorials and Pepper apparently writing some of the “commissioned” editorials in The Star.

The problem for me — and I trust for many of you — is that The Star isn’t identifying outsourced editorials. They are simply dropped in along with editorial researched and written by the four remaining editorial board members — Steve Paul (editorial page editor), Yael Abouhalkah, Barb Shelly and Lewis Diuguid.

The Post-Dispatch, on the other hand, has chosen to identify editorials not produced by its editorial page staff, which is now down to two members.

The Post-Dispatch uses this disclaimer in parentheses: “This editorial was commissioned from freelance editorialists and edited by the Post-Dispatch editorial board.”

…Now, that’s at least being straightforward. But listen to how Steve Paul rationalized The Star’s lack of transparency to the Columbia Journalism Review:

“When we’re ‘in a pinch’—vacation mode, etc.—we call on him (Trejbal) occasionally to help back us up. I discuss topics with him, we discuss ed (editorial) board positions, he reports and writes, we edit. I don’t see the need to disclose that; in a sense, he’s an adjunct member of the editorial board, a leg man who reports for us, or a ghost writer of pieces that never have been signed anyway.”

I think the non-disclosure is reprehensible, and I totally agree with the assessment of the former KC Star reporter who alerted me to the journalism review story.


Steve Paul

The former reporter — who declined to be quoted by name because he respects Steve Paul — wrote in an email: “I regard editorials as one of a newspaper’s sacred duties — they should be thoughtful, local and well-researched.  It’s hard for me to imagine that they accomplish any of those goals this way.”

…For the sake of its remaining credibility, The Star should immediately begin identifying outsourced editorials. To Steve Paul and KC Star editor Mike Fannin, I say, “Stop misleading the readers!”

:: Another example of The Star misleading, or at least confusing, readers appeared on the back page of Saturday’s paper.

In a legally required “Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation,” The Star listed Fannin as editor and Greg Farmer as managing editor.

But the part about Farmer is incorrect. After Steve Shirk retired as managing editor a few months ago, The Star didn’t name a successor. Instead, it divided his duties among a few people, including Farmer.

I left a voice message for Farmer this morning and he sent me an email addressing the published statement.

“That was a mistake,” he said. “I’m leading the investigative/enterprise team as Senior AME (assistant managing editor).”

…My guess is that whoever prepared the statement simply plugged in Farmer’s name for the sake of convenience. But to be totally honest and accurate, the statement should have said the post of managing editor was “currently not filled.”

It would have been that easy to be transparent.

:: Major problems persist with distribution of the print edition.

A longtime carrier told me today that changes over the last few months have prompted some carriers to quit and that many inexperienced and incompetent carriers have been hired as replacements.

The changes include:

— The Star distancing itself from direct responsibility for delivery of the paper by hiring distributors who have formed LLCs and assumed full responsibility for delivery operations. Carriers’ checks no longer come from McClatchy but from the distributors. In addition, when carriers don’t show up for one reason or another, the distributors — not  The Star — are responsible for getting the papers delivered.

— Reductions in the pay carriers receive for delivery of each paper. (Loss of circulation has also hit carriers hard in the pocketbooks, since their pay is on a per-paper basis.) The carrier I spoke with said his income from delivering the paper was about half what it was several years ago.

— Installation of a new computer system, which has resulted in paycheck delays, among other things. “The new system has not worked from Day One,”  the carrier told me.

Along the same lines, it continues to be very difficult to get through to a live person in the circulation department. A friend who was having delivery problems was put on hold for more than 30 minutes yesterday, and today, as a test, I held on the line for at least 10 minutes before giving up.

:: Finally, McClatchy announced today it is closing its foreign bureaus and bringing those staff members back to the Washington bureau.

The bureaus to be closed are in Beijing, Mexico City, Istanbul, Berlin and Iraq.

A Poynter Institute story about the restructuring said:

“In discontinuing its foreign bureaus, McClatchy is scaling back its international coverage in favor of an editorial strategy that emphasizes regional stories and political coverage.”

Poynter said McClatchy’s international reporting will be “project based and less frequent.”

Jonathan Landay, a high-profile reporter in McClatchy’s Washington bureau, was quoted as saying:

“At a time when the world is careening into greater chaos and mayhem, Americans want to know what’s happening and how this is going to affect them. By closing the foreign bureaus, we’re shutting off an important source of news and analysis at a time when we need to be paying more attention because our mission is to inform and educate.”

landayPerhaps not coincidentally, Landay recently announced he was leaving McClatchy for a job with Reuters. When Knight Ridder still owned the papers that McClatchy later bought, Landay produced some of the most skeptical coverage of U.S. intelligence claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Although McClatchy said there would be no layoffs, you can be assured that this is a money-saving move. Maintaining a foreign bureau is an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

In the same money-saving vein, many major metropolitan dailies, including The Star, have shrunk their national and international coverage in recent years. The emphasis on “local, local, local” is simply a cover story for reducing page count.


With all this going on, it is no mystery why publisher Mi-Ai Parrish departed for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, where she will be working for a new company, Gannett, that was recently spun off from its parent company (renamed TEGNA) and is starting afresh with no debt.

With McClatchy, every publisher who gets up in the morning and goes to work carries with them the burden of the parent company’s nearly $1 billion debt — a debt incurred when McClatchy unwisely bought the Knight Ridder chain just when things were starting to go south for the newspaper industry.

Now, at the local level, every McClatchy paper is crying out to be set free.

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We just got home last night from south central Colorado, where we spent a few days with friends who have a cabin in the Wet Mountains (a range of the Rockies), near the town of Westcliffe.

I was there last year with the cabin owner and another guy, and that time we took the overnight train from Kansas City to Trinidad and drove the 60 miles up to the cabin in a rental car. This year we drove, and I can tell you even though it’s a long drive, sitting in the car for 12 hours is a lot more comfortable than trying to sleep in a tilt-back chair on the train.

An even bigger bonus: This year we had women! Woo-hoo! I tell you it was a veritable nonstop party for three days…well, as much of a nonstop party as one person in her late 50s (Patty) and three in their and 60s can have.

I know you’re dying to see the photos, so let’s get started!


We had just gotten to the town of Colorado City, not far from the cabin, when we happened upon this view.


I took this one from the same vantage point, different view.


Our cabin was a bit on the rough side, but…oh, wait…wrong photo.


Not rough at all, actually. Kaler, who co-owns the place with his cousin, calls it “the little cabin in the woods.” I call it the Grand Villa.


We shared the deck with some fine feathered friends.


One day we took a 4.2 mile hike (two up, two down) to St. Charles Peak, elev. 11,784 feet. Strangely enough, Patty and Kaler were the only two who made it to the summit. Maybe if Kaler’s wife Eileen and I had laid down and rested we would have made it, too.


The aspens had turned, and, boy, was it beautiful.


On Colorado 165, the road to Kaler’s cabin, looms a structure called Bishop’s Castle, which a guy named Jim Bishop built by himself. It’s quite a tourist attraction. You can climb all the way to the top, if you have courage, strong legs and an iron will. The four of us came up lacking in each of those departments. Ground level is as high as I got.


Then there’s the town of Westcliffe, at the feet of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. One of my favorite stores in Westcliffe is a pawn shop called the The Loan A Ranger. Lots of guns for sale…Oh, baby, I just love those firearms!


One day we went to a place called The Winery, at a former abbey near Canon (pron. Canyon) City.


The wine tasting was $35 a head, except for me, a non-drinker. I drank grape juice and got in for the discount price of $10…That’s Kaler in the front and Eileen, Patty and me.


As we left The Winery, a cloud buildup was underway.


Like I said, a cloud buildup was underway. The cloud formations change quickly in the Centennial State.


A friend of Kaler’s owns this place, with a view of Turtle Rock (left peak).


A closer view of Turtle Rock.


Naturally, I wanted to get an old-fashioned selfie, using the 10-second self-timer on my Lumix, but I couldn’t scramble down the rocks in time to join my companions. Tempus fugit, that’s for sure.

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