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Archive for August, 2016

I would think Verruckt is kaput, and the KCK Schlitterbahn could be shot.

It will be interesting to see how many people show up when the water park reopens Wednesday, minus the 168-foot-tall Verruckt water slide, which will remain closed for at least the rest of the season.

It’s possible that media members will outnumber paying guests.

Wait…Did I say paying?

After Sunday’s unspeakable accident, with 10-year-old Caleb Schwab dying after apparently being thrown from the three-person raft he was riding in and then hitting protective netting full force — probably head first — it’ll be a wonder to me if anyone ever again pays to walk through the gates.

(For the record, general admission to the KCK park ranges from $42 to $50, with the lower rate available with online purchases.)

But then, I’m the same blogger who thought General Motors could be facing an operational crossroads after it came to light in 2014 that for a decade the carmaker had covered up a problem with ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions. At first, GM claimed the ignition-switch failures — and resulting deactivation of airbags — had killed 13 people. But attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who specializes in corporate payouts, later linked 124 deaths and 275 injuries to the debacle.

And yet, amid that terrible publicity and the exposure of a GM as a lying enterprise, the sale of its vehicles actually rose several percentage points in 2014.

The public is funny in an unpredictable sort of way…I mean, who would have thought that a major political party’s nominee for president would suggest, seriously, that gun-rights advocates might do something crazy if Hillary Clinton got elected and started appointing liberal Supreme Court justices? Yes, the public is really funny. 

verruckt

Verruckt

But tonight The Star has an investigative story that should hasten the demise of the Verruckt ride. KC Star reporters Laura Bauer, Steve Vockrodt and Eric Adler spoke with several people who experienced harrowing rides on Verruckt, either because their Velcro-style shoulder harnesses came undone during the ride or their raft lifted out of the water channel.

The reporters cited the case of Paul Oberhauser of Omaha who, on a trip to Schlitterbahn last month, had his shoulder strap come loose at the bottom of the first of Verruckt’s two big hills. Oberhauser’s wife Erin told The Star that for the rest of the ride her husband held on for dear life by his legs.

The Star’s story goes on to say:

The family figured the raft would be taken out of commission until workers could figure out the problem. But two hours later, Erin Oberhauser said from their cabana near the water slide, they saw it happen to another guy on the ride. “We heard a guy yelling, ‘My belt came undone!’ “

**

I have never liked heights, and I have never liked roller coasters, although I’ve been goaded into riding a few. I remember one in particular at Disneyland or Walt Disney World — an outer-space-type attraction that coursed through a darkened cavern. That was easier for me to tolerate because I couldn’t see the terror before my eyes.

Suffice it to say, I would not have been tempted to go on Verruckt. But our son Charlie, now approaching 27, probably would have been tugging at me to let him go on it, had it been around when he was a kid. Scary thought.

I learned today that the German word verruckt means “mad,” “crazy” or “insane.” To me, it will be downright crazy if Schlitterbahn doesn’t start tearing down the Verruckt ride tomorrow. It would be something positive for the handful of Schlitterbahn’s paying customers to witness.

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A commenter on my last post — the one about the “unfiltered voices” video that The New York Times compiled from Donald Trump rallies during the past year — raised the question of balanced reporting, asserting that The Times’ video contained no balance whatsoever.

The commenter’s point is unarguable because Times reporters set out, video devices in hand, to record the most objectionable behavior and most contemptuous things that people shouted out at Trump rallies. For example, when Trump referenced President Obama at one rally, someone in the crowd shouted, “Fuck that nigger.” At another rally, a smiling, young Trump supporter held up for the camera a hand-printed T-shirt that said, “Trump that Bitch,” referring, of course, to Hillary Clinton.

That kind of stuff is shocking, and I, for one, am grateful to The Times for pulling back the curtain and giving us an inside look at those rallies.

No, there was no effort to “present both sides” in that video. The point — totally valid — was that some people in the Trump crowds have so far eclipsed reasonable and appropriate expression that, in some cases, two long-held tenets of journalism, fairness and balance, must be suspended. Otherwise, you would never get to the truth.

The public certainly has a right to know this type of vulgar and disgusting expression is taking place…out loud and in public. It’s not like it’s a group of seething rednecks and KKK members getting together around a campfire and cutting loose, with lookouts stationed around the perimeter to make sure no one was pointing an iPhone through the trees.

…Dovetailing with (but not stemming from) publication of the “unfiltered voices” video, NYT chief media reporter Jim Rutenberg today had an excellent commentary titled, “Trump is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism.”

Here’s how Rutenberg begins his piece:

If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?

Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.

rutenberg

Jim Rutenberg

Covering Trump, Rutenberg said, upsets the balance of the “idealistic form of journalism” that working journalists have long been trained to aspire to.

“But let’s face it,” Rutenberg goes on to say. “Balance has been on vacation since Mr. Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy. For the primaries and caucuses, the imbalance played to his advantage, captured by the killer statistic of the season: His nearly $2 billion in free media was more than six times as much as that of his closest Republican rival.”

Rutenberg says that now Trump is the Republican nominee for president, commentators — even some known to be friendly to him — have been analyzing him through a different lens, that is, how his temperament and grandiose policy statements would play out in the White House.

Rutenberg cited a report that former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough made on his “Morning Joe” show on MSNBC. Scarborough told his audience about an alarming conversation he had with a “foreign policy expert” who had given Mr. Trump a national security briefing.

Three times, Scarborough said, the expert asked about the use of nuclear weapons, and one of the questions was: “If we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Yikes!

It’s worth noting that, in his column, Rutenberg also points an accusing finger at Hillary Clinton. He said that covering Trump as a potentially dangerous candidate “threatens to throw the advantage to his news conference-averse opponent…who should draw plenty more tough-minded coverage herself.”

“She proved that again last week,” Rutenberg said, “with her assertion on “Fox News Sunday” that James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had declared her to be truthful in her answers about her decision to use a private email server for official State Department business — a grossly misleading interpretation of an F.B.I. report that pointed up various falsehoods in her public explanations.”

…I’ve said all along that Hillary Clinton’s evasion of the truth and cutting of corners have made my blood boil, and I will not cast my vote for her with great joy. But after all I’ve learned about Trump and the type of people who seem to support him, I will vote for Clinton enthusiastically.

**

Fifty years ago, in 1966, the writer Gay Talese revolutionized journalism with what still ranks today as one of the greatest magazine stories ever written — a very long profile of Frank Sinatra, titled “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”

A lead-in to an online version of the story says when Talese arrived in Los Angeles, Sinatra was “under the weather, out of sorts, and unwilling to be interviewed.” But Talese was undeterred; he stayed in L.A. and began talking to people in Sinatra’s circle and through them finally gained access to The Man himself. 

The lead-in goes on to say the resulting profile (which I hope many of you will take the time to read, if you haven’t seen it before) became one of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism—a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.”

Yes, journalism has changed in the past and continues to change and evolve. In this presidential election cycle, we can thank Donald Trump for triggering a new round of changes in covering the candidates who seek to lead the greatest and strongest nation in the world. We need to know, as best we can and with the veneer removed, what they are like and what they do to inspire support and dedication among their followers. As we’ve seen, it can be scary, and we deserve to know that before Nov. 8.

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One of the more provocative questions facing our country, I’m convinced, is what’s going to happen with the rednecks after Hillary Clinton crushes Donald Trump in the fall?

Will some migrate to ISIS?

Will they form a far-right Tea Party of sorts and carry flags bearing the image of Gov. George Wallace?

Will they return to their man caves and sulk in beer and hatred?

Any number of things could happen, but, for now, this group has found its collective, frightening and powerful (to a point) voice, primarily at and through Trump rallies.

It is something to behold. I haven’t seen one myself, to be sure, but, like everyone else, I’ve seen the clips. And now The New York Times has assembled a chilling, 3 minute, 11 second video called “Unfiltered Voices From Donald Trump’s Crowds” that captures some of the most nauseating, revolting moments from a year’s worth of Trump appearances and rallies. The reporters and editors simply gathered inside and outside rallies, mingled with those in attendance and let the cameras and microphones record.

Being a reasonable and open-minded person, I’ve wanted to give Trump supporters the benefit of the doubt, at least at arm’s length, but I can’t do it any more. This video shows who’s at the core of the Trump movement — angry white men who feel the political system they, or maybe their parents, were comfortable with has passed them by. Many still have trouble accepting the fact that Americans elected a black president, and they are apoplectic at the prospect of Hillary Clinton being elected president.

Here’s a sample of what you hear and see in the NYT video:

Voices inside a Trump rally: “Build the wall! Build the wall! Fuck those dirty beaners!”

A young man wearing a Trump T-shirt leaving a rally and walking by some Trump protesters says: “Fuck political correctness. Fuck political correctness.” Then, as he moves along, accelerates his step and appears to grab his crotch as an exclamation point.

Inside a Trump rally, a man in a “Make America Great Again” cap sports a T-shirt that says in large white letters, “Fuck Islam.” He’s being escorted out of the rally, apparently because of the T-shirt. Once outside, he lingers so he can greet other attendees who emerge later. He grins as a young man with a ball cap and a gray muscle shirt walks past and says, “Thanks for not taking the shirt off.”

At another rally, we hear a man yell at a protester being escorted out, “Get out of here, you fag.”

trump-rally-fans

At another rally — one that has been widely viewed — a young black protester being led out is sucker punched by a white man in a cowboy hat, vest and long-sleeved red shirt. (The assailant looks like he came in straight from a cattle drive.)

At one rally, Trump proclaims, “Our president has divided this country so bad.” Then, the next words you hear — from an audience member near the NYT videographer — are “Fuck that nigger.”

You see and hear some terrible things being said about Hillary Clinton. At one rally, a voice clearly says, “Hang that bitch” after a reference to her.

Then, there’s a young man — looks like a teenager — holding up a homemade T-shirt, which says, “Trump that Bitch.”

…Another amazing thing about this video is that never, during the entire length of it, do we see a single Trump supporter admonishing any of the frothing-at-the-mouth, over-the-top lunatics. Maybe those standing nearby are afraid. There sure is a lot of angry machismo on display. But I think it’s more likely they simply agree with the sentiments being expressed and have no reason to object.

Coincidentally, New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who is black, has a piece today in which he manages to come up with the words that capture the frustration and anger at the root of his paper’s “unfiltered voices” video.

There is a portion of the population that feels threatened by unrelenting change — immigration, globalization, terrorism, multiculturalism — and those people want someone to, metaphorically at least, build a wall around their cultural heritage, which they conflate in equal measure with American heritage. In their minds, whether explicitly or implicitly, America is white, Christian, straight and male-dominated.

Blow goes on to allege that more restrained Trump supporters can be lumped in with those who scream vulgarities and engage in hateful displays.

“If you support Trump, you are on some level supporting his bigotry and racism,” Blow says.

“You don’t get to have a puppy and not pick up the poop.”

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OK, Missouri residents, time to slough off the scales of last week’s Republican and Democratic national conventions and focus on the tomorrow’s primary election, where several important races will be decided.

The biggest race is on the Republican side, where four candidates have been waging an expensive fight for the nomination for governor.

…And wait. Before I go any further, I have to yell something I never had the power to do in 36-plus years as a reporter and editor at The Star:

Stop the presses!

Are they stopped? OK. Here’s the new banner story: Tomorrow will be the first time since I moved to Kansas City more than 45 years ago that I’m going to march into the polling place — yes march, really high-steppin’ it — and request a “red” ballot.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as you would expect, and I have three good reasons for entering what I’ve considered hostile territory for decades.

:: I have no use whatsoever for Chris Koster, the heavy favorite to become the Democratic nominee for governor. As attorney general he has been bought and paid for by special interests, including the NRA. If you want proof of his groveling at the feet of commercial special interests, check out the first few paragraphs of this startling New York times investigative story  from October 2014. I feel sure it will leave you disgusted.

catherine

Hanaway

:: I think Republican candidate Catherine Hanaway is well qualified to be governor. And if Hillary Clinton is going to become the first female president, why not vote Hanaway in as the Show-Me State’s first female governor? They can dance arm-in-arm to The Missouri Waltz the first time Hillary comes to visit Missouri after winning the presidency.

:: Koster will have little or no chance of winning the governor’s race in November, so I need to do what I can tomorrow to help my favorite Republican. (I have talked before about Republican usurpation of Missouri, and it bears repeating: In the last two decades, Missouri has gone from an up-for-grabs-state to solid Republican. The transition from fence-straddling to deep red was affirmed in 2012, when Barack Obama lost to Mitt Romney by 250,000 votes in Missouri, after losing to John McCain by less than 4,000 votes in 2008.

There are several things I like about Hanaway, 52, who lives in Ladue in St. Louis County.

  1. She’s a proven leader. After being elected to the Missouri House in 1998, she became the first woman Speaker of the House in 2003. In 2004, she was the Republican nominee for secretary of state and narrowly lost to Democrat Robin Carnahan. In 2005, President George W. Bush appointed her U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri. After Obama replaced Bush in 2009, Hanaway resigned (she would have been replaced had she not) and entered private law practice.
  2. She is the only candidate to publicly call for a law mandating the use of police body cameras — a gutsy position that probably puts her at odds with a majority of members of the Missouri General Assembly. “Cameras don’t lie,” Hanaway has been quoted as saying.
  3. She just might be willing to buck the NRA at some point…Consider this from a July 26 Kansas City Star story: “In 1999, Missouri voters rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized concealed carry of a firearm. Hanaway’s legislative district voted overwhelmingly against concealed carry, and in the years that followed she cast numerous votes against concealed carry. But when lawmakers were finally able to pass the provision, Hanaway supported it and helped override a gubernatorial veto to enact it.” In the story, Hanaway rationalized her earlier, anti-conceal-carry votes by saying that until 2003 Republicans did not control the Missouri House and Senate, which meant “my vote wasn’t going to make a difference, and so I voted against conceal carry to reflect the people of my district.”

…I have concerns about Hanaway, and the biggest is that her biggest campaign contributor is multi-billionaire Rex Sinquefield, a St. Louiis area resident who has waged a one-man battle, mostly unsuccessful so far, to eliminate earnings and income taxes. The Star has reported that since 2008, when Missouri lawmakers voted to repeal voter-imposed campaign contribution limits, Sinquefield has spent more than $45 million on donations to various candidates and committees in Missouri.

I am completely against Sinquefield’s push to shift more of the tax burden onto middle-income and poor people, but as I stand back and look at the governor’s race, I find more to like about Hanaway than any other candidate, by far.

Another factor that I take into consideration is that The Star last week endorsed Hanaway over her three G.O.P. competitors. (It will be interesting to see if the paper endorses her in November, if she wins tomorrow.) In its editorial, The Star noted that Hanaway’s campaign was being largely funded by “a low-tax fanatic” but went on to say that “based on her record, if anyone can stand up to retired St. Louis businessman Rex Sinquefield while still taking his phone calls, it is Hanaway.”

As usual, it’s a roll of the dice. The difference is this time I’m rolling in a completely unfamiliar alley.

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