Monday, May 31, 2010

In Memory of Those Who Gave All

Steve Mumford is a watercolor and sketch artist who spent time in Iraq in the early 2000s. His water colors were on display in Kansas City back in 2007. In this sketch, a group of soldiers has just heard their comrade died. His work is very powerful--check him out.

I apologize for the reflections on the photo of the art work. There are some better views available on line.


image from KSHB

I hope everyone out there is just having a fabulouso Memorial Day holiday. You've taken time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, you've had a chance to fellowship and break bread with friends and neighbors. Now, your day is winding down, and while many of you do have to go back to work tomorrow, it is the summer time and many work places have a different pace to them in the summer months.

Well, I made the mistake of looking in on the local news. I already knew from some scanner time earlier today that people were having definitely a bad driving day as there were several crashes around the metroplex. And there were a number of "disturbance" calls, but those are hard to judge, as they often come from third parties, and when cops arrive, the "disturbance" is no longer. And it seemed there were a number of people observed entering structures that did not belong to them. But what did I see when I gazed upon the home page of the KSHB news site?

Argument ends with deadly shooting
High speed chase ends with two arrests
Two people shot at KCMO gas station
Two men sought for robbery and beating

In addition, continued news of arrests on a double murder and a burglary/murder last week.

I know, I know, crime is a bad problem that will never be solved as long as there are people who want something for nothing, or enjoy hurting others, or have an addiction. However, it's just plain annoying to have such crap happening during a holiday, especially murder on a holiday that honors the loss of people who gave their lives to preserve our freedom and liberty. It's times like these that sometimes it feels like we can't handle the freedom and liberty that has been granted to us by a gracious God and preserved for us by the blood of people willing to fight for it.

Those of us willing to stand up and represent for a better way need to continue to do so. There are ways of resolving conflict that do not result in violence. There is a way to be able to earn the desires of your heart. There is hope and help for those enslaved by chemicals. We must continue to present the alternatives to everyone as options to the criminal way of life. For those unwilling/unable to make a commitment to living peaceably with others, well, they have to be caught and incarcerated by representatives of the rule of law.

It's just annoying that the creeps can't even take a holiday.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thoughts After A Firefighter's Funeral

The fire truck bearing Mr. Glaser's coffin led a procession of over 100 emergency vehicles (Observer photo)

Rev. Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the UM Church of the Resurrection, officiates at the funeral of Shawnee FF John Glaser. (Kansas City Star photo)

I was blessed to have the opportunity to attend the funeral of John Glaser today. My thoughts are all in a jumble afterwards. Funerals are funny things. Of course, they are very sad, as they are the point when it really comes home that the person is dead. In the course of remembering, though, and in the course of supporting one another, you find yourself smiling, maybe even laughing. People you don't see every day, but value come across your path, and you enjoy the interaction. Dear friends are there for you. Funny stories get told, and funny pictures come to light--they make you smile and nod in remembrance and reflection. The smile feels a little awkward though, as not everyone is smiling, and underneath, in the heart of your heart, you know that the person is gone from your life, and that dampens the smile a little.

I remember I went to a funeral for a friend named Ron. It was held in a small church in Johnson, VT. Looking out the windows, you could see the mountains all around. The service was filled with music and testimony. Most funerals run around one hour long. This one was at least an hour and a half, and nobody minded. We knew we'd miss Ron, but we knew that his life was full of the joy of the Lord, and he was with God. There was a huge potluck afterwards. My dad's funeral was very simple, and that was the right tone. My mother was uncomfortable in the small Roman Catholic Church, and it was just she and me--no other family could come. The after party was right too. My dad would have enjoyed every bit of it. When my dad's mom died, we had the full Roman Catholic funeral mass, complete with Communion and incense. I read Scripture in that service--me! the evangelical Protestant standing in an RC chancel. I read Revelation 21:3-4. The after get together was good after that service too.

I suspect that this may be true of the after events for the Glaser family, and for the Shawnee Fire Department. The big public service has limitations--length and the inclusion of much personality among them. Also, I would say the faith situation was complicated in the Glaser family. Mr. Glaser was raised Roman Catholic. Mrs. Glaser was raised in the very church where the funeral occurred--UM Church of the Resurrection. It sound like at this point in their lives church was not as important as it was. Mrs. Glaser reached back to her childhood church for comfort. A Catholic priest was part of the service though, but without the Roman Catholic bells and whistles. Anyway, it's now, after all the visitors and VIPs are gone, and it's just family and friends, and Mr. Glaser's crew, now both the true grieving, visiting, remembering, laughing, crying, and laughingandcrying (yes, both at the same time--I've done it) will happen. There will be good food and drink. The foundation will be laid for the support that the family family and the work family will need over the coming days, weeks, months and even years in the future, the days when you wake up and the person is still gone.

So in the end, what is a funeral for? I think it's a marker--a flag planted in a place and time--that highlights what has happened. A person has died. A particular person, with certain quirks, traits, interests, loves, friends, family and work. A funeral helps to clarify who that person was--not a complete picture for sure but a picture--and what they did in their lives. We come together and celebrate together in community those things. At the same time, we remember that they are gone, and we grieve that gone-ness. A funeral in a way is not just an end, but a beginning in that respect. We will go on the rest of our lives without that person. That hurts, but the best way to honor the one who is gone, is to embrace the pain of missing them, and then live life at the top of our lungs, in dedication to them.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. he will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3-4 NIV

Click "Read More" for more photos by The Observer...also more will be on the photo blog later.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Some Cuteness For You, Dear Readers


from the Daily Squee site.

Blowing Up the Virtuous Poor Myth

Often when the life of poor people is considered, a life of scrimping and saving for the essentials is a picture that likely pops into our head. However, compare that to real life and you find that it frequently is not so. New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof looked at the situation of the poor as he found it during his visit to the Congo Republic and wrote a very thought provoking column, "Moonshine or the kids?" Here's a quote:
It’s that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.
He goes on to give a few examples of people who are spending money on liquor and other non-essentials, and not having enough to send their children to school. (Despite supposedly being "free", almost all schools in African nations require a fee of some type), discusses a few ideas to improve things, among which is removing the money from the charge of the husband and letting the wife make spending decisions and concludes with:
Well meaning humanitarians sometimes burnish suffering to make it seem more virtuous and noble than it often is. If we're going to make more progress,...,we need to look unflinchingly at uncomfortable truths--and then try to redirect the family money now spent on wine and prostitution.
It wasn't the most commented upon op-ed I'd seen but it was right up there. 200+ responses came from Times readers. The comments also were interesting, giving examples of similar behavior by poor people in urban and rural America, talking about how it was hard for the poor to see beyond today, seeing such spending as a way to temporarily escape the poor's difficult life, and reflections on consumption and status. Very interesting stuff, very thought provoking, although none of the readers took on the notion of virtue itself. I do think the essay puts the final nails in the coffin of the idea that living in circumstances such as poverty creates more virtue. More about virtue in a minute.

The solutions posited by Kristof and by some of the commenters (click here for comment link) put the family budget in the hands of women struck me as ironic, since one of the mistakes made in the War on Poverty in this nation was to weaken the position of men as heads of household. We see the wreckage of that mistake in much of the Black community, where Black men are replaced as the strong provider by the government subsidy. So, while this idea may have merit, especially when used with cultural sensitivity, it could backfire, and demands caution. We must also look at our societies and see to it that they do contain "a way out" of poverty, that it is worth deferring pleasure for a future benefit.

Coming from a Christian viewpoint though I keep thinking about this inescapable fact: None of us are virtuous. None of us are made virtuous by suffering or poverty or wealth or education or any of that. We are all imperfect, missing the mark, making mistakes, committing sins. Frequently, our priorities are wrong. Our societies and cultures do rob us of hope systemically. This is a big problem that human effort will not solve.

There's a phenomenon called "salvation and uplift"--that is when a person, family or community makes a commitment to God. Confession of sin, opening up to Christ and salvation through the Cross, and the subsequent indwelling of God's Spirit in their lives creates a change in values. Money is spent more wisely. Work is regarded differently. Integrity and honesty become priorities. All this often results in improvement in a person's living situation and in the larger community. (This prosperity can often present a different set of spiritual and life problems, but that's for a different post.)

We can try to help people in many ways: through education, example, opportunity. And that should be done with vigor. However, In the end, it is the God solution is the one that works the best and most consistently. Sharing that solution, with and without words, is the job of the Christian and the Church. Let he who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Thoughts on Firefighter's Line of Duty Death

I wanted to write more on the death of firefighter John Glaser of the Shawnee, KS fire department. I wanted to do it last night, but I ran out of WiFi. I was thinking about his death and the events that led to it, and also, about how one writes about police and fire personnel who make the ultimate sacrifice while doing their duty.
You can get all mushy and misty thinking about LEOs and FFs losing their lives in the course of their duties--about the sacrifice yada yada. You can also get a bit mushy about how they were in their lives--yada yada--and as I wrote not too long ago in a comment on this post from Ann T, you

could make them out to be saints, great family, yada yada. Such talk would cause eyes to roll in the fire house or police station, you just know that. They know that they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. However, the work they've chosen to do, it does separate them from the rest of us. They go towards infernos like the one pictured with this post, while the rest of us move away. Man with a gun reported? We are ducking and covering. The police officer is looking for the man with the gun. So police officers and firefighters are not saints, or perfect. However, they have an integrity about them that cannot be denied. There is an honesty and bravery to their work that most jobs lack. This is why I think the loss of a firefighter or police officer hurts as much as it does. They reflect the best of us, the most altruistic of us, the most courageous of us, us on our very best day. All loss hurts, but the loss of us at our best hurts just a little more.

To the incident at hand: No doubt there will be a lot of analysis. It will be hard work, while mourning the death of one of one's own. The fire service does not like to lose anyone; just this morning, a child was killed in an apartment fire in Kansas City, MO. That fire will be looked at too. For the fire in Shawnee, every FF there will be interviewed. Every command decision looked at. Tapes of radio transmissions will be listened too, transcribed and analyzed. Protective equipment will be looked at and checked. Questions will be raised. Are our procedures best practice? Did we follow our operational plan? Was there a radio glitch? Did something break? Did communications break down? And so on.

What FF Glaser was attempting to do is much harder then it looks on TV. When newbie FFs are learning how to do search and rescue in a building on fire, often the masks on their SCBA will be opaque, so they can experience safely the blindness of being in a smoke filled building. During the press conference yesterday Shawnee FD Chief Jeff Hudson said in describing the conditions in the fire: "You can't see past your face mask. To try and see anyone trapped inside is nearly impossible." Do this, either as a thought experiment, or for real. Go to the front door of your home. Put a good blindfold on. Now, try to go through every room in the dwelling. For increased realism, put on a 20 pound pack and crawl instead of walk. Did that pretty well? Now, go to a friend's home--not someone who lives in the same building or development--no cheating by finding a familiar floor plan. Do the same thing. This is something firefighters do every day when they search a building on fire. It is probably one of the most dangerous parts of their job.

John Glaser's funeral will be Thursday at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS. A fund is being established to help out his family. There is a Facebook page also. You can look at it without being a Facebook participant.

Illustrations, from the top: 1. Screen shot of Google street view of homes near the fire scene. The house on the left may be the home involved, but Google addresses are not always 100% accurate. 2. Screen shot of KMBC fire footage. 3. photo Kansas City Star. 4. Screen shot of Shawnee FD Chief Hudson at the Sunday presser. Click on illustration to enlarge, back button to return.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kansas City Area Loses Firefighter in Shawnee Fire

Shawnee, Kansas Firefighter John Glaser was killed in the line of duty while doing a house search during a house fire in Shawnee yesterday evening. The six year veteran became separated from his search team as they were doing primary and secondary search of a large two story wood frame house. He sent out a "Mayday" but by the time he was located, he was unconscious. He was pronounced dead at a near by hospital. A second firefighter received minor injuries. The large home was well involved with flames showing when firefighters arrived. Neighbors informed the fire department that the house was occupied by an older man and a dog. Initial search was done, and the dog was found. A second search started and this was when FF Glaser became separated from his team.

Mr. Glaser was 33 years old. He was married and the father of two children.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Let Me Introduce Myself...

Hi, let me introduce myself: I am the South Kansas City Observer, and this is my blog, home of good humored opinion, occasional rants, sometimes serious spiritual stuff, visual jokes, funny stories and whatever else strikes my fancy. The sort of stuff we might visit about in the drive way over a couple of cold ones, or across the kitchen table.

Thought I'd reintroduce myself, 'cause it seems like days since I have visited this space.

Since I've gotten older, I get fewer colds, but they seem worse. I started on Wednesday morning with a sore throat and by the afternoon, was a drippy incoherent achy mess, unable to make the simplest decision or put together a proper English sentence. Home and to bed, stat!

By Thursday, fortified by medication, I was able to go out a little. Friday evening, my right ear popped clear, enabling me to stop feeling as if my head was wrapped in wool. Today, I got the left ear back--I appreciate that, because of the two, it's the less deaf. I can think today, and I can skip the pseudoephedrine and not drip all over the place. (Stuff's bad for my blood pressure.) Hopefully, will continue getting better and better; trying to eat well and rest and all that.

Colds at any time of year are yukky, but spring and summer colds are the yukkiest. Glad to be back! :-)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mayor Funk's Sprint Center Event: FAIL!

There just is not another word for it. The mayor's Town Meeting yesterday--Monday night--on his School's First plan was an epic failure. He had about 250 people in attendance, many of which were children who were invited to come and pick up awards for their work during the just concluded school year. This tiny group was bumping around in the 17,000 seat Sprint Center.

Photo from The Kansas City Star. Free commentary from The Observer

According to blogger PFlow of Mo Rage, this little event set the taxpayers back over $6 K. It was not for lack of publicity, as the Funk was all over TV and radio last week--his housing presser was just one of many public and media appearances for the mayor. There is no support for his Schools First proposal, which will concentrate on infrastructure work around schools and add more police patrols around schools, at a cost of $100 million, to be generated by borrowing and taxing. The proposal did not even crawl out of City Council committee, the KCMSD has had no interest, and the public has zero inclination to vote for more taxes and borrowing for the city.

It more and more appears that Mayor Funkhouser is a lame duck mayor, grasping at straws for a positive legacy. Even though he has not officially declared his intentions to run or not run in the mayor's race for 2011, he is regarded almost universally as "DONE" by most everyone. He has made many missteps, most infamously involving the actions of his wife at City Hall, which resulted in a law suit that cost the city big money. When he came on the scene, he was coming off a fairly successful term as the city auditor, was seen as clean and an outsider who was willing to take on the City Hall establishment. He just squeaked by then councilman Alvin Brooks to gain the mayor's office. However, it appears as if his tin ear for the courtesies and realities of political life and his stubbornness are going to cost him further service as mayor of our city and he seems to be becoming increasingly irrelevant and even silly as his term draws to an end.

PFlow of the Mo Rage blog makes a sensible call for the lame duck mayor to spend the rest of his term and political capital addressing our homicide rate.

Coverage here from the Kansas City Star and The Pitch, with photos showing how empty the place was and how silly the proceedings got.

Art: David Bates' Vivid Katrina Work at Kemper Museum

I had never heard of painter David Bates before, but I noted his striking paintings pictured in the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star and was intrigued by them. I was further intrigued to read about him in the article that accompanied the images. He is based in Dallas, and educated at Southern Methodist University, but loves New Orleans, and has been going to that city for 25 years, painting its natural aspects.

"Lady in a Black Dress" David Bates

When Katrina hit, he was unable to go and personally see the scenes in the city, so working from news reports, he began to paint his impressions of the visuals and the emotions of the people. He worked on this series for two years, painting his last Katrina themed work in 2007. The works have been shown here and there, but the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art will have 80% of the works on exhibit.

"Elysian Fields Avenue" David Bates

As you can see, he's a modernist, but a realistic painter and one painting a theme or narrative. I like the quote pulled by The Star from this New York Times article. "David Bates is having a perfectly interesting career without any attention from the New York art establishment, thank you very much." (I suppose he's not weird and hip enough for most in the NY art scene.)

Details: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is at 4420 Warwick Boulevard in Kansas City Missouri. Hours are Tues-Thurs 10-4, Fri-Sat 10-9, Sun 11-5. Admission and parking are free. On the web at Bates' exhibit starts May 21 and ends August 22. I plan on going; the pictures of the paintings I have seen in the paper and on line are powerful and vivid.

Links of note: Kansas City Star: Paintings of David Bates are a vivid chronicle of Hurricane Katrina. Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans, Bates' home Gallery.

Friday, May 14, 2010


This is an old story of the type that never gets old. Even now as I am polishing up the draft for posting, I get tears in my eyes. The Observer is an old softy!

On March 27th, Bri Kneisley was driving with her boyfriend and her son on highway 71. They were at a stop light when their car was struck by an out of control SUV. Her son, 12, was killed in the crash. Basically, the SUV landed on the boy. Ms. Kneisley and her boyfriend were both injured, Kneisley with a head injury that left her in the hospital in critical condition for several days and has left her in need of continuing treatment. Her car, of course, was totaled.

We are not here to talk about the louse of a driver of the SUV, who was driving on a revoked license and had many moving violations, including driving while intoxicated, and was likely intoxicated again at this accident. After his day in court, he'll have some time to think on things in jail.

Ms. Kneisley teaches at Van Horn High School in Independence. As such, she is not made of money. While it may have been a far thing from her mind, eventually her car would need to be replaced. She also needed help with funds for funeral expenses. Enter Mr. Tommy Fagan. Mr. Fagan had a 2002 Honda Accord he had planned to sell. He changed his mind, and decided to give the car, which had over 100,000 miles on it, but was still in very good shape to Ms. Kneisley. His mechanic, an old elementary school pal, Bill Pearce, got wind of Mr. Fagan's plan and decided to help. He basically did a total make over on the car, putting it in excellent condition. Parts and material all donated by area businesses. Then other classmates of the two men got wind of things, and put together a cash donation of over $600 for Ms. Kneisley. The car was presented to Ms. Kneisley May 4th. Here is the television news report.

We see a lot of bad things in the world, and a lot of evil. It's incredible sometimes what bad people can do. It can make you cynical and snarky. I completely love this story. No, I don't like what happened to this lady's son, who by all accounts was a fine 12 year old boy, and I don't like the POS driver who caused the accident, and the court system that seems to have treaded way too lightly in his case. I like how the community responded, however. It's not just generous, but it looks forward, it gives hope. It says, "We know you hurt. We can't bring your son back. But we can take care of some of these needs you have, make things easier for you as you recover physically and spiritually."

This is the grace of God working in and through us, and while it sometimes seems as if grace is in short supply these days, you get something like this and you are reminded that God is indeed, still in the business of dispensing grace to humanity.

Christians: We could use more of this. Take notes.

Update: Auction of KC Homes Canceled

The auction of hundreds of Kansas City homes that was to take place this weekend was canceled by the lender, Wells Fargo Bank. According to a Wells Fargo spokesperson, quoted by Jen Strathman of KSHB:
Wells Fargo has canceled the auction of 250 houses in Kansas City. We are committed to working with Mayor Mark Funkhouser, the city,and community organizations--including Habitat for Humanity--to find a solution that encourages local ownership and builds sustainable neighborhoods for the residents of Kansas City.
A visit to the auctioneer Hudson&Marshall's web site finds this message under Kansas City: "This auction has been postponed due to unforeseen circumstances."

In a press release yesterday the mayor responded:
Mayor Mark Funkhouser today said Wells Fargo & Co. has responded to community concerns about this weekend’s large auction of foreclosed Kansas City houses, and will postpone the sale.

“I’m glad they were listening,” Mayor Funkhouser said. “I’m thrilled Wells Fargo will take some extra time and work with the community. It’s the right thing to do.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Funkhouser and neighborhood and community development activists held a press conference asking Kansas Citians to take part in the auction. Too often, large real estate auctions are dominated by out-of-town investors and real estate speculators who do little to fix up the houses they buy, often leaving them vacant and in disrepair while they wait for the housing market to rebound, the Mayor said.

“The city looks forward to working with Wells Fargo to make sure these Kansas City homes go to Kansas Citians,” Mayor Funkhouser said.
Also in the mayor's press release he quoted Craig Colbert of Habitat for Humanity:
“Habitat for Humanity Kansas City is proud to have played some small part in helping the Mayor realize his goal of making sure that these foreclosed properties are kept in community hands,” Colbert said. “It is beyond our wildest expectations that Wells would postpone the auction based on our communication with our contacts at the bank about the Mayor’s Wednesday press conference.”
So...the auction is on hold for now. This is remarkable considering this auction was in the works for a long time. We'll have to wait and see what impact it has on the housing situation in the city. The biggest problem is for some of these homes they are in rough shape, and in rough neighborhoods. It's going to take some unique local people to take up this gauntlet and go to war with some of the forces at work here.

Seems to me there might be an opportunity for the churches of Kansas City...he who has ears to hear, let him hear...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Standing or Parking

I saw this sign as I was leaving the Ruskin Heights neighborhood yesterday. I read it as I drove by--said, "Wha...?"

So, you cannot park or stand in the indicated area from 2200 to 0500 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, right?

Wouldn't it have been simpler to say "Any Day"?

Maybe it's a bit of a fall for the old grey lady, this internet humor, but The New York Times had me in stitches with this collection of photos from readers of strange signs. Please to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mayor Funkhouser Talks About Foreclosures

I found this auction sign in front of a house not far from where the mayor was.
A large national auction house is conducting the auctioning of over 200 Kansas City metro homes this coming weekend. Mayor Mark Funkhouser decided to have a press conference in order to
express his concern with regard to that auction. The mayor is concerned that buyers from out of state will participate in this national auction and will buy many of the houses, and let them "sit and rot and fall into disrepair". He stated that houses up for auction could go for as little as $5000--even as little as $2 k. The mayor was accompanied by community and city housing advocates and organizers, including Habitat for Humanity, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and others. The event was held at 11220 Palmer Avenue in the Ruskin Heights part of Kansas City. This address is in the 64134 zip code, which has the second highest foreclosure rate in the city.
The mayor answers questions after his speech.
The main thrust of the mayor's short speech was to encourage local investment and ownership. The mayor felt that even if the buyers were not going to occupy the house, but rent it and manage it locally, that was better then a flock of out of state buyers buying up large swaths of
neighborhoods and allowing the houses to lie fallow. He also challenged private non-profit money to come and help people purchase some of these homes. He answered a few questions, mainly about the mandated city registry of abandoned houses. He admitted that the list had fallen short on accuracy and work was being done to compare the list to other data bases like those of the Water Department.
This beige house with the small deck out front is on the auction house's list. It was just a short distance from the press-er at 7505 East 112 Street. Next door to the rehabbing house at 11220 Palmer, this grey house was empty with an overgrown front lawn.

This neighborhood is hurtin' for certain. I noticed a lot of houses with notes taped to their window, some well kept up, and many with overgrown lawns, a few seemingly still occupied. I totally understand the mayor's concern, wanting to keep as much local involvement in the neighborhood as possible. There are pitfalls, such as enabling people to be homeowners who do not have the wherewithal to maintain the home. Also, we cannot give away something for nothing--it will just become another entitlement that will not be cared for--another black hole of endless want/handout/begging. We also have to be careful that we don't end up with a cluster of subsidized houses, clumping people of disadvantage all together. It has been demonstrated over and over that a cluster of subsidized housing is a neighborhood clusterf**k. I like the idea of involving groups, whether private or public, that demand accountability of the home owner and make the home owner an investor in the property, the neighborhood, and the city.

Some links of interest: The Auction House's website--Hudson&Marshall.
Kansas City Star: Report by Dave Helling

Red Bridge Road Improvements

Work is well underway on the new bridge over the Blue River on Red Bridge Road. the next phase of the improvements to the road is to add sidewalks and bike paths and widen Red Bridge Road from Blue River Road to Grandview Road to three lanes, giving drivers a left hand turn lane. An open house was held yesterday at the Grace Point Baptist Church. Plans were on display and engineers and others involved in the planning were available to talk to about the project.

The plan is to use as scenic material as possible to make the roadway look nice, since it is a neighborhood street and not a free way. What exactly will be used depends on the available funds.

Because of the rolling hills in the area (this is one part of the KC metro that is not flat!), drainage issues have required a lot of engineering thought. To the left: Cleveland Ave will gain two turn lanes when it intersects with Red Bridge. Storm drains will be improved. A home owner talked to the engineers about how the rain currently runs through her property--he took notes. The engineers seemed really interested to listen to the concerns raised by some of the residents, especially drainage issues.
At the intersection of Blue River Road and Red Bridge, we could have a rotary (traffic circle) instead of signal lights. Plus: traffic could flow better, and trucks could not use the circle, thus limiting truck traffic. Minus: Drivers around here are still trying to figure out the newish circles on Longview Road. My first instinct--ooh no circles, but making passage for trucks difficult has a lot of appeal...Opinions on traffic circles welcome! I really was kind of surprised they were even up for consideration.
An engineer answers residents' questions about the current work going on on the bridge project proper. The visual change wrought by the construction I think caused a lot of concerns for people. This project was also very complicated engineering. They've had to move a sewer line, create drainage to draw off contaminants before they enter the river, and restore wetland areas that had to be compromised by bridge construction.
Funding for this work to add sidewalks and widen the road has not yet been obtained. The plan is being constructed in three phases; as funding is obtained, a phase will start. The plans are hoped to be final this summer. It's kind of a disappointing site, as it does not have any of the pictures of the plans on it, but you can find more information on The construction will be a pain in the neck, but this is an idea whose time has come. Even if IHOP foot and bike traffic is reduced when the ministry moves to Grandview, it will still enhance safety to get walkers and bikers off the roadway. The left hand turn lane will help with traffic flow. I am worried, as were many attendees at the Open House, about increased 435 bypass traffic and trucks with the improvements. Maybe they can put traffic circle driving lessons on the City Access Channel.

As per usual, click on the pictures to see them bigger. Click the back button to come back.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Weather Alarms and Alarming Weather

A cat sits in the midst of tornado damage in Oklahoma. I hope that after taking this photo, the photographer had this kitty rescued.

The National Weather Service's Severe Prediction Center just about nailed the location of the really bad weather yesterday. Oklahoma and southern Kansas had many tornadoes, with Oklahoma City being the epicenter. Five people were killed and several injured. We here in Kansas City stayed very cool and this cooling kept our air stable enough that we just had thunderstorms with vivid lightening, down pours and small hail. Today is the pause between two rain events for us; the mets think we'll get t-storms tonight and tomorrow. Ah, spring in the Middle of the Country!

Every spring, along with the storms, is a discussion about keeping people informed about weather in order to save lives. With radar, computers and modeling, often the meteorologists can get a pretty decent handle on where severe weather (tornadoes, severe thunderstorms) might be. Also, there is an organized system for getting the warning word out to the public. It started with radio, now is radio, TV, internet, IM and more. Such warning would have saved countless lives May 20, 1957 when the tornado known as the Ruskin Heights tornado tore up a 71 mile path from Williamsburg, KS, through Martin City, Grandview and Ruskin Heights not lifting up until Knobtown, MO--the area around Noland Road and 87th Street as best as I can tell. (KCMO had not annexed this area of Jackson County yet.)

Damage from the 1957 Ruskin Heights tornado.

The problem is that tornadoes are devastating but rare. In contrast to hurricanes they strike in a much more defined area. What mets are trying to do is balance between alerting people that tornadoes are possible, be careful, and being too alarmist, crying the sky is falling when it is not. There is no doubt in my mind that early warning is a good thing and saves lives. Trying to forecast weather, that is, to predict ahead of time exactly what will happen, is still a imprecise science. There will be times that the mets are wrong. When they say something will happen, and it doesn't, people bag on them for being alarmist. When they indicate that not much will happen, and something does, then they get the blame for not warning us. That's why we will always need the radar, the spotters and the notifications. We need to remember that weather prediction is still a science in process, and be a little bit forgiving of the weatherman. And we need to be alert to changing conditions when the weather does appear to be unstable in our area.

LINKS: Msnbc on the Oklahoma tornadoes, check out the slide show and videos, and the National Weather Service on the Ruskin Heights Tornado of 1957. The contrast in outcomes is stark: while there was the tragic loss of five lives in Oklahoma yesterday, 44 people were killed and 531 injured in the 1957 event. I would suspect that without the early warning and ongoing alerts, the Oklahoma death toll would have been higher, and that early warning and ongoing alerts would have saved lives in Missouri and Kansas that May day.

I noticed on another blog that he had feeds of Weather Service data, so in honor of severe weather season, I added some NWS feeds to my sidebar. They are under the Weather Blog section.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Haz a Complaint...

Mother's Day

How can I put this? (Started this post before, read it, hated it, erased everything...)

I really don't care for the celebration of Mother's Day.

It's not that I don't like mothers. Mothers are totally necessary. There would be no new humans without humans willing to care for and teach baby humans the ways of the culture. Most mothers are pretty good at it, considering how complicated it's all gotten over the years.

Nah, don't much like this post either...let's start again...don't want to descend into yucky drivel.

How can I put this without getting too, too personal? My relationship with my parents was not the best during and after my childhood.

My current relationship with my mother is not the best.

My parents did the best they could. They were newly married when I came along. They have never admitted that there were not nine months between their wedding and my birth day. I often question if I would be around if I was born in 1974 or after. My mother's relationship with her mother was very weird. She chose not to deal with it in any sort of therapeutic way. She just "moved on."

There's merit in moving on. Moving on should be a part of life--getting over hurts--important. Not recognizing that what happened to you has an influence on the ongoing things in your life? Probably not a good idea. Leads to a lot of unintended consequences, I believe. The kind of unintended consequences that are in my relationship with my mother.

I am not a parent. I don't get to try the mother-child relationship again with my own child. Most times, I think that is for the best. I'm sure I would impose several therapists' worth of dysfunction on my children. I see bad things in the way I deal with my furry cat kids! So, I don't question the way that worked out.

I'm working on keeping the good that my parents gave me, and dealing with the bad, removing the bad stuff's power over my life. It's been a life long project, still ongoing.

So I hope everyone had a fabulous Mother's Day in whatever way was the best for you. Whether that was taking out the mom you love and appreciate out to a meal, or giving her a day off, or whatever you gifted to her...or that was another day of treating yourself gently, forgiving your own imperfections and limitations, and working on forgiving parents who may have been anywhere from very imperfect to downright evil. (God can help with that: I recommend the sermon series we just concluded at my church to help you think theologically on the subject--available on the website in various forms.)

Well, that is enough of that. There's more than enough other stuff to think about.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

City to Go Door to Door to Enforce Pet Licensing

True confession: My cats do not have licenses to be cats. I've just never gotten around to it. And to be even more candid, I was over the kitty limit for several years. All my cats have been indoor only cats. You wouldn't know I had a cat, unless you looked through my trash. (or caught me having to chase one of my cats outside to return them inside after a successful door charge by the stinker.)

This news item came to my attention: Pets Without Licenses Could Cost Owners $75. My reaction? Well, it's mixed. One because there truly is good in knowing about how many dogs and cats are in the city. It does help for lost pets, especially dogs. But please, let's be real. The city is looking for money in every corner. More taxes (cleverly hidden as fees) for every service you can imagine. A violation of an ordinance? Assess a fine! The machine at City Hall is low on money and must have more.

It would only cost $30 to license the current gang. ($10 per neutered/spayed animal. Yes, your companion animal should be neutered/spayed.) but frankly, I would rather the city not notice me. The less interaction with the government, the better, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not alone; the comments with the news story show that, at least for those with strong enough feelings to comment, licensing is not a favored activity.

Guest Post: Red Light Camera News Generates Outstanding Comment on TKC

I have already given my views on the red light cameras installed last year around Kansas City. The state of Missouri has been questioning the legality of these cameras and is considering banning their use in the state. Tony's Kansas City, ever keeping us up to date posted on the issue yesterday. He received a mighty awesome comment in response that I'm posting here. Words fail me on how much I dislike these cameras. Pftph!

You should be against them because there are ways to TRULY make the intersections safer WITHOUT burdening the taxpayers wallets. Increasing yellow light times has been shown to reduce ALL accidents in an intersection by 70-80%. All reds for an additional amount of time will increase safety in the intersections as well. Also, there is no due process when it comes to getting a ticket by the cameras.

Due Process: says that government must respect all of the legal rights that are owed to a person according to the law. Due process holds the government submissive to the law of the land, protecting individual persons from the state. The 5th amendment to the constitution says that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Because of municipality’s use of a ‘rebuttable presumption,’ or a presumption that the driver of the car is the owner of the car, and a failure of the municipality to provide evidence against the driver of the car, individuals are forced incriminate themselves or investigate, provide evidence, and incriminate another. Forcing the owner of the car to incriminate another, in many cases a family member, can be a violation of a person’s right to spousal privilege (the right to not incriminate or testify against your spouse). Municipalities use a presumption of guilt, not innocence, and punish our Missouri citizens based on the assumption that the individual who owned the car is the individual who ran the red light. If you are innocent you must provide proof of your innocence vs. the state providing proof of your guilt.

When it comes down to it, the red light cameras are simply a revenue generator for the city. Not all the money STAYS in Kansas City either, as we 'rent' the cameras from a company in Arizona. Why are we sending part of our revenue to Arizona? I would think that Kansas Citians would rather save their $100 and spend it here in the city, where they see fit. Not funding an unconstitutional program that puts money into the back pockets of bureaucrats.

Follow the money!!

I want to touch on the part about making the yellow stage longer, and leaving the intersection all red for a moment: The red light camera at 71 Highway and Red Bridge has its yellow stage significantly shortened after the cameras were installed. I mean enough that you notice without a stopwatch. I would be in favor of longer yellows and red all four ways instead of cameras. If the matter was purely one of safety and not revenue enhancement, this is probably what would be done.

I reviewed some of the comments left on the news sites. It was interesting to find several comments arguing that the cameras made people feel safer, especially at the intersections on Highway 71/Bruce R Watkins Freeway. It's funny, I drove that route for at least 2 years and rarely had a close call. However, I don't accelerate off the mark like a driver at the drag strip the instant the light turns green. I take advantage of the natural delay offered by my manual transmission use and allow for a moment to pass before entering the intersection. I can't tell you how many fools have missed me because I do that. I just expect that there will be law breakers and drive accordingly.

Others felt that the police resources would be better used for other crime fighting efforts if we left the traffic enforcement to cameras and such. I understand such a view, and I could find it in my heart to agree with it in principle. However, in practice, cops on traffic patrol often bag felons, parole violators and bail jumpers. Also, in actual practice, the traffic division is a group unto itself, and at this time, rarely does other things. It would take rearranging and retraining to use those resources differently. And then we would have no traffic patrol--not a good thing.

You'll never get rid of light runners, that's just a fact. Hang up the phone and drive defensively and attentively. Let me keep my constitutional rights when I drive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reshaping the District

Balloon releasers included faculty, administration, staff and athletes from both schools, along with superintendent Williams and City Councilman Sharp.

With the school year drawing to a close, the last major sporting contest between Ruskin High School and Hickman Mills High School was held today. As the reader may recall, Hickman Mills High School will close at the end of this year. The district decided to have a little bit of ceremony to commemorate the occasion, most memorably a release of orange and blue balloons into the windy sky before the girl's soccer teams took the field. The two school's drum lines played together and apart, there was music and dance, and free refreshments.

The day was windy, but warm and sunny, clear as could be. Aside from an excess of waiting time before the festivities, it appeared that all went well. There appeared to have been one fight but I never saw it, and it didn't seem to last long. (How did I know there was a fight? All the kids in the bleachers ran to the top seats, yelling "Fight, fight!". They weren't there long.) The police presence was obvious, including two mounted officers.

Blue and orange balloons take off into the blue sky carried by the strong wind.

First half play between the two teams.

The girls played a scoreless first half. Hickman Mills scored about midway through the second half. Unfortunately, I could not see the game to its end, and I have not been able to find out if that one goal held up for a win for the Hickman Mills Cougars in the last major team sport contested between two high schools in the Hickman Mills School District.

Update: Hickman Mills High School girls won the game with a final score of 2-0. Always good to go out on a winning note. Other district teams should note that next year's combined team may be pretty good!

All photos by The Observer.

Glenwood Arts Theater Opening at Red Bridge and Holmes

The old Red Bridge 4 movie theater, last open in 2006, has been bought and renovated by the Fine Arts Group, the same folks who run the Glenwood Theater at the Metcalf South mall. Movies will roll once again starting May 7th, with first run and artsy fare Ironman 2 and The Square. The concentration will be on having a high quality movie experience, and the owners have renovated the old theater to be comfortable. It was reported that many people have stopped by over the past months inquiring as to when it would be open. It's going to be nice to have a good theater in the neighborhood again!

You can visit the Fine Arts Group website for details on all four of their theaters.

Nice article from Robert Butler in the Kansas City Star. One of the most interesting points: The Glenwood at Metcalf South might have to close if the area is redeveloped. Who knows? We could be the next home for their wonderful sign.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Training Aid?

This rather reminds me of the story Dr. James Dobson told on himself. He received a nice letter from a thankful mom who had tried some of the things he recommended in his book Dare to Discipline. The child did not find all of the changes pleasant. He demonstrated to his mom that he knew the cause of the changes when she found the young'un trying to flush her copy of Dr. Dobson's book down the toilet.

MAST/KCFD: Observations From Outside

Well, it's been about a week since the merger of operations of the free standing EMS provider MAST into the Kansas City Fire Department. Has anything much changed? The most visible change is that ambulances are no longer posting in public. There are still dynamic ambulances, ambulances that move around the city, but they "post" at fire stations now. I would love to see how response times are doing with the new system. They may not be terribly changed closer to the heart of the city, but I bet Southland and Northland times have been affected. I wonder where you can get this data?

Biggest visible change: One no longer finds ambulances hanging out here (QuikTrip at 102nd and Wornell--formerly post 44)...
More likely to find them hanging out in places like here (Fire Station 42 at Red Bridge and Hillcrest-ish--this ambulance still bears MAST logo and livery)...

Listening to the scanner reveals that numbering for the ambulances has changed--rather a lot actually. I would have to ask someone to be sure, but it appears that dynamic ambulances are being given 500 series numbers and assigned ambulances take the numbers from the fire stations or apparatus to which they are assigned. Ambulances are still being dispatched by a separate dispatcher, and are still being assigned lunch times. The shifts are still partial days--no 24 hour shifting as the KCFD does. And awkward! At times, everyone sounds like it's their first day at work! It's almost funny to hear the "er, ah, um, po--er station 36." type stuff that comes over the radio.

Questions, questions, questions--I have stupid practical questions I would love to have answered! If a dynamic ambulance is assigned to a certain fire house and they get there and the boys and girls are out, how do they get in? Is there a skeleton key that will open every fire house in the city? (Readers of Report from Engine Co. 82 will recall that that was the way they rolled in NYC in the '70s) Those assigned to dynamic ambulances still have to bring all the personals they might need, don't they. Unless a nice fire house would let them put their lunches in the fridge (and not eat them!) and they lunch there?

I see mondo big changes--I see central dispatch real soon. This is just too confusing to last. Hopefully, MAST dispatchers will still be retained. That's a lot of expertise to show the door to. KCFD dispatchers will need to learn about all the neat tracking and map tools that MAST has installed on the ambulances to help medics find their way around our big (in terms of square miles) city. MAST dispatchers will have to learn something about fire terms and fire suppression and how to support the companies at a working fire. There will need to be systems to help instruct the phoning public in first aid measures while they wait for help--this is done by MAST dispatch now.

Eventually, I see assigned ambulances to fire houses and regular crews manning those ambulances. Same people every day coming in, eventually developing a group of regular people who man that ambulance in that fire house. I don't know if they are doing this now. I think that might be a tough thing for the personal dynamics, just dropping in four or six new people suddenly into a group that has gotten to know each other over years. Just speculating here, but maybe this period is to see if any natural dynamics develop over time between certain medics and certain fire crews. Or perhaps these crews will develop from new recruits and be used in static applications over the old guard?

Because EMS calls vary in volume during the course of a 24 day and and 7 day week, it would be better for the Fire Department to maintain the use of shifts short of a full day, and extra ambulances for certain times of the day and certain days. I have felt all along that the flexibility of MAST's staffing was one of their strong advantages as a stand alone department. I can see losing this flexible approach, and this would definitely hurt the quality of the service given to the people. So I hope they retain the reservoir of ambulances and resources that are represented by the facility on Eastwood Trafficway.

There's a lot of work to be done, and a lot of evaluation. Now that this deed is done, we have to do it right.

And are we really saving money? I want to know about that, too.