Thursday, August 24, 2017


Events in Charlottesville and the President’s response to them have all but sucked the oxygen out of the public square. It’s understandable. Neo-nazis and their ilk live by a creed most of us find absolutely disgusting. They have earned the condemnation being heaped on them, even if the President refuses to see it.

There are also other stories that hit the back pages of the news that are no less important than Charlottesville. That became very evident when I read the news coming out of Iceland and France on the morning of the 16th. In a dispatch from C.B..S. News, the people of Iceland reported that only two Down Syndrome are born in Iceland annually, thanks to mandatory pre-natal screening, which in turn has led to abortions of most unborn Down Syndrome children. They were quite proud of what they’d accomplished.

It’s also  being reported that that France has gotten the same sort of result with their mandatory pre-natal testing. Over 90% of pre-born Down Syndrome children in France are aborted before they’re born.

Apparently, the result didn’t completely satisfy the French authorities. On the morning of the 17th I read an essay written by J.D. Flynn written in “First Things,” the publishing arm of  the “Institute on Religion and Public Life.” This is from one of his early paragraphs:

“Last year, the Conseil d’Etat upheld a government ban on a television commercial highlighting the lives of people with Down syndrome in video was judged to be “inappropriate” for French audiences because it conveyed happy people with Down syndrome, who were “likely to disturb the consciences of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

I guess French sensibilities are fragile, just not fragile enough to stop the abortions.
It makes me wonder who the next target might be. The autistic? Those with cleft palate? Spina Bifida? Fragile X Syndrome? It makes me wonder when, or if, this will be coming to America.

One of my great joys in life is spending time with Nancy’s developmentally disabled brother, James. I’ve known him for 31 years now.  I know him alternately as James, Beanblossom the Great, and my twin brother-in-law.

James wasn’t born with any syndrome. He was the older of a set of twins. But, early on in life he developed spinal meningitis and double pneumonia simultaneously. The result is his developmental disability. Some of his cognitive skills are very limited, but one thing I’ve always seen in James is his uncanny ability to read discomfort in other people. He’s a great judge of character. He also a has one of the firmest moral compasses I’ve ever seen in a person. You can’t make James do something he morally objects to, not even under the threat of death. You’ll never find James preaching hate or carrying a Tiki-torch around Emporia.

Can James be difficult? You betcha.’ I’ve had more than one occasion when I’ve told him he’s driving me up the wall. Those little flare ups almost always end with James and I hugging tightly and forgiving one another.

The developmentally disabled can often teach us profound life lessons. My next door neighbor, Dewane Reed, is autistic. I think his disability may be profound, although I’ve never discussed it with him. The degree of his disability isn’t important when compared with his simple humanity. One of the connections we had early on was our mutual love of slapstick comedy. We both love the Three Stooges. I’ll sometimes see him early in the morning or the evening when my day’s labors are done and launch into my bad imitation - “Hey, Dewane, How you doin? Whoop, whoop, nyuck, nyuck, nyuck...coitenly!” I usually top if off by slapping my head, a la Curly. The silliness amuses Dewane no end.

Like James, Dewane just wants to be loved and do a good job. It makes life pretty simple. You’ll never find him sporting a swastika or carrying a Tiki-torch around town. And, unlike our political leaders and fat cat developers, James and Dewane aren’t dreaming up clever ways to pick their neighbors’ pockets.

The people of France and Iceland have decided the world is a better place without the likes of James or Dewane. It seems to endow them with a sense of superiority. As Flynn put it in his essay, “Shunning—or aborting—disabled people lets us pretend that we are stronger, smarter, and more independent than we really are.”

God, I hope this never comes to America. I don’t think I’d want to live in a world without James and Dewane. They’re anchors of sanity in an otherwise insane world. We need them far more than we need the spectacle of neo-nazis in their jackboots. In fact, we probably need them more than we need slick politicians or fat-cat developers.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


Image result for kansas city river market night life

On Saturday morning I took a pleasant morning stroll around Kansas City's River Market with our pups. While they concentrated on the scents left by other neighborhood dogs, I focused on all the changes that have taken place in the River Market since we bought our loft in an old industrial building about 10 years ago.

As Nancy and I were considering a second place in Kansas City, we explored Westport, the Plaza, and Crown Center. While each area had its charms and appeal, we eventually decided on the River Market, in part because the price was right and in part because we were offered a fifteen year tax abatement to buy our loft. It just made sense. The planners understood that if the incentives are given to homebuyers rather than developers and other speculators, a thriving community will spring up and businesses, almost exclusively small ones with good paying jobs, will follow the people who have moved into the neighborhood.  

When we first bought our loft, there wasn't a l ot of neighborhood activity. There were what you might call the old staples of the River Market– the Steamboat Arabia, Planter's Seed, the Al Dente Café, Carollo's Italian Market. But, my, how things have changed. As the dogs and I strolled along, we passed Houundstooth, a small specialty tailor's shop, Nature's Own, a health food/grocery store, The Farm House, a delightful eatery where all the food served comes from local vendors, small restaurants like A Taste of Brazil , Beignet, Bloom Baking, the Opera House. We passed a new loft development being built on the corner of Fifth and Grand and a recently completed loft complex a block north of that. A bit further east, there's a new condominium complex.

At 6:15 A.M. I heard the clang of the streetcar making its first daily stop.  It's become a familiar sound in the River Market for a over a year now. While some residents weren't sure about the streetcar project when the issue was being debated, the referendum passed and residents and business owners have now seen that the service has been a roaring success. It's given local residents free transportation to the Power and Light District, the Crossroads and Arts districts, Union Station and Crown Center. It's also given residents from other parts of Kansas City free transportation to enjoy the River Market vibe. The project has been so successful that the residents of the city south of the River Market have just voted to approve extending the streetcar service south all the way to U.M.K.C.  

Toward the end of our walk, we went west. The development is omnipresent there as well. At the far west end of the River Market district there's a huge apartment complex and a small convenience store. As we got back to our place on Second and Main, I looked across the street at one loft complex that was completed a few years ago and another that is under construction. When it's completed, it will be totally "green," including rooftop gardens.

Ten years ago, the River Market was struggling in the aftermath of rampant crime and mafia influence. Today, it's the place to be in Kansas City. The area is overflowing with life.  The shops, cafés, and bistros are full to the gunwales.  How did that happen in such a short time? It was simply economic development done right. Incentives were given to homebuyers rather than developers and residents got to vote on other issues as development moved along. The result of this "development done right" has been beneficial for everyone – residents, the city, business owners, and even developers.  
When we got back to Emporia on Sunday evening I took the dogs for a walk downtown and spotted some hopeful signs. Lofts, with what will be small shops on the lower levels, are being built, thanks to Cory Haag, a young entrepreneur who seems to get the concept of people first. It's development done right in the right place.  

On Monday I drove  to Wal-Mart and couldn't help but notice the Hobby Lobby project in its final stages. It's a testament to what I believe is old school economic development, where few profit and many pay. Pretty soon now we'll have another big box retailer and more westward sprawl, thanks to a combination of an incentive-seeking developer and readily available land. The developer will profit, as will the landowners who sold to the developer. What will the rest of us get? A one percent bump in sales tax on any purchases we make at Hobby Lobby.  

While it's good to see a few encouraging signs in downtown Emporia, it's discouraging to see that too many of the old ways still persist. It makes me wonder if we'll ever learn.