Monday, July 13, 2009

More comments... reading, Chrysler, smoking, a social experiment, zinnias

"Only one-third of American students are reading up to age level," Nancy was relating to me from an article in the Kansas City Star. I felt a blog coming on.

I think we've all known this fact in general to be true for a long time. And, it is no secret there is a growing disparity in achievement levels between the (educated) haves and (under-educated) have-nots. Media outlets looking for quick, easy answers blame teachers, schools, school boards, politicians while side-stepping a crucial factor. It's also very much a home problem. Unquestionably, there are a few bad teachers out there and some schools that are poorly run, maintained, or equipped - but I wager those numbers are dwarfed by the enormity of the home problem.

If all students came to the classroom ready to learn - with a good attitude and preparation, well-rested and nourished, we would see enormous strides in reading achievement. And it would not matter how old or decrepit the school building is, or how inexperienced the teacher. Attitude and preparation? By that, I refer to parental encouragement, to the child developing an understanding from parent(s) that schooling is crucial to their hopes for a brighter tomorrow, that teachers are the good guys - not adversaries. One last comment, one that is heard frequently but worth repeating ~ children need to be read to, beginning at a very early age. Period. Not only for developing cognitive learning skills and curiosity, but for child/adult bonding.


My family used to be a Chrysler family. Back to the days when Dodge was the "farmer's car." (The photo at right is of my Grandfather Hackney's 1926 Dodge.) I've had a number of Chrysler products in the past but at present we own two so-called imports - vehicles with non US nameplates but assembled in America using components from all over the world, including our own country.

Not too long ago, while looking at full page ad for Chrysler products; I saw that none shown fit our needs and budget. Then more recently I read an analytical report asserting that four of the country's five most over-priced vehicles are Chrysler products. I'm beginning to wonder why the US government, then Fiat, would throw good money after bad. Fiat better have some darn good ideas, and much more reliable products than the Fiat I owned in the early 70s!


Smoking is stupid. It's expensive. It's deathly unhealthy. It's smelly and annoying. Expensive plus unhealthy plus smelly and annoying equals stupid. OK, we should all have the right to do stupid things. But not at the expense of my health and my pocketbook.


I recently followed what a favorite columnist labeled a "social capital experiment" with great interest, and with admiration for all those who took part. It took place in the tiny town of Whiting, Kansas. Cheryl Unruh's Flyover People column in the Emporia Gazette reported on it quite nicely: Obviously this experiment is far from a Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism. If, however, these selfless, community building efforts equate to socialism of any kind at all, I am for it. Bring it on, - and just imagine the effects of thousands people working and sweating together to rebuild their towns and cities without waiting for big government to do it for them!


For the first time in years, maybe even forever, we planted old-fashioned, full-sized zinnias in a flower bed (the one just outside our kitchen to patio sliding door). They are gorgeous, and so colorful - and for the first time in recent memory we have goldfinches visiting us! What a delight to look up from my bowl of breakfast cereal to that view! Why didn't we do that before?


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Memo: To a Long Dead Poet

I Don’t Hear America Singing Anymore, Walt

You heard American singing their varied carols -
The mechanics,
The carpenters,
The brick masons,
The boatmen,
The shoemakers, wood-cutters and ploughboys
And the mothers and young wives.
Their songs you heard were blithe and strong and delicious.

Walt, I’m sad to say we don’t sing much anymore.
We tweet…
We blog…
We text…
We email…
We are enslaved by credit card-sized communication and entertainment devices, receiving the information and digitized music we alone wish to hear.
But we don’t sing much. Why should we?

Singing laborers? On the job? No Walt, that’s not permitted now.
Not by the boss,
Not by fellow cubicle-dwellers,
Not by OSHA.
We’d be too self-conscious to sing, anyway, not possessing a pleasing, well-modulated voice that would bring praise from all blessed to be in its presence.
Singing is out the the question.

We don’t have shady front porches any more, Walt -
No rain-weathered rocking chairs,
No squeaking porch swings,
No foot stools for the little ones,
No place or time for aunts and uncles and cousins and neighbors.
No place or time for the old stories and songs and hymns.
No place or time for guitars and mandolins and fiddles and autoharps served up with lemonade or sweetened ice tea or Uncle George’s home-made "special drink for the menfolk".

Where are the porches you ask?
Replaced by concrete stoops with straw Welcome mats from WalMart - and security service signs warning that your every move is monitored in some dark, secret dungeon far away.

The parlor? That semi-sacred room where tiny feet dared tread only if accompanied by authorized and responsible adult kinfolk? That parlor with the well used, out of tune upright piano with a B-flat below middle C which sticks for everybody but Cousin Maude? Topped by the yellowed hand-made doily from the old country and faded sepia portraits of stern ancestors that only a few great aunts can identify? No, Walt - parlors are a thing of times long past.
Homes have dens and offices,
breakfast nooks and formal dining rooms,
multi-media rooms,
master bedrooms, walk-in closets and palatial indoor privies.
A place for conversation? Oh yes, we go to $tarbuck$ for that.
We don’t sing there either.

What about you, Walt Whitman?

What if you were living in these electronic times?
Would you be a poet?
Would you sing?
Or would you blog?

Sometimes I even wonder if Woody or Leadbelly would have bothered or felt the need to write songs.

I wonder.

Maybe I will blog about that. And perhaps I’ll hum a favorite old hymn tune while I do it...

but very, very softly

"I Hear America Singing" is a short poem honoring 19th century laborers by Walt Whitman. Read this classic online at:

© frank thompson

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More random thoughts and opinions

Consumers keep purchasing larger and larger television sets. Broadcasters seem to be adding more and more scrolls, sidebars, and graphics to the picture they send us. What's up with that? Have we gained any viewing area? I'm not sure.
Government keeps getting bigger as safeguards and watchdogs are put in place to regulate and to protect us, not only from ourselves, but from the mis-management and fraudulent practices of a few banks and other big businesses. A sad state of affairs, but we have to remind ourselves that it was a culture of greed and power within those businesses that brought us to this point, not a collective of socialist-leaning politicians.
Anybody tried to purchase a rain barrel? It is absolutely ridiculous what is being charged at the few outlets that actually sell them. Then you have wonder if your city and/or subdivision codes will allow you to use it. Think green, indeed. I certainly would like to save some of that water running off my roof for a non-rainy day.
Out of sight, out of mind? Without Phill Kline at the helm of the local county attorney's office, clamoring for headlines and self-serving attention at his numerous press conferences, that office had vanished from mind. I recently ran across a Kansas City Star article about Steve Howe's humble, business-like approach to running that important Johnson County office. See - there is good news in the Star. Want to read the article for yourself? At this writing it is still available on-line at
Finally - Johnson County Parks & Rec came to a much-delayed decision on "Bambi-gate." The deer herd at Shawnee Mission Park desperately needs to be thinned for its own good. Closing the park for short periods to allow skilled officials to carefully select and eliminate a large percentage of the herd is the thing to do. Let's hope they give the meat to shelters and other agencies that can make good use of it.
I have a difficult time feeling sorry for people in the new subdivisions on the outer fringes of the area who are complaining to their respesctive cities about annoying rattlesnakes, the coyotes who scare or even kill their little fru-fru doggies, or the deer eating their new trees. A year ago that land belonged to them, remember. You are the encroacher.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Looking for my Kansas road trip blogs?

I have recently reorganized my blogs!

If you are looking for my Kansas travel reports, you will now find them at:

New - Life Stories - read them at:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Things I Have Wondered About...

(some random musings)
  • I wonder if the Alex Rodriguez steroid episode would have received much attention if A-Rod played in Minnesota, Kansas City, or Denver. Of course that is a silly thought. There isn't enough money in the three cities combined to obtain his services.
  • I wonder why local (Kansas City area) sports fans, and especially my fellow Jayhawk faithful, get so upset when Jack Harry "dogs" their favorite team. In the bigger picture, what Jack says is not a big deal, maybe even irrelevant. His raison d'etre is to get people riled up and keep coming back to his station's so-called "news" show. He's in show business, folks. that's all, and his bosses want you to keep tuning in to see what he'll say next. At least Jack Harry is an equal opportunity "dogger," and gets on everybody's case at one time or another, although he does have a tendency to flip-flop from week to week on some subjects. To his credit, he's the best in town, and the guy is professional enough to read his scripts before he goes on the air, and he cares enough to correctly pronounce the names of athletes outside of the NFL - far more than anybody can say for Lenny the Cool(?). jack harry photo from
  • On the subject of NBC Action News, I wonder why Gary Hyper-Lezak gets SO much face time for the amount of usable information we receive. Apparently the highly-paid consultants looked at some charts and told the news director we won't stick around to watch the weather if we don't see X number of teasers and X minutes of "happy talk." Furthermore Gary - I don't give a rip about your theories and weather patterns, I just want to know how to dress tomorrow or if I can work in the yard. I go to my office and to the internet when the lengthy weather segment comes on now. Doggy tricks? - please send your tapes to Animal Planet Gary. (Side note: I will confess I am jealous that Elizabeth Alex isn't here to gently and lovingly pat me on the arm when the show, uh... news that is, is over.) gary lezak photo from
  • I wonder why UMKC is in NCAA Division I. They don't even belong in the MIAA with Central Missouri, Washburn, Nebraska-Omaha, et al. Those schools have better programs and draw far bigger crowds, plus support outstanding football programs. The area NAIA schools do better than the woeful 'Roos. Does the Bell Recreation Center still have midnight leagues?

  • One final sports item - I wonder how long we will be forced to watch basketball games on the 38Spot. Watch a sports event on ESPN in hi def, then switch to the Blemish marketed as the Spot, it's as if they are televising the game with cell phone cameras and half of the arena lights turned off.
  • I wonder why two baristas, working in the same establishment, using the same ingredients (supposedly in the same ratios), can make the same drink, but they don't taste the same?
  • I wonder why my "intelligent" camera doesn't remind me to check all my settings before I start shooting an event that will never happen again.
  • I wonder why some people talk so loudly when on cell phones in public places. Do they not comprehend that the phone and the carrier's system (you know - all those Verizon folks that follow you around) actually carries their voice to the person on the other end? Even if that person is across town or across the country? Or do they think that I, and everybody else in the establishment, needs to be included in the nitty-gritty, sometimes nasty details of their private life or business? I'm guessing these same people attach a privacy notice to their email messages in case the wrong person receives it. That information is private, after all.
  • I wonder why, when I am dieting, that I can eat a short stack of light, fluffy blueberry pancakes with lite syrup, and gain two and a half pounds.
  • I drive by the Williams Seasonings plant (shown above in a company website photo) almost daily. I have long wondered what it might smell like in there.
  • I wonder why people publicly and loudly voice their hope that the Obama administration fails. Are these people so desperate to prove to the world that they alone are Godly and right? Are they willing that additional hundreds of thousands, even millions, of American workers lose their source of income? How many more companies do they wish to see fold? Are they eager for Americans who have saved and invested for years to see their kids' college funds or their retirement security dwindle away? Are they secure enough in their own jobs and resources they need not be concerned for even their own financial future? Americans - be you Red or be you Blue, of any shade or any hue, it is in the best interest of all of us that the current administration succeeds. If it fails, America and the world is in far deeper trouble than it is now. Think it is okay that the world is brought to its economic knees? Think the world will then repent and turn to God? History reminds us that the last time the whole world was brought to its knees by financial woes of that severity, charismatic, strong-armed leaders emerged from the rubble, people with names like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Hirohito, and Mao. That final statement is not opinion, it's history.
  • You know those tunes that pop into your head on occasions, the ones that you can't get off of your mind? I wonder why mine are always dumb little ditties - songs I never did like.
  • I wonder why Charlotte Church is called an opera singer. Has she ever appeared in an opera?
  • I wonder why I spend time writing, editing, and re-writing a blog. Has anybody ever read one?

Self Portrait

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Awareness of Kansas History and In-stateTourism: Personal Observations on the Relationship

I begin in Texas. Yes, that Texas - the big, bawdy, braggadocios former Republica de Tejas. Certainly not my favorite travel destination, but occasional visits to family have allowed me to see some of the sites and sights.

On each visit made to historic and scenic places in Texas, I have observed a phenomenon I have rarely if ever seen in my home state - numerous in-state families on pilgrimages to sites they have learned about in school. Everybody - grandparents, parents, and children alike - seems to know a great deal about Texas history. Casual eavesdropping proves that. I know state history is widely and seriously taught in the schools. Priority-wise, I'm certain it's a notch below football, cheerleading, and marching band, but it rates high nonetheless. Whatever the case, they know about Texas, it's part of the state pride thing they have going.

Even setting aside the state pride issue, wouldn't it be nice to visit Lecompton or Osawatomie and and be surrounded by parents and children talking about Bleeding Kansas? Or to Council Grove and Fort Larned to learn more about the Santa Fe Trail? How about the Indian museum at Highland or the pueblo ruins at Scott County Lake State Park to observe artifacts left by our earliest settlers? Amelia Earhart's house or Wichita's Aviation Museum to learn more about the state's role in aviation? Getting a glimpse of Black History at Nicodemus or Quindaro? Anybody who has traveled the state extensively or has read much Kansas history knows the list can go on and on. True, none of these places hold quite the glamorous international appeal of the Alamo, with its famous slogan and numerous movies. But beyond that, we certainly don't take a back seat to Texas or any of our surrounding neighbors when it comes to significant historical events and colorful and important citizens.

We just don't know much about these people and places. We are I believe, as a whole, pretty ignorant.

Is there a way to undo this status? Sorry folks, I just don't have many answers to that question. I'm hoping my comments will catch the attention and imagination of those with more creative minds than I. I do know, as a former teacher and a member of a family of educators, that our school systems are absolutely overwhelmed already. Adding to the suffocating demands of our under-financed schools is not going to happen. Although most districts include some KansasEd in their elementary school curriculum, I believe that few teachers have much interest and/or training in the subject so as to create much interest in the subject, and they have many far more pressing objectives - like those required achievement tests.

(Side note - I also have to keep reminding myself there has been an additional half century of US history take place since I was in school, and the teachers then couldn't adequately cover the entire US story.)

I would encourage us to seek creative ways to teach our students and their families about our state, its multi-hued peoples and how we came to be who we are through bloodshed and toil, how Kansans have significantly impacted the country and the world, and to understand with pride our identities as Kansans. Perhaps some education can take place through library programs or summer recreation programs. Those of us who are parents and grandparents that are concerned can do more in our homes. Anybody else have any ideas?

And maybe then, we might just once in awhile see our families enjoying a few days of their spring break in Abilene instead of Orlando or South Padre. I can dream, can't I?

Franklin B. Thompson
Kansas Explorer 3128