Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Yep, that's me. Fanning a deck of Shadow Masters from Ellusionist. Doing an intentionally bad impression of David Copperfield.

Those of you who know me know that I love to collect decks of playing cards, and that I have more than 200 decks. I've always had a fascination with card magic, and knew some gimmicky tricks. But recently, I've began to learn sleight of hand. I'm pretty good with cards now. I'm fairly confident that I could impress you with a few illusions. Stacy, official friend of the Mailbox, was in Joplin a few weeks ago. I bought a deck of pink Bicycles for breast cancer awareness at Books-A-Million and did a few tricks for her in the cafe. Her reactions were priceless -- she kept asking me how I did things, and she's a pretty smart cookie.

But recently, my enthusiasm and respect for magic have clashed with some of my core values about the freedom of information.
I think we all have a right to know everything about our government and the world around us. Missouri's Sunshine Law and the Freedom of Information Act pretty much guarantee that. As a reporter, I fight for that. Soldiers may fight for the freedom of speech abroad, but journalists fight against our own leaders within who want to take it away. And I'm always telling people that open is better than closed. For every person that gives me crap about "being hard on MSSU," I get 10 times the feedback telling me I'm fighting the good fight.

So, I'm fairly shocked at my reaction of finding Web sites revealing many magic tricks.

I came across a page (on Wikipedia) that detailed a series of illusions you have probably seen David Blaine do. A link from that page took me to another that exposed virtually every trick he's done. The gist of one of the sites is that Blaine is a very good performer, but not the superhero he portrays himself to be. Then there's YouTube, where teenagers will buy tricks from Web sites and expose them.

Being a lover of free information, I should be applauding this. I've never been the kind of person to keep information from somebody else. I've always (perhaps naively) believed that knowledge is power, and the more you know the stronger you become. But I absolutely abhor how some people are callously revealing how many tricks are done, without regard for the audiences who appreciate such performances. It's disgusting. Don't get me wrong: I know magic is different than a governing board, which is bound to follow the Sunshine Law. Yet my conscience is clear, despite my dramatic headline. If you ask me how I do a trick, I ain't tellin'. No way, no how. I'd keep the same secrecy over an Erdnase color change as I would an anonymous source.

Which is the crux of this whole post: Trust. If I am going to keep a secret from someone else, then everyone else needs to believe that I have a good, honorable reason for doing so.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008


Missouri is not the only state considering collective bargaining. Reporter Andy Vuong of the Denver Post details the work being done by the state of Colorado, after Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter enacted collective bargaining by executive order. The directive he issued in November gave the right to about 30,000 state workers. Vuong's report compares what Colorado faces to the state of Washington, which granted collective bargaining in 2005.

Missouri is also dealing with the issue. As reported in today's Globe, a Missouri Supreme Court case granted the right, but no law exists as to how it should work. What makes Missouri different from Colorado is that education groups, not labor groups, are pushing forward legislation. Even more interesting: Two statewide teachers' groups with differing ideas on the process are putting forward their own legislation.

Totally unrelated: My cousin introduced me to Sufjan Stevens. I'm listening to The Avalanche and loving it.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008


Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, was in Joplin on Dec. 26 to talk about changes to the IRS tax code that would affect early filers. While he was here, he talked about the ongoing efforts to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act. His words: "It's not going very well. There is tremendous disagreement on both sides."

Blunt, who originally voted in favor of the act about five years ago, has become a vocal critic of the act. He has been in conversation with area superintendents and worked for a system that makes states the highest education authorities. Blunt said that Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., new chairman of the committee on education and labor, would have a bill to the House by Nov. 16, but Blunt hasn't seen it.

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Kim Wencewicz, of the Missouri State Teachers Association, questioned whether a recent list of the top 100 high schools from U.S. News and World Report was really necessary, and would probably "line the bottom of the bird cage." From her MSTA blog entry:

"Why are lists like these necessary? What good results (come) from these lists? And are journalists the best source of information regarding the quality of public education?"

Missouri had no high schools in the top 100; Mount Vernon, Nevada and Pierce City high schools won bronze awards.

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My first year as a reporter for The Joplin Globe started and ended with ice storms. Throughout the year, schools celebrated accomplishments and dealt with problems. My first year with the Globe has led me to meet many wonderful people, working hard to educate kids. It's been my pleasure to meet every one of those people.

And what good is a year-end introspective without a top 10 list? If there's any theme that can be found amongst them, it's that open is always better than closed. Here's my votes for the most important school-related stories in the area for 2007:

1. President Julio Leon retires: Though rumors of his resignation floated like fall leaves around the campus, Julio Leon surprised and stunned many on the MSSU campus when he announced his resignation days before the first day of classes.

2. MSSU Board's closed-session slip: In the fallout of Leon's resignation, the MSSU Board of Governors discussed and appointed members of a presidential search committee in closed session, an apparent violation of Missouri's Sunshine Law. Though Dwight Douglas, board chairman, felt discussion of the committee members was a proper use of the Sunshine Law, future discussions were held in open session.

3. $57.3 million election: The Joplin R-8 School District called for help from the community to pass a $57.3 million bond and 31-cent levy increase, in order to build three new middle schools. The measure passed in April with a safe majority; the district held a groundbreaking for East Middle School and approved plans for South Middle School in December.

4. School board elections, appointment: In the midst of the April bond election, four candidates ran for two open seats. Incumbent Mike Landis and newcomer Ashley Micklethwaite beat then-president Jim Coburn and newcomer LeRae Miller. The election helped to resolve a deadlock about replacing Rhonda Randall's vacated seat Ñ James Meadows was chosen after the election.

5. Synthetic turf: Three schools talked about installing synthetic turf on their football fields in 2007. Webb City installed turf surface at Cardinal Stadium with the help of a bond, and residents were thrilled to watch the installation process. Carl Junction approved a bid to replace theirs in December in an effort to gain playground space. In a controversial decision, Joplin installed it at Junge Field with the help of a $375,000 loan given by an anonymous person. The loan will be paid back by boosters.

6. Webb City election failure: For the first time in 10 years, Webb City voters said "no" to an election issue. In November, voters turned down a proposal to build a new library at the high school.

7. Snow day bill, ice storms: Two ice storms in one year caused havoc to school make-up days. The General Assembly passed a snow-day bill which forgave schools from making up too many of those lost days. Before the 2007 Christmas break, Joplin students had already missed five days of school.

8. Higher education funding: The state gave a sizeable increase to Missouri institutions of higher education. Gov. Matt Blunt's controversial proposal to sell MOHELA's assets was approved with the help of Sen. Gary Nodler. The sale gives MSSU about $18.9 million for a new health and sciences building.

9. Distinction in Performance awards: Several area school districts won the state's highest award for academic performance. Joplin celebrated the winning of "Distinction in Performance" for the fourth straight year.

10. Paperless boards: The Carl Junction and Joplin boards of education took a step into the future by switching to paperless systems. Carthage is considering the switch and Seneca would have switched if there was extra money in the budget.

I hope you all had wonderful holidays and that your 2008 is everything you wish it to be.

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