Why is this book still relevant? Wake up Jayhawks!

“What’s the matter with Kansas?” That question was posed in an eponymous 2004 book by Thomas Frank and, alas, remains germane five years later.

The latest head scratcher from the Jayhawk State is the news that antiabortion terrorist Scott Roeder, cooling his heels in a county jail for murdering Dr. George Tiller, has been using jail computers to sing the praises of fellow terrorist Paul Hill—executed in 2003 for murdering Dr. Bayard Britton in Florida—and to communicate with other radical anti-choice activists. There is even anecdotal evidence that Roeder may be in touch with others plotting similar actions as his own against abortion providers.

Two questions strike me immediately. First, why is this man in a county jail? He is clearly a threat to society and belongs in a more secure facility. A federal judge recently upped Roeder’s bail to $20 million because of Roeder’s threats. Why have Kansas officials been so slow to realize this?

The second question is even more pertinent: Why does this man have Internet and email access? He is not a free citizen whose first amendment rights must be respected; he’s an accused felon facing a possible death penalty for first-degree murder (even though Sedgwick County’s DA is not seeking it). Unless a (mentally deranged) jury decides otherwise, Scott Roeder is a prisoner. As such he has only such privileges as jail officials grant him.

The solution to the current Roeder outrage is a no-brainer: pull the plug on his computer use. He is legally entitled to legal counsel and visits from court-approved visitors. That’s it. Even his written correspondence may be opened, read, and censored. Shut Roeder down and let him rot in the ignoble obscurity he deserves. Do it now before the term “jayhawk” becomes synonymous with “brainless.” --LV



There are many things to admire about the Scots—their music, their sense of humor, world-class whisky, the breathtaking beauty of the Scottish landscape…. I even like haggis, a tasty treat whose enjoyment is best enhanced by asking as few questions as possible about its origins or preparation. But for a people who often pride themselves on being unlike the English, Scots share a barbaric, but universal British custom: the use of toast racks.

For those lucky enough to have never experienced a toast rack, it is a vile instrument of torture worthy of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition. It is a series of triangular dividers welded to a steel frame whose sole purpose is to make certain that no piece of warm toast is accidentally ingested anywhere in the British Isles. Insofar as I can tell, Brits live in mortal fear of toast-burn lawsuits because the minute a piece of toast pops up it is sliced on the diagonal and placed on the toast rack. There it sits until two or three other pieces of bread undergo similar treatment and the rack is filled. It then cools in the kitchen while the rest of breakfast is prepared and the full rack is then ceremoniously delivered to the table with your meal. If the cook has done his or her job properly the toast will be the temperature of a granite slab in February.

But wait; it gets worse. Scottish baked goods are so scrumptious that they almost single-handedly redeem Scotland’s (well-earned) reputation as culinary purgatory. Go to a bakery and all manner of wholemeal, granary, and multigrain breads line the shelves. Which begs the question of why toast rack offerings are always bland white slices that make Wonderbread seem a gourmet food. If you’re lucky, one of the cold wedges will be “brown bread,” a generic term for any toast a shade darker than Casper the Friendly Ghost. One theory is that most brown bread is actually white bread upon which tea has been spilled.

Isn’t there some obscure codicil of the Geneva Convention that covers toast abuse? If we have petitions to ban landmines, why not toast racks? The very existence of the toast rack makes mockery of the claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Ban them now and make the Brits adjust. I suggest small plates with bright red warning labels: “CAUTION! Toast May be Warm!!!”--LV


Pointing at the Sun
Dias Records 1001

A new Cheryl Wheeler release is always cause for celebration and Pointing at the Sun is true to the formula that’s won her legions of fans: mix a few novelty songs with selected wry commentary, and surround them with heart-achingly beautiful reflections on love, loss, longing, and life. I’m not the biggest fan of recording novelty songs—cats are the foil for three on the new record— as I think it spoils the joke in her concerts, but most Wheeler fans love these, so what the heck? Besides, she needs a bit of comic relief. Wheeler’s never been afraid to ruffle feathers and the title track will dislodge quite a few—it’s Wheeler’s blanket condemnation of religious orthodoxy however imagined. When Wheeler slips at all, it’s when she tries to do too much; the lushly arranged “Summer Fly” comes off as Daniel Lanois Lite and is a much stronger song stripped-down for concert performance. But Wheeler’s at her absolute finest when she goes for the heart instead of the funny bone, head, or new musical turf. “Holding On” and “One Step at a Time” are no-gilded-lily takes on what it takes to how to navigate relationships. As such they are portraits of giddiness and hope framed with anxiety, pain, and perseverance. Like the starkly silhouetted trees that adorn the album cover, these songs get to the essence of reality. The courage to lay bare her deepest emotions is among the things that makes Wheeler one of the gutsiest songwriters of our times.--LV