pastor pitts

Not too long ago, I read something on The Toledo Blade’s web site about Pastor Michael Pitts of Cornerstone Church. (It’s in Maumee, a Toledo suburb.) It made me think back to when I was working for The Blade a few years ago and Pastor Pitts was in the news quite a bit.
You see, Pastor Michael Pitts was charged with several counts of exposing himself to strangers. I should make it clear that he was never convicted of any of these charges. (I want to make sure that his lawyers, wherever they may be, see I am making this clear.) But there was a significant amount of evidence that many people found quite convincing.
In 1995, he was stopped by police after allegedly being spotted masturbating in front of two young boys hitting golf balls at a local baseball diamond. Officials did not press charges after Pastor Pitts agreed to seek counseling with a psychologist who sees sex offenders, they said. (The Pitts camp claims the officials are lying.)
In 1997, he faced eight counts of public indecency and seven counts of criminal trespass, linked to a series of incidents in which a man matching Pastor Pitts’ description was reported exposing himself to people in places like a local park and a Wal-Mart parking lot. His car was spotted near where several of the incidents occurred.
Pastor Pitts hired some very fine attorneys and, in the end, all charges except for two criminal trespass misdemeanors were suddenly dropped. His final punishment: 14 days of house arrest with an ankle bracelet and a $500 fine. As part of the unusual plea agreement, both prosecution and defense agreed that neither side would be allowed to discuss the reasons for the sudden deal.
Pastor Pitts claimed complete vindication. Others were less sure.
Why am I bringing this up after the fact? Well, I Googled Pastor Pitts, and I was surprised to find that there was no mention anywhere on the Internet of his alleged indiscretions. None. There was also no mention of the fact that, in 2000, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated
That didn’t seem right.
Pastor Pitts is from that particular branch of Christianity that believes that being a holy man and making enormous profits from one’s church are not mutually contradictory. At least as of a few years ago, he was living in a half-million-dollar home on 30 acres, wearing designer duds, and driving a Cadillac. He blamed his problems on “media monsters.”
So that’s why, on this page, I’ve posted a few old articles from my old newspaper. I think anyone looking up the good pastor should have access to some information about his past, shall we say, issues.

mcdonalds goes cajun

Kill me now: McDonald’s starts Cajun venture.
Have my people not suffered enough culinary violence?
Seriously, I’m not a knee-jerk opponent of corporatizing ethnic food. I’ll freely admit being a Chipotle partisan, even though their burritos don’t scream “authentic” and the chain’s owned by the same Mickey D’s. And I’ve been known to enjoy some Popeye’s jambalaya when I need a quick home-state fix. But I’ve seen enough bastardized “Cajun” cuisine in my day to fear what’s coming.
All that said: That link above is to a wire story; the local Times-Picayune story makes it seem more like a standard upscale-casual place, sort of a less Italian Cafe Express (for the Dallasites in the house). The T-P doesn’t make it seem as Cajunified a concept. We’ll see.
Honestly, for all of New Orleans’ flaws, I can’t imagine any local eating at ChefMac when there are sooo many better and cheaper options nearby. They’ll need the tourist market to survive, and the location isn’t the most tourist friendly. (It’s on Poydras across from the Superdome, but a good six or seven blocks from the Quarter.) I feel like standing outside the place with a sign: “Much better po-boys down the street at Mother’s!”

back to school tab

I think my media burst is over. Taped a radio show yesterday afternoon, followed by TXCN and, this morning, Good Morning Texas, where I was interviewed by none other than Professional Blogger Scott Sams. I even got to sit on some of that new set furniture Scott’s not so high on.
Our back-to-school section came out today. My centerpiece (and what I was interviewed about today) was this piece, which I think turned out pretty well. In order to show how the college admissions process works, I created five imaginary high school seniors and had them “apply” to five selective private universities. (The schools knew what was going on.) I completed full applications for each of the kids, down to writing the essays and creating fake teacher recommendations and interview reports. Then the schools rendered their verdict on each one.
Here are the five kids: Emily, the physics genius; Jennie, the homecoming queen; Robert, the soccer player; Jacob, the class president; and Kristie, the oboe prodigy. (There’s also a PDF of the package available.)

iraq sux

Absolute pisser of the day: My boss coming over to tell me that, if I wasn’t going to Zambia in a few weeks to write about AIDS, there’s a very good chance I’d be going to Iraq in a couple weeks to write about, well, Iraq.
My grandmother doesn’t know how close to a coronary she just came.

jeopardy, nola

Had a fine weekend, chilling in Rayne, dining and imbibing with the aforementioned James and Jennifer.
So I tried out for Jeopardy this morning. As described earlier here, I randomly signed up on the Jeopardy web site for a tryout; they were coming to New Orleans on a weekend I’d planned to be in Louisiana visiting my folks. So I drove down to NOLA Sunday night (staying at my standby Le Richelieu — on the quiet end of the Quarter, cheap, and free non-valet parking, enough positives to outweigh the furnishings-from-1976 feel).
At 11 a.m. sharp this morning, a total of 53 would-be Jeopardiers were herded into a hotel conference room and given gifts: a ballpoint pen and a keychain, both with the show’s name displayed prominently.
There were several people who were very happy about this.
We all sat down and start filling out a form with our name and five interesting things Alex Trebek could ask us about our lives should we make it onto the show. (Mine, probably guessable by longtime readers here: the Zambia thing, the Pitcairn thing, the Cajun thing, the CDMOM thing, and…um…can’t remember No. 5.) Then some Jeopardy staff person came out to explain how the next hour or so would go:
We’d be taking a 50-question test. The questions were harder than usual Jeopardy questions — more like the $800 and $1,000 questions than the $200 and $400 questions. The questions would be shown on a projector and read out by the recorded voice of Johnny Gilbert, the show’s announcer. We’d get eight seconds to write our answer, presumably using our Jeopardy pen.
And no, we didn’t have to write “who is” or “what are” every time. And unlike the show (and the SAT, if my high school memories serve), no penalty for guessing. The whole thing takes 13 minutes, he said. Those who score highly enough on the test would be selected for the soopersecret Phase Two of the tryout.
He didn’t say what it would take to reach that stage, but a little Googling last night indicated it’s apparently somewhere around 40 correct.
The test was hard, but not crippling. I blanked on two of the first three and thought things were headed for the crapper, but they got easier. By the end, I knew I’d missed five or six, was so-so on about five or six others, and pretty confident on the rest.
The staff people disappeared into another room to grade the tests, while a woman named Cheryl, who is evidently part of something called the Clue Crew, came out to show us a video and chat us up.
(Aside: I, like all quiz-bowl geeks, used to watch Jeopardy when I was a kid. But that was some years ago. I honestly haven’t seen the show in several years — certainly not since I moved to Dallas, and probably not since college, which would be six years ago. So I had no idea what the Clue Crew was — it was evidently introduced a couple years ago to spice up the Video Daily Doubles. I felt a little bad about so clearly being out of the loop — other folks there were avidly discussing tidbits of Jeopardy culture, like the impact it had when dollar amounts were doubled and the recent removal of the five-day-champion limit. I sat and smiled.)
(Further aside: Not knowing about the Clue Crew evidently meant I missed out on Sofia Lidskog for a couple years. My loss, clearly.)
Anyway, the staffer came back out and announced seven names as having passed the test. I was one of them. That was pretty cool.
Everyone whose name was not called was asked, politely but firmly, to leave immediately. I felt awful for those folks — they’d all poured their hearts into that five-things-to-talk-about-with-Alex form, and now they weren’t even being allowed to turn it in. I guess there’s intrinsic value to self-evaluation, but still, it seemed a little cruel.
The seven of us were asked to fill out further forms and had a Polaroid taken. The contestant pool had been only about 10-15 percent female, but surprisingly four of the seven who made the cut were women. (It’s possible they may use a different point cutoff for women, since I’m sure the natural trivia-geek demographic would mean a contestant base that’s overwhelmingly dorky and male. The fact that the staffer refused to say what the cutoff was made me think it might be fluid.)
We then ran through a couple mock Jeopardy rounds, complete with buzzers and mock Alex interviews. They said that all seven of us would be put into the pool of potential contestants for the next year; these mock rounds were to see if we were freaks or not. (They phrased it differently.) It was basically a test of our ability to answer in the form of a question, enunciate our responses, and pick a category quickly and smoothly. They didn’t even keep score.
I think my TV experience came in handy; I kept my interview responses short and snappy (unlike one poor woman who rambled on for five dull minutes). My buzzer manner was pretty smooth; the staffer complimented my “energy,” whatever that means. And then it was over.
I’d got no idea if I’ll actually make the show; they wouldn’t say what percentage of test-passers actually get the call to go to L.A. And unfortunately Jeopardy’s buzzer policy — no buzzing in until the question is done — neutralizes my trivia strength, speed. But hey, I’ve had less enjoyable mornings.
I celebrated with a Ralph at Mother’s, my favorite New Orleans po-boy place. (The Ralph is a Ferdi with cheese; a Ferdi is po-boy with roast beef, ham, and debris — debris being roast beef gravy filled with the pieces of meat that fall in as the roast cooks. Oh, yeah.)

tpi database

Curious what I’ve been up to lately? Mostly working on this set of stories.
The basic idea was to find a way to see what schools get the most sought-after teachers and which one get the leftovers. So I made up something called the Teacher Preparation Index, which rates Texas schools from 1 to 10 on three factors: How many of their teachers are certified in the subjects they teach? How many are certified at all? And how many have at least two years of teaching experience (that is, they aren’t complete rookies)?
To no one’s surprise (unfortunately), the patterns I found were pretty clear: poor kids, minority kids (in particular black kids), kids who can’t speak English, and kids whose schools don’t have high test scores all get fewer prepared teachers than rich kids, white kids, etc., etc.
Here’s the main story; there’s also a caveat-style sidebar, an explanation of how I did the calculations, a Q&A for parents, a description of how most teachers become teachers, and finally the 7,145-school searchable database (previously mentioned here).
And now for the angry phone calls from principals: “Why the hell did my school get a 2.3?”

weekend preview

Hours spent working on the first four days of this week: 14.5, 11, 16.5, 13.
Today’s shaping up for about 12, to be followed by a six-hour drive to Louisiana tonight. If you saw me on TXCN this morning, I apologize for the enormous wheeled garment bags under my eyes. (I also apologize for my nascent beard, but for different reasons.) If I haven’t returned your phone call or answered your email in the last week, again, apologies.
One pathetic side effect of being on TV once in a while: I am painfully aware of which side is my “good” side. (It’s the left.) I’m also painfully aware that the TXCN studios require my right side to be front and center.
(I guess this song is actually about me.)
Anyway, I’ll be in Rayne tomorrow, lunching with James Sunday, then heading to New Orleans for dinner with CDMOM trader Jennifer and, Monday, my ritual humilation.
Hopefully I’ll have gotten some sleep by then. That’ll also help with the roughly 3,526 angry voice mail messages I expect I’ll have when I go back to work on Tuesday.

upcoming radio and tv

Early risers alert: I’ll be popping up on radios and TVs near you in the next few days. What I know about so far:
– Live on TXCN in the 8:00 a.m. hour tomorrow, repeating through the weekend.
– Taped interview on KVIL radio’s morning show Wednesday.
– Live on WFAA-TV (Channel 8)’s Good Morning Texas on Wednesday a.m.
– Taped interview on KOAI Smooth Jazz (!) 107.5 morning show the following Sunday.
– In all likelihood, another TXCN appearance Tuesday or Wednesday and radio spots on KLIF and/or WBAP.
If I knew this job would require so many early hours, I found have just followed my other muse and become a full-time snowboarder.

arnold documentary

I wonder if any bright Democrat in California will start circulating copies of Pumping Iron now that Arnold‘s in the race. Gotta love anyone who talks about his career plans thusly: “I was always dreaming about very powerful people, dictators, people like Jesus, being remembered for thousands of years.”
I was here in the office until 2:30 a.m. this morning, type type typin’ away.