Thursday, November 26, 2015


I’ve got more than enough grist for my writing mill these days. We’ve got our hometown university squelching freedom of the press. A few weeks ago, Representative Don Hill lost his heath committee assignment when House Speaker Ray Merrick, in a fit of pique, pulled the rug out from under him. Our city commissioners are inching ever closer to giving the Emporia Pavilions developers what they covet, at taxpayer expense.

That’s a lot of grist, to be sure, but, it’s all been overshadowed by Paris… ISIS…and the Syrian refugee crisis! Good Lord. The more I think about it, the more I feel like my head is going to explode!

In the wake of the Paris attacks, columnist Peggy Noonan spoke for many of us when she said she didn’t feel surprised as she watched it unfold. Then she admitted she couldn’t conjure up much of a response. She didn’t feel anger. Her feeling was one of gravity, as if she was seeing that “something huge and terrible had shifted and come closer.” Asked what those of us who aren’t “blinkered by status” thought about the attacks and the state of the world, she concluded, rightly, that we now believe “this isn’t going to stop.”

The barbarians are inching their way toward the gates. It’s not our collective imaginations. Like Peggy Noonan, many of us feel the shifting. And, worse yet, our leaders don’t seem to have a clue. It’s no wonder we feel so helpless, like thirsty wildebeest at a watering hole full of hungry crocodiles.

Things are so bad that even some of what we once viewed as cherished and safe is under attack. In a National Review op-ed, Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote about a recent episode of ABC’s “Scandal.” The heroine of the piece was getting an abortion. As the “procedure” begins, the strains of the hymn “Silent Night” play in the background. What was ABC trying to tell us? “Happy holidays, everyone?”

But, the producers weren’t done. As the “procedure” began in earnest, the heroine’s father droned on in the background and we got the real point of what ABC was forcing down our throats - “Family is a burden . . . a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness, an antidote to greatness. You think you’re better off with people who rely on you, depend on you, but you’re wrong, because you will inevitably end up needing them, which makes you weak, pliable. Family doesn’t complete you. It destroys you.”

Salon and Huffington Post called it “daring” and “brave.” Planned Parenthood applauded it.

So, while we have barbarians pressing the gates from the outside, we have some who are already inside.

Saturday morning as I was walking around the track at the Rec Center my frustration boiled over. I decided to take it all out on God. “Is all this evil escaping your eye, Lord?” “I can see it…why can’t you?” I wanted to scream, like Habakkuk of old – “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? – Or cry out to you, “Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?”

I spent most of Sunday fighting off the despair. I tried my best to hide it from Nancy and Karen, our young guest from Colombia. Nancy left early in the afternoon to prepare for her part in the “Harvest Home” choral concert at Sacred Heart. Karen and I got there about a half hour before the concert began. I waited in silence, hoping something would calm my anxious soul.

The concert began with the words, “Praise His name. Sing with the tambourine and harp.” Then, as one song of praise followed another, I felt something else shift within me. The despair gradually gave way to an overwhelming sense of gratitude and anticipation. My eyes began to glisten with tears, tokens of my thanks to God. My catharsis was completed as I breathed in the words of Steven Paulus’s “Pilgrim’s Hymn” –

“Even with the darkness sealing us in
 We breathed Thy name,
 And through all the days to follow so fast,
 We trust in Thee;
 Endless Thy grace, O endless Thy grace,
 Beyond all mortal dream.”

As I listened I would occasionally look around at my neighbors, many of whom I don’t know. Yet, I sensed we all had something in common. We were seeking hope and solace during this dark time. We found it, thanks to the various choirs, accompanists, and Jake Narverud, the conductor.

I’ve now come full circle. The darkness may be descending, but, in the end, I still know that the light will prevail. There was a first advent in the midst of darkness two thousand years ago. There will be a second at a time of God’s own choosing. The crooked places will be made straight and the valleys will be exalted. For that, I am truly thankful.

Friday, November 06, 2015


A few weeks ago, I read an interesting column about the millennial generation penned by Ann Friedman. The upshot of the piece was that, like the generations of young people who came before them, it’s now time for millennials to take the blame for what Friedman termed “the downfall of society.”

As Friedman also observed, each generation of young people seems to have an uncanny knack for becoming the targets of the generations that came before them. There are exceptions, of course. Americans from my mother’s generation clawed their way out of the Great Depression, defeated two totalitarian regimes in World War II, and then followed up by rebuilding the defeated powers. They’ve been rightly labelled “The Greatest Generation.”

Having been born in 1942, I don’t fit neatly into that niche, nor do I fit like a glove with the post-war “baby boomers.” For lack of a better term, I guess people like me would be betwixt and betweeners. If I were to pigeon-hole myself, though, I’d most closely identify with the rebellious nature of the “baby boomers.”

Neither I nor the “baby boom’ generation wanted to be rebellious. We began our formative years, the 60’s, dreaming of Camelot and building a world animated by love.  We were innocent and optimistic.  By the time the decade was over, the innocence and optimism were gone. We were cynical and openly rebellious. There were good reasons for this. John Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King were dead. We’d been ground up by the thousands in LBJ’s foreign policy sausage machine. America’s cities were on fire. Rather than respond to our grievances, our political leaders, especially Richard Nixon, lied so often that we coined the mantra, “Never trust anyone over thirty.”

The generation that followed, Gen Xers, were seen as slackers. They were a well-educated generation, but they were best known for their love of bad music and a “what’s in it for me” attitude. They shunned politics. In fact, they have the distinction of having the lowest voter participation rate of any American generation. They were so tuned out that Newsweek once described them as “the generation that dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them.”

This brings me to millennials. A lot of people seem to believe that they’re taking America down the road to perdition. I don’t.

Nancy and I interact with lots of millennials when we go to Kansas City for our weekend getaways. While there’s no doubt that they view the world through a far different prism than us, we find them quite engaging to be around. They’re almost always far more liberal, politically and philosophically, than we are, but we’ve never had unpleasant conversations with them when we talk about politics, faith, economics, or social issues. Unlike Hillary Clinton and the D.N.C., for example, they don’t think being conservative makes their neighbor an enemy.

Most of the millennials I’ve interacted with have some very refreshing views. When I’m around people my own age, the conversations almost always revolve around colonoscopies, cataracts, or cholesterol, Millennials want to talk about living, life, and their place in this universe. I like that!

They’re less likely than the rest of us to get themselves weighed down by a mortgage, a fancy car, a boat, or some other expensive trinket. They’re also deeply concerned with social justice. In terms of faith, they’ve been labelled “nones” for what their detractors perceive as a deficit of belief. Their detractors are wrong. I’ve found that they don’t have problems with God. It’s the institutional trappings of religion that drive them crazy. You don’t suppose they may be on to something, do you?

The millennials I’ve been around seem to be putting out feelers. They’re not sure they can trust us to love them unconditionally. In his recent book, “The Road to Character,” New York Times columnist David Brooks described the way many millennials feel about their relationships with their parents (and by extension the rest of us) this way:
“Parental love becomes merit-based. It is not simply “I love you.” It is “I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam… Lurking in the shadows of merit-based love is the possibility that it may be withdrawn if the child disappoints. Parents would deny this, but the wolf of conditional love is lurking here. This shadowy presence of conditional love produces fear, the fear that there is no utterly safe love; there is no completely secure place where young people can be utterly honest and themselves.”

When all is said and done, I think millennials are just fine. The rest of us may not agree with their approach to life and that’s alright. They don’t need our approval; they just need our respect and unconditional love.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Friends occasionally ask me if I’m troubled by the things my critics say about me. My answer is always the same – “Not really.”

There are good reasons I feel the way I do.

First, I’ve seen over time that, despite what the critics say, my wife hasn’t given up on me and the dogs still wag their tails when I come back home from some adventure. That’s worth far more to me than the barbed words of my critics.

Second, I’ve learned to take criticism in stride. There are times when it can be a very valuable teacher. I realize that I’m occasionally a bit of a lightning rod. I also realize that I’d be a fool to believe that my critics can’t sometimes be right. I don’t claim the ability to think “ex cathedra.”

Third, I freely admit that I take some delight in being the target of some of my critics’ wrath. I’ve picked up the phone more than once since I’ve lived here and heard the now familiar refrain. “You idiot, I’d like to wring your neck.” I can almost see the veins in their necks bulging as they scream at me. Where does all that courage come from? A snort or two of Sneaky Pete, I think.

My critics sometimes amaze me. Several years ago, for example, one attempted to run me and my dog, Jack, out of town. I was saved from the tar and feathers, thanks to Floyd Dorsey’s spirited public defense of his buddy, Jack.

I even have one raving fan who, upon reading a piece I wrote about a trip to Ireland, kindly offered to pay for one way tickets for me and mine to fly back to Ireland and never come back. Little did that raving fan know that Nancy and I were actually considering living the expatriate life on the Emerald Isle. We’re keeping that generous offer in mind.

Fourth, I’ve observed over time that my allies are much better judges of me than my critics. I see this especially when I’m around kids, the developmentally disabled like my brother-in-law, James, and his buddies, the small businessman who doesn’t get the incentives and TIF’s,  the guy who’s pulling down minimum wage to support a family, the down and outers, or the elderly. I love them and they love me. Our relationships are natural, not forced.

Fifth, I’m uncomfortable being around the politically connected or the powerful.  I’m not trying to wangle their dinner invitations, but if they were to ever send me one, I’d want to be sure I could bring my cup bearer with me.

Sixth, and most important, I love a good fight. I think it must be the contrarian Irish genes and the sense of justice that experience has instilled in me.

When I first moved here sixteen years ago, I didn’t think I’d spend a lot of time playing in the gravel with the high and mighty. Thankfully, I was wrong. It all started when I read about a public meeting being held downtown concerning the elimination of a city taxi subsidy for the poor, elderly and handicapped. The city wanted to scrap it, claiming the city couldn’t afford the $50,000 annual cost of the program. I did a bit of reading and discovered, to my amazement, that the city still felt that it could afford to subsidize the public golf course to the tune of a quarter of a million a year. Something to do with Emporia’s quality of life, the commission claimed. It wasn’t hard to read between the lines. Golf for the high and mighty was a quality of life issue. A bit of help on cab fare for the poor, elderly, or handicapped was a bother.

On the day of the meeting, a large army of elderly folks wheezing through oxygen bottles or moving along with the aid of walkers gathered to express their concerns. The poor and needy were also well represented. When the time for public input came, I launched into a bit of hyperbole, suggesting that, since the commissioners’ main concerns were quality of life and revenue, the city retrofit the payday loan shops, empty storefronts, and slum properties and turn them into a city managed red light district.  I reasoned it would increase revenues and add to the quality of small town life. The commissioners weren’t amused, but the disadvantaged and downtrodden in the crowd got it and roared their approval. They loved me and I loved them. I knew then that I’d found my place in the community.

In the end, I understand that the critics go with the territory. They may want to tar and feather me, but, the calls of support I get from the powerless, downtrodden, and disadvantaged more than make up for that. They, not my critics, are the reason why I fight!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Over the past twenty nine years I’ve learned that buying the right anniversary gift can often be as challenging as it is fun. 

In 2006, our twentieth anniversary, I purchased a wonderful bronze sculpture titled “Shadow Play,” which depicts a young girl playfully pointing her right foot at her shadow on the ground. It’s a delightful piece. She’s been standing in front of our living room window for almost ten years now, but she’s never shown any signs of aging. As Rod Taylor once crooned, she’s “forever young.”  Every time I look at her, I’m reminded of the wonderful, child-like delight Nancy takes from being immersed in nature or playing with some of God’s creatures we’ve accumulated over the years, particularly cats.

Our nineteenth anniversary, a year earlier, was quite memorable. I purchased a computerized baby grand piano at Flint Hills Music. With the help of Tim and Kristi Mohn and their team, I developed a foolproof plan that would have the delivery and setup done while I was having a quiet dinner on the town with Nancy. As it often is with the best plans, events conspired against me. It all began when Nancy called me about mid-morning and said that her mother, who lived in Kansas City, had fallen and fractured her pelvis. My plans had to change and none of them worked very well. By the time I picked up Nancy’s developmentally disabled brother in Kansas City, it was late in the afternoon. From that point on, it was like a Chinese fire drill. I nearly got a speeding ticket on the way back to Emporia. The delivery team from Flint Hills Music had to keep going around the block because I wasn’t at home…and yada, yada, yada. Somehow, the piano did get delivered, thanks to intervention of our good friend, Ben Gray.  And it was still a surprise, proof, I think, for the notion that the age of miracles hasn’t passed.

To this day I couldn’t tell you how much I paid for those gifts. Their true value comes from the wonderful memories they evoke.

I recently read that some folks think that antiques are over-priced. Not me! I’ve found that with antiques there’s a lot of value that can’t be measured in financial terms. Last year, for example, we had planned to take a trip to Italy for our anniversary, but travel fatigue set in and we scrapped the idea. I needed an alternative. I went to a local shop and a cloisonné carriage clock caught my eye. I asked about its age and origin. I was told it was 19th century Italian. “A perfect replacement,” I thought. 

A few months ago, we took the clock to get it appraised at the Antiques Roadshow. The clock is actually Chinese, made at the turn of the 20th century.

The clock does have some monetary value, but the story that goes along with it is worth even more.

By the way, Nancy now tells me that I still owe here a trip to Italy. 
This year, we celebrated our 29th. The gift guide indicated furniture would be appropriate. Nancy had told me that she didn’t want anything couldn’t fit into the palms of her hands. I went down to Paper Moon Antiques and looked around. I needed some help and asked John Doan, the owner, if he had any ideas. I mentioned furniture, but didn’t say anything about the gift fitting into the palms of Nancy’s hands. John appeared to get lost in thought for a minute and then suggested, “I’ve got an early 20th century craftsman workbench at home that I got in North Dakota. Its quarter-sawn oak and it’s beautiful.” I was intrigued. A few days later I saw the bench for the first time. It was every bit as beautiful as I’d imagined. I knew I was going to buy it. So did John and his wife, Becky. We did haggle for about twenty seconds, but that was just our way of making friends. I like to think of it as the sociology of the deal.

On the day I gave her the gift, Nancy gently reminded me that it couldn’t fit in the palms of her hands. “I love it,” she said, “but it’s got to go back.”

I went back to Paper Moon and spoke with John. He agreed with Nancy. We worked out a swap, with Nancy coming to Paper Moon with me and choosing the gift herself. A couple of stained glass window panels caught her eye and she fell in love with them. They now grace the dining room of our Prairie Victorian.

The cost of the deal escapes me now. It’s not that important.  Nancy’s delighted with what she has, I have another memory to cherish, and we’ve made some new friends. All in all, it’s a wonderful way to conduct business. 

Friday, October 02, 2015


Well, give ‘em hell, Chris Walker. They’ve got it coming to them.

On September 19th he laid out a well-reasoned explanation of why he will be voting no and encouraging voters to also vote no on the North Lyon County bond issue that will be decided by the voters on October 7th.

The question the voters will decide is whether or not North Lyon County will take on $39 million in debt to build a huge facility, complete with two gymnasiums (one of which would seat 1,200 people), a greenhouse, two cafeterias, carpentry and metal labs.

If you’re thinking that the proposed facility is to be built for a Big 12 powerhouse, you’d be dead wrong. The total population of North Lyon County is about 4,000. The student population of U.S.D. 251 is under 500.The district’s per capita income is about $17,000 per year.

When the good people of the county asked Superintendent Aron Dody why they should give the district the millions, he said that the current facilities were getting old, that a central facility would produce economies of scale, that there would be additional educational opportunities for students, energy cost savings, and the old reliable “it’s for the kids.”

Mr. Dody seems to be a very smooth operator. He made the 26 mils per taxpayer the project would cost appear to be nothing but chump change.  This is how he put it: “So on a $100,000 county appraised home that is going to cost $299 a year,” Dody said. “Which translates down to about .81 a day. That is at most.”

That’s the kind of trite language we hear when we’re being sold encyclopedias or vacuum cleaners by door-to-door salesmen.

Of course, by the time the bond is paid off in twenty-five years the cost per taxpayer will be about $7,500. That’s some kind of chump change, ‘eh?

It didn’t appear, from my reading, that the 26 mils included the cost of purchasing 120 acres of land. But, then, what’s a couple of hundred thousand bucks among friends? Just a bit more chump change, right?

The truth is, this project doesn’t look like chump change to me and I doubt that it looks that way to the people of North Lyon County.

Many of us have spent enough time in the corporate world to see this sort of thing happen many, many times. We’ve all seen that project that would bring nothing to the bottom line being touted by some ambitious executive climbing the corporate ladder. In the company I worked for we called them “goat rodeos.”

You’d think that the North Lyon County commissioners would have taken a cue from the voters of Chase County, which has about the same number of students and per capita incomes that are $4,000 higher than North Lyon County’s. A few months ago they voted down a $27 million dollar proposal. An overwhelming 82% of Chase Countians voted no, in essence telling their leaders they must have been smoking a bit too much Golden Goat when they approved the measure.

It’s hard to say what the North Lyon County commissioners were smoking, but it must have been pretty potent stuff.

The taxpayers have been down this road too many times. They’re getting tired of having millions of their hard earned dollars thrown down rat holes. They’re tired of spending a half a billion to train four or five Syrian counter-insurgents. They’re tired of government officials cooking the books on intelligence estimates, cost estimates, and success estimates.  They’re tired of political hucksters telling them that their latest project de jour will cost them less than the cup of coffee a day, when they know damned good and well that they’re being taken to the cleaners. They’re tired of TIF’s and big box developers running roughshod over them. They’re tired of having politicians tell them they’re valued constituents when they’re being treated as nothing more than revenue sources. They’re tired of the alarming lack of respect their leaders show for them.

I imagine if Chris Walker and I were to have a chat we could find things about which we disagree. But, in this case he got it exactly right when he wrote “This amount of tax increase is insane.” He was right when he said that the school planning committee should “go to back to the drawing board and deliver something to voters that is affordable.” He was right when he wrote that a little tax increase here and another there eventually becomes a mountain. The increases seem to start as small drops of water, but, in time people discover they’re actually being drowned. It’s a form of Chinese water torture being inflicted on them by the people they elected to represent them.

Chris Walker was right.  “Enough is enough.” Our leaders need to start realizing that they cannot continue to feed their champagne dreams and appetites from the people’s beer pocketbooks.