Monday, December 17, 2012


When Nancy and I left for a ten day river cruise on the Danube a few weeks ago we were hoping to get away from the pervasive violence and political tension in the world and the increasing commercialism and emptiness of the American Christmas season. We succeeded, but only in part.
The Danube was every bit as beautiful as we’d imagined it to be. From the 6th, when we arrived in Budapest, to the 15th, when we left Passau, the Viking Njord, our floating hotel, slipped effortlessly from city to city.
In Budapest we were treated to the incredible food and wine, a spectacular view of the Chain Bridge between Buda and Pest at night, the galleries of the Fine Arts Museum, and the sights and sounds of the Great Central Market.
The ship then meandered from Budapest to Bratislava, Slovakia, then to Vienna, then on to the small villages of Durnstein and Melk in Austria’s spectacular Wachau Valley. Each stop brought new and pleasant experiences. The mulled honey wine we sampled at the Christmas Market in Bratislava was to die for. We brought a bottle home as protective insulation against Kansas’s cold winter winds. In Vienna we rode the subway, visited the modern art and Jewish museums, and sampled mini sandwiches and tiny mugs of Austrian beer at a local deli whose name now escapes me. In Durnstein we were graciously given the gift of a pipe organ concert at the town’s beautiful cathedral. In Melk we toured the Benedictine abbey and cathedral. I’ve never seen so much gold in one place in my life.
We spent our last two days in Linz, Austria and Passau, Germany. The day in Linz was particularly pleasant. We took a leisurely stroll along an outdoor pedestrian mall and Christmas market, occasionally stopping to make a purchase or two. By the time we got back to the ship we had a small bag of clothing, a hand painted Christmas ornament, a pair of mittens and a wooden Nutcracker doll for a little girl Nancy knows, and a small straw hedgehog that I suspect will keep our cats amused. In Passau we spent a couple of hours touring the city, including a gingerbread making demonstration, our last sips of mulled wine, and a tour of one of the city’s most spectacular cathedrals. As with the cathedral in Melk, the gold leaf was everywhere. In addition, the frescoes on the ceiling were mind boggling. It took a father and son over fifty years to create them.
We’re home now and I’m reflecting on the trip. More often than not along the way we felt a warm, peaceful feeling. I think Europe transmits that sense quite well. But, we never could quite escape the world’s realities. A few days into the cruise we got word of a mall shooting on Oregon. Then on Friday we heard the news from Connecticut. We were stunned.
It’s now Monday and I’m hearing the explanations. Few of them seem satisfactory to me. There’s more to it than mental illness and misunderstood young people. Will more mental health counseling fix things? I’m not so sure. Will eliminating guns solve the problem? I don’t own one so they can take all 300 million of them away as far as I’m concerned, but it won’t solve the problem.
 It’s written that evil is always “crouching at the door.” It seeps through society’s cracks. We don’t like to admit it, but it’s there, often hiding in the most unlikely places. Nancy and I saw this quite clearly in Budapest. There’s a very simple memorial on the banks of the Danube, not far from one of Budapest’s beautiful cathedrals. There, fifty or sixty pairs of shoes once worn by Budapest’s Jews stand as stark witnesses to the evil man is all too often willing to inflict on his fellow man. In late 1944, thousands of Jews were marched to the riverbank and shot to death. Before their bodies were dumped in the river the Nazis took their shoes. The logic was as grisly as it was impeccable. Leather was a very valuable commodity and couldn’t be wasted.
In Budapest, guns were the transmitters. But, evil doesn’t need just a gun. Zyklon-B was a gas. In the Ukraine, depriving Kulaks of food was the tool. In Cambodia’s killing fields all it took was plastic bags to suffocate millions to death.
In the end, I think any solutions to our violence problems lie in the human heart. We can work against it, but I suspect evil will be crouching at the door as long as there are men. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed, The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
-          Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife (1909-1999)


I’m often taken to task by city and county officials. They say I tend to focus too much on what’s wrong and not enough on what’s right. I suspect they feel singled out when I write about our 27% poverty rate, slum lords, high taxes, neglected properties, or the great social and economic gulf  between our haves and have-nots.
They may or may not believe it, but I have some measure of understanding of what they’re going through. I don’t believe they like our 27% poverty rate, nor are they in the business of finding ways to make things worse. I’m sure they’d like nothing better than to see our household incomes above the national average, our poverty rate at zero, and a community of well-maintained homes with wrap around porches that are the envy of the nation.
Isn’t that what we all want?
If that’s true, and I believe it is, how have we gotten so far off track? And, how do we solve the problem?
With that in mind, I think it’s time to shine the light in another direction – toward our churches. In doing so I realize I risk incurring the wrath of many people I share a common faith with. But, I believe it’s time for people of faith to reclaim their God-given responsibility to share more generously from the wealth and grace they’ve been given.
Since the days of the Great Depression there’s been a tremendous shift in how we Americans allocate our financial resources, particularly when it comes to solving problems like poverty. Up until that time the Church was the nation’s primary instrument for support of the poor and downtrodden. That changed in one very dramatic way with the advent of New Deal programs like Social Security, the W.P.A., the Civil Works Administration, etc. The primary burden bearer for the poor, the elderly, and the unemployed became the government.
Over time, right to the present, the government’s role as the nation’s primary social benefactor has grown and the Church’s role has diminished. Today, if you were to ask someone from within or outside the Community of Faith whose responsibility it is to solve the problem of poverty, well over half would say, “The government needs to fix things.” The Church is now seen as a backstop.
The reality of the shift begs three questions. Can the Church solve the problem? Isn’t the Church being generous enough already?  Does the Church have the resources equal to the massive task?
The answer to the first question is obvious. Of course! The Church is a community of faith. It’s not a static faith, but an animated faith that not only believes, but also acts.
There are two answers to the second question. First, government hasn’t solved the problem. In fact, the problem has gotten worse over time.  Statistics like Emporia’s 27% poverty rate aren’t figments of overactive imaginations. Second, it depends on the measuring stick that’s used to measure generosity. During the height of the Great Depression the average church goer gave 3.3% of his or her income to charity. These days that number has declined to 2.6% (John L. Ronsvalle, “The State of Church Giving”) If one were to judge solely by that standard it could be argued that Christians today are about as generous today as they were a few generations ago.
But, the Church has, or should have, a far different standard of measurement. As it’s written, “To whom much is given, much is required.” When seen in that light the trends are troubling. The Francis Schaeffer Institute of Christian Leadership has reported that 17% of adult Christians claim to tithe (give 10% of their income), while 3% actually do. According to statistician George Barna, Protestant Christians give, on average, $17 per week to their church or other charities.
When giving is measured against that standard, it’s clear that there is plenty of room for growth.
Does the level of current giving reflect a lack of resources? Far from it. In 2000, according to David Barrett and Todd Johnson (“Interpreting the Annual Christian Megacensus”), the United States’ total Christian income was $5.2 trillion. Today that number is well over $7 trillion. And, that number doesn’t include the trillions invested in facilities or the billions held in endowments.
The truth is, if the Church would move from its current level of giving to the standard/ideal, hundreds of billions of dollars could be freed up to find meaningful solutions to the problem of poverty. It’s not a matter of whether or not the problem can be solved. It’s simply a matter of willingness to solve the problem.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I see that Wal-Mart has decided to turn Black Friday into Black Thursday. Competitors are following suit.

Given the state of world affairs right now, the diversion to the aisles of discount stores seems to be the thing to do. There’s no need for sack-cloth and ashes. As Solomon observed long ago, in a seemingly meaningless world where “the righteous get what the wicked deserve,” it may be better to just, “eat, drink, and be glad.” Had there been discount retailers back in his time the wise king probably would have included shopping.

I’m amazed at how quickly things can change. A week or so ago we were breathing a collective sigh of relief. The election season was finally over. The pundits were wrong; it wasn’t that close. Compared to 2000, it was a breath of fresh air. No lawyers had to get themselves involved, much less the Supreme Court. It didn’t linger into the Christmas season. We didn’t have to endure the spectacle of Democrats or Republicans desperately trying to sell baby Jesus to the highest bidder in exchange for Florida’s electoral votes.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the wheels to come off the wagon this year. I just read that the Eurozone is once again, “officially,” in recession. The Germans and the French are hanging on by a fingernail. Even the industrious Dutch are in the tank. Then I read that the Middle-East is on the brink of all-out war. Fire is raining down from the heavens. The people of Gaza City and Ashdod are in hiding. The Syrians are creeping ever closer to the Golan Heights. The Iranians are conducting massive military maneuvers. The Egyptians are waiting in the wings.

I opened my e-mail, hoping for some relief. I was greeted by a message from the American Red Cross in response to one I’d sent them yesterday when I found out that they’d spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars housing Red Cross relief workers at a luxury hotel in Soho. Their answer? It wasn’t really too many people at all. And besides, they had to stay somewhere.

There’s not much in the way of good news on the home front. I drove down Industrial Road last night. As I passed by the Flint Hills Mall I saw the picketers protesting lost wages and a disappearing pension. By the time I got home I’d heard the news that Hostess would “liquidate” if the strikers didn’t come back to work by 4:00 today. If the worst happens, our poverty rate, which is already obscene at 27%, will almost certainly go even higher.

Liquidate! What a terrible word. You were solid, but you're liquid now It’s like adding insult to injury. The refrain is cold, clinical, and eerily familiar, reminiscent of the days of Enron. “Shred your dignity, concede, and come back or we’ll ‘liquidate’ you and pour you down the drain!”

After that there wasn’t much need to read about Benghazi or the unemployment claims report.

There’s a part of me that wants to explode, but, thanks to Nancy, I’m at peace. I think there’s a gentle, prophetic strain that runs through her veins. About a week and half ago she had me listen to a song she’ll be singing as a member of the Community Chorus. It’s Michael W. Smith’s “All is Well,” a simple piece about the birth of Jesus. By the time the last note was struck we were in tears, clinging to one another.

It was one of those overwhelming moments in life when one senses power and peace embracing in a marriage that the temporal events of life can’t “liquidate.” The only appropriate response is to be reduced to tears.

We sat quietly for a few minutes, then I shared about a time when that same overwhelming sense of power and peace invaded my life. It was during the Christmas season, 1965, in Vietnam. For months the hard shell of unbelief I’d clothed myself in for years was slowly cracking. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, but I think that shell broke when I attended the Bob Hope Christmas show. As the show closed, Anita Bryant led us in singing “Silent Night.” Somehow, as it did a few days ago here in Emporia, a sense of peace and power overwhelmed me in spite of the conflict all around. I found myself hoping for the first time in my adult life. “Could it be true?” “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were?”

I don’t fully understand why the world works the way it does. It’s enough for me to say it’s fallen. But I do know that humble birth we’ll be celebrating in a few weeks shifted the world’s power paradigm. Human events ebb and flow, but the message from that stable is timeless. Whatever else may happen, “all is well.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012


In 2009 the people of Lyon County passed a one cent sales tax. The strategic aim of the increase was property tax relief, with a five year sunset.

Today, many of us are facing property tax increases instead of relief. Emporia and Lyon County are caught in a downward spiral of low wages, population decreases, and high poverty rates. Our local labor situation is in a state of dangerous limbo, with the prospects of 450 of our fellow citizens hanging by a thread.

Ten years ago the unemployment rate in Lyon County was 5%. In July of this year the county’s unemployment rate stood at 6.3%. In 2002 Emporia’s population was 26,666. Today it’s 24,971, and the labor force reductions at Tyson can’t account for all the people who are leaving. For the past ten years inflation has been rising. Goods or services that cost a hundred dollars back then now cost a hundred and twenty-seven. Have our wages kept up with inflation? In 2002, our average annual household income was $30,809. Today, it’s $32, 179. Inflation’s up by 27%. Incomes have increased by 4.4%. It’s a recipe for disaster.   In 2002, the property tax mill levy for an Emporia resident was 147.62. With the recent increase approved by the county commissioners, it will soon be a bit north of 166 mills, a double digit increase.  Our poverty rate in 2002 was 17.9%. That was bad, but nothing compared to the 26.9% rate we’re at today. Think of it. About three in ten of our fellow citizens are living at or below the poverty line.

In the face of this grim news, our leaders are asking us to approve a ten year sales tax. They talk about a never-ending stream of tax dollars for infrastructure projects and quality of life. All around the county, the politicians and bureaucrats are marching in lock step, with their hats in their hands, telling us we must do with less so they can have more.  Commissioners talk about pull factor (ours is actually 7% below the average for first class Kansas cities) as if were a silver bullet. They can’t seem to see, or refuse to see, how hard it is for those living on low or fixed incomes to pull their respective loads in this environment. They threaten us with even higher property taxes if we vote the sales tax down. When those of us who are against the tax increase make recommendations, we’re told our proposals won’t make much of a dent or that they’re not reasonable. We’re honestly mystified. If a judge can rule that an 8% wage cut for 450 Lyon Countians is reasonable, we believe that pay cuts for high dollar city and county  managers are every bit as reasonable. When we bring up the RDA, the golf course, Humvees, overtime, the possibility of eliminating layers of management with self-managed workgroups, they dig their heels in and say, “No!” We’re really mystified. We believe a few dents are in order. They tell us we’re cutting off our noses to spite our faces. We say they’re cutting the legs of their neediest constituents off at the knees.

 Our leaders tell us they’re listening, but they’re not. They labor under the false assumption that we can tax our way out of the hole we’ve been digging for years.

 Well, we can’t! The record is clear on that.

Those of us who oppose the sales tax have good, factual reasons for our opposition. First, it’s regressive. It hurts those who can afford it least. There are no exemptions in this measure for food, prescription drugs, or clothing that those living on low or fixed incomes must pay a greater share of their income on. Second, in tough times government also needs to learn how to make do with a lot less. If 450 of us must face the prospect of 8% less, why shouldn’t our government? Third, lower tax rates stimulate economic growth. The City of Dalton, GA, for example, came upon hard times a few years back. They lowered their sales tax rate from 7% to 5%. A year later sales tax revenues increased by 9.3%! Fourth, we’re told that government is tightening its belt. Really? The City of Emporia’s general ledger expenses have increased by about 10% since 2009. They’re projected to increase by another 11% above the 2012 levels in 2013. The county’s total expenses increased by 7% between 2011 and 2012. Do they really want us to believe that’s belt tightening?
Finally, we intend to keep the attention of our political leaders riveted on the people after the votes are counted. We will not go away. We will do everything in our power to see that our government responds to the brutal realities so many of us must face every day!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Our Irish adventure is now history. It was a whirlwind week.
We arrived in Dublin early on Saturday morning, the 29th. We got to Corraquill at about 12:30 and picked up our boat, The Dutch Courage.  Our great adventure was about to begin.
When Nancy and I looked at the brochures piloting a 50 foot barge didn’t seem too difficult. Once we were on the water, however, it was a different story. We spent most of our time lurching starboard, then over-correcting to our port side. The first leg of our journey takes about 3 hours for an experienced canal pilot. We made it to Ballyconnell in five and a half.
Our first night was pretty uneventful – dinner at a pub called the Angler’s Rest and a night of much needed rest. On Sunday morning we were on our way again. This leg took us from Ballyconnell to Ballinamore, another three hour journey. After a couple of hours we began to feel like seasoned pros. We made our way through the locks with relative ease. One of us would steer the barge, one would man the ropes, and another would take care of the electronics of the locks, letting water in or out as the situation dictated, etc.  But, then we had an encounter with a bridge that shattered our illusions of professional competence. Thankfully, we only sheared off a “wee bit” of the port side of the cabin.
We tied up at Ballinamore at about 6 P.M.  By 6:30 we were enjoying a pint of Guinness and some good Irish beef at the Commercial Hotel. Our waitress was a woman who appeared to be in her mid-sixties, about five feet tall and all of about 90 pounds. What she lacked in youth and size, she more than made up for in zest and courage. At some point during the evening a surly soccer fan came into the pub side of the establishment and sucker punched one of the regular patrons. That’s when the diminutive waitress took over. “Not in my baaahhhr!” she shouted. “It’s out with ya’ and don’t ya’ come back.” A few minutes later he tried to test her resolve by stumbling back into the bar. It was a mistake. I couldn’t see what happened, but I heard it. There was the sound of a solid left hook to the jaw, followed by a thump as something or someone hit the floor. When she came back to our side of the hotel I asked her what had happened. She smiled. “Oh, I gave ‘im a bit of a pop and that was that.”
Before we left, Steve Corbin told me he’s been looking for a bouncer. I believe I found her.
The next night we were back in Ballyconnell, with the Dutch Courage no worse for the wear. We took a day trip by car to Athlone to visit Dillon’s Castle, which my kids have wanted to see for some time. Then it was back to Ballyconnell for what turned out to be a very entertaining jam session. Four or five of the local patrons, knowing we were leaving the next day for Dublin, gathered up a guitar, a boudran (a native Irish drum), and a couple of teaspoons, an off-key American (me), and the fun began. Nancy got several videos of the merrymaking. I’m hoping, for dignity’s sake, they never make it to the big screen.
We spent two memorable days in Dublin. We went to the library of Trinity College and saw the historic Book of Kells and the massive collection of old vellum manuscripts. Incredible! Nancy and I did a pub crawl which included the obligatory Guinness and readings from the works of great Irish writers like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Brendan Behan. The performers also gave us interesting little tidbits about the authors. Behan, for example, was a roaring alcoholic from the age of eight. He was once asked by a reporter if he had a drinking problem. His response was brilliant. “I’m a drinker with a writing problem!” When asked what “Waiting for Godot” was about, in keeping with his existentialist philosophy, Samuel Beckett said it was about “absolutely nothing.”
On Friday we toured Kilmainham Gaol, the infamous British prison of the mid nineteenth and early 20th centuries. During the great Potato Famine young Irish children were incarcerated there for stealing bread. The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held there until they were executed in the exercise yard.  One of them, poet Joseph Plunkett, was allowed to marry his sweetheart, Grace Gifford, a few hours before he faced the firing squad.
That’s Ireland. It’s a mix of tragic history, vibrant culture, toe-tapping music, lively conversation, and, of course, a good pint of the bitters.
Hopefully I’ve done it a bit of justice in 800 words.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Nancy and I, along with my daughter, her husband, and my two sons, are leaving for Ireland tomorrow morning. It's time to leave politics aside for a week or so. 
This will be our third trip to the Emerald Isle. The seeds of this trip were born during our annual Christmas get-together last December. Somehow, in the give and take of family conversation, we all agreed that a family trip to the old sod was in order. Once we made that decision, Nancy did the rest - the web searches, the reservations, and so forth.
It's been a long time in the making. During the spring months, in the heat of political battle, I almost lost sight of the pubs, the traditional music, the conversation, all blanketed in Irish wit and charm.
But that will change tomorrow.
We'll arrive in Dublin about 7:00 A.M. on Saturday. Our host, Sean Drumm, will pick us up and take us to a dock along the Shannon-Erne Waterway. From there, we'll climb aboard a "luxurious" 50 foot traditional barge (I believe our reservation is for the "Dutch Courage") and launch our way into what we're sure will be a great adventure. For the next week we'll be making our way from town to town, with stops in Enniskillen, Ballyconnell, Ballinamore, Leitrim, Carrick-on-Shannon, and other small towns and villages whose names are every bit as lilting as those I've mentioned.
Lately the kids have been asking us what we're going to see. I suppose I could have told them about Fenagh Abbey in Ballinamore, the good fishing at Carrick-on-Shannon, or the six story clock tower in Enniskillen, the Abbey Theatre or Bewley's Cafe in Dublin, but I don't think it would have helped. The rest of Europe is about places - the Louvre, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Schoenbrunn Palace, or Versailles. Ireland is all about the people.
Nancy and I occasionally reminisce about our previous visits. I find myself cringing about the car keys left at a hotel in Dublin or the backpack containing our passports, money, and other valuables left at the site of the Battle of the Boyne. But, the empty feeling, if it can even be called that, is fleeting. The memories of the warmth of the Irish people overtake me.
I remember the wry humor of the agent at the rental car company at Dublin Airport. When Nancy expressed concerns about driving on the left side of the road he told her not to worry. "After all," he said. "There are a lot of Americans driving around in Ireland this week. Someone's bound to make it through. It could quite easily be you."
With our fears relieved, we set out. It didn't take us long to get lost. We stopped at a post office and asked for help. I explained our predicament. "We're trying to get on the road to Dillon's Castle at Athlone." I don't think the patrons could resist the urge to have a bit of fun at the expense of a confused tourist. And older gentleman, whose face and nose appeared to be permanently red from his two or three daily pints of Guinness, smiled and said, "Oh, then, young man, you're hopelessly lost; you can't possibly get there from here."
When we arrived at Maeve Fitzgerald's bed and breakfast in Doolin later that day, Maeve greeted us with a thick brogue. "Ah, look what the cat dragged in.  T'bee sure, 'tis the Dillons...And late they are, but 'tis better late than never."
Once we settled in, Maeve recommended a nearby pub where we could listen to some really good traditional Irish music. She didn't steer us wrong. We sat there for a few hours, nursing our pints and listening to pub songs like "Johnson's Motor Car," "Arthur McBride," "The Night Paddy Murphy Died," and "Finnegan's Wake," performed by a one legged guitarist and a young woman who had the uncanny ability to smoke a cigarette and play the flute simultaneously. The memory of music and smoke emanating from the five-holed flute still makes Nancy's heart dance with laughter. And me? I remember the "groupie," a toothless old man dressed in a navy blue pea coat and stocking cap, who sat smiling on a stool next to the performers, embracing pint after pint of Guinness.
As we walked back to Maeve's that night in the moonlight we were joined by a Guernsey cow. In Ireland, it seems, hospitality has even spilled over to the genes of the livestock.   
So, we're on our way to Ireland, with more memories in store.  We'll be back in a week or so. Then it will be back to the joy of skewering politicians, which is impossible for an Irishman to resist. As George Bernard Shaw once observed, "telling the truth is the funniest joke of all."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


“I learned that our Government must be strong; it’s always right and never wrong;
Our leaders are the finest men and we elect them again and again.”

   Pete Seeger- “What Did You Learn in School Today?”

I arrived at a recent meeting of our county commission too late to know what was going on, but I found after the meeting adjourned that blame for the budget shortfall and the so-called funding cuts being floated rested squarely on the shoulders of me and my fellow “bloggers.” As one of the attendees put it, “I want to thank you and the Gazette’s bloggers for this mess!”
What had we done? If our critics are to be believed, we’re the ones who created the 22% county wide poverty rate and the 27% poverty rate that afflicts the city of Emporia. We’re the architects of the failed economic development policy that has us stuck in the economic mud. We’re the idle dreamers who conjured up welcome rocks and Astroturf.
Are we responsible for any of those things? Are we the ones who put the blinders on our political leaders? No, but desperation sometimes becomes the surrogate mother of invention. All it takes is the turn of a phrase to divert the public’s attention away from the real culprits. Hence, it’s blame it on the bloggers.
Who are we, really? Collectively, we’re that small community band that’s had a Damascus Road experience. We’ve seen the light and have discovered that the light we see isn’t the train bound for Glory Land. It’s a speeding locomotive named big government and it’s bearing down on us like a Cruise missile.
We’re the unruly malcontents who refuse to continue accepting the flawed axiom that whatever politicians say or claim, be they federal, state, or municipal, must be treated as infallible and unassailable. Time and bitter experience have taught us that the relationship between the governed and those who govern has become a zero sum game, with the governed being on the losing side of the equation.
We have little or no political power. We don’t make the rules. We don’t appropriate the money. We don’t set the mill levies. There are only two things we do have. It’s the keen eye of the observer and the frustration our words convey.
As I said, we’ve seen the light. We know what we’re up against.
A year or so ago I read P.J. O’Rourke’s “Don’t Vote – It Just Encourages the Bastards.”  On page 71 he describes the politician’s personality better than almost anyone I’ve ever read. Citing the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders, he lays out the diagnostic basis for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here it is, verbatim: (1) “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity or need for admiration indicated by (a) A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements) (b) Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance (c) Believes that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (d) Is interpersonally exploitative (e) Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.”
The diagnosis explains it all. No wonder they love to go into executive session. No wonder they love tightening that tax vice on us. No wonder they pretend they can’t hear us when we scream bloody murder.
Yet, strangely, they now seem to be worried about us. The complaints about “anonymous know-nothings” are mounting. I think we’ve hit a really raw nerve, which tells me we must be doing something right.
It’s taken a while, but we’ve gathered up the pitchforks and we’ve made our way down to the windmill where the man-made monster lives. He was amusing and harmless for a time. He liked to puff cigars and listen to the violin. But now he’s decided to tax the life out of us and it’s time to fight back. And that, I suspect, is why they want to silence or marginalize us. As F.A. Hayek once observed, “It is not difficult to deprive the great majority of independent thought. But the minority who will retain an inclination to criticize must also be silenced....Public criticism or even expressions of doubt must be suppressed because they tend to weaken pubic support....When the doubt or fear expressed concerns not the success of a particular enterprise but of the whole social plan, it must be treated even more as sabotage.”
Are we really that dangerous to the status quo? I’d like to think so, but I have my doubts. Rhetoric is our only weapon, and words, even if they’re as sharp and pointed as the prongs of a pitchfork, are no match for a speeding train.

Friday, August 31, 2012


When I was in my early twenties I gave serious thought to becoming a war correspondent. I was especially keen on the idea in 1965. I’d been in Vietnam for a couple of months, learning to deal with the long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. During those boring times we’d spend our off-duty hours doing the things GI’s do – complain. And why not? We had a lot to complain about. One of our buddies, a guy we knew affectionately as Foo the Farmer (his real name was Charlie Bock), would plunk away on a beat up guitar and sing, “And the money makers are makin’ more money all the time” over and over and over. We never tired of it. We’d sit in the glow of the parachute flares and the tracers from the AC47s’ miniguns that lit up the sky to our north and listen to Foo weave his magic spell. It didn’t matter that the guitar was out of tune or that Foo sang like the proverbial tone deaf organ grinder. He was telling the truth from our perspective and that’s what mattered. LBJ’s brain trust had their own reasons for our being there – the domino theory, alliances honored, right versus wrong. But, as we sat there listening to Foo, we felt a bit of strange comfort. Vietnam really was a huge sausage machine and the money makers were making a lot of money. But we had each other.
There were quite a few journalists covering the war.  Most of them concentrated on the geopolitics of Southeast Asia, but there were some who took an interest in what it was like to be a living, breathing expression of what bad political policy can do to a human being. One of them was a guy named Tom Tiede. Tom wrote field dispatches for Stars and Stripes. We loved him for it. He told our story.
The more I read, the more I wanted to become like him. He embodied everything I believe was noble about journalism.
That was years ago. I came back home, got married, had three kids, and everything changed. Being a war correspondent, no matter how noble, wasn’t conducive to the family life. So, I moved on. I occasionally wonder what might have happened if I’d pursued my dream. Would I have won an Ernie Pyle award like Tom Tiede did in 1965? I’ll never know.
What made Tom so special to us who served? A couple of his post-Vietnam dispatches will help you understand the depth of feeling he put into his craft:
“I recall walking through a U.S. mortuary at the Saigon airport, in tow of an officer who lifted the sheets on bodies without arms, arms without bodies, and wiped away the roaches that had drowned in drippings of blood on the gurneys.”
“So what is the rub of all this? Apart from the dishonesty of selective reporting, the sanitizing of warfare contributes to the array of forces that perpetuate warfare, one of which is public delusion. American wars are displayed as smart bombs and snappy colonels speaking of benevolent liberation. They are in fact men, women, and children dying like beasts, shrieking in horror. Were the latter the message, and not the former, peace might prosper more than it does.”
I think of Tom Tiede and draw the inevitable comparison between him and today’s crop of journalists. It’s not a pretty picture.
I suppose it’s always been that way. Thomas Jefferson once lamented, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Lyndon Johnson complained, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: "President Can't Swim.”
I’m not alone in my concern about the state of modern journalism. A just released Pew Research poll found that the public’s trust in news media has suffered serious declines since the beginning of the new millennium. In 2002, the New York Times was considered credible by 62% of us. In 2012, only 49% of us believe what the Grey Lady tells us. The same trend holds true for Fox, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, NBC, etc.
I think the survey is telling us two things. The public is longing for Tom Tiede’s, but they’re being bulldozed by celebrity journalists with even bigger agendas.
But, there is one sign of hope. Small outlets, those Pew described as “the daily paper you know best” are now deemed more credible than their giant counterparts.
Here in Emporia that means the Gazette. There’s a message in this for the Gazette’s young cubs. Journalism is a noble profession. It’s at its noblest when its practitioners put on the mantle of men like Tom Tiede. That’s what the public is hungry for.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


A couple of months ago Brian Protheroe penned a letter to the Gazette advancing the idea that we need a great national divorce. He suggested we find a way to amicably divvy up the community property. The “blues” would get the coasts, the Great Lakes, and any other piece of valuable real estate. The “reds” would get what’s left.

How generous!

I’ve had some time to think about it and I’ve decided I’m more partial to the philosophy of Woodie Guthrie. As I sit here typing I’m wandering back in my mind’s eye to September 13, 2011. Like everyone else in America, Nancy and I were numb from the pain of the 11th. We were sitting on a train of shell-shocked pilgrims bound from Williams, Arizona to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. About fifteen minutes into the trip a troubadour made his rounds from car to car, singing an old standard. As he did, the words reverberated, reminders of the things that bound us together: “This land is your land; this land is my land, from California to the New York islands. From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.” By the time he’d moved on there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.

I refuse to accept the notion that it’s time to part ways. The redwood forests are every bit as much mine as they are Mr. Protheroe’s. The gulf stream waters are every bit as much his as they are mine. The same holds true for our Constitution and Bill of Rights. We share these things in common. They’re OURS.

Divorces are messy. Rarely, if ever, are they amicable. They’re painful; everyone loses. Mr. Protheroe may think divorce is a good idea. I don’t.

America’s been down that road before. Before the divorce and bloodletting began, Abraham Lincoln pleaded with the nation in his first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” He asked America to look deep within its collective heart so that it could be “touched by the better angels of its nature.”

Tragically, the plea was ignored. The result was four years of death and destruction on an apocalyptic scale. If we’re not careful about how we approach our differences now, I fear this could be where we’re headed. We must not go there.

If coming together is essential to our national well-being, how do we get there? It’s a difficult question to answer. The sounds of division and discord seem to be omnipresent. Our dialogue, if it can be called that, has become rooted in rigidity and hate. Too few of us have any appetite for the once tried and true American notion of live and let live. There’s a new rule of community life. Our philosophical opposites must bend to our will. If they don’t, they’ll be exorcised like demons.

The anger is becoming white hot. A week or so ago, Dan Cathy, owner of the Chick-fil-A, responded to a question about marriage. Had he responded to the question three or four years ago he would have been in the majority. But, times have changed. A May 10, 2012 Gallup poll revealed that 50% of us favored same-sex marriage and 48% opposed it. Cathy expressed what has become a minority opinion. His response, understandably, angered many in the gay community. But, when politicians entered the fray, the issue became even more explosive. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that “Chick-fil-A’s values aren’t Chicago’s values” and threatened to deny Cathy franchise licenses. It was like lighting a stick of dynamite.

Given the shallowness of our leaders, how can we possibly come together?

We need to bypass the politicians and have a national chicken and ice cream social, with Chick-fil-A catering the chicken and Ben and Jerry catering the ice cream. A gentle conversation over some good spicy chicken and a cup of Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia might do us a world of good.
We can overcome our differences. I’ve seen it done in my lifetime. I’m a conservative, evangelical Christian. One of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve ever had was serving with two other engineers, one a devout Muslim and the other a lesbian. We were acknowledged as the best of the best, not only because of our professional competence, but because we truly learned to love and value one another. Not once in our two years together did we expect our mates to bend to our respective wills. It wasn’t always easy, but we did it.
That’s the way America should work. That’s the way we must make it work! If we refuse, I fear the divorce and the mayhem that follows will destroy us.

Friday, August 03, 2012


We’re in the midst of a drought of Biblical proportions here in flyover country and, strangely, my mind is on broken pipes, broken levees, and broken everything. As Bob Dylan put it, we’ve got “Broken hands on broken ploughs, broken treaties, broken vows, broken pipes, and broken tools.”

This all started for me last week. Nancy and I were in Kansas City. We spent part of our last morning in the big city wandering around Westport. Our primary purpose was to trade some of our books at Prospero’s Bookstore. We had two bags of them.

We arrived in Westport at about 9:30. Prospero’s wasn’t open yet. The guy cleaning up in front said they would open at about 9:45. So, we made our way from storefront to storefront along the street, reading menus and flyers. As we passed by one shop the following blurb, nestled between two “we are the ninety-nine” placards caught my eye:  When the people clamor to be shielded from reality, when they praise the government for keeping things from them, when they choose to conduct their lives within the limits of whatever fantasy the government supplies, then they are no longer consenting to be governed, they are begging to be ruled.” The quote was from Michael Ventura, a New York City native who has been writing a column titled “Letters at 3AM” since 1983. It’s currently published by the Austin Chronicle.

We made our way to the next storefront, which was an Indian restaurant. My mouth began to water as soon as I read the words “Mulligatawny soup.” But I couldn’t shake Ventura’s words. As I ambled along I couldn’t find myself agreeing 100% with him, but I couldn’t say he was all wrong, either. “There’s got to be some happy medium in life, some place where harmony and diversity do more than co-exist or make demands on those we disagree with. There’s got to be a place where we can consent to be governed without finding ourselves begging to be ruled.”

Prospero’s opened right on time. We browsed around for a bit and then began negotiations in earnest with the owner. “We’ve got some books we’d like to trade.” He paused for a second, then made his counter offer. “I hope you’re not wanting cash for these books. I’m broke.” “Nah,” Nancy replied, “just a swap would be fine.” With that, he made his final offer. “How about seventy-five bucks worth of store credit?” “Wonderful,” Nancy and I responded in unison. The deal was sealed on a 3 by 5 note card – “Seventy-five dollar store credit for Phil and Nancy Dillon.”

Assuming that our work was done, we started to leave. But, before we could, he asked an odd question. “Are you guys interested in what’s going on in this country?” I told him we were. “What’s your point of view? Is it conservative, progressive, tea party, the ninety-nine, libertarian, radical?” “Conservative,” I said proudly. The hint of a smile appeared on his face. “That’s alright, we can still do business.”

We made a bit more small talk and he apparently decided we were safe to be around. “I think I’m a radical. I just want the powers that be and the government to leave me alone. I guess that make me a radical, doesn’t it?” He paused for a moment, and then launched into the deep. “There are only three things I want – this bookstore, the freedom to grow a few of my “flowers” for medicinal use, and an occasional nude walk around the block at three in the morning.” I don’t want “them” bothering me and I don’t want to bother them.”

He’d made a pretty convincing case to me. All I could think to say in response was, “Whatever floats your boat.”

I think that’s what we all want. We want the same things our founders said they were fighting for – “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What could possibly be wrong with that?

How have we managed to stray so far? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks the moment we sat down for lunch at the Indian restaurant. I think our leaders like things as they are. It’s tea partiers versus the ninety-nines, it’s conservatives against liberals. It’s the have not’s clawing away at the haves. We’re at the boiling point and our leaders seem to be content with that. And why not. As long as we’re at each other’s throats, they maintain their grip on power and do nothing but argue about the price of passage on the Titanic, knowing that when we all hit the iceberg they’ll be manning the lifeboats and the rest of us will have to cast our fate to the icy waters.

It’s time to stop the insanity. It’s time to come together!

Thursday, August 02, 2012


Four days till the primary. I feel even more strongly now than when I started that a NO vote is the only responsible course of action.
Bob Agler and I recently took part in a KVOE on-air forum. Brian Creager and Roger Wells represented the vote yes side. Mr. Wells told everyone that the merger wouldn’t cost much at all. Brian Creager said that a NO vote might mean the elimination of 4H programs. Both complained about the numbers.
Was any of what they said true? No. Why were they saying it? They were using scare tactics designed to divert attention away from the central issues of this campaign – UNLIMITED, INDEPENDENT TAXING AUTHORITY AND LOSS OF LOCAL CONTROL!
 Is 4H going away? Absolutely not!   No one on our side of the issue has ever advocated the elimination of 4H or 4H programs. Lyon County has been generous and will continue to be generous to extension. We believe extension and the county commissioners can work together to achieve mutually satisfactory ends. That doesn’t require a merger.  
What’s this really about? It’s about money – YOUR money!
Why us? When you compare Lyon County to Franklin and Osage counties, it’s evident we’re poorer than them. Based on 2010 U.S. Census data, the people of Franklin and Osage counties average household incomes are 25% higher than ours (about $50 thousand for them versus $37 thousand for us). When it comes to poverty rates, ours is 11 to 14 percent higher than theirs (22.4% versus 8.4% and 11.5%).

Why would a poorer county like ours be so desirable?  It’s our total valuation. While Lyon County incomes are much lower, our total valuation is higher than Osage and Franklin counties. At the proposed startup mill levy, Lyon County would incur a significant property tax increase over its current level of extension support.  The people of Osage and Franklin counties would be the beneficiaries of a decrease from their current level of extension support. We’d be paying more; they’d be paying less. Money will be taken from the poorer county and given to the richer ones. Further, Lyon County would be assuming the lion’s share of the financial load for the new district – about 40%. When the Westar peaking plant comes on the Lyon County tax rolls in 2014, the total valuation would increase by about $100 million and we’d be taking on an even bigger share of the load.

Merger proponents have said that mill levies would more than likely go down over time. Not true. Of the fourteen districts, only nine had measureable data. Of those, almost half had significant increases. They also claim that any tax increases or decreases would be fully equally because of a common mil levy. That’s not true! Why? Because of the huge gap in valuation. Ours are higher and will actually increase when the peaking plant goes on the tax rolls. Lyon County will always bear the brunt of the burden. The common mill levy and our higher valuation means the overwhelming tax burden will always be ours. The gap between the richer county and the poorer ones will increase, not decrease.

In their glossies they call this a “tax shift.” Well, to paraphrase Ross Perot, “that giant sucking sound you’ll be hearing is your money being “shifted” all the way to Franklin and Osage counties!

The numbers are as frightening as they are accurate. Bob Agler’s analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau numbers demonstrate that the merger is a bad deal for Lyon County.

We understand Frontier District’s current difficulty. One of extension’s field directors spelled it out in a response to us. When asked about the merger, he said that without Lyon County’s revenue, Franklin and Osage county’s “mill levy and ad valorem taxes would need to be higher to meet their current expense budget.”
They’re trying to stave off an increase for Franklin and Osage counties at our expense. We shouldn’t be used to solve a problem we didn’t create.
That’s why we believe a no vote on August 7th is the responsible vote.
There’s one last thing. Not once during this campaign did merger proponents express any concern about other county departments or, for that matter, you. Have they expressed any concern about the onslaught of sales taxes on your horizon? Have they expressed any concern about the future of Newman Regional Health, the road and bridge department, or the public library? No! They’d have you believe it’s all about them. Well, this vote is really about all of us. The citizens of Lyon County have a shared destiny.  We all want a brighter future. We believe it begins with a No vote on August 7th. Then, on August 8th, the necessary work to ensure that our local extension and the people of Lyon County find mutually beneficial solutions can begin.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


“My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”   - Jack Kerouac

A couple of us ran afoul of the Gazette's monitor over the weekend. This past Saturday we found out that St. Catherine's Church wasn't going to be at the county fair this year. I've only been here thirteen years, but they've been a fixture at the fairgrounds ever since we came here. Every year Nancy and I have gone down, gotten in line with the crowds waiting patiently for the best tacos, tamales, and burritos in the world, possibly the universe. For ten bucks you can get the best meal money can buy. And, best of all, the money goes to support a great cause - St. Catherine's School.

As to why St. Catherine's isn't at the fair this year, no one can say for sure. There's some talk of local politics getting overheated. There's talk of high rental rates for space at the fair. St. Catherine's did find a place at the corner of Ninth and Commercial and set up their stand there. Nancy and I went over around noon and feasted. I asked the St. Catherine's crew why they weren't at the fair. All they said was, "It's a long story." I'll leave it at that.

How did we run afoul of the monitor? We shamelessly plugged the cause and the tacos on the Gazette website. I suppose the moderator was right. The forum isn't supposed to be an advertising medium. So, as I did yesterday, I plead guilty. It serves me and Create right for trying to channel Jack Kerouac so early on a hot Saturday morning.

This medium, my blog, however, is mine. So, I'm going to once agin shamelessly plug the world's greatest tacos.

Starting tomorrow, August 1st and running through Saturday, August 4th, those wonderful nuns and their support team will be cooking away at the church, which is located at 205 S. Lawrence St. here in Emporia. You can call them at 620-342-1368 to get more information about their hours of operation.

As I said, the tacos are absolutely wonderful, the nuns and the other good folks doing the work are down to earth, and the cause you'll support is well worth your attendance.

One last plug. Share this with your circle of Facebook friends. Let's get the word out. I realize some of the folks on my friends list aren't philosophically aligned with me. Please, set that aside for a minute and share it with your circle of friends. This isn't about me. It's about tacos and a great cause!