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!  

Monday, July 30, 2012


The primary is a few days away. It’s been a tough fight.
Folks have asked me what I’d do if the “vote yes” side carries the day. I’ll congratulate them, of course. I’d be disappointed, but elections come and go and the disappointment over the loss in an election couldn’t come close to the ache I felt in my heart when I lost my old buddy Jack. I’d lose a hundred elections if it would bring him back to greet me with that wagging tail in the morning. And, when I think more about it, I can only imagine how deep the well of grief might have been in me if one of my children or grandchildren had been at that theatre in Aurora a few days ago. I’d have been absolutely distraught.
There really are more important things in life than election results.
Besides, there will be other windmills to chase. Emporia and Lyon County have enough to last a man a hundred lifetimes. The windmills are actually getting bigger and bigger, so I intend to keep flailing away all the harder. I have to chase them. I won’t give in.
Lyon County didn’t get the way it is now, with its skyrocketing poverty, lack of a coherent economic development plan, and downright neglect, by accident. This long, slow, tortured descent is the result of careful planning on one hand and a blind eye turned from the inconvenient facts that years of neglect have piled up in the “less desirable” parts of the community.
I’ve often heard during this campaign that I tended to focus too much on Lyon Countians with low or fixed incomes and the impact our political decisions have on them. I am proud to plead guilty to the charge.  I intend to maintain my guilt.
In the run-up to the election I’ve heard from Emporia’s elites grudgingly admit that “A dollar is a dollar” or ask quizzically “What’s the big deal? This will cost less than a slice of pizza.” There’s the milk of human kindness for you.
They have absolutely no understanding.  That dollar they so glibly talk about is far more critical to the folks living at or below our 22% poverty rate than it is for the mighty. The proposition that concludes that because person “A” can afford getting whacked, everyone else, including the poor, can too, is seriously flawed. Using that logic, dogs become cats, the wealthy become the superior class, and the poor become useless. Only honor graduates of the Marie Antoinette School of public policy could think that way. It makes me want to puke.
When it comes to guilt and “excessive” concern for the poor and marginalized, I believe I stand in the very best of company. In 1935, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the "Little Flower," filled in for a judge at night court. An elderly woman, a grandmother, was brought before him. She’d been caught stealing a 50 cent loaf of bread. La Guardia asked her if she was guilty. She said she was. She explained that her daughter was sick and her children had nothing to eat.  Desperation had driven her to steal. LaGuardia then asked the shopkeeper if he wanted to press charges. He did, explaining that his store was in a bad neighborhood and he needed to discourage criminal activity. The penalty for the crime was ten dollars or ten days in jail. LaGuardia took ten dollars out of his wallet and gave it to the bailiff. The legal requirement met, LaGuardia then ordered the bailiff to collect 50 cents from everyone in the courtroom except for the woman. He explained that he was fining everyone for living in a city where a destitute grandmother had become so desperate she felt the only thing she could do was steal a loaf of bread to feed her loved ones. The bailiff collected $47.50, gave 50 cents to the shopkeeper and the rest to the woman. It’s said that everyone in the courtroom, including the shopkeeper, gave LaGuardia a standing ovation.
So, I gladly admit my guilt. I pray that I remain this guilty for the rest of my life. I pray I remain willing to keep flailing away. Then, when all is said and done I’ll leave my guilt in the capable hands of my Advocate. My faith tells that he’ll say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!” That’ll be more than good enough for me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The August 7th primary election is less than a month away.
The issue of whether or not the people of Lyon County will approve the merger of our local extension with the Frontier district is on the ballot. Thanks to all those who petitioned, we get to decide. I’m one of the many Lyon Countians who is against the merger. I’m going to vote “NO!”
The lines in the debate have been drawn. I’ve read the pro merger literature and I’ve seen nothing that convinces me to change my vote. The more I see, the more I’m convinced that this merger isn’t a good idea.
It’s not a good idea for many reasons.
First, an approved merger will give the new district independent, unlimited taxing authority over the people of Lyon County. Merger proponents don’t like to hear that, but facts are facts.
What would that mean for Lyon County? Lyon County currently provides a $223,900 budget allocation to our local extension. The merger would increase our contribution to the merged district by 36.5%. That’s an increase of about $82,000 over our current contribution. Then, when motor vehicle taxes are factored in, Lyon County’s contribution increases by $123,000 over our current provision. That’s an increase of 54.9%!
If the merger is approved, Lyon County would be providing 40.8% of the total extension district’s support.
Merger proponents have claimed that the history of extension districts has demonstrated that mill levies have “almost always” gone done once the merger is approved. That’s not true. Based on the actual history, there are about as many districts where the levy has gone up as have gone down. The Meadowlark district levy has increased by 22.25% since 2006. River Valley’s has increased by 22.55% during the same time frame. Sunflower district’s have increased by 15.51% since 2007. Based on the Meadowlark district’s history, the individual taxpayer in Lyon County could easily expect an increase of 67% in his or her contribution to extension.
Merger proponents have claimed that any increase to the taxpayer wouldn’t amount to much. I think people know better. The increase would mean that Lyon Countians would have less disposable income, a cart or two of groceries, a couple of trips to the Flint Hill Cinema, a few meals out after a long, hard week of labor, or plants purchased at the annual garden show or a local business. For a small business struggling to compete, it would compound the struggle by a factor of over 2. Merger proponents say the increase wouldn’t amount to much. The truth is, it’s like telling the frog plunked in a pan of warm water that the flames under the pot aren’t going to hurt him.
Merger proponents say they will create efficiencies and economies of scale. Not true! Economies of scale drive costs down, not up, and the merger, based on their numbers will increase the costs of extension by 54.9% at startup! In an economy of scale, manpower requirements would decrease. Merger proponents haven’t shown us there will be any decreases in manpower. The truth is, there are no economies of scale to be created here.
Merger proponents have told us what this is about. Dale Fjell told us it’s “another way to generate income.” Brian Creager told us “we set OUR mill levy.” A few weeks ago, Mr. Creager said the merger was necessary so that they wouldn’t have to operate at the “WHIM” of Lyon County.
This merger has nothing to do with efficiencies and economies of scale. It has everything to do with money and independent, unlimited taxing authority.
Some merger proponents have said we are against extension. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have no personal axes to grind. We are simply against the merger. We believe that the best course of action is for extension to continue submitting its budget requests to the Lyon County Commission and allow the commissioners to make prioritized decisions on our behalf. Right now, for example, Newman Regional Health is requesting a 2 mill allocation to purchase an MRI machine. The County Library is requesting a 5% increase to cover revenue shortfalls at the state level. County departments all have needs. Extension’s requested “need” should be weighed in that light, not independent of it.
Is extension operating at the “whim” of Lyon County? Absolutely not! We’ve been generous. Since 2006, our allocation to extension has increased by 7.41%. For extension, that has meant an increase of over 10% in expenditures for wages and an increase of 20% in benefits. Overall, Lyon County provides 72% of extension’s budgeted revenue.
A no vote on August 7th wouldn’t change that generosity.
It’s time to say no! It’s time tell merger proponents that their “it’s only a little bit” strategy is a dog that won’t hunt. It’s time to say you’re not going to continue to be the slow boiled frog. I encourage everyone in Lyon County to vote no on the extension merger. You can do that early at the courthouse or you can do it on August 7th at your precinct polling place. It’s important that you vote and it’s really important that you vote NO!

Thursday, July 05, 2012


By the time you read this, the chorus of “ooh’s” and “ah’s” that accompanied the fireworks will be a memory and the lingering smell of expended fireworks may still be in the air. But, the American flags that hover over our federal, state, and local facilities or wave in front of homes all around town will be there long after the memories and the smell of gunpowder have dissipated.

In the epilogue to his 2001 book, “Making Patriots,” Walter Berns recounted the story of a foreign diplomat who was visiting the U.S. Embassy in his home country. As the man approached the compound, a young Marine was beginning to ceremonially lower the two American flags at the entrance. For about ten minutes the diplomat watched in amazement as the young Marine reverently lowered the flags and folded them. He then placed them on a stand in front of the Chancery. Once his tasks were complete, he apologized for the delay and said, “Thank you for waiting, Sir. I had to pay honor to my country.”

It was a simple act, but it made a powerful impression on the diplomat. He told Berns, “I have had to tell this story because there was something about a lone Marine carrying out a ceremonial task which obviously meant very much to him and which, in its simplicity, made the might, the power and the glory of the United States of America stand forth in a way that a mighty wave of military aircraft, or the passage of a super-carrier, or a parade of 10,000 men could never have made manifest.”

 I’ve spent the better part of a day wondering about that young Marine. Was he just an aberration? After all, patriotism isn’t as fashionable in America as it was a generation or so ago. Long before he wrote “Making Patriots,” Berns told the story of 4th of July party he attended while he was on the faculty of Cornell University. When someone asked the wife of an economics professor if she had enjoyed the fireworks, she responded, “Yes, but I could have done without all the flag waving.”

Berns didn’t know why the woman disliked the flag waving. Maybe she’d been the victim of discrimination. After all, women haven’t had it easy in this country. They didn’t get the right to vote until late in our history. Even today, the right to equal pay for equal work is still more of an ideal than a reality for many American women.

Unfortunately, our national pilgrimage toward a “more perfect union” has often been painful. African-Americans came to America as bondsmen. They were deemed non-persons and denied the rights that come with citizenship. Minorities of all stripes, Hispanics, Irish, Chinese, Jews and Arabs have all had to scratch and claw their way up the ladder of the American dream.  We’ve had to pay in blood to correct the injustice of slavery. We’ve had to march in the streets when our political leaders refused to listen to us.

But, there are still quite a few of us who continue to wave the flag. Why? Are we fools who’ve lost our grip on reality? Not at all! We flag wavers are actually quite realistic. We’re keenly aware of this country’s shortcomings, but we love this country nonetheless.

I grew up embracing the ideal of America as "a city on a hill," yet I spent my early life in Boston’s shabby tenements and government housing projects. I served a tour in Vietnam, believing that we all had a responsibility to serve our country, yet I never met the son of a policy maker in the year I was there. I understood the bitter realities of life as well as any man and I wasn’t the only one. In 1965, a young man named Milton Olive became the first African-American recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. He was on patrol in the Iron Triangle when an enemy soldier threw a grenade at him and four of his fellow soldiers. He picked the grenade up in his right hand and pulled it to his body, taking the full force of the blast. He died almost instantly. The others lived. There were no dramatic last words. If there had been I think it would have been fitting for them to have been, “I had to pay honor to my country.”

Milton Olive had felt the sting of prejudice many times in his life, but he was willing to sacrifice his life for others. Was he just a flag waving fool? Was he a pawn or a dupe? No! Milton Olive was, in the truest sense, an American patriot. We need more like him, not less.