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.