Tuesday, January 31, 2012


As of this morning we have twenty-three Lyon Countians circulating the petition to put the “extension decision” on the ballot. We’ve been out and about¸ engaging in a labor of love. Over the past week or so we’ve met a lot of wonderful folks.  Like us, they understand that the right to petition our leaders is precious. Our Founding Fathers weren’t given this right. They had to earn in. When they’d earned that right for themselves, they enshrined it for every future American generation. We intend to do our part to honor them and to honor our fellow citizens. We will meet the goal and the issue will then be decided at the ballot box.
We’ve told everyone, whether they are for or against the decision, that we would gladly accept their signatures on the petition. A few have declined. That’s also an American right. But, there’s something we’ve found mystifying. Some folks are being told they shouldn’t sign the petition. That’s unfortunate. All that we want, as petitioners, is to have the issue put to the vote. We want the people to decide. We believe that the collective wisdom of the people is always better than the wisdom of a few. That’s the American way.
There are moments when the notion that people shouldn’t sign this petition troubles us, but then we’re re-invigorated when we meet  folks as they gladly sign the petition or seek us out to sign it. We will meet our goal and we will all decide the issue in the voting booths.
No one in Lyon County has anything to fear from us. We’re your fellow citizens. We don’t fear your ability to reason. We don’t fear information flow. We don’t fear the outcome of a vote. We embrace all these things and believe that every citizen of Lyon County should as well.
When the issue is brought before the people there will plenty of time for debate. We expect it will be vigorous.
Right now our focus is on getting the required number of signatures on the petition. That’s a very personal task. Each signature is of great value. It represents one person. As the process unfolds the ones build upon one another until, collectively, they become the voice that says, “We the people!”
Those who favor the extension vote tell us that the extension service is made up of people too. We agree, and the generosity of the people of Lyon County reflects that understanding. Over eighty percent of the allocated dollars from the County to the local extension goes to agent salaries. Over eighty percent! The outcome of any vote won’t change that generous spirit.

But there’s another personal side to this issue. It’s the people of Lyon County. In his January 25th editorial Chris Walker expressed it beautifully. Tax increases, some large, some small, have placed a heavy burden on all of us. Collectively, they inhibit economic growth. They eat into fixed comes. They take money that could be spent buying or repairing homes. They take money that could be spent at local businesses. Proponents can say that the cost will be negligible, but, as they say in the backwoods, “That dog won’t hunt.” A penny or two here adds up to a significant amount to a small businessperson trying to keep the enterprise afloat. A portion of a mill here or there is often a backbreaker for someone living on minimum wage or a fixed income. What seems a small amount on one side of the equation adds up to a lot to the person on the other.

It’s very personal. I know. My property taxes have doubled in the thirteen years I’ve lived here. The same is most likely true for many of you.

For me and my wife it’s even more personal. We moved her mother to Emporia a few years back. Velma is 92. She’s a widow living on a fixed income. She’s not at all atypical in this county. She’s one of the many voices who want to be heard.

Before many of us were born, Velma spent the early forties working on a B-25 sub-assembly line, soldering the wiring for radio units. Her hand was steady. She took great pride in the quality of her work. She spent the post war years caring for her family, one of whom was developmentally disabled. She never complained. She was just doing what love required of a mother and a citizen.

Last week, as she was signing the petition, her hand trembled. It was no longer as strong and steady as it was in the forties. But Velma was determined to sign the petition.

Velma has earned the right to speak for herself. So have the people of Lyon County. This is what the people’s petition is all about!

Friday, January 13, 2012


The following post is primarily for Lyon County, Kansas residents. Those outside the county may, however, find the poitical intrigue here in the Heartland fascinating.

On January 5th, our County Commissioners¸ in a two to one vote, approved a resolution to allow the Lyon County extension service to merge with the Frontier District (Osage and Franklin counties).

In the wake of the vote many Lyon Countians expressed their displeasure. In informal polls conducted by the Gazette and KVOE, the displeasure could be clearly seen. Of the 1,209 citizens who expressed an opinion in either poll, 1,024 (85%) said they disapproved of the measure or believed the matter should be put to the voters. Some might say that informal polls carry no weight, but when one considers how difficult it is to get 85% of any community to agree on anything, I believe the polls carry considerable weight. About the only time a community expresses this much agreement would be about whether or not Mom’s apple pie is the best in the world or whether or not the world is actually round.

I’ve made no secret of what my opinion on this matter is, but this is not, in the strictest sense, an opinion piece. I think it is paramount that we get this issue to the voters. To that end, some of us have been preparing a petition to put it on the ballot. The drafts have been completed and approved by our County Attorney. All that remains in phase one is to circulate the petition to those registered to vote in the County. That process can begin on January 19th. From that point we will have a sixty day window to get the 1,000 signatures necessary to the County Clerk. I believe we can easily achieve that goal and possibly double that number.   

Once phase two begins, the debate and discussion will begin in earnest. Like others who share my view, I intend to give this my very best effort. A couple of days ago I told Steve Sauder when the time came I would be in the same frame of mind Joe Frasier was when he prepared to meet Muhammad Ali in Madison Square Garden. In a pre-fight press conference, Ali taunted Frasier. Frasier responded by telling Ali that in the ring, “I’m gonna’ be dead up in your nose hole.” I intend to fight hard on this issue. I hope and expect others will as well.

You’ll be seeing information coming out as things progress. As soon as we can make arrangements we’d like to have a brief meeting with those who would like to circulate petitions for signature. It’s going to be a labor intensive task, but, like any worthwhile endeavor, the rewards will be considerable.

I’d like to thank those who have already expressed interest in this petition. Thanks to Bob Agler, James Bordonaro, Steve Corbin, Tom Cotte, and Eldon Parkman. Thanks in advance to those who aren’t yet on the volunteer rolls, but will be. Thanks to Tammy Vopat, Marc Goodman, and their staffs for the timely review and input. Thanks to Steve Sauder and Chris Walker for seeing the importance of this issue and putting it before their respective audiences. Special thanks to Steve Corbin, who has been my mentor in this process. And, thanks to the Gazette’s “bloggers.” You guys often get a bad rap, but I believe that you’re an important part of this community. You’ve taken on the unenviable task of holding our leaders’ feet to the fire. You represent the voices of people in this community who have difficulty getting a hearing through more traditional platforms. Most importantly, you say what you say because you, too, care deeply about this community!

I’ve only lived here twelve years, but one of the things that has become clear to me is that many Lyon Countians have given up on our political process. That sense of futility is evident in the number of us who vote for candidates or issues that should be important to all of us. When 20% or less of us vote, it is not a sign of good community health.

Some may be frustrated in this case. But, we need you!  Please don’t tune this out. Let’s not make this another one of those times when less than 10% of us finally decide for the entire community.

This issue has the potential to change things for the better. It’s given us a real opportunity to come together. I’ve gotten calls of support from people of both high and humble estate since the Commissioners cast their votes.

So, the hard work begins. Sign a petition. Gather signatures. Be on the lookout for press releases. Call me; I’m listed. Stop by the Town Royal and have a chat with Steve Corbin. Write letters to the editor.

Let’s dig in and give it our very best. Then, when the time for debate comes, let’s fight hard and let’s fight…fair!

Thursday, January 12, 2012


The photo above is of Corina Nour, the Moldovan student who lived with us while she completed her Masters' work at Emporia State University.

Nancy and I are now full-time empty nesters. Corina Nour, the young Moldovan woman who came to live with us in 2003, has graduated and moved on to what we hope will be a wonderful life.
In the summer of 2003 Nancy and I were living a very quiet life. We’d just gotten back from a short vacation in Chicago. As soon as we got home, we began poring over the latest issues of the Gazette. We began with the crime blotter, catching up on the nefarious activities we’d missed while we were in Chicago. There was the usual dose of speeders and disobeyers of stop signs and traffic signals. There were more than a few “dogs at large” and note made of “worthless checks.” It felt good to be home.
After a while Nancy relayed some information she’d just read. Glen and Carol Strickland were looking    for host families for a couple of international students who needed a home for the upcoming high school year. One of the students was a young girl from Moldova. “Do you think we might be able to host this girl?” she asked. After a bit of gentle persuasion I agreed to make the application.
I didn’t realize it then, but a wonderful story was about to unfold.
We were expecting her to arrive in Emporia in early August. She arrived in New York in fine shape. However, as soon as she got into the terminal the lights went out. That was at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon on August 13th. They didn’t come back on until August 15th. It was the great summer blackout of 2003. What a welcome to America! She finally arrived in Wichita a few days after power was restored. She was easy for Nancy and me to spot. She appeared to be the most dazed and confused person in the terminal. After a few introductions we went to get her luggage. About a half-hour later we realized that the airline had lost that. Nancy and I both wondered what she must be thinking. “So this is what America is all about.” I made arrangements with the airline to deliver the bags to Emporia when they were found and we headed home.

As soon as we got home we took her to Wal-Mart to get her toothpaste, toiletries, pajamas and a few other things to see her through till her luggage arrived. I’ll never forget how amazed she was when she surveyed all the toothpaste. I think she was on the verge of tears. She told us she’d never seen anything like that in her life. In Molvoda, getting toothpaste meant one brand.

We got through the tough patch alright. The luggage arrived and Corina started school. She settled right in. One of the things we saw right away was that she was determined to make the most of the opportunity she’d been given. She really understood that America is a meritocracy and that hard work pays off. I never had to bird dog her about homework. She just dug right in. Her grades reflected her intense commitment to excellence.

The year moved so fast. We knew we’d come to love Corina, but we didn’t know how much until it was time to take her back to the airport for her flight home. We cried and clung to her. And she cried and clung to us. She didn’t want to leave. But, unfortunately, sometimes the good things in life do have to end.

Corina got back to Moldova and settled back into her life. She completed her undergraduate work in Romania. We continued to correspond with her. Somewhere in the process I saw an opportunity for her to come back. We offered to underwrite her first year of Masters’ work. It wasn’t long till we were welcoming her back to Emporia.

She settled in once more. As it was with her high school work, she excelled in everything she did. She was awarded a graduate assistantship. She got a part time job at the Granada. We taught her to drive. She got a license and a car. We couldn’t see it clearly then, but these things were all part of the Americanization of Corina.

She graduated just before Christmas with a Master’s in Business. Her G.P.A. was 4.0.

She left for San Francisco a week or so ago. She starts a full-time job with Cisco Systems in mid-January.

So, Nancy and I are empty nesters once more. We miss Corina already, but we also feel very gratified. We’ve been a part of something special. A young woman, from the poorest country in Europe, has blossomed when the door of opportunity was opened. It’s the kind of story, I think, that could only take place in America.

Monday, January 09, 2012


We all have them, those times when we sense a fog hanging over the whole earth. I don’t often have them, but today is one of those days. Not much that I see seems to make sense.
I watched the news this morning. They’ve apparently caught the guy who set all those fires in L.A. I can’t figure out how many loose screws a man must have to hate America or people so much he’d be willing to burn the whole city down.
I turned the channel and saw that the Iranian mullahs are telling us we’d better not send one of our aircraft carriers into the Straits of Hormuz. In North Korea a new boy genius has taken his place at the helm.  He’s decided it’s not worth his time to talk to his brothers in sisters in Seoul. I sense that on some future slow news day he’s going to uncork the lunatic plan he’s been hatching while his “dad” was wasting away. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The Iowa Republican caucuses are, mercifully, over. Are you like me? Did you get the sense we were watching a pack of overweight jockeys beating the devil out of lame horses up there? The Democrats can hardly contain their glee at the prospects for them just a few months from now. I think we’re gonna’ see “hope and change” updated and recycled, which means America will be faced with a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. “I don’t suppose there’ll be a tree left standing, for ever so far around, by the time we’re finished.”
It’s a new year, which means folks are making resolutions. Lady Gaga’s made hers. “Never be afraid to be kicked in the teeth. Let the blood and bruises define your legacy.” It just goes to show you how far a person can go in life after some time in a convent and New York University’s School of the Arts.
Matt Drudge rang in the New Year bragging. Apparently his site was visited over 10 billion times in 2011. No wonder. The uplifting headlines say it all. “Man disguised in bandages robs pharmacy.” “Armed clashes erupt in central Tripoli.” “Americans buy record number of guns going in to New Year.” “Bachmann top vote getter in Iowa coffee bean caucus.” I guess it’s all the news that’s fit, or unfit, to compile nowadays.
Right around Christmas ten year old Nicholas Taylor of Smyrna, Tennessee ran afoul of school officials. His crime? He was eating a piece of pizza in the school cafeteria. After taking a couple of bites another student suggested that the piece of pizza looked a bit like a gun. Nicholas then playfully “brandished” the pizza. School officials consigned Nicholas to a “silent table” like a hockey goon being banished to the penalty box.  He was also required to meet with a school resource officer to learn about gun safety. One hates to consider what continued offenses might bring. The Ritalin room, perhaps? Somewhere in America a libertarian commented he’d be willing to bet if Nicholas had bitten the pizza into the shape of a hammer and sickle school officials would have given him a full scholarship to Harvard. As an aside, have you ever heard of a bank robber accosting a teller with? “Gimmee the money or I’ll drill you full of pepperoni and capers.” Me, neither.
Here at home the movers and shakers are trying to find ways to shake what little money we have left in our pockets out of us. Some of them are dreaming of bigger ball fields. Some are skulking around, trying to get unlimited taxing authority. Rumor has it that local rock salesmen are getting excited again. I hope when they’re done they leave us a buck or two for beer money.
I’m having a hard time trying to make things add up. I’m told the world is round. I’m not so sure. Today it looks a lot more like a Rubik’s cube with none of the colors matching up. Reds are colliding with yellows and blues are exploding against the greens. And, there are no nine year old prodigies or political messiahs waiting in the wings that can twist it all back together or legislate the problems away.
I wonder if all this false sense of hope has something to do with the nature and shape of competing illusions interacting on a cosmic scale. In my younger days it was Bobby McNamara’s jut-jaw on one hand and Fidel Castro’s beard on the other. These days we have Barrack Obama’s toothy smile on one side of the divide and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s icy stare on the other.
I survey the madness and it confirms to me the decision I made to walk toward heaven those many years ago.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


Nancy and I had a brief conversation this morning. She likes the stream of thought I'm in right now. Hence, I've decided to post more frequently to my blog and Facebook. I'm not too worried about how much of an audience I get. It's more important for me to just get my thoughts out there. As we talked this morning we both agreed that we seem to do our best stuff when we labor in obscurity.

With that in mind, my latest follows. It's titled "THE COME TO JESUS MEETING." I hope it strikes a chord or two.

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about religion invading the public sphere, most of it negative. Some of it’s justified. Some of it isn’t. One thing you don’t hear a lot of is the spillover from the public square to the realm of religion. It’s interesting, really, and it’s rarely noticed. Modern businessmen, politicians, economists, environmentalists¸ and pundits sound eerily similar to the Calvinists of 16th century Europe. And, listening to 21st century politicians gives one the sense he or she is sitting in a pew or a New England meadow while Jonathan Edwards preaches his “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
I first encountered this phenomenon in the corporate world. I’d been assigned to duties at FedEx’s corporate headquarters. Working in a corporate environment was interesting enough by itself. When religion got mixed in it became absolutely fascinating.
The centerpiece of corporate labor is the “meeting,” with e-mail reading coming in a close second. It was upon getting wind of one of those meetings that I got my baptism (note the religious language) into the ways of the corporate environment.

One of my peers came by my office at about 8:30. She peeked in and said, “Well, I’m off to a come to Jesus meeting. We’re gonna’ get that Gateway project hammered out if it’s the last thing we do.” My curiosity was immediately aroused. “Is logistics invited to this meeting?”
“I’m afraid not. It’s just sales and finance.”
“You don’t suppose I could crash it, do you? I’d really like to see what Jesus has to say about the Gateway project.”
I got a look of cool disdain in response and off she went.

I never did find out what Jesus said at that meeting, but I’ve occasionally given thought to what he might have said had he been there. Calvin Coolidge once said that the business of America is business. And, of  course the heart of business is profits. I can almost see’ Jesus’ PowerPoint presentation as I write. I can see barns, followed by bigger barns, and bigger barns yet. The trend lines are quite impressive. They look like hockey sticks, starting on the low scale in year one and rocketing into the stratosphere as the years pass. Business couldn’t be better. It’s time to “eat, drink, and be merry.” Then Jesus abruptly shifts gears. “You fools!” His eyes are piercing, burning their way right into souls. “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

I think there are a lot of times when business folk try to use Jesus as some sort of clever business tool to gin up the profits or “evangelize” customers. It’s almost impossible for them to imagine a Jesus who might say, “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” If they only knew, I don’t think they’d be nearly as preoccupied with squeezing Jesus into their business model. They’d be pleading for mercy instead of poring over spreadsheets.

The business community is often shameless in the way it tries to co-opt Jesus to further corporate ends. Politicians, however, are beyond being shameless. They seem to be perpetually in campaign mode. Their stump speeches are full of religious language – “We’ve got to get the ‘word’ out.” “The oceans will recede.” “We’re on a great crusade to reclaim America.”

We’ve heard it all so often it’s become like white noise. We’d like to believe them, but we know we can’t. We know it’s hypocrisy. We see them going in poor and coming out rich. We see it and we know. They think we’re living under a veil of deception¸ but we’re not nearly as dumb as they think we are.

No, as much as politicians love to use the language of Holy Writ, they really wouldn’t want Jesus to get into the middle of their stump speeches, their sumptuous feasts with the lobbyists, or the scheming done in executive session. They’d be squirming from the moment the first word was uttered. “Woe to you, because you love the most important seats and greetings in the marketplaces.” “Woe be to you because load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known.” “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear of the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”

Do I think these 800 words will change much? I doubt it. Once religion gets co-opted and perverted it becomes a constant matter of trying to pull camels through the eyes of needles.