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.