Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Basics of Barbecue

Have I ever told you about my kids?
I’ve been blessed with three, each of whom has made me immensely proud as they reached adulthood.

Readers of this newspaper are most likely to know of the one who bears my name, Rod Jr., my oldest son. “RJ”, as he is often called, has followed closely in my footsteps, working with me as both a newspaper editor and political consultant. Despite this obvious error in judgment, I am proud of him. Everyone who works with him in either field – newspaper or politics – comes away impressed with his skills.

My step-daughter, Amy, has spent the last two years as a public school teacher in Charleston and Berkeley counties. She earned her Masters from the College of Charleston in Early Childhood Education, and has a passion for helping to develop young minds that few possess. She, too, has made me very proud.

And then there is my second son, Ross, who some have a hard time believing is my son at all, due to (a) his distinguished stint in the military, and (b) his apparent normal lifestyle. While it’s true that I personally have a hard time wrapping my mind around things like the military or a normal, 9-to-5 job, I am nonetheless both proud of and impressed with his accomplishments. He graduated from Annapolis, served as a U.S. Navy submarine officer, taught Naval Sciences at the University of South Carolina, and is now enrolled in Law School.

A while back, however, I discovered that Ross does have one redeeming departure from normalcy: he writes a very popular blog entitled “Barbecue and Politics” (scbarbecue.blogspot.com).

While his political commentary is insightful and entertaining, his reviews of Barbecue establishments from across the state are critical in answering one of life’s most fundamental questions: “Where can you get the best Barbecue?”

Since, as the old saying goes, “the apple don’t fall too far from the tree”, I’m pretty sure I, too, have some useful BBQ knowledge to impart. And, now that Memorial Day is passed, and we’re well into Barbecue season, I thought I would review some of the Bar-B-Q basics to help you get your summertime off to a good start.

Let me emphasize that it is NOT necessary for everyone to memorize these BBQ basics… only if you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, in which case it is a critical and necessary part of surviving.

BBQ Basic #1: There are about ten different ways to spell barbecue, and they are all correct: Barbecue, Barbeque, Bar-B-Cue, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Q, BBQ, etc. Fact of the matter is, it’s danged near impossible to MISspell the word.

BBQ Basic #2: It is not always necessary to capitalize the word Barbecue… only when it is written, spoken, or dreamt of.

BBQ Basic #3: There are three officially-recognized kinds of sauce -- Mustard-based, ketchup-based, and vinegar-based – and the vinegar stuff don’t always count.

BBQ Basic #4: Cooking slabs of pork, beef, poultry, etc., over a fire is “Barbecuing”; Cooking hotdogs or hamburgers on a grill is “grilling”… although the term “barbecue” has been Yankeefied to erroneously refer to the latter as the former. (Note: It’s not proper to capitalize the word “barbecue” when you’re erroneously referring to “grilling out”.)

BBQ Basic #5: Barbecue is good.

BBQ Basic #6: Barbecue is also fattening. Get over it.

BBQ Basic #7: The word Barbecue can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. In some counties, also an interjection.

BBQ Basic #8: Summertime is Barbecue time. If you’re in the South, and you do NOT eat Barbecue on Memorial Day, July Fourth, or Labor Day… hope you enjoyed your stay, now you can go back up North.

BBQ Basic #9: There are only a few acceptable foods to eat along with Barbecue: Hash and rice, baked beans, sliced bread, coleslaw, and hush puppies. If anyone tries to pawn off anything else on you (i.e. – French fries, salad, baked potato, etc.), tell’em to take it back and bring you some HASH!

BBQ Basic #10: Barbecuing is a skill… a lot like rocket science. Don’t try it at home. Leave it to the professionals. (If you have any trouble finding a place to eat Barbecue, feel free to send me an email: RodShealy@aol.com. I’ll consult with my young’uns and let you know the best place for you.)

Have a good summer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You should do it, too!

Every week, I “do” the First Amendment. I take advantage of one of the four basic freedoms which have been guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States: Freedom of the Press. I also regularly take advantage of the other three: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom to Peaceably Assemble.

You should, too.

These freedoms make our system of government work. Our Democratic Republic is designed to allow majority rule while protecting the rights of the minority. The system works best if we have an informed public… which is possible because of our individual freedoms to express our personal opinions, and even to try to sway the opinions of others. Freely sharing opinions on the important issues of the day helps insure that the information received by the public is balanced. Like your vote, your opinion can make a difference.

This was all brought to mind last week by the Republican Presidential Debate hosted in Columbia. The folks from the Fox Network, which sponsored the debate, asked me to meet them for an on-camera interview -- in my role as a political strategist -- to talk about the significance of our state’s primary.
Back in 1986, when I helped re-write the rules of the SC Republican Party as Chairman of its Rules Committee, I succeeded in making our Presidential Primary a permanent fixture, based on the success of our first primary in 1980. Consequently, our state’s Primary is rather unique: It was not established by state law, but rather by party rules. As such, our Republican Party can hold the primary at any time we choose… and since its 1980 inception, we have chosen to hold it before any other Southern state’s primary.

A few years ago, SC’s Democratic Party followed suit, and created their own Presidential Primary, and also positioned it as the first in the south.

Because our primaries are held before virtually all other states, they tend to carry greater weight toward choosing the next president.

In fact, the winner of the SC Republican Presidential Primary has gone on to win the nomination every time!!!

I have often said it’s not a coincidence that Reagan, Bush, Bush again, Dole and Bush (W) have each gained the nomination after winning in South Carolina. They each gained the nomination BECAUSE they won in South Carolina.

Our state, it turns out, has been THE turning point in each election. The momentum a candidate gains from winning the Palmetto State seems to make him unstoppable thereafter.

This means each of us here in the Palmetto State has an obligation of sorts to help make sure we choose correctly. Our actions will likely determine the next leader of the free world!

Between now and our 2008 Primary (which will probably be held in January), I encourage you study the candidates of your party carefully, make your decision, and then get involved to make your opinion count. One good way to make your opinion known is to write a letter to the editor of this paper.

As for myself, I haven’t yet made my decision, but when I do, I’ll share my opinion and try to persuade others to see my point of view.

I’ll be using my First Amendment rights. You should, too.


You’re always welcome to let me know you agree, disagree, can’t make sense of, or simply don’t care about anything I’ve written here… or about any other topic that happens to be on your mind. You can email me directly at: RodShealy@aol.com.

And, if reading it once just wasn’t enough for you, read it again online – along with previous columns -- at my new blog: www.doingthefirst.blogspot.com

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Demise of Snail-Mail

One of the good things our postal carriers do each year is their annual “canned food” drive which they conduct during May. On the designated Saturday – which happened to be last Saturday – each carrier collects food along his or her route from postal patrons who leave donations at their mailboxes. At the end of the day, the postal carriers donate all the food to help feed the hungry.

It’s a really good PR move for the postal service, but, of course, it slows down delivery on that Saturday.

This year, it was even slower, because last Saturday was also the final mail-service day before the new 2-cent postal rate increase took effect. Untold millions of mailers took advantage of that final day to slip in a little extra mail at the lower rate.

Two things occurred to me:

1. I felt really bad for the carriers. It was the perfect storm for them, because in addition to rate-increase mail and cans of food, there were also millions and millions of Mothers Day cards being delivered.

2. I wondered whether there had been a major lapse in planning for the higher-ups at the Post Office to have scheduled their rate increase for the same weekend as the food drive.

Then, of course, the light went off! They probably did it on purpose! Why not take advantage of the postal service’s best PR of the year – the food drive – to slip in the worst PR of the year – the rate increase? Brilliant!

Just when I was thinking the Big Guys at the P.O. had rocks in their heads, they slip in the slickest PR move of the decade. The spin-masters of Wall-Street, Hollywood, and Washington, DC, should all be envious.

I have my own personal theory about the rate increase.

I believe their real intention is to honor the Founder of the Postal Service – Benjamin Franklin – by steadily raising postage rates until the price of a stamp requires you to use a monetary unit which bears his likeness.

During the past decade or so which has seen the development and proliferation of the Internet (and its off-spring, Email), old-fashioned snail mail has been assumed by many to be on its way to becoming a dinosaur… a thing of the past. During this decade or next, we were informed, we would witness the demise of the Postal Service.

But it hasn’t worked out that way. The good ole-fashioned US Mail is at an all-time high, and growing exponentially. It’s booming! While email has replaced some formerly snail-mailed correspondence -- as has the easy availability of nationwide, even global, telephone service – a new wave of mail has more than taken its place.

Technology has opened endless new possibilities for direct-mail marketing, which is by far the largest volume of mail.

And E-Commerce – which is a fancy way of saying you bought something from an Internet website – has created a greater-than-ever demand for cross-country delivery of items… which would previously have been purchased from a shop down the street.

Put it all together, and you have a mail boom which has frankly exploded almost faster than the USPS could handle. To process the daily tons of extra mail, they’ve called upon even more technological advancements: computerized machines which can sort the mail hundreds of times faster than humans – UNLESS the mail is of a shape or size that the machine doesn’t like. In that case, it’s back to the old way of sorting… AND your postage rate didn’t increase by two cents; it DOUBLED!!!

All of which I bring to your attention as a sort-of salute to the hard-working men and women of the USPS… the carriers, the sorters, the whole gang. They work hard, they’re more dependable than Ole Faithful, and deserve the wages they earn. AND… once a year, they pick up cans of food to help feed the hungry!

Unfortunately, the extra loot the USPS started raking in this week is mostly NOT going to pay-raises for them, but instead to investments in additional personnel, new technology, and extra facilities needed to handle “the demise of the Postal Service”.

Testing, Testing.... 1,2,3....

Is this thing on?

Roots and Wings

There’s a cute little saying that perhaps you’ve heard: “It’s nice to be important… but it’s more important to be nice.”

I grew up with that saying. I first heard it from my mom. I think we even had it on a placard hanging somewhere in the house. And I heard it repeated often while I was growing up.

It stuck with me.

Over the years, any time I started heading down the path of feelin’ a little more important about myself than I actually was, those words would always rescue me. (It worked out well, because there really wasn’t anything I had done which could rightfully be classified as “important”, anyway.)

And, over the years, being nice to others has become something I believe in. I’m sure I occasionally slip up, but I do genuinely try to always consider the feelings of others and simply “be nice” to them. It’s probably one of my few good habits.

There’s a reason I’m telling you about my try-to-be-nice habit this week: I happen to know exactly how I acquired it as I was growing up.

I acquired the habit because my mom did more than TELL my siblings and me that cute little saying. She also SHOWED us that it was more important to be nice. She set an example of being nice to others that made an indelible impression on us.

In the 53 years I’ve been on this earth, I’ve never heard my mom say an unkind word about another soul. Nor have I seen her act in an uncaring manner toward anyone.
There is a seemingly endless list of names of those who she has uplifted, befriended, commended, promoted, supported, boosted, complimented, elevated, or otherwise helped. But never once have I heard a disparaging remark about anyone from her.

For my entire life, I’ve only seen her be nice.

It created a footprint which cannot be erased from my mind.

She had another favorite saying that I heard her repeat from time to time. She said “Children learn what they live.”

And that, I believe, is why she has spent a lifetime being nice. She knew that the examples she set for her children are what would eventually determine both our roots and our wings. For those roots and wings, I am thankful.
As Americans pause this weekend to celebrate the most worthy of holidays -- Mothers Day -- we’ll each have our own special memories of our own moms.

I hope your Mothers Day is as special to you as mine is to me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cinco de Mayo, Y’all

This week is Cinco de Mayo. It’s a Mexican National Holiday – May 5th -- that we probably ought to get used to.

In recent years, more and more Americans have started observing the occasion with Cinco de Mayo parties, as an opportunity to celebrate Mexican culture. (“Celebrating Mexican culture” is really just another way of saying “drinking tequila”.)

Growing up in the Midlands of South Carolina in the 1960’s, I was not exposed to very much Hispanic tradition. Most of what I knew about Mexico was what I had gleaned from my visits to “South of the Border” in Dillon County on I-95. (Years later, I was taken aback to learn that the convenience stores in Mexico are NOT lined with wall-to-wall video poker machines.)

In high school, circa 1970, when I was mandated by state law to study a foreign language, I was given a choice between Spanish or French. I wanted to choose the one which would be most useful in my later life, so naturally I chose French. What possible use would I ever have for Spanish? Where was I more likely to travel? Paris or El Burrito?

Then, in the early 80’s, when the Shealy family was flown to Los Angeles to appear on the show “Family Feud” – true story, we’ll get to it another time – we were asked the now famous “Mexican food” question. Richard Dawson, the shows host, announces: “One hundred Americans surveyed, top five answers on the board… Name your favorite Mexican food!”

Blank stares from the Shealy family. It was the early 80’s, before the Age of Taco Bell, and we were from Lexington County, in the middle of the Deep South, home of grits, fatback, and collard greens. We were having trouble thinking of ONE Mexican food, let alone five!

Over the years, I’ve tried to gain a better understanding of our neighbors to the south. I like some of their traditions, especially the one about taking a nap in the middle of every afternoon: the siesta! Now that’s a tradition I could learn to love, especially at my age. Granted, the hour out of the workday probably hasn’t been the greatest stimulus for their national economy… gross national product, gross domestic product, etc. But pesos aren’t everything, right? I vote for the nap.

Now, the “worm-in-the-beer” tradition… I’m not so sure about that one. (You have to drink some pretty nasty beer to get to that worm!)

Until recently, I always thought Cinco de Mayo was Mexican Independence Day. Not so. May 5th commemorate the day in the 1860’s the Mexicans beat the French! Frankly, I think it’s an awful lot of hoopla to celebrate beating an army of chefs and artists. The Girl Scouts could beat the French.

The actual Mexican Independence Day is later in the year, September 16th. We Americans celebrate that time of the year, but we call it a different name: Football Season!

Since we don’t really pay attention to Mexico in September, I’ll continue to think of Cinco de Mayo as their national celebration.

All of which brings me to the issue that seems to be weighing heavy on the American consciousness these days: Illegal Immigration.

Why are all those Mexicans coming here?

Why do the leave a homeland where they can take a nap every afternoon, to come pick our produce, wash our dishes, roof our houses, and dig our ditches? Why are they leaving their families and risking their lives for the tablescraps from the American feast of opportunity?
They’re willing to overcome many obstacles and hardships -- even imprisonment – for a taste at our free enterprise system. They’re breaking our laws to be here.

Some people see it as evidence that they are somehow substandard. I see it as evidence that they are endowed with the same human spirit which drives us all toward freedom.

I know I should be angrier that these illegal immigrants seem to find ways to stay here in spite of our laws… but I guess I’m just grateful that I’m lucky enough to have been born here.

In observance of Mexico’s May 5th, I’ll be celebrating America’s July 4th.

The Official State Wiseguy?

Early each year, I try to get a copy of one of my favorite books: The annual South Carolina Legislative Manual.

Most people have never seen a legislative manual, nor would they really want to. The book is basically a 600-page “Who’s Who” in state government: pictures and biographies of the 170 members of the legislature, along with the names of people who make up the boards and leadership positions of all state agencies, and lots of rules, regulations, and statutes covering various areas of government.

When you’re in the newspaper business, this directory comes in handy. There are times when we need to know who to call about a certain news story.

But, if you’re private citizen, it can also be useful. Say, for instance, you hear on the news about a legislator who gets stopped by the highway patrol, but refuses to get out of the car, and you want to see what that person looks like: Presto! The legislative manual. Or maybe a legislator who gets picked up for sleeping in the car by the side of the road because he/she was too drunk to drive any further. Presto again! The legislative manual. Or perhaps a legislator gets nailed for making harassing phone calls to his ex’s boyfriend. Bingo! The legislative manual. (Each of the cases named above, incidentally, are purely hypothetical. Any resemblance whatsoever to any actual legislator is purely coincidental.)

It’s a handy little book. But very few people are even aware this resource exists. And even fewer have ever called it “one of my favorite books”: I’m probably the only one. And it’s not because of the thousands of important names, the pictures and bios, or the hundreds of rules, regulations and statutes. It’s mostly because of the last 29 pages.
The last 29 pages are where they publish glossy color photographs of our official state symbols, along with write-ups telling why each one is so special.
When I was in grade school, we only had three state symbols: the state tree, the state bird, and the state flower. Those were the same three symbols that every state had.

I was proud of OUR state symbols. The Palmetto Tree had historical significance, because it helped thwart the British at Fort Moultrie. The Carolina Wren was special, because it had our state name in its name. And the Yellow Jessamine... well it reminded me of yellow honeysuckles, except they said it was actually sort of poison.

Although I didn’t study them in grade school, I later learned that we also had a state seal, which seems appropriate (in case we ever need to start printing our own money again); a state sword, which seems a little outdated to me, but I suppose it could come in handy in settling feuds between the House and the Senate; and the state mace. I have no idea what a mace is, or what its used for. I only know of its existence because once a few years ago it was lost or stolen or misplaced for a while, before being found or returned. (I’m guessing some intoxicated legislator remembered his wedding anniversary after all the stores had closed.)

Nowadays, we have a lot more Official State Symbols: 44 in all, according to the 2007 Legislative Manual. And some of them are real doozies.

By my count, we now have nine various official animals to go along with our state bird. The official “State Animal” is the whitetail deer... you know, like Bambi. (For some reason, it doesn’t seem right to pass a law designating one animal as our official state animal, then pass another law establishing a hunting season for that animal.)

Along with Bambi, we have the official State Fish, the striped bass; The State Wild Game Bird, the wild turkey; the State Reptile, the loggerhead sea turtle; the State Dog, the Boykin Spaniel; the State Insect, the Carolina Mantid; the State Butterfly, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; the State Amphibian, the Spotted Salamander; and the State Spider, the Carolina Wolf Spider.
I gotta be honest. They lost me somewhere between reptile and insect. These official state symbols just don’t do it for me the way the Palmetto Tree and the Carolina Wren did back in the third grade.

Let’s move on to rocks. We in South Carolina seem to be very proud of our rocks. We have three official ones: the State Stone: Blue Granite; the State Gem Stone, the amethyst; and the State Shell, the Lettered Olive.

I know a shell is not technically a rock, but it fits better in that category than the next one: Official State Foods and Beverages.

You’ll be happy to know that we have four. In a nutshell, they’re milk, tea, peaches and peanuts: The State Beverage, the State Hospitality Beverage, the State Fruit, and the State Snack, respectively.

After all that food and drink, you’ll want to burn off some calories. How about dancing? We have three different dances.

The State Dance is the Shag; the State American Folk Dance is the square dance; and the State Waltz is the Richardson Waltz.

Frankly, we have too many official state symbols to mention, but let me quickly try to run through a few more from the list: The State Lowcountry Handicraft – the sweetgrass basket; The State Tartan – the Carolina Tartan; the State Grass – Indian grass; The State Opera – Porgy and Bess; the State Tapestry –“From the Mountains to the Sea”; the State Rural Drama Theatre – Abbeville Opera House. There are a lot more, but I think you get the picture.

Here’s the best part: each and every one of these official symbols earned their designation because a bill was introduced, studied by a committee, passed both the House and Senate on three separate occasions by a majority vote, ratified, and signed into law by the Governor.

Do you think somebody ran for office on this platform? “Vote for me and I’ll make the Spotted Salamander our official State Amphibian.”

This year, the purchase price of the legislative manual went up from $5.00 to $8.00. But it’s still quite a bargain. Where else can you get that much entertainment for under ten bucks?

Spring Cleaning

With the arrival of Spring each year, I usually like to do a little spring cleaning. For most people, spring cleaning means touching up the house and yard... hauling off the clutter, maybe a little paint, plant a few shrubs, and that sort of thing.

For me, spring cleaning means pushing the stacks of "stuff" off the top of my desk into several large boxes, and then marking the boxes "Spring '07", and stacking them on top of other similarly marked boxes from years gone by.

If I'm rushed, I just slide the stuff off the desk into the boxes quickly... the whole process takes ten minutes, eight minutes of which are spent finding the boxes and the markers to write on the boxes. During a quickie spring cleaning, I will generally rescue maybe a dozen items from the stacks of stuff -- items which require my immediate attention -- and leave them on my desk in the correct location for the beginning of a new stack of stuff.

When I really want to get into some serious spring cleaning, however, I take my time moving the stuff from the desk to the boxes, often carefully examining each item before cramming it into the box. This method allows me to subdivide the stuff into various categories, and cram it into appropriately marked boxes (i.e. -- Unanswered Mail, Spring '07; Calls to Return, Spring '07; Junk Mail Which I Don't Want to Throw Away Because I Might Want To Read it Someday, Spring '07; Multi-Level Sales Opportunities, Spring '07; Invitations to Parties I Missed, But I Still Need To Acknowledge, Spring '07 [actually, this category does not require a very large box]; Miscellaneous Left-over Stuff, Spring '06, '05, '04)

Currently, I am involved in a very serious spring cleaning, which I expect to take a matter of weeks. One good part about this type of spring cleaning is this: I keep finding lost notes of things I meant to write about! So I'll mention a few of them now...

-- We recently received a semi-anonymous letter from Hank in Columbia who noted that he had seen a sign indicating a new bank is being built next to a new car wash. Hank wondered if perhaps we should be on the lookout for "money laundering". Hank, you were right to keep your letter at least semi-anonymous... for your own-protection... from the Bad Joke Police!

-- Next week, April 25th to be exact, is Administrative Professionals Day. I’m not sure what that is. I’m thinking maybe it used to be Secretaries Day, but they decided to change the name. Anybody know for sure?

-- I’ve recently invented yet another new word, to go along with the two new words I wrote about a few weeks ago “ar” and “teafill”. This word probably still needs a little work. It’s “crookwards”. I invented this word last week while hanging some framed documents on the wall. I know what it means, but I haven’t decided on the exact definition yet.

-- Here’s a piece of advice I meant to write about back before Ground Hog Day. I’ll expand more on it next winter – if I can find the scrap of paper – but for now, I’ll just offer this tip well in advance: I think you should always wear very comfortable clothes on Ground Hog Day, just in case the movie comes true.

-- Postage Stamps. I use a lot of them, and I always find a few leftovers when I clean my desk. (I recently came across an old 5-cent stamp lodged in the crack in the back of my desk drawer.) I heard on the news a few days ago that the post-office has invented a new “Forever Stamp”, which will allow you to mail a letter forever, no matter how high the price of a stamp goes. It sounds like a bargain to me. Now, if someone would just invent a gallon of “Forever Gasoline.”

I'm only half-way finished with my spring cleaning; next week, I'll be cleaning off the right side of my desk, and the stacks are a lot taller. So I'll probably have a lot more notes for you then.