Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Much to be thankful for

Excuse me for the grammatical error in this week’s headline: I ended with a preposition! I tried the correct version – “Much for which to be thankful” – but it just didn’t feel right. Nor did the error seem very important, when considered in the context of the “big picture” scheme of things.

And the big picture is what I am writing about this week as Americans pause to celebrate Thanksgiving. Because, in the big picture, we do indeed have much for which to be thankful.

True, times are tough. We are mired in a serious recession, and many feel great uncertainty about the future of our nation.

Despite these challenges, however, we still enjoy a standard of living and quality of life unparalleled in the history of mankind. Living at this particular place, at this particular time, is a privilege for which 99% of the people who have ever inhabited the Earth would gladly trade places.

We are thankful for living in the land of opportunity, where our free enterprise system allows each of us to raise ourselves up through our own individual efforts, to benefit from our own hard work, creativity, and perseverance

We are thankful that we have the freedom to speak out and try to change the policies with which we do no agree, and even to elect new leaders. We are each free to become as involved as we choose to be, and to make as much of a difference as we wish to.

We are thankful for the freedom to worship as we choose, to put our faith and our futures in the hands of our Maker as we choose, without interference.

And we are thankful that these freedoms are protected. We may profit from our efforts, speak out to make a difference, and practice our faith without oppression or threat of retribution.

There are billions of people in other lands who are also suffering from the global recession, but do NOT have the freedoms to do anything about it… so, in the big picture, all Americans have much to be thankful for.

In addition to these blessings of liberty shared by all Americans, I personally also have many, many other blessings for which I am thankful.

For example, I’m still here… and healthy… which I can only count as a miracle.

In Summer of 2008, many readers will recall I was diagnosed a cancerous brain tumor, and initially given a dire prognosis. The tumor was a recurrence of the same cancer – melanoma – from 25 years earlier. My odds of still being here for Thanksgiving, 2009, were slim. My odds of still being here and being healthy were even slimmer.

At that time, I wrote in detail about my condition, and promised to keep readers posted of developments. Thanksgiving seems to be a good time for an update.

For the better part of a year after my brain surgery, I remained free of any recurrence. In late June, 2009, however, scans detected growth of tumors on one of my lungs, which biopsies revealed to be melanoma.

A month later, a regularly scheduled MRI revealed new, very small tumors on the brain.

Since my 2008 surgery, at the advice my doctors I have undergone scans every couple of months in order to catch new tumors as early as possible. It worked! Within weeks of the new discovery, I was able to undergo stereotactic surgery at MUSC to eradicate the two small brain tumors.

Similarly, catching the tumors on the lung early has allowed me a variety of treatment options, including participation in experimental clinical trials, which is the route I chose to take. Ultimately, I was fortunate to be accepted into an innovative cancer research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, for a long-term trial in which I am currently participating. It’s a field of cancer research -- finding better ways to boost the body’s natural abilities to fight cancer -- which is VERY exciting to me, and appears very promising for the future.

My most recent scans indicated that the tumors on my lung appear to have stabilized.

So, as promised, this is an update of my medical condition. If you’re keeping score, I’ve now had four separate occurrences of cancer -- starting with one in 1983 that I shouldn’t have survived, according to the doctors -- and overall, the odds have been something like 1,000 to 1 against me. But, to date, I have no symptoms, no side effects, and no impairments whatsoever. I’m not just alive… I’m healthy! (I could add that I’m “completely normal”… but, frankly, I’ve NEVER been exactly what anyone would refer to as “normal”.)

Am I thankful this Thanksgiving? You betcha!

I’m thankful to be here. I’m thankful for the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals who have found ways to keep me healthy -- from MUSC in Charleston, to Moffitt in Tampa, to Lovelace Family Medicine in Prosperity, SC… and lots of places in between. I’m thankful for my family and friends whose strong support has kept me positive and optimistic. And mostly, I’m thankful for the many, many people -- including entire groups of people I didn’t even know -- who said a prayer for me… and caused a miracle.

In the big picture, I have much to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tis the Season

Over the years, I’ve worked with several hundred candidates running for various offices… I can’t say for sure how many, because I lost count a good while back (around the same time I started forgetting their names).

A lot of new candidates, I’ve noticed, start thinking about running for office -- or decide to run for office -- during the holiday season... between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

It makes sense. There are the family get-togethers and Christmas parties where the topic of conversation can easily turn to politics. And there’s always planning for the New Year, including resolutions, where items which have been lingering at the bottom of the Things To Do list (like “run for office”) get pushed to the top.

As a result of these combined factors, during the next few weeks, a lot of new candidates will decide to toss their hats into the ring of politics.

It’s a good thing. I’m ready for a whole new crop of ‘em.

Don’t get me wrong. The elected officials we have now are not bad people. I like many of them. Some are friends of mine.

But I think of my elected officials sorta like I think of my underwear. No matter how comfortable it may feel, I still want to change it every once in a while.

Now more than ever, we need new blood in government… at ALL levels. Americans like to vent their frustration on Congress, but the fact is that each local elected official – school trustees, county councilmen, legislators – can have a far more direct impact on your life than your Congressman.

Due to the tough economic times we are currently facing, all governments are facing more serious challenges than normal. Some of the folks occupying those offices seemed incapable of solving the old problems, much less new problems that now need to be solved with less money.

My solution to meeting the challenges facing our local, state, and federal governments is a simple one: Elect old people.

After nearly four decades of helping elect candidates – hundreds and hundred of ‘em -- to almost every kind of political office, I have arrived at one very firm conclusion: Old people make the best elected officials. (Note: I am referring to those who are already Old People when they are first elected, not to those who get elected when they are young, but hang around in office until they become old. Those Old People are better known as “Career Politicians”.)

There are some obvious reasons Old People make the best elected officials.

1. They’re retired, therefore they have no conflicts of interest with their careers. (Most elected officials are still in the middle of their careers… and, when confronted with a decision, they always come down on the side of their own personal interest. If they didn’t they probably wouldn’t have their jobs the next day.)

2. They have experience: a whole lifetime of it. Sure, those young politicians often have that eager-beaver energy and enthusiasm… but nothing beats experience. (Don’t believe it? Think about leading an army in wartime. Who would you choose as the best leader? A young, energetic hot-shot Lieutenant right out of officer’s school? Or an old grizzled General with decades of military action?)

3. They have time to devote to the job. Listening to constituents is important for elected officials. Old people love conversation.

4. They’re not as likely to be swayed by political gamesmanship. Unlike most politicians, they’re more interested in the next generation than the next election.

5. They’re automatically term-limited. Term limits, a concept which is immensely popular with the public as a way to eliminate career politicians, will never be voted into law… by the career politicians. But, with Old People, the problem tends to solve itself. How long can they really stay in office?

I offer these benefits of electing Old People to office for a reason. As we head into this holiday season, you may very well find yourself conversing with someone who is thinking about running for office. If it’s an Old Person, by all means, encourage them. (Or maybe, you yourself are an Old Person thinking about moving “run for office” higher up your Things To Do list.)

Let me quickly add a disclaimer: There are no absolutes. There are plenty of young or middle-aged people who do a great job in office. Similarly, there are some Old People who, once they get in office, give Old People a bad name. ( I would also note that, while the Old-People-are-better theory applies well to politics, it does NOT apply to many other fields: pro athletes, stock car racers, rock musicians, etc.)

I hope you’ll join this new political movement: New Blood, Old People in 2010.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A touch of fever.

Some years back -- actually starting before I embarked on a career in the community newspaper business -- I published an occasional tabloid called “Gamecock Fever”… a jovial little journal which was distributed to tailgaters before each USC home football game. (Extraneous Publisher’s Note: I used the word “career” very loosely in the preceding sentence.)

Gamecock Fever was mostly light-hearted and nonsensical, featuring good-natured ribbing at each week’s opponent, as well as opposing school’s coaches, mascot, home state, and the entire population thereof.

Actually, we simply took some standard Arkansas jokes, and rewrote them each week to apply to whatever school we were playing: old standards like, “How do you get an Arkansas graduate off your porch? You pay him for the pizza!”; and, “How do we know the toothbrush was invented in Arkansas? If it was invented anywhere else, it would be called a ‘teethbrush’!”

Anytime we played a school from West Virginia, however, they always seemed to get a little sensitive about these jokes… especially the ones about marrying their cousins.

Each edition of “Fever” also contained a healthy helping of “Clempson” jokes, which I felt was my patriotic duty as an American. Plus, being a lifelong, born and bred resident of the Pimento State, swapping Carolina and Clempson jokes back and forth is a tradition… a way of life! So how could I not poke a little fun at “Moo U.”?

We occasionally even took a good-natured poke at ourselves, and our coaches and athletic directors, because, after all, we were the long-suffering Gamecocks, and it helps to have a good sense of humor when you’re a Gamecock Fan. (Or, as we occasionally, put it, a “Lamecock” Fan!)

Through the years of Coaches Joe, Sparky, Brad, Lou, and that other guy, we were there in the parking lots, keeping them on their toes, and giving the opposing coaches locker room fodder. Except to us, they were Coaches “MoJo Morrison”, “Sparky Wouldn’t”, “Brad FSNot”, and “Loose Boltz”. Along with Athletic Directors “Don King Dixon” and “Mike McGee McGoo”. They were public figures, and it was all in good fun.

But, unfortunately (or fortunately in the opinions of 97.3% of the people who are not me), Gamecock Fever went away a few years ago. The Gamecock Tailgating Tradition Since 1985 (except for one year we forgot) has now slipped our minds for over half a decade!

So ever since the Old Ball Coach showed up at USC, he hasn’t had our little Tailgating Toilet Tissue to bolster his team. The last time Spurrier showed up in Gamecock Fever, he was the head coach of the Gators – the very same Gators who are currently ranked Number One in the Nation, and who are coming into Columbia this weekend to take on the Gamecocks. At that time, we honored him with this limerick:

There once was a ball coach named Spurrier,
Who wanted his team to go hurrier,
So he yelled, whined, and screamed,
Like a girl at his team,
Now his win-loss record is blurrier!

Of course, that was back in the days when he still tossed his visor and won national championships. And he was the enemy. Now he’s on our team. We love the guy. But he’s mellow.

And maybe because Spurrier has mellowed out a little, we, the Gamecocks, seem to be suffering from that old Mid-Season Chicken Curse again -- the cursed roost-ah… just like we used tah. We start off strong, but finish a little weak. And with Numero One FLA on their way to town, things don’t look good.

Probably, it’s a Spurrier thing… but we can’t help wondering: “What if the Gamecocks are sliding back into mediocrity just because we stopped publishing “Gamecock Fever” each week? Could it be our fault?

We can’t take that chance.

So, while I can’t magically produce an entire issue of Gamecock Fever in time for this weekend’s game against the Florida Gators, I can use the remaining space here for a little taste of Fever… and toss a few NCAA College Football insults in their direction before they come clobber our brains out.

It’s Cocks versus Crocs at Williams-Brice… and here is OUR welcome to the visitors:

Q: What do you call a Florida graduate who lives in a $400,000 house?

A: A butler.

Q: What do you call a gorgeous woman on the arm of a Florida fan?

A: A tattoo.

Q: Why do Florida graduates stick their diplomas on their car bumper?

A: So they can park in the handicapped zone.

Q: Did you hear about the Florida student who was a poor speller?
He paid $50 to spend the night in a warehouse.

Q: Why do Florida fans spend so much time staring at containers of orange juice?

A: Because the label says “concentrate”.

Q: How many Florida fans does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Four. One to change the bulb, and three to stand around talking about how great the old bulb was “back when Spurrier was here!”

Okay, I’ve done my part. Now its up to the players. Go Cocks! Gig the Gators!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nothin’ could be finer!

If you believe the national pundits, it’s been a rough year to be a South Carolinians. (I don’t believe them… mainly because I’m not even sure who or what a “pundit” is.)

Ever since our Governor captured international headlines on the first full day of summer with his make-believe hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail, we seem to have endured a steady stream of punch-lines. Late night comics could just utter the name of the state – “South Carolina” – and their studio audiences would break into giggles.

But, you know the old saying: “He who laughs last…”

And last week, we may have gotten the last laugh, when the aircraft manufacturer for the world, Boeing, chose our state for its newest manufacturing facility… a move which will likely put food on the table for over 4,000 South Carolina families -- and probably not just food, but prime rib and lobster -- at a time when the rest of the nation is scrambling for table scraps.

(Gratuitous publisher’s note: I’m understandably proud that two gentlemen I worked to help elect were key players in putting the Boeing deal together: Berkeley County State Senator Paul Campbell, former boss at Alumax, and the Senator with the strongest background in manufacturing, was the key inside leader of the final negotiations; and North Charleston State Representative Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the SC House or Senate and now a candidate for Lt. Governor, originally got the Boeing ball rolling several years ago when he was Chairman of Charleston County Council.)

There were lots of reasons Boeing chose South Carolina, but one really big one: our people.

For all the abuse we may take for our shortcomings, Boeing decided, as many others have, that South Carolinians are good, solid, hard-working people... the kind of people they could depend on to build good, solid, dependable aircraft for the world.

We’ve known it all long.

South Carolinians are some of the best people you can find anywhere in the world. Hardworking. Friendly. Patriotic. Faithful. Compassionate. (And I’m not just making idle chit-chat here. I can back these claims up with near facts.)

Compassionate, for instance. A couple months ago, USA Today published a chart of which states were the most charitable, based on giving their time and money. South Carolinians, for all our reported income deficiencies, showed up among the top 10 most giving populations.

Patriotic. For years, South Carolina has been ranked as one of the very highest percentages of military veterans. Our people have historically offered themselves to defend our nation at a greater rate than most any other state.

Faithful. We are the buckle of the Bible Belt.

Friendly. Southern Hospitality was born here in South Carolina. We are consistently ranked among the friendliest people in America. We’re not afraid to walk up to stranger and say, “Hey, y’all.”

Hard-working. South Carolinians have always hungered for the opportunity to earn a good decent living. Given that opportunity, we work. We work hard. We’re dedicated. We’re proud of our work ethic. Consequently, Boeing decided that the folks in the Lowcountry – some of whom had worked on our Naval Ships for generations – were the right people to now build the next generation of aircraft.

So, South Carolina landed a giant industrial development, one that will jumpstart our economy, and have untold spinoff impacts. A lot of our leaders worked together to make it happen, and they all deserve some credit for making it happen.

But the real credit should go to the hard working men and women of South Carolina who have made our state the only place I would ever even think about living.

Y’all can keep laughing if you want to… but we’re laughing best.