Up into my mid-teen years, I was regularly required to participate in Sword Drills. And because a competitive gene somehow drifted into my DNA, I was damn good at those drills. There was a pretty girl named Deborah who always gave me a close contest, but I always won.

If you grew up with Zorro or Star Wars films, you may have the wrong image of a Sword Drill, but if you grew up in a fundamentalist church, you know what I’m talking about. Sword Drills were when you stood in a line cradling unwieldy Bibles while an adult called out lookups, by book, chapter and verse.

So, to this day, I remember, for example, that Judges is sandwiched between Joshua and Ruth. Bui I could not have told you, back then, the meaning of a particular verse I’d rapidly found, or of the bigger picture, the Bible itself.

The presidential debates we have endured recently brought to mind those teen-age Sword Drills. The candidates have their talking points, but no substance. If pressed for details on, say, a flat-tax plan, they blame the moderators of missing the point. They, like pretty Deborah, pout if they don’t win.

Further, they have childishly demanded changes in the debate format, basically insisting on no hard questions from journalists. Look, fellas and gals, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the race. Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel aren’t going to have you over just for tea and crumpets.

Candidates, don’t fall back on that worn-out tactic of blaming the media for your shortcomings.

Don’t think we’re going to fall for the “America is broken, and only I can fix it” routine. The wise and wealthy businessman Warren Buffett said recently that America is in fine shape. I tend to trust Warren Buffett’s judgment.

The candidates, many of them, want to make us fear, and then tell us who to blame for it, whether it’s incumbents, their current opponents in the Great Sword Drill, or journalists.

Back in the 1950s, during the Congressional witch hunts for closeted Communists, some extremist politicians played the fear card quite well, sabotaging careers and ruining friendships. The legendary and revered journalist Edward R. Murrow, said it best back then:

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men – not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that were required reading prior to a presidential debate?

Biz Bits

Question of the month: If my phone is so smart, why does it “alert” me to stuff I already know?

Chattanooga, which seven years ago scored a coup when it won, over competing U.S. cities, a Volkswagen manufacturing plant, shouldn’t hang its head over VW’s disgrace concerning cheating on vehicle emissions testing. It’s not like German engineers and executives hatched the idea while on a cursory tour of The Chatt plant,

More troubling might be how the scandal eventually affects VW sales in the southeastern U.S. … and jobs in Chattanooga.

In the bigger picture, the Volkswagen scandal will become a case study in law schools and public relations seminars, because the automaker initially did everything wrong. It gave curt and imprecise answers as the news broke, apparently not understanding that when lawyers and journalists smell blood, they move in next door.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, better known to you as Budweiser, with a brewery in Cartersville, is trying out a new product, Bud Light Apple, an apple-flavored beer. You can buy it now, because Georgia is the test market. A brand manager at Anheuser-Busch InBev called Georgia “a microcosm of the U.S.”

We’ve been called worse.

Russian athletes could be banned from next year’s Olympics. It has long been the world’s worst-kept secret that Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, cheated in sports. Now, the World Anti-Doping Agency has released its first statistics on doping violations. Russia came in first by a wide margin, followed by Turkey. If you’re keeping score at home, the U.S. came in 11th on the cheating scale.

The annual outcry over a non-existent “war on Christmas” found a convenient target this year in Starbucks. Seems the coffee chain switched to plain red cups this season, instead of cups adorned with snowflakes, reindeer or other secular images associated with the holiday.

I agree with those who say “put Christ back in Christmas.” But you do that by participating in the numerous offerings in churches and on campuses during the Advent season, not by raging against the machine and then only showing up for a Sunday service that falls closest to Dec. 25. Besides, I don’t think Jesus ever built a snowman or saw a reindeer.

On the subject of culinary franchises, McDonald’s, has thrown down the gauntlet, or the cholesterol, or something or other, in a direct challenge to Waffle House. The hamburger empire will now serve breakfast 24 hours a day. I wouldn’t worry if I were WH, for three reasons: First, there are several Waffle Houses in all directions within 100 yards of any highway junction in the South. Not so with Mickey D’s. Second, no one ever wrote a country song about an Egg McMuffin.

Third, pimply high school girls don’t have much to talk about. On the other hand, middle-aged, bleached, wrinkled Waffle House waitresses in uniforms that are always too tight have enough stories for a weekend.

Or maybe two.

Bryant Steele has won awards for business reporting, feature writing and opinion columns, and is based in Rome.

J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.