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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One Blog Under God!

On Sunday, June 19th, NBC decided to show a patriotic montage during the showing of the U.S. Open golf tournament (Patriotic video). As a result, they committed a monumental error in their omissions.

The Pledge of Allegiance that I have been reciting since grade school has included the words “one nation under God, indivisible”. That any of the words from this very short, but very powerful recitation be omitted is very noticeable and I would struggle to believe that their omissions were a “mistake”.
I don’t care what religion you are.
I don’t care what political party that you support.
I only care that you would attempt to infringe upon any of my freedoms.
But, in case you haven’t noticed, the various TV networks through their news shows and their newscasters are making every effort to BECOME the news story with their clear bias of what they are reporting. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.
I am of the opinion that NBC was attempting to appease a very small number of viewers who object to references to God and must have mistakenly believed that removing the “offensive” words would cause no problems. They now understand that “little things” mean a lot to the American public.
If NBC saw a problem with the verbiage that was going to drive the Patriotic video, then why didn’t they set the montage to an instrumental musical number that would contain no offensive phrasing?
I believe in God and I believe that the Bible is the word of God. It is how I was raised. I attended a Methodist church and I married a Lutheran. I support faith-based charities, but I do not attend church on a regular basis. My only closeness to God is by happenstance; in that one of my brothers-in-law is a reverend. I believe that the Reverend Neel can summon up a little something special for me if the occasion should require it. At least; I think it gives me an edge. Well; even if it doesn’t get me closer to God, at least I am closer to my Southern brethren and my dear sister.
I have had events occur in my life that have left me believing that there was an intervention of the highest order, but these same events have also left me questioning why a compassionate God would allow the events to even occur! I don’t view God as someone who is Santa Claus-like or like David Copperfield for that matter, but I can’t believe that some of my misfortune was a part of God’s plan for me. I truly do not have the understanding of the theology nor do I have a divinity degree that will unlock these questions in my mind.
For those with a different belief system from mine; I respect your right to believe in something or someone else; if at all. I don’t wish you any ill will, unless you practice a religion that calls for my death. Then, I have a problem with it.
I struggle with sentiment that is critical either way on religious/non-religious beliefs, because we are a nation that was founded by those persecuted and in many cases, murdered for their religious beliefs.
We are a nation that has always been identified as the land of opportunity, a melting pot of many cultures and a tolerant people. The freedom to choose has always been a hallmark and an accepting/inclusive attitude among the different races, genders and religions has defined us as a nation.
 I hope that we are not seeing an erosion to our society’s moral base because the majority has become apathetic and a hodge-podge of common causes from fringe groups has become more vocal.
I believe that when we engage in events that have us declaring our citizenship, stewardship and ownership of all of those things that creates our patriotic feelings, NO ONE has the right to attempt to stifle those feelings. If someone who doesn’t feel the same way is at the same event, then they are there to raise issues counter to mine. Again; I won’t bother you and your position, as long as you don’t bother mine. I won’t put you in a headlock and force you to sing “God Bless America”, but I WILL reject Jeremiah Wright’s assessment of America.
Dissension is not new to me. I dissented and rebelled numerous times while growing up. I engaged in protests, strikes and civil disobedience and I won’t deny anyone else’s right, as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others.
As I have said in the past; I have been witness to some of the most historically significant events of the past 50 years. If you want to talk about dissension; a couple of very stark examples come to mind and I was witness to them via TV.
Ironically, both occurred in 1968.
First there were the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. It is referred to as the “Black Power salute”. After winning the 200 meter run, U.S. runners Tommie Smith and third place finisher, John Carlos each donned a single black glove and then raised their gloved, clenched fists into the air as the National Anthem was played during their medal ceremony. At the time, I thought it epitomized a defining moment of defiance in our country. Smith and Carlos were sent home as punishment. But, their symbolic gesture was etched into the minds of those who witnessed it.
The other example is the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, IL. I will never forget the chant “the whole world is watching” as Chicago police were ordered into Grant Park to break up the demonstration of thousands of anti-war protesters using the setting of the Convention as their backdrop. As Chicago police showed no mercy as they swung their nightsticks and kicked protesters who fell to the ground, protesters yelled “the whole world’s watching” as television cameras caught the brutal beatings live and brought them into our living room TVs.
Also of note in 1968 was the running of Alabama governor George Wallace, an avowed segregationist, for President and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dissension played a role in their lives as well. Both met with violence as a response to their dissent. Wallace was shot in 1972 and left paralyzed from the waist down. King, Jr. was subjected to all kinds of violence as a civil rights activist before being shot and killed by James Earl Ray.
In this country, I believe that the information-all of the information-should be presented and decisions of interpretation, validity and use of that information left in the hands of the person (s). Omissions can dramatically change every aspect or intent of the information. What we are given should not be decided by some self-righteous/self-important “editor” or “program director”. Censorship comes with unintended consequences.
It is that interpretation, validation and use of the information that establishes the basis for our belief systems, moral compass and judicious decision-making that frames how we spend our time on this Earth. We should not be cajoled or bullied; beaten or killed because we don’t share the same views.
If we are asked at a public assembly to bow our heads and pray; if you don’t wish to do so, then don’t, but don’t deny me my freedom to do so.
If you don’t want to observe the religious holidays, that’s OK with me, but don’t tell me that I have to take MY decorations down.
If you don’t hold the same political views as me, I can respect your right to disagree, as long as it is done respectfully, but don’t call me names and berate my intelligence, because we do not agree on a political course of action.
I happen to believe that we are and always will be one nation under God.
You don’t have to agree with me.
But, be tolerant and respectful…please.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. This article is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thoughts of a Garden Variety

These past, few months have been “unusual” for me. For the first time in many years, I had to prepare myself to seek employment. It was my goal to have a new job before the lay-off became effective.

My work as a risk manager for my current employer will end on June 24th. My work for my new employer will start on June 28th.

What is interesting to note is that I thought that I bombed at the interview and who knows; maybe the strength of my resume off-set my weak interview. I will never know, but suffice it to say that I was able to secure employment without a gap in my work history. At least, I saved our state and my soon-to-be former employer unemployment benefits.

When I received word that an offer for a new job was being extended, my wife and I were at a local casino. We were there to play the slots. After I spoke with a representative for my potential, new employer, I put some money into a penny slot and hit a $200 jackpot. Not a bad return on a five dollar investment.

My good fortune continued onto the golf course the next night when our team defeated the other first place team in our golf league. Then, on Saturday; my wife and I played in a couples’ tourney and I won the longest drive. SHE won at cards afterwards.

It would appear that I am in a cycle of momentum that I hope continues for some time.

I find it strange and very perplexing that we can overcome our own self-doubts when it comes to dispensing advice to others. Think about all of the twists and turns in our own lives that have tugged at our self-confidence and self-control. Is there strength of character that is called upon to settle our doubts? If not, then how can we in good conscience offer advice to others who are faced with similar circumstances? How is it done without giving rise to hypocrisy?

I have a very small support network where it comes to my personal life. Granted; I have a large circle of professional colleagues that I can prevail upon to move my careers in the right direction, but where it comes to personal decisions, I have to trust my wife and my gut. I stopped being the sole arbiter over my life on the day that I was married. “Me” became “we” and the simple became a little more complex.

I can point to the previous paragraph as one of the reasons that my wife and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage this year. It hasn’t been a “story book” marriage. We had to put some hard work into being a good couple, good parents and good citizens. As with everything in my life, dating back to when I was a young boy, it didn’t come easy for me. It was no longer just MY self-destructive ways; it would have a collateral effect on my mate, if it were to continue. So, that had to change. I had to realize that the effects of any of my decisions went beyond just me.

To complicate matters, my lazy side has struggled with that whole “hard work is its own reward” thing and then, I think about the GARDENS!

That’s right; gardens. Vegetable gardens. HUGE plots that required the attention of everyone in our family, which was TEN of us. We were all going to benefit from the garden, so we were expected to help with the garden.

Dad; I hate beets. Do I have to help weed the beets even though I won’t eat them?

Dad: YES!

In previous blogs, I revealed that I grew up just north of the poverty line. Dad and I shot game to put food on the table and fished for the same reason. Now; it wouldn’t have been much of a meal without something to complement the wild game. In our house, it was vegetables that were grown in our garden and canned by my mom.

Note: for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “canning”, I would suggest that you Google it. “Canning” vegetables or fruits for that matter takes a lot of skill and is very labor intensive. Mom made the BEST applesauce that I have ever eaten. Bar none! She also made grape juice, jellies and jams. Wow!

To describe our garden as a local tourist attraction would not do it justice. It was a true testament to the human spirit and my dad’s obsession with having the biggest and the best looking garden in town. There would be no weeds in HIS garden. He would not stand for foxtails and other broadleaf weeds of robbing his hard work of the water and nutrients and deny his veggies to reach their full potential; not when it was feeding TEN mouths.

So; we would spend evenings after Dad got home from working in the scrapyard and weekends in the early morning hours pulling weeds and carrying buckets of water to water our corn, potatoes, green beans, carrots, radishes, onions, peppers, eggplant, squash, beets, turnips, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, lettuce and lima beans. The water was available from a well to a hand pump that was next to our garden. No hoses hooked to sprinklers. It was buckets and water can sprinklers for us.

Throughout the summer, vegetables would come into season and they would be heartily consumed fresh out of the garden. I must confess that, back then, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with vegetables, with but one, clear exception…potatoes. I loved them. I could eat them raw with a  sprinkle of salt. And now? Hah; I would pay extra for that freshness if I could find it in the grocery store. Come to think of it; we DO pay extra, because now they call it “organically” grown.

Then, Mom would spend a week or more canning everything up. She would use pint and quart jars that she had saved (usually mayonnaise jars with Ball lids, rings and gaskets) and would can corn, beets, green beans, peas, tomatoes (juice, stewed and whole pealed) to a soup combining potatoes, corn, green beans, lima beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots and onions.

I remember that our vegetables were also used as currency in some instances. Dad would need something and instead of paying money, he would be told to bring vegetables as payment. He would also take fish to friends who would return the kindness in some other way. I didn’t understand the concept when I was young, but it is very clear now.

It seems like when I reach a crossroad, I get nostalgic. I don’t think I’m right in the head, because I remember how much I detested going to that garden, working in a blistering sun and giving up sandlot baseball just to eat vegetables that I wasn’t very fond of but now realizing that I would give anything to go back there again. In my own way, the little vegetable garden that I have in my backyard serves as a reminder. And yes; I will not have weeds in my garden either. I AM my dad when I’m in that garden.

And just like my dad, when a door closes, you cannot be afraid to walk through another that opens.

All of those times growing up when I found my butt on the end of Dad’s boot or Mom’s paddle- both figuratively and literally; all of the lectures, time-outs with no TV and moments spent in the solitude of my room have caused me to appreciate the effectiveness of my parents parenting skills, whether is was by design or by trial and error; it worked!

In my lifetime, my father had THREE jobs plus his part-time cop gig. If conditions had been right, he would have stayed at the scrap yard until he retired. That “scrap yard” is still in business today. He gave up job number two because it was second shift and with 8 kids in school, Dad was missing out big time, so he went to his third and last job from where he retired. I bought the gold watch and had it inscribed so that Dad would think that the company gave it to him upon his retirement. He was so thrilled and so proud of that watch. He wore bib over-alls a lot and prominently displayed the watch in a front pocket. He would not pass up an opportunity to tell someone that he got the watch from his company. He never knew any different and now, I have the watch.

The moral of this story is that, whenever you find yourself going down a different path, take your mind to familiar territory to erase the fear and the doubt. When you remember those events that called upon your courage; even at a very young age, the task or the event doesn’t seem as daunting.

Growing up, I couldn’t wait to “grow up”. I couldn’t leave my childhood behind me fast enough. I thought I wanted to forget a lot of things that happened to me when I was a kid.

Now; I struggle to remember, but I WANT to remember, because what I thought were the worst of times now occupies my thoughts with the realization that they were, in fact, some of the BEST days of my life.

I will take those thoughts to my new job. And even though my childhood and my parents are gone; both will serve to help me to succeed.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author, Art Goodrich, who also writes under the name ChiefReason.  They do not reflect the views and opinions of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. Articles written by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You Have the Right to Remain Salient!

Yes; I like titles that are a play on words.

Salient – (say-lee-ent) adj. Projecting or jutting beyond a line or surface; protruding. Strikingly conspicuous; prominent. Noticeable. Springing; jumping.

As we are seeing, many Americans who have held silent over the years are now speaking out about the condition of the human condition (and especially THEIR condition); how exclusive our “representative” form of government has become; how they can feel a positive future slipping through the loopholes in legislation passed in the dead of night, when few were watching; how the “needy” have become the “greedy” with their selfish sense of entitlement; how “community organizing” is nothing more than code for organized demonstrations that are designed to deceive the majority into thinking that they are the minority; and how they are seeing their voice getting smaller, as the private sector shrinks and government grows bigger by the day. It has allowed for the unions to add another layer of bureaucracy onto the already-bloated bureaucratic behemoth of government.

Of course; I am stating my opinion, which is salient.

Have you ever noticed how some will disguise their opinions as statements of facts?

Or, how some will state fact and then offer up their unsolicited opinions? The news media has been doing a lot of that lately.

No; it isn’t just the “mainstream” media doing it.

TV, radio and print media have all been practicing various spin mastering for the candidates of THEIR choice. Bias has been around for some time in that once unbiased arena known as our world of news.

It’s funny, but I could never figure out where Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Peter Jennings or Dan Rather were positioned politically, because they approached their jobs as newsmen; as if they were asking questions for the rest of the nation, regardless of political affiliation.

But, look at the state of the media today. Truly; it’s not like the old days. Investors with political agendas pour money into a news company and exert tremendous influence on the political direction of the news outlet. I’ll stop there for fear of sounding like Glenn Beck.

But let me ask you this: if people with special interests are spending millions of dollars in political campaign contributions in the various political parties, then how can they NOT be buying influence on legislation that affects them? If that is not the case, then why can’t they put containers out like UNICEF and get their money that way; that is, if what the money is going for is a worthy cause?

I have to point out the irony in National Public Radio (NPR), though.

Their name would lead one to believe that they exist for the public-the ENTIRE public, but it doesn’t. Yet, they receive public (taxpayer) funding. I suppose if you are an intellectual elitist or have liberal tendencies, then you probably have the channel programmed into your radios and I would suspect that you also enjoy your share of public television too. It’s OK; public radio/public TV; it’s all the same. It’s funny but it was public television where I first met Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Benny Hill, Black Adder, Fawlty Towers and Red Green. Exquisite comedy is its only redeeming quality, I guess. Wait; I can’t forget Austin City Limits. It reminds me of the old days of Midnight Special hosted by Wolfman Jack or Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. I must pause…

How can groups of people, who are participating in freedom of assembly, exercising their rights to free speech-both that are rights provided to Americans under the Constitution-use these very tactics to trample the same rights of those with opposing views?

When did it become fashionable to shout down differences of opinions?

Don’t bring a bullhorn to a PA address.

When live, streaming video shows these organizations using tactics designed to intimidate or coerce their political opponents, then why is it so surprising that some reporters would refer to them as a “mob”? Why is there a criminal charge of “mob action” that can be filed under the law under certain circumstances, but disrupting the workplace of elected officials and littering state property is OK?

These are just some of the questions that populate my mind.

Next subject:

I have read many articles lamenting about the fire services’ loss of status; post 9/11.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the heroes of 9/11 were at Shanksville, the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on that day. From every day Joes to the police, port authority, fire/EMS and hospitals; heroism was on display for the rest of the world to see on September 11, 2001.

Suddenly and without warning, ALL fire, police and EMS were seen and treated as heroes.

9/11 wasn’t some PR campaign. It wasn’t a “light bulb” that went off in someone’s head.

It was the darkest day in the history of our fire service and of our country.

While families and friends of those who died on 9/11 were grieving, many others were recognizing and realizing the complexities and risks of those in public safety. A profession that was already held in high regard was taken to even greater heights.

In my opinion, it is denigrating and disrespectful to even consider an “upside” to this tragedy, because there should be no mistake that this act of war was perpetrated on a country with a rich heritage of helping the rest of the world for nothing more than humanitarianism. No upside; no takeaways; simply people helping people.

But, one “upside” discussed in several articles on the subject was the new-found elevated stature of public safety employees.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I have seen 9/11 used as a “marketing” tool and I think that’s wrong. It is my opinion and there are those who will disagree with me. That’s cool.

I believe that our “fall from grace” is due to over exposure; too many pictures and video clips of public servants “just doin’ their jobs” as they would say. The public face is one of compassion, commitment, strength, honor and courage. It is a reminder of why communities could sleep easy at night. THEY are fearless because their public servants are fearless in protecting them.

And at the time, the cost for that protection didn’t seem to matter. No one seemed to care. Very few participated in their participatory form of government, so unless the very few were very vocal or worked for the newspaper and felt that public payroll issues were “newsworthy”, then it was regarded as budget expenditures…no big deal!

That seems innocuous enough, but then, the economic bubble burst.

Cities and states began “skipping” their payments to the pensions, mistakenly believing that their financial house would improve and the money would be paid into the pension fund at some point. And the money that WAS getting into the pension funds and then into investment funds were taking a beating along with the rest of us who had retirement funds.
With less money coming into the cities, states and yes, the unions; no one was doing anything to rein in spending. Their “economic engines” weren’t very “fuel efficient”!
So; with regards to what I have seen with fire departments: taxpayers believe that they are paying taxes that are too high. They won’t say that they are being assessed a fair cost for services; they only know that it costs too much in their opinions.
All of a sudden, benefits and pensions are “Cadillac” plans. Illinois firefighters contribute 9.5% of their paycheck into their pension. What I don’t know is what is contributed by their “employer”. But in the end, the firefighter is to get somewhere around 85% at retirement. It will vary because there are five public employee pensions that are governed by five different pension boards and that could be lending to the problem. That is; Illinois wasn’t paying its agreed-upon contributions; yet nothing was popping up as a cause for concern. It’s also an example of how close state government-i.e. representatives-have gotten to public and private sector unions. Who was the union listening to while payments were being skipped? The people that they supported for election/re-election; that’s who.
If you listen to Illinois Republicans on the most recent legislative session; they are the only ones trying to reduce spending. They want legislators to “be honest with their constituents” and to tell them that the money isn’t there to spend. So; has the process lacked honesty, if they are now calling for honesty?
It’s interesting to note that, when THEY had the majority AND a Republican governor, THEY weren’t that interested in spending cuts. Oh wait; they would want to pull out the “we had a surplus back then” argument. Really? My taxes didn’t go down.
NOW; everyone in government and their lobbyists on a leash claims that they have seen this coming for YEARS. So; I guess that they are complicit after-all.
Anyone with a stake in this can shoulder some of the blame.
From governments not honoring their commitments to an apathetic/disengaged electorate to unions feeding their own bureaucracy; the once rosy picture is now a harsh reality.
No one should be shouted down for raising questions or for voicing opinions.
Solutions may very well be found during very heated exchanges.
Hopefully, if the debate remains respectful, consensus will build and communities will flourish once again.
Regardless; you have the right to remain salient!
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author, Art Goodrich, who also writes under the name ChiefReason.  They do not reflect the views and opinions of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. Articles written by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form.