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Saturday, November 26, 2011

ChiefReason for Dummies

Over the years, I have had others try to tell me how to blog and what to blog. 

What they fail to understand is that just like anyone who writes, you develop a style that becomes distinctive and that differentiates you from others who engage in that type of writing, because let's face it; blogging is writing.
With that said, it has also been suggested to me on occasion that I shouldn't blog about politics at a fire service website, because it isn't about fire service issues.

Really? The fire service in our country has no ties to politics? That is absurd.

First of all, I blog on a wide range of subjects/issues.
When a fire service issue strikes me, I will blog about it, as I have. The funny thing is that there are several bloggers who blog at the many fire blog sites about fire service issues-many on the SAME issues. How many ways can you say the same thing and make it interesting?

I know a few can bring different perspectives to the same issue, but in the end, they pretty much beat a dead horse, don't they?
Now more than ever, politics is having negative impacts on many of us.

And if politics isn't impacting the fire service, then why do we have so many lobbyists lobbying for fire service legislation and why is so much money being donated to political candidates by fire service organizations, including unions?
I know why many shy away from political discussions.

It's because of emotion and sometimes, raw emotion.
You see; it's hard to convince someone to change their political views and even harder to get someone to change their political party.

When we decide that we like and support certain politicians from the various political parties, we want to believe that we have made an intelligent decision and when someone else challenges us on our choices, we believe that our intelligence is being questioned. So; we get emotional and take it as a personal attack.
When the dust has settled, a discussion has degenerated into an argument and the argument degenerates further into a verbal brawl.

That makes it very unpleasant for someone willing to state their political position.
I GET IT!

But, if we don't state our views, then we have become sheep, willing to place our fates into the hands of people bought and paid for by OUR tax dollars and I'm sorry, but that's not how I want to live.
The fact is that government and the politicians who populates it have become the problem.

Why?
Because the fire service thought that they would always come first; that they would be taken care of by our government and the politicians.

Take a look at how many firefighters have entered the political arena just in the past ten years and it should answer your questions about why I, for one, blog about politics. Firefighters are getting more involved in the political process to protect what we still have; to preserve the programs that we have fought so hard to get and to further define that linkage between our core missions and our governments; local, state and federal.

Is that the current climate that the fire service enjoys? I don't think so and here's why:
WE let it happen. America let it happen.

We were so naive to believe that our elected officials would make their decisions in our best interests. We became so jaded and detached from the process that we ALLOWED the politicians to work the system to their best advantage, putting us all at an extreme disadvantage.

The politicians have devised a process that is so convoluted and so complex that many of us no longer see a government that is working for the people. We see elitists who are telling us that we don't understand how government works, which is exactly how they devised it.
If you ever took a civics class, you know how government should work; at least in theory.

America has sat by for too long and allowed political parties to write rules that marginalize the other side. Representative government has become government by the party in power.
Any hope that we have of fixing the mounting problems in this country are lost in the rules that have stacked the deck against compromise. Too much time and energy has been spent on parties beating the other into submission and because of that, we have a government sitting idle in gridlock. We have representatives scared to do the right thing, because their re-election is at stake and in order to get their golden parachute when they leave office, they will go with the Washington establishment. They can go back to their constituents and make a litany of excuses that will convince their voters that they are working hard for them in Washington!

I am a registered Republican and I will not apologize for it.
However; I am prepared to vote out those who were obstructionists at a time when we needed solutions for our debt crisis and high unemployment. Even though I understand the parties' political platform, I also believe that opposing political parties can reach agreement without violating a party's base.

And to take this article full circle...
If you believe that blogging about politics doesn't belong at a fire service website; I have two words for you.

Baa-baa.
TCSS.

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 www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Punted; Super Committee Fumbles!

I punted for our high school football team.
Punting was a very strategic part of our offense.
Back then; you know, in the "leather helmet" days, there were no fair catches. You either took the chance of catching the ball or letting it hit the ground and bounce until it was downed by the punting team.
My punts might average 35-40 yards-not very long-but they were extremely high.
The coach at the time taught me a soccer-style of punting that allowed me to kick very high, tight spirals.
The idea was that, when the punt returner saw many of my teammates surrounding him, just begging for him to catch it, he would let it bounce and since the ball would hit flat on the ground, it would bounce and then roll a long ways; pinning the opponent deep in their own territory.
It was really a thing of beauty.
Which is why you CANNOT compare what the Super Committee did today as "punting".
Lately, we seem to find ourselves searching for cute, little analogies for failure-utter and complete failure.
Failure is not punting.
Failure is not getting the punt off at all.
And the truth is that punting  is more complex than what we are seeing out of our government.
So; I am tired of that analogy.
How much practice and hard work would you guess that it took me to punt the football accurately?
I worked the entire summer before my senior year to completely change my punting style-so much so that I beat out the guy who had punted the three, previous football seasons.
THAT is the sweet science of learning the skill, improving it and then executing it at game time.
If you want to compare this current crop of legislative losers who are supposed to be "leading" our country to my football team of 1969, then there is no comparison.
My team is in our high school's hall of fame and Obama & Company are walking the halls of shame!
At a time when we need hall of fame efforts out of our government, we find ourselves with a group that couldn't even carry the water for this country.
And I apologize to all of the hard-working trainers and assistants for that remark. I have tons more respect for them than I do for our Congress at the moment.
It's time to clean house and put a new team on the field.
At least if they punt, it will actually have an impact on the outcome of the game.
For the record; what we are witnessing in this country is not some game or sporting event.
Our elected officials need to stop reaching into their bags of cliches, stop making excuses, suck it up and GOVERN.
You know; give us something to cheer about.
Sorry; they have me doing it, too.
But, the clock is running down and there are no more time outs.
Crap; I did it again.
You get my meaning, though.
TCSS.
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 www.fireengineering.com, 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.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ohio; Community Organizing-Platinum Edition

I find it hard to believe that no one in the fire blogosphere picked up this post-election story and especially since Ohio Governor John Kasich’s very political existence may have hinged upon its defeat.

But, $30 million union dollars later, “Issue 2”; otherwise known as SB 5 was repealed by the voters of Ohio and Governor Kasich was left wondering “why”.

From my perspective, it was the classic political cage match.

The union brought its street fighting style and the conservatives who thought that they were going to hold collective bargaining to the days before John L. Lewis came to the fight believing that there would be “rules”. Consequently, it was no contest.

This story in Ohio had dominated the news media from sea to shining sea since early April with so much media muscle that you had to wonder what Kasich had up his sleeve to beat back this well-organized union effort. If he had a plan, he wasn’t telling anyone.

And now, it has many circles believing that this was the litmus test for Obama’s re-election, even though on the same day that Ohio was voting to protect collective bargaining, they were voting down ObamaCare AND most of the tax increases for many of the school districts in Ohio. Huh?

Both sides claimed victories. However; I think both sides were too full of themselves to see the unintended consequences of Election Night’s results and here’s why:

First; the union thinks that this victory is the end all for any effort to limit their right to represent their members in the public sector, when all that it has done is given the state an opportunity to write another bill that will be more palatable for Ohio voters to chew on. And in the meantime, watch how many jobs are slashed in order to balance the state budget.

In fact; when I saw the results of the vote, the first thing that came to my mind was, “Oh-oh; now there will be big layoffs”. A blogger in Ohio seems to agree. See the link:

http://thirdbasepolitics.blogspot.com/2011/11/issue-2-defeated.html

I have to wonder if Governor Kasich thought anyone in Ohio with a computer would visit the website that answered the many questions surrounding SB 5. I went to the site and took a tour and I must say that it was very thorough, but with trust in government at an all-time low, how many were going to believe those answers. Check out the SB 5 FAQ here:

http://www.aproundtable.org/pdfs/faqonOH_SB5.pdf

Does Ohio have a balanced budget law?

From what I understand, they don’t have a balanced budget requirement per se, but if you look at their state constitution, it would indicate that the legislators cannot spend more money than they take in during a fiscal year. According to the state website, there are provisions that speak to the balanced budget issue. I quote the following from the state guidebook:

Balanced Budget Requirements
Although no one statute or section of the Ohio
Constitution explicitly states that Ohio must keep its
budget in balance, there are several provisions that,
when construed together, make such a requirement
clear. The directives in Revised Code sections
126.05 and 126.07 along with Article II, Section
22, Article VIII, Sections 1 through 3, and Article
XII, Section 4 of the Ohio Constitution ensure that
Ohio keeps its budget balanced by:
• limiting the state’s ability to incur debt;
• requiring the General Assembly to provide
for raising revenue sufficient to defray state
expenses each year;
• permitting money in the state treasury to be
spent only pursuant to an appropriation made
by law;
• limiting the duration of appropriations to two
years;
• requiring the Governor to curtail spending in
the event of insufficient revenue.
If appropriations bills that set forth a balanced
budget cannot be enacted and approved by the
Governor in time to become effective on or shortly
after July 1 of the new fiscal biennium, an “interim”
appropriations bill is necessary to provide for
continued funding on an emergency basis. Usually,
“interim” appropriations bills provide funding for a
month, but on occasion they have been enacted for
shorter or longer periods.


The entire guidebook can be viewed here: 

http://www.lsc.state.oh.us/guidebook/chapter8.pdf

I have also included Ohio state employee pension definitions here: 

http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/145.01

Now; because I am a full service blogger, I have crunched some numbers for you. I have used the state of South Carolina as a comparison to Ohio, because, quite frankly, South Carolina is a right-to-work state and unions often cite right-to-work states as “problematic”. I am in no way endorsing one over the other; at least, not this time!

It was widely reported that the unions poured $30 million into their efforts to beat back SB 5. Given that there are 358,276 state union employees in Ohio, that figures out to $83,735 per employee that was spent to preserve their collective bargaining rights. That’s breath-taking!

State employees in Ohio who are considered full time employees earn $40,603 on the average and part-time employees average $9861 per year and that is NET pay; not gross pay. South Carolina full time employees, on the average, earn $34,203 per year and part-time employees earn $9925 per year. In both states, it was noted that over 54 percent of the public employees were in education.

With regards to pensions and benefits, Ohio state employees contributes 10 percent pre-tax per pay period to their pension and the state kicks in 14 percent for the state employees. They also get 10 paid holidays and can choose from five medical plans for medical care. Cost is $26.74 - $30.50 per month for individuals and $78.91 - $89.25 per month for families. The state pays the remainder of the premium in all cases. Dental coverage is free to the employee and dependents. The state pays the full cost of the dental coverage. Vision care is also free. Life insurance is equal to a year’s salary. That is; if the employee earns $40,000 a year, then their life insurance policy is worth $40,000.

In South Carolina, state employees contribute 6.5 percent into their retirement fund and the state kicks in 9.24 percent. They have the choice of putting it into a 401K plan or the South Carolina Deferred plan. They get 12 paid holidays and can choose from 3 medical plans for medical care. Each plan costs the state $260 per individual. Employees pay $93.46 per month for the standard plan or $185.56 verses $251 per month to either of two HMO plans. However; premiums are due to go up. Dental coverage is free and the state pays $11.71 per employee per month in premiums. Vision care is $7.76 per month for employees choosing to take it. Life insurance is $3000 if the employee is under age 70 and $1500 for those over age 70. Employees also qualify for annual and sick leave that they can accrue up to 180 days, if they have been employed for at least one year.

And speaking of “sick” leave; I offer you this: sick time “cash outs”. A small piece taken from the article states: In Ohio, 2,164 state retirees eligible to cash out sick time at a 55 percent rate received an average of $5,646 in the 2011 fiscal year. More than 4,300 departing Florida employees who retired or otherwise left state service last fiscal year averaged about $3,000 in sick-time payments. At least five received 10 times that.
 

Read the entire article here:  
http://www.qconline.com/archives/qco/display.php?id=569521

On an annual basis, state legislators in Ohio earn approximately $19,600 in gross retirement benefits-about the same as a teacher or police officer. In South Carolina, state legislator earn $10,400 in gross retirement benefits annually.

So that you can see the data that I have quoted for yourselves, I have included the links:

Ohio state employees’ salaries listed:
http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Ohio_state_government_salary

South Carolina state employees’ salaries listed:
http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/South_Carolina_state_government_salary

Also, at the same time that population has grown less than 2 percent in Ohio, it has risen in South Carolina by 15 percent in the past ten years. I’m just sayin’…

AND to be fair; since Illinois leads the nation in unfunded pension obligations of at least $85 billion, we are seeing more news outlets pressing our state government to do something. However; in most of the country where the entitlement programs are the “third rail”, hot button issues; here in Illinois, it’s messing with the unions or Mike Madigan that could be your political hemlock.

See opinion piece here: 

http://www.qconline.com/archives/qco/display.php?id=569546

So; was the defeat of SB 5 in Ohio the result of a very unpopular Governor John Kasich as Brent Larkin of Cleveland.com would suggest in his article?

Or is this just another example of how powerful the Obama community organizing efforts can be, because, let’s face it; the Obama Administration was backing the union’s efforts to defeat SB 5?

And with that said, then why was Obama willing to lose on healthcare in Ohio?

With this victory, will we see the many fire departments like Chillicothe, Columbus and Cleveland that have already been cut restored or will we see more departments being downsized as the various governments struggle with a constituency who wants the services with no increase in taxes?

As an example; voters were upset that public employees get healthcare for little or nothing, but yet; THEY VOTED DOWN OBAMACARE!

Voters can definitely be fickle!

Stay tuned. Ohio was only the beginning and not the end.

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 www.fireengineering.com, 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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Private Sacrifice

In honor of and with deep appreciation, this goes out to our veterans.

The envelope measured four inches wide by six inches long. It has held up rather well. It almost has a waxy feel to it. I am sure that it was white at one time, but is now a dark beige color.


In the top, left corner scribbled in pencil is: “after 5 days return to Pvt. W. H. Goodrich, Fort Leavenworth Kans.” At the top, middle of the envelope is a postmark that says: “Fort Leavenworth Kans., 9 am, Aug 31, 1942.

In the top, right corner of the envelope are the postage cancellation lines and the word “free”.
The envelope is addressed: “Mrs. Walter H. Goodrich, Truro, Iowa”.

Inside the envelope is one page of what appears to be paper torn from a pad of school note paper. It measures five and one-half inches wide by nine inches long. Written in pencil is the following:

Fort Leavenworth Kans., Sunday
Dearest Lela

Just a few lines to let you know I got down here OK.

Got in last nite about 9:30 and got up at 4:30 this morning. Sure was a change for me.

Well how do you feel by now. I hope you are fine. I sure hated to go to bed last nite all by myself.
I was talking to Carl P. today he said the folks was up at Winterset last nite did you go along if you did, did you have a good time?

Well sweetheart I guess I’ll ring off for now And please take care of yourself and don’t worry about nothing tell all the folks I said Hello.
Don’t write till you hear from me again because I probably won’t be here long enough to get any mail.

Over


Well honey I guess I’ll close this time. And until I see you I’ll be thinking of you all the time. I’ll write later.

Oceans & Oceans of love,

Your Husband Gotch


My dad passed away in 1992, having served in both theaters of World War II. Yes; his nickname was “Gotch”. Dad enlisted in the Army and was inducted on August 15, 1942. He was assigned to Battery E, 71st Coast Artillery (AA) as a private first class initially, but ended his service with the 1474th Engineer Maintenance Company as a Tech 3. He first served overseas in Germany and then went on to the Philippines. He was discharged on January 18, 1946. He was awarded a service stripe, Overseas Service Bar, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with Bronze Battle Star, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

Like many other soldiers, he said good-bye to his pregnant wife, his parents, his brothers and sisters and left to serve his country. I have his GI-issued Bible, a small, olive drab version that zips up. It is my most cherished possession of Dad’s. Inside is a uniform patch (Tech Staff Sergeant) and a picture of him on an anti-aircraft gun in Washington, DC; his gig before he left for Europe (Germany) in 1944.

By then, Mom and Dad had fathered a son, Roger Allen in 1941, but who died just six weeks later; my sister Donna, who was born in 1942 and just 2 months after Dad joined the Army. Mom gave birth to another son, Walter, Jr. on December 11, 1943, while Dad was stationed in Washington DC. Junior was born with a defective heart and would die in February, 1944. Dad could not get home, because he had shipped out for Germany. I have the exchange of telegrams and it is heart wrenching to read of Dad’s futility and frustration of not being there for his family. I also think about the irony of the many parents who were being notified that their sons had died in the war, but Dad received word that his son had died while he was going off to war; his private sacrifice, if you will.

And there has always been the emptiness in me of never knowing my two, older brothers.
My mother passed away in 1999. While we were clearing out her apartment, I found a small suitcase to the back of her closet and inside the suitcase were letters and cards that they exchanged while they were apart. Also in that suitcase were never-before-seen pictures of my two, deceased brothers.

This letter that I share with you is to show you what gave our soldiers their strength. Letters were the only mode of communication for the three years that Dad served in the war. He got one leave before he left for Germany, so he got to see my sister, Donna and father Walter, Jr. He would not see Donna again until he was discharged. He only saw pictures of Walter, Jr. I should note that both Roger and Walter, Jr. are buried at Babyland in the Osceola, Iowa cemetery.

No phone; no Internet; just letters written in pencil on tablet paper.

When we discuss the importance of writing; ultimately, the discussion will turn to those who don’t feel that writing skills are important. But, I can tell you that writing letters that clearly communicated feelings exchanged between husband and wife; mothers and fathers to her sons and daughters; and boyfriends to their girlfriends gave those serving in the war the will to accomplish their mission.

And THAT is powerful!
Dad had beautiful penmanship and his passion and love that he conveyed in his letters were with crystal clarity. I hope that Dad’s letter to Mom has given you all warm hearts and good thoughts on this day.

I miss you both, but Dad; I am so very proud of you and thankful to those who have served our great country.


Art

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lit Fires; Light Sentences

Want to kill off an evening or two in front of your computer?
Google “firefighter arson”.
Then, kick back and prepare to get angry!
From the lame and pathetic excuses offered up by the accused to the light sentences handed down to the guilty; it’s enough to get this old boy’s blood boiling.
Over the years, I have written a few blogs about this fire service issue and one thing remains true…
It is still a big problem for the nation’s fire service.
Why?
I think that part of the problem is that sentences for those firefighters convicted of arson are not strong enough to act as a deterrent for the next idiots  who masquerade as firefighters while setting fires.
Look at the most recent band of firefighter arsonists: http://www.cbs3springfield.com/story/15593975/former-firefighters-sentenced-to-3-years-behind-bars.
Two-the “ringleaders”-were sentenced to THREE years in prison for a “string” of arsons. “String” means that prosecutors weren’t exactly sure how many fires were set.
Two others were sentenced to three years PROBATION. A fifth firefighter will be sentenced next month (November). I am guessing that he will also receive probation.
And I sit here shaking my head!
Is it because these public safety predators are connected to the privileged class of their communities? Is their daddy or other relatives on the fire department or are past members? Or maybe they have a relative on the city council or fire board? It’s worth researching and discussing.
Is it because they are often “young adults”? Often times, the court system goes lenient because they don’t want to see this “one mistake” blight their record for the rest of their lives? You have seen it in the court testimony: This is a mistake made by otherwise ‘good kids’! Yeah; right. It’s as if they are comparing arson to tee-peeing someone’s house.
But, it seems that someone has to die in the fire or in close approximate time to the fire to see any significant sentences handed down.
Does anyone remember the case of Caleb Lacey?
He set a fire just down from where he lived so that he could be the first there and makes heroic rescues. He confessed to his crime, but claimed he was innocent. He received 25 years to life. Here’s the link:  http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-04-09/news/27061282_1_volunteer-firefighter-arson-case-young-sons.
What if someone had not died in the fire that he was convicted of setting? For the record; FOUR died in this fire.
Had there only been property damage and no fatalities, would his have been another case with an anemic sentence of less than 5 years in prison or worse; probation?
Based upon many of the cases that I have reviewed, I would have to say “yes”.
The problem might also lay with the legal definition of “arson”.
The legal definition from USlegal.com is: Intentional wrongful setting of fires and possession of explosives is governed by state criminal laws, which vary by state. Federal laws also govern possession of explosives, such as on an airplane. Arson is committed when a person intentionally damages a building by starting or maintaining a fire or causing an explosion. The arsonist's knowledge or suspicion that a person may occupy the building when it is on fire will heighten the seriousness of the charge. Arson may be committed by an act of recklessness which results in a fire.
In some states, if the building is not inhabited or is determined to be uninhabitable, then a charge of arson may not apply. That is left to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). I would guess that some type of criminal mischief charge may be filed. Again; it could depend on WHO is being charged.
Here in Illinois, if a public safety employee is injured as the result of a deliberately set fire (arson), aggravating circumstances exist for additional sentencing guidelines.
So, it is clear that it may be unclear when you have a fire that has been set that it may or may not be arson and even if it was determined to be arson, mitigating issues might result in light sentences upon conviction.
With that said, I have to ask about the betrayal of the public’s trust when a firefighter sets a fire. Shouldn’t there be an automatic prison term for this betrayal, regardless of whether it is defined as “arson”?
In my opinion, betraying the public trust should bring a minimum prison sentence of at least five years. No; I’m not saying that we are better than the public. I am saying that we are different from the public that we have sworn to serve.
But, from what I have seen, few judges have addressed the betrayal of public trust when they sentence firefighters for setting fires.
In my mind, betraying public trust in the commission of this type of crime is very disturbing and very serious, because every firefighter everywhere is forced to fight this stigma that is put on public display the minute a firefighter is arrested for setting fires. Innocent until proven guilty is dead on arrival as soon as the headline appears.
It has been the subject of investigative news shows such as Dateline. Documentaries have been done on the more prolific firefighter arsonists.
Way back in the 1980s, a firefighter setting fires was a subplot in a little movie titled “Backdraft”. Axe, played by Scott Glenn, was setting fires, because the mayor was making cutbacks. Bull, played by Kirk Russell, found out about it and you know the rest. Have a tissue ready at the end if you watch it. Yeah; I still choke up when I watch it.
Firefighter arson has been referred to as the fire service’s “dirty little secret” for too many years, but the secret is out. It is front page news and lead stories for the entire world to see.
Even today, many firefighters STILL struggle to engage in the discussion of it.
And I know that there are fire departments who still believe that they can handle this “problem” internally.
Simply put; they kick out their problem and kick it down the road to another unsuspecting fire department, where the mutt can resume his fire-setting ways. In the process, I think it opens the door to charges of complicity or conspiracy on the part of the fire department.
To make my position on firefighter arson crystal clear; a firefighter charged and convicted of arson should receive a sentence of no less than 10 years for the crime of arson, 5 years for betraying the public’s trust and NO probation, unless it comes after the prison sentence has been served.
And while we are at it, make firefighter arson a federal offense. That will throw off any hometown feel for the favorite “home boys”.
A bit irrational, you say?
Not a chance.
I have been looking at this fire service scourge for over 20 years. We need to put down the books by Dr. Spock and pick up B.F. Skinner.
As I was writing this, the NVFC released a new report on firefighter arson. It is in a downloadable PDF and can be found here http://www.nvfc.org/media/news/nvfc-releases-report-on-firefighter-arson/, but let me warn you; if you read the report, then you might be admitting that the fire service does indeed have a firefighter arson problem (over 100 cases a YEAR, folks and that’s just the ones we know of).
Let me hear your thoughts.
TCSS.
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 www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.