Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Different Governor; Same Mistake

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe, after little more than a month in office, has apparently confirmed that the Peter Principal (rising to your level of incompetence) is already at work in his administration. Wolfe has chosen Former Maryland State Police Chief Marcus Brown to head the Pennsylvania State Police.

Among the reasons Wolf has picked Brown is his "commitment to diversity." I cringe every time I hear a cop single this out as his “commitment.” Such was my reaction when then New Jersey Governor James McGreevey named Joseph Fuentes as his state police chief.

I was a newspaper editor at the time, and this “cringe factor” prompted me to write the following column for the Cape May County Herald, which garnered me an award from the 2003 IFPA (Independent Free Papers of America) Conference.

I felt then as I do now, i.e., when is someone going to explain to these “top-cops” what their job really is?

* * *

You can have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government; while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it.
            —­Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

            During my 22-plus year tenure with the Philadelphia Police Department, I became used to the term, “sworn employees.”

            You see, there were two types of city worker: civilian and sworn. My dad was a civilian employee; I and my brother, John, were sworn. That essentially meant that John and I had raised our hands and sworn an oath to uphold the City Charter, plus the state and federal constitutions.

            The pledge was short and to the point, similar in content to the one I took upon entering the U.S. Air Force some years prior. I believe all U.S. police take an equivalent oath.

            As a cop, I had sworn to protect the citizenry and their property. That was job one, and in the end, the only job that mattered. So help me, God.

            I spent 19 of my 22 years as a supervisor, and I like to believe that I was a much better commander at the end of my career than at the beginning, having never stopped learning from my experiences with the public and from my charges. With age comes wisdom, whether you choose to accept it or not. I hope I accepted much more than I rejected.

            Your job, I would advise new officers, is not that of an army of occupation, but rather that of a palace guard. “This is not us against them,'” I was always fond of pointing out.

            Keeping your sector quiet, meant that you were keeping your assigned area of patrol safe.

            It is ironic, but by the time I was leaving to pursue another career in another state, I was emotionally and morally content in my bearing and performance as a peace officer, both with those whom I served and those whom I serviced.

            And I tried never to forget why I was there; never to forget that oath. It became more meaningful with each passing month. The longer I was in the business, the more I came to disdain the, “Sorry, not my job,” mentality that would periodically emerge in some of our sworn colleagues—the oath too casually shrugged aside.

            But of course, there were often political or extrinsic circumstances that changed the landscape. We always hated that. It prevented us from doing our job — the one we had sworn to do — protect the citizenry and their property.

            Earlier this month, New Jersey State Police got a new boss: Joseph Fuentes, a 35-year veteran and a PhD. I know little about the man, but I hope he intends to do his best to protect the citizenry and their property.

            But his first “pledge” upon being nominated causes me concern. Fuentes said he would aggressively diversity the force through recruitment and training. He considers it his priority.

            Shouldn’t his priority be (I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing this) to protect the citizenry and their property? But no, here comes one of those political circumstances that changes the landscape.

            Fuentes is Governor McGreevey’s third appointment to the post. The first was accused of having mob affiliations. (Colorful term, that— mob. Makes me think of a Jimmy Cagney movie.) The next one withdrew amid threats from the minority community, worried about the latest catch-phrase: racial profiling.

            McGreevy was hurled into a corner. He had to appoint someone that the mob hated and the minority community liked. He chose Fuentes, a Hispanic, to heal the wound that racial profiling had ostensibly produced over the past years.

            I had literally hundred of officers under my supervision over my career: men, women; black, white; young, old; Jew, Gentile;  irascible, friendly — you get the idea. I found good and bad in all groups. That’s why I took (and take) pains not to judge a group, but an individual.

            One of the best cops I ever knew was Russell , a veteran white Anglo Saxon Protestant whose sector was heavily populated by émigrés from Puerto Rico. He didn’t speak their language and had no particular ties to their culture. But they loved him. He was always being invited to weddings and Christenings by the people on his sector — the sector he kept as safe and quiet as he could.

            Russell simply did his job as best he could. You know, that job I’ve already mentioned far too often. And the people who lived and worked on his sector knew it; felt it.

            I sincerely hope that, political pressures notwithstanding, Joseph Fuentes's real priority is having the New Jersey State Police do their job — the one they swore to do — as best they can. The people who live and work in our state will know it, and feel it.

            So help him, God.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Self-satisfaction means death of scientific inquiry

In science, self-satisfaction is death. — Jacques Monod

As Features Editor for the Cape May County Herald during the housing boom of the early 2000s, I assigned a story on lumber alternatives for new housing construction to a relatively new assistant.

Several days after I assigned the story, he turned in (what he thought was) the finished product. His 1,200 words praised a new, sustainable wood source that was not widely available and used by only three builders in the entire county—all of whom he had interviewed for the article.

“Why,” I asked, “are there only three companies using this material?”

“it’s just too expensive,” he replied quite assertively.

“Then you should state that in the article,” I said. “Plus, I see where you only interviewed three people—in fact, the only three that use this lumber.” I handed the paper back to him. “Now get me some interviews with contractors that don’t use the material, and find out why. In essence, get their side of this.”

The kid was damn mad about this. “How many more contractors do you want?” he demanded.

“Well,” I said in my best avuncular tone, “you got three that use the stuff; now get three that do not.”

As he continued to silently stare at what he apparently thought was his completely unreasonable editor, I told him what all journalists should know, but most of whom must constantly be reminded: “A newspaper’s job is to be objective,” I said. “Give both sides of the story, if you will. When we stop allowing both sides of an argument to plead their case, we lose credibility.”

He added two more interviews with contractors that had decidedly opposite views to the first three, making the overall article (somewhat) more impartial. But for the rest of his time under my supervision, he held my proclivity for fact-finding against me.

He wasn’t a journalist; never really let himself develop into one. You can study journalism, you can be trained as a journalist, but unless you develop a journalist’s heart…

Having spent my early grammar school years within walking distance of Independence Hall, my journalist’s heart was nurtured on the history of the United States. That heart experienced its first cardiovascular contractions when I learned of what went on at those antique desks inside the hall (we could sit in them in the early 1950s) back in 1776. It experienced a shot of adrenaline when I studied the Constitution a short time later, and settled into a steady rhythm by the time I read—and understood—the Bill of Rights.

But just as with physical cardiac health, you need a journalistic EKG once in a while to make sure you’re not suffering from arrhythmia. The Philadelphia Inquirer provided me with an unscheduled checkup on page A27 of their June 13 edition. In an article unabashedly titled, “Don’t give equal time to climate-change deniers,” the author, an environmental professor at a local college, proposes that the media close off any further discussion because, he wrote: “There is only one side of this story.”

He—like my young editorial assistant mentioned above—displayed his indignation at an unnamed news organization that aired a segment on global warming which presented those who said we should be concerned, and those who held the opposite view. Imagine! They actually presented both sides of an argument!

“Sure,” the author admits, “they (media) want to provide a balanced view. But not all stories have two sides.”

Aren’t scientists supposed to welcome skepticism? Isn’t that what true science is about—questioning?

Hopefully, the Inquirer—operated by open minds responding to the pulse of journalistic hearts—will ignore the climate-change author’s plea, because he has apparently flatlined.

The above editorial was published in the Oped section of the Philadelphia Inquirer (p. A17) June 23, 2014


Monday, February 10, 2014

Ignorance...Apathy...or Arrogance?

I follow sports for what I consider the proper reason: They are a pleasant diversion from life’s everyday annoyances—from things like car payments, health issues, bank balances, income tax, political correctness, the shrinking waistband on my trousers…

I don’t follow (listen to, watch, or read about) sports for lessons in life. And certainly not for updates on what is and is not proper social behavior. So I became annoyed (infuriated actually) when I recently heard a 28-year old sports commentator (who by the way, has been on Earth less than half the time I’ve been following sports) make the blasé declaration that, “We’re not offended by that anymore,” while referring to the use of profanity in a public forum.

Really? We are not offended? Who the hell is “we” in his absolute affirmation? Was he referring to our society in general? Was it sports fans in particular? Was he perhaps singling out 20-something-year-olds, for whom he obviously (thinks he) is the spokesman?

His remark was made in objection to a penalty levied by the National Basketball Association on a player for shouting the profanity de rigueur, politely called the ‘f-word’, not once, but multiple times (to anyone who would listen, I guess) during a well-attended game.

Neophyte adults such as this Harvard graduate (Could the banter around that campus cafeteria be any worse than that heard in a military chow-hall?) often seem to make the mistake of believing that anything happening before their birth (indeed, before their cognizance) should be relegated to pre-history. Using that reasoning, I suppose I must accept his view (elsewise I might offend him).

So I suppose I could casually babble that language in his presence, or that of his wife, mother, sister, grandmother, daughter, or anyone he values, since, “He is not offended by that anymore.”

If the f-word does not offend him, what does? The n-word?  The s-word?  The q-word?  The c-word?  The r-word?  The m-word?

How about the a-word? Oh, hell…I’m just going to say it: The kid is arrogant! He must actually believe that his sensibilities set the standard for society…for sports fans…for 20-something-year-olds…

He certainly does not speak for most of the 20-somethings I interact with. (Of course, none attended Harvard.)

This is not the first time I’ve been resolute on this topic, and it’s not the first time that I’ve qualified my opinion by citing my résumé: After four years in the military and 22 years in the Philadelphia Police Department, I doubt there’s any expletive a novice could come up with that I haven’t heard, imagined, or broadcast myself.

Yet the motive for an obscenity remains the same throughout history—all human history, not just what a youthful sportscaster acknowledges: Whether uttered in anger, fear, confusion, anxiety, or jocularity; it is most certainly always uttered in ignorance.

And sometimes arrogance.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If Anyone Asks, It Was Oxford

I presented a paper at an Oxford University Roundtable this past October.

I've presented papers I've written before—in the universities I've attended here in the states, specifically LaSalle and Rider, but they were essentially classroom discussions. Oxford was different. It was the big leagues. Hell, man; it was OXFORD!

Of course the universities that conferred degrees upon me were not the minor leagues, mind you, but, I mean…hell, this was Oxford!

Out of the 14 presenters, I was the only non-Ph. D., and I told them so, declaring myself the “dummy” of the group. (I figured I’d get a better reception if I buttered-up the docs a bit first!)

Maybe it worked, because I believe it was well-received. It sparked some lively debate, and I made some salient points. (Do you like that word—salient? I pulled that one out of my holster during the presentation. It seemed like a good Oxford word. I did mention that the presentation was at Oxford, didn't I?)

I didn't see much of London, outside of Heathrow Airport, during the four days I was in England, but I had some spare time to socialize with and get mildly assimilated among the British general public in Oxford (when I wasn't hanging out with the profs).

The easiest way to express my opinion about the experience is to repeat the answer I gave my wife when she picked me up at Philadelphia International and asked, “How was England?” I told her I would move there tomorrow, if it were practical.

That surprised her, since she was well-aware that the airline had lost my luggage and it didn't
show up at my hotel until 7 p.m. the evening before I left to come home. So she quite naturally expected me to start wailing about what a disaster my expedition to the UK just had to be.

Consequently, my appearances at Oxford the first day, the second day, and the third day, were in the blue jeans I wore for travel. They were new, pressed, and presentable (pun intended), but they were jeans. And hell, man; this was Oxford! And here I was standing in front of (to me) academic aristocracy pontificating on the state of contemporary higher education.

Serendipitously, I discovered that my audience was concentrating on the content of my presentation and not at all concerned about my élan (or lack thereof). This, in retrospect, is exactly what I should have expected. They were interested enough in my topic and sympathetic enough about my wardrobe limitations to make me feel a legitimate part of the group.

Nor did the British cordiality end at the gates of the university. Oxford—the city—is a college town and accordingly is heavily populated by students, most of whom get from here to there on bicycle. They (and their bikes) are all over the place. They ride with the traffic in the streets and follow strict traffic rules, including stopping for red lights, wearing helmets, using hand signals, and being equipped with their own lighting.

Whenever cyclists ventured onto the sidewalk, they dismounted and walked their bikes. And if a pedestrian was standing in the way, they waited until the walker moved! Really!

I was standing by a bus stop talking to one of the professors when I chanced to look behind me and realized that there was a pair of cyclists patiently standing there, waiting for me to finish so they could pass. Imagine that! And when I stepped back and said, “Oh, excuse me,” they both said, “thank you.”

Oh, and by the way, there was an endless queue (another word I latched onto in England) of bicycles parked along the walls, fences, and sidewalks adjoining the university. I did not see one that had a lock attached.

I have to tell you, when the townspeople—students, shopkeepers, professors, taxi drivers, bus drivers, shoppers—are outwardly cordial, and bikes are left unlocked, and the intelligentsia is actually interested in what you came there for…well…that’s a place I could move to.

Did I mention that it was Oxford?

Me in my travel-jeans on an Oxford quad after my presentation. (Note the emergency briefcase I used until my luggage arrived.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

No Doubt I'll Fit Right In

I’ve been absent from my blog lately because of my focus on the paper I’ll be presenting at an Oxford University Roundtable October 22-23. The task was even more demanding than I had originally imagined. I leave for England this weekend.
                The roundtable consists of 13 presenters, 12 of whom (guess who 13 is) are college professors. The topic we’re addressing is “For-Profit Education” and the challenge it presents to contemporary higher education.
                For the past nine months I’ve been preoccupied with researching and writing about a topic I had scant knowledge of this time last year. The university wanted an “outside” opinion, and hence my invitation to attend. So I’ll be standing among Oxford Ph. Ds armed with my diplomas (I may take them with me) from LaSalle and Rider colleges.
                Hopefully, I’ll be seated close enough to King Arthur at the roundtable to ask him some questions that have obsessed me since my youth:
                • Where did you really get Excalibur?
                • Were you offended by the Press referring to the Kennedy administration as “Camelot?”
                • Was Merlin as good as David Copperfield, Doug Henning, or Penn & Teller?
                • What the hell’s a ‘grail’ anyway?
                I don’t want to stick out like an onion ring in a bag of fish and chips, so I’ve begun to (over) use some British terminology in an effort to blend in among the U.K. crowd. I spend as much time as I can in the loo; I’ve packed my bags in the boot of my car; I’ve watched as much British telly as I can, and I now keep my ale in the warming tray of the stove (oh, excuse me, I mean cooker).
                I have a good feeling about this trip. With all this preparation, I think I’m going to fit right in.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Does She Chew Slippers Too?

I like dogs.

I've had seven over the course of my lifetime—two as a kid and five as an adult—two German Sheppards, two Dachshunds, Irish Setter, Beagle, Cocker Spaniel.

I trained (or attempted to) all the dogs I had as an adult. For more than 30 years now, I've chosen to live without pets. I have neither the wherewithal, the time, nor the inclination to have a dog in my home. Those days are over, much the same as my days of owning a motorcycle (I've only had six of those).

Dogs are wonderful animals, and I heartily believe they have earned their sobriquet as “Man’s Best Friend.” They are loyal, funny, interesting, protective, and often looked upon as a part of your family. That seems reasonable, since it’s widely believed that dogs look at humans as…well, just another dog!

As much as I like our canine friends, there is a noted separation in the acceptable behavior for each of our respective species.

• Humans eat (predominantly) at a table, and more often than not we use utensils (even while enjoying a hoagie, I usually use a knife to plunge the contents down into the roll).
•Dogs eat and drink by plunging their faces into a bowl.

• Humans relieve themselves (again, predominantly) in private at appliances made specifically for that function.
• Dogs let it fly in public.

• Humans share intimacy (porn stars and Hollywood pigs notwithstanding) with the one they love—in private.
• Dogs will fornicate on the municipal common and hump any available human leg when the mood strikes.

None of these activities are to dogs' detriment; they are not human, and hence do not have our powers of judgment, nor our sense of propriety. We appreciate them, respect them for what they are, and our affection for them is renowned.

We do think it’s funny though, how they so often act like people, almost mimicking us as they join us in the family car, saunter down the sidewalk with us, whimper when they want something, or lean against us with a sad face when they know we are feeling blue.

It’s outright charming when a dog acts like a human. It’s what endears them to us.

The converse however, is untrue. It’s outright nauseating when a human acts like a dog.

So I actually felt a little diseased when I saw Miley Cyrus doing her dog act at the August 25th Video Music Awards. Now I realize this kid is trying anything she can get away with to resuscitate or prolong her showbiz career. But true talent doesn't need a gimmick.

And talent precludes the need to act inhuman (like a dog) in front of literally millions of fellow human beings.

I don’t know if Cyrus’s bestiality will benefit her career. Heaven knows, stranger things have happened within the entertainment industry. But I’m certainly not going to ever invite her over for dinner at our home.

As I mentioned, it’s been more than 30 years since I owned a dog, and I got rid of all my dog bowls.

P.S. Nominate someone to be a Champion of Adult Literacy by going to www.delcoliteracy.org for the Nomination Form or by calling 610-876-5411 for more information. Deadline to receive nominations is Wednesday, September 18, 2013.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Real Country Showed Up on the Fourth

Although I've been a journalist for more than 20 years, I am in no way a “news junkie.” I seldom watch TV news, nor do I listen to news on the radio (except the traffic report when I’m in the car). I read newspapers sparingly—that is to say, selectively. And of course, I have been trained to pick out the bias in all reporting (yes, it’s there; believe me, some more so than others!).

Most who do watch, read, and listen to mainstream news (and entertainment) media will no doubt tell you that the tendencies in today’s culture are to tolerate everyone’s point of view, celebrate (whatever the hell that means) everyone’s lifestyle, and crusade for what you believe in—i.e. speak your mind.

Undeniably you’ll travel a smoother road as long as your point of view, your crusade, and your speech tows that cultural line: The one painted so stealthily through our social conscience by the media.

So you should join the overwhelming majority (if media tendentiousness is to be believed) of Americans who:
• Tolerate casual sex, infanticide, and animal worship.
• Celebrate homosexuality, bisexuality, and nature worship.
• Speak out against all outdated ideals, such as theism and patriotism.

Then you’d be well on your way to conforming to the contemporary norm. You’d be solidly in line to becoming a secular humanist. (Sounds great doesn't it—Secular humanist? It’s one of those hip phrases that pretty much means whatever the hell you want it to mean. Stalin and Hitler would both have loved it!)

Not that I was ever seriously tempted to trust media predisposition to their vision of the new American society, but I had my faith physically and spiritually reinforced this Independence Day at the parade in Pitman, New Jersey.

As a Christian, I've always been taught that Faith, Hope, and Charity are the three cardinal virtues upon which true humanism, if you will, is based. Those three facets of our uniquely human nature were obvious the morning of July 4th all along Broadway in Pitman.

What we celebrated that day stood out as contingent after contingent passed in review:
• Diverse church groups professing their faith—most musically—without demeaning those whose point of view may differ from that of their own.
• Diverse patriotic groups—military units past and present, Boy, Girl and Cub scouts, Masonic lodge, First Responders, and elected officials from the state and locals levels.
• Community service organizations who crusade all through the year for their particular cause to benefit their fellow human.

And all along the route that hot and humid day, families, couples, teens, preteens, old soldiers, young parents, and plain ol’, everyday Americans, smiled, applauded, and enjoyed their country as it passed in review.

I realized that morning that this was the real America—the one I lived in. The one that the entertainment industry ceaselessly tells us is no longer relevant. The one that the media tells us has gone the way of the dinosaur. The one that academia tells us is corrupt and in need of replacement.

We’re still here. We’re still the bedrock. We still serve. We still have faith. We still hope. We still espouse charity.

We tolerate those who don’t share our point of view, and ask only for reciprocation.

We celebrate our heritage and worship as per our constitutionally mandated choice.

And we speak our minds, so thank you for listening.

The Gloucester County Community Church was just one of the symbols of true American Independence that marched in Pitman, New Jersey on the 4th of July.