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Friday, May 29, 2015

Portsmouth: Where Good Old Boys Make "Equality" and "Justice" Relative Terms

My town is a place where equality and justice are relative terms. Depending upon your position and your political connections, those in charge dole out carefully measured shares of basic rights and privileges to citizens as they see fit. Portsmouth has been a corporation of Good Old Boys for a very long time, and I believe those unwilling to bow to those who oversee both government and justice suffer greatly for even daring to insist upon being granted their basic liberties.

To say cronyism is alive and well here is to mouth what exists in the hearts of common folks. It is so entrenched in everyday life that many just endure it as another everyday burden, much like a slave who realizes the futility of attempting to escape. Sooner or later, most slaves of any unjust system lose hope for freedom.

Oh, there is an appearance of care and concern for equal treatment in my town, but it is a carefully designed illusion. It is crafted with claims of concern for all, yet it is honestly a machine that allows the Good Old Boys to maintain power and to make judgments that are certain to contribute to the growth of their power and influence. Good Old Boys here are connected, often related, and tied to serving one goal -- maintenance of the system that keeps them in power.

Some work for the GOB machine and don't even realize they are tokens, people who were hired to add a sense of false security to a fraudulent system. Soon, they too sadly realize the inequality here, but they depend upon the GOB's for a paycheck, which insures their allegiance to administering justice as the machine requires, not as equality demands. Thus, innocent people no longer report serious crimes and injustices because they know nothing will be done about their problems except for a standardized show of sympathy and a patent slogan "It's happening everywhere."

Time and time again those outside the power structure are reminded that laws and ordinances are in place to insure their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The truth is that these rules favor the GOB's, and they are full of undefined and ambiguous terms and conditions open to interpretation. The loopholes are used to squelch any protest that doesn't sit well with the power structure. The old guard is built to ignore what is not in their interest, resist any challenges that do occur, and quickly extinguish resistance with their own propaganda. They do so in fear that a righteous revolution may someday usurp their throne of community control.

One of the most disturbing aspects of living under the GOB regime is that those within the power structure who do know of terrible corruption fear investigating and bringing to justice those who rape and plunder the populace. Internal affairs is nonexistent. In the meantime, the use of "tabling" concerns, conducting careless investigations, and then excusing those in power are common practices that highlight the allowance for intimidation of citizens.

As the public is aware of injustices committed by those in high positions, they seethe with anger. Drug use, alcoholism, prostitution, use of coercion, control of vice by threats, improper enforcement of associates, deals for profit, large-scale cover-ups, and heavy-handed intimidation -- the public knows of this GOB activity. They talk of it constantly, shake their heads in disbelief, and swallow dose after dose of watching those in high places not being arrested and not being charged adequately for their wrongdoings.

So, many wait for someone from the outside -- higher authorities -- to investigate the machine, reveal the corruption, and thus begin a new era of equality and justice for all. Meanwhile, some unknowing Samaritans wonder why the town continues to bleed out as they diligently launch various programs to patch a myriad of holes in a once-proud vessel now steered by pirates and manned by those who feed upon the have-nots.

With no significant foresight and no desire to offer the general public any lasting relief, the GOB's have recklessly horded resources and garnered control to further their goal of remaining elite pontificators over the trodden masses.

Here, in my town, there is "them" and you, and unless you submit to their political dominance or unless you have considerable resources to gain their allegiance, you are a secondary citizen deemed as a silent, nonessential member of the community or, if you dare speak out, you are deemed a risky troublemaker.

A poor man's home is not even his safe castle. Let me tell you my story. It is a story that has played out over and over in Portsmouth so many times that most of the different accounts of the story have a striking similarity and a similar theme. For decades, people of different persuasions -- politics, races, sexes, economic statuses, philosophies, and other persuasions deeming them as second-class citizens -- have encountered like miscarriages of justice here in my town.

One night last week my phone rang and a man -- a stranger to me (But one I later found out was connected and secure in the GOB system.) called by home. He wanted to talk with me about a false claim he alleged I had made about his nephew, one rumor reported to him by his nephew and his nephew's grandmother. I was busy at the time, so my wife talked to the man and assured him the alleged claim he said I made was false and merely hearsay. In any event, this man tried to coerce my wife with evident intimidation that I needed to be quiet.

My wife told me about the conversation that night, and after considering the man's false allegations, I still slept on the problem considering what to do, but the next day I decided to call my accuser to find out the entire story of his abrupt intimidation. He explained that he heard I had said something negative about his nephew: this was entirely false.

I had said nothing of the like at all, and I explained someone had lied about the allegations. He proceeded to tell me that he usually "kicked somebody's ass" when they didn't fess up, accused me of lying about the whole thing, and told me if I said "75 times it didn't happen," he wouldn't believe me. He hung up the phone in a huff.

Ten minutes or so later as I was watching the Reds game, I heard my doorbell ring. My dogs started barking (which may have made this angry man I had just talked to on the phone back away a few feet down my driveway) and I opened my front door to see the man seething in anger threatening to "beat my ass." I was in shock. I didn't know if the man had a weapon concealed on him or not. He was in a tirade.

I immediately told him I was calling 911 and withdrew to the house to retrieve my phone and make the call. I frantically told the 911 operator a man was standing in front of my house threatening my life. At that point, this agitated person got into his car and pulled in front of my driveway screaming and pointing his finger at me calling out several times, "I'm going to teach you a lesson."

Inside my house now, I saw him reach for something in the car. Naturally, I felt as if he was going to grab a gun and shoot me. Instead, he retrieved a cell phone and called 911 himself! All the while, he stayed in front of my drive. A little later, he pulled down the street, turned around in a neighbor's driveway and went to his nephew's home (two doors up from me) and sat on the front porch.

It took quite a while for a police response, so I called 911 back and they told me the man had called 911, so "basically the situation was calmed, and the police would be there soon." Finally, the police arrived. Outside now at my own home, I begged the officers to frisk him for weapons and to check his car for weapons: neither was done. I also begged them to check his sobriety for drunkenness or drug use. Neither was done.

Instead, one officer remained on the street while the other, along with the accuser and his nephew, who by now had arrived at his home (incidentally, greeted by the policeman with a pat on the back), went inside the dwelling to talk.

After quite a lengthy conversation, the policemen walked down the hill to me, where I was sitting on the steps of my front deck, and I told him my story. I insisted I wanted the man arrested. He told me it wasn't happening because the threats he uttered included the word usually. He had said, "I usually beat someone's ass for this." The officer told me he believed every part of my account but all he could do was submit the aggravation to the city solicitor.

That was on Saturday. I waited until Thursday of the next week to talk with the solicitor (or his legal representative -- I'm still not sure) on the phone. I figured it would take some time for him to review the police report. I talked to the solicitor (his rep?), and I explained in detail what had happened. He told me in no uncertain terms that my request for prosecution was not going to be granted. Period. He also said he was busy and I needed to end the conversation.

Later that afternoon, I decided to go to city hall and talk with the police chief about the whole affair. He graciously granted me time to tell my story. He listened intently and suggested I get a copy of the police report of the incident and walk upstairs to the solicitor's office to see if I had talked to the right person in charge when I had called. I thanked him for his time.

As I was walking upstairs, I noticed the police report did not have the attending officer's statement of the incident. In fact, it was blank. I turned back to tell the secretary I hadn't received the complete report, and she informed me the police never give the officer's account in a report they hand to the plaintiff.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I climbed the steps to the solicitor's office, rang the bell, and a voice told me to enter. A different man (not the one I had talked with on the phone and not the solicitor himself), asked me about my business there. I explained it. He asked me if I had any witnesses to the aggressor being at my front door while he was threatening me. I told him "no." He told me the case was strictly "one person's version versus another's," and he said the solicitor would not prosecute a case he couldn't win. He quickly escorted me to the door. The end.

Who you are and who supports who you are -- these are the criteria pertinent to receiving justice in Portsmouth, Ohio. I will protest against this inequality of justice on the sidewalks in front of city hall. I have that right. I may be judged as a lone voice, an old codger with a slanted viewpoint and a stupid sign that reads: "I have been taught that there is no equality of justice in Portsmouth." That doesn't really bother me to be known as foolish and eccentric.

What would bother me until my last breath would be to remain silent and inactive about the apparent truth of that statement. I cannot rest until I exercise my rights of free expression. Only then will I consider I have done my duty to respond to eminent threats on my city block.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Branch Rickey's Dream: The Continental League Becomes the Third Major League in Baseball

Perhaps the most revered Scioto County resident is Branch Rickey. Rickey was an innovative Major League Baseball executive elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. As all of us know, he was best known for breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier by signing African American player Jackie Robinson. Largely for his courageous commitment to civil rights, Rickey is known as a true leader who not only changed the world of professional baseball but also changed the world.

But ...

Did you know that if Branch Rickey had his way, Major League Baseball would now be comprised of three leagues?

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, organized baseball faced a serious challenge. After a decade of prosperity, the nation and the game had reached a cultural crossroads. For baseball, there was a need to expand. With a growing economy and Americans spreading west and south from an old population core in the Northeast and the upper Midwestern rust belt, baseball perceived the potential to seek out spectators in new locales.

(Russell D. Buhite. The Continental League: A Personal History. 2014)

The Continental League was to be Major League Baseball’s third league: an eight-team circuit meant to ensure baseball's position as America’s pre-eminent spectator sport. The vision for the league came from Branch Rickey, who gave it instant national legitimacy on the day it was officially announced -- July 27, 1959.

The league was comprised of franchises in the United States and Canada and was scheduled to begin play in 1961. Unlike predecessor competitors such as the Players League and the Federal League, it sought membership within organized baseball's existing organization and acceptance within Major League Baseball. Owners in each city had agreed to pay $50,000 to the league and committed to a capital investment of $2.5 million, not including stadium costs.

The announcement of the proposed league came from a politically connected lawyer, William Shea, who for almost two years had tried without success to lure a National League team to New York to replace the two clubs, the Dodgers and the Giants, that abandoned the city for California in the fall of 1957.

Shea, an emissary of Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr., had no leverage in trying to entice a club to New York even with the city’s promise that it was prepared to build a state-of-the-art multipurpose stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

Shea had been advised to seek out Rickey, who was only too happy to talk. Michael Shapiro, author of Bottom of the Ninth and reporter for The New York Times said ...

"He (Branch Rickey) disabused Shea of the idea of trying to persuade the owners to add a new team or two, itself a heretical notion; the big-league roster had remained frozen at 16 clubs since 1903. The new clubs, he cautioned, would be unable to compete with the established teams, and after the novelty of their appearance wore off they would become losers at the gate as well as on the field.

"Rickey had something altogether bolder in mind: a separate league, under the aegis of the majors, with franchises in seven cities that had been futilely seeking clubs of their own and a team in New York. In Rickey’s view, New York and its concentration of news media were essential. The clubs would play only one another for perhaps five years until they were ready to take on the older clubs. Competition, Rickey preached, was relative: it did not matter whom the home team played as long as the outcome was in doubt.

"If all this was not enough of an assault on the existing order, Rickey had one more idea sure to provoke: the clubs would pool and share their television revenue so that no club could dominate, as the Yankees did then."

(Michael Shapiro. "Memorabilia From the What-If Drawer."
The New York Times. July 22, 2009)

Of course, Major League owners were critical, and they insisted the new league would have to feature suitable stadiums, compensation to the minor league clubs they would supplant, and a full roster of clubs.

In addition to the equitable distribution of television revenues, Rickey had also proposed a player draft from a shared minor-league system. Theoretically, these systems would preclude any one team from achieving a financial and competitive advantage.

The Continental League was to begin with only five teams:  Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Toronto, Denver and, of course, New York. Shea was quick to say other cities were vying to join.

“What impresses me is the dream of baseball hasn’t perished in this country,” Jimmy Cannon wrote in The New York Journal-American. “We still want it in our cities and important people are willing to risk fortunes to buy it for their hometowns.”

Where was the new league to acquire players. Rickey made it clear that the league would have some big-league players -- so long as the major league owners were willing to part with some of the lesser men they held under major and, effectively, minor league contract.

Shapiro reported "behind the scenes the big leagues were working furiously to kill the new league."
Shea knew the biggest impediment to the new league was the prospect of riches from a new source: pay television. The technology for scrambling images and charging for access had existed since the early 1950s.

Shapiro said:

"The owners had calculated that by keeping the number of franchises limited to 16, they could effectively render every major league stadium into a television studio, expanding the box office exponentially. And no owner was more savvy about the possibilities of pay television than Walter O’Malley, whose power in the league had only grown with his move to Los Angeles.

"The owners might have controlled the players, but the Continentals were not powerless: Congress was once again questioning the wisdom of the antitrust exemption that the Supreme Court granted baseball in 1922. Rickey and Shea did not necessarily want to see the exemption overturned. But as the majors’ resistance stiffened, Rickey began contemplating the possibility of establishing the league without baseball’s blessing and support. He would find players in the low minors, and in Latin America."

(Michael Shapiro. "Memorabilia From the What-If Drawer."
The New York Times. July 22, 2009)

Yet, even as legislation limiting the antitrust exemption gained momentum in the Senate, Rickey saw the new league was faltering. Those leaders who had joined to support the venture were much more eager to have big league cities than to crusade for the game of baseball. They told Rickey "big league did not mean an independent league filled with castoffs and men with Spanish names."

Still, Major League owners sensed expansion was inevitable, and they invited the Continentals to Chicago in August 1960, and there, a year after the new league’s announcement, made an offer: they would immediately take in four of the league’s eight clubs, and the other four, eventually, if the Continental League disbanded.

The Continental League vanished quickly. The league disbanded in August 1960 without playing a single game. When the story was told in the years that followed, it was said to be a ruse that had compelled the owners to expand. The Continental League undoubtedly forced MLB to hasten expansion. Most of the men who joined Rickey got their Major League teams, though not all -- Denver waited 33 years for the Rockies, and Buffalo never did get a Major League franchise.

But in his many letters and memos Branch Rickey was seen as a man who so believed in his vision for the game’s salvation that he was willing to turn his back on the institution he shaped and championed to see the new league through. For him, the Continental League was real. He fought baseball's resistance to change.

I so wish some gifted entrepreneur would establish a suitable hall and museum in Scioto County in honor of Branch Rickey. (Wouldn't Lucasville be a perfect site?) I am aware Ohio Wesleyan has many Rickey artifacts, and I'm sure relatives here also have heirlooms that could be put on permanent display. Branch Rickey is considered by many to be the most respected baseball personality in history. He deserves more recognition from his native county.

I wonder if the Negro League Hall of Fame in Kansas City, which currently shares a site with the American Jazz Museum, could be enticed to move to a Scioto County Branch Rickey memorial.

I honestly believe most residents of Scioto County do not realize the tremendous accomplishments of Mr. Rickey. In a hotbed of baseball, our most famous native son is relatively unknown for his tremendous lifetime of accomplishments. Perhaps the Major League players from the area, local investors, and Major League Baseball itself could join forces to begin a project to instill a beautiful point of light here in honor of a man who changed baseball, human rights, and the face of America.
"If Rickey's ideas were radical, he was at heart a company man,
a baseball lifer who earnestly believed the league would come
to see the reason of his proposals."

--Michael Shapiro

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Report Drug Activity? The Decision is Yours.

Your obligation to work with authorities when you discover criminal actions in your neighborhood should not be taken lightly. Deciding to enter the process of being vigilant, gathering evidence, and reporting your findings is gut wrenching in that your activity makes you and your loved ones  suspicious targets for those who disrespect your intentions or for those who may wish to do you harm.

However, make no mistake -- those who operate drug rings that feed distribution, theft, human trafficking, and a myriad of other dark endeavors care nothing about you, your family, or your neighborhood. In fact, the nicer the environment, the more criminals desire to use the friendly confines for cover as subterfuge to infiltrate the ailing county and to deliver deadly poison to anyone willing to purchase their products.

Whether you call your home "the bottoms," "the projects," or "the hilltop," you are at risk for sharing your street or road with drug traffickers. Many of you are aware that you already do. Your decision to act or merely to complain is a moral issue. Morality is defined as "the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good or right and those that are bad or wrong." Of course, moral communities are comprised of people who choose to "walk the walk" or morality, not merely to "talk the talk" of morality.

Reporting information about drug activity will upset you. It will cause you to question what you see and ask yourself "Is this what I think it is?" You may even see yourself as a snitch. Yet, your diligent vigilance is the key to keeping increased crime from completely taking over your environment.

You will, most certainly, be caught in a dilemma that only you can evaluate:

* Do you stand to risk more harm from drug dealers in your neighborhood if you ignore them and let them freely operate close to your home and loved ones?


* Do you keep reporting drug activity in your neighborhood and risk retaliation from criminals who may become aware of your actions?

Before making your decision, look at the child in your home or in your neighbor's backyard. What do you want to do to save this innocent potential victim?

This is the key to understanding your obligation -- indifference and inaction will eventually increase the suffering you and your future generations face from this malignant, alien scourge that intends to cripple every virtuous part of good life in rural America. The authorities are basically dramatically outnumbered, reactionary forces without sufficient resources to make significant gains in stopping drug abuse unless citizens step up and volunteer to blanket their neighborhoods with watchful eyes and discriminating ears.

Please, understand the last thing needed is vigilantes in the sense of citizens creating self-appointed groups who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority. What is needed are county-wide vigil groups -- those willing to bond neighborhoods into effective watch communities, large proactive cells that care for each other and that keep reporting suspicious activities and wrongdoings they encounter.

If you decide to make a personal commitment to bettering your environment, your efforts will be both frustrating and time consuming . "Things take time" is something you will hear from enforcement, and the sad reality is that in this day when justice is stacked in the criminal's favor, they really do. Your patience will wear thin, and you will ask yourself, "Is all of this really worth it?" You may even believe you have no voice at all.

Then, it is time to remember your mission. I've heard it said that weeds will be all that grows without hard work. Maya Angelou, beloved American poet, said this:

"Nothing will work unless you do."
--Maya Angelou

No one deserves to live with fear, intimidation, and deadly crime. If you believe this, and you are beleaguered with problems, work on improving your neighborhoods.

I have shared this information in a prior post. Allow me to print it again for your reference:

Steps To Tidying Up the County
  1. Call emergency services to report crimes in action. If you see drug-related activity in process, you are witnessing a crime. If you can be sure that you're witnessing criminal activity, call emergency services so that police officers will come to the scene to take care of the problem. Here are a few examples of situations in which it would be appropriate to call emergency services:
    • Someone approaches you to ask if you would like to buy drugs.
    • You witness someone selling drugs to someone else.
    • Don't call emergency services to report a crime that has already happened; report it in another way, so that emergency services won't immediately dispatch someone to the scene. 
2. Know the signs of drug-related activity. Determine whether you have seen signs of ongoing drug activity in preparation for reporting it. Examples of incidences that may indicate ongoing drug activity include:
  • An unusually large amount of traffic coming to, and leaving, a building, often at strange hours. Oftentimes the people don’t stay long and don’t even go in – instead, someone from the building goes out to the visitor.
  • Finding drugs or drug paraphernalia in the area.
  • Repeated, observable exchanges of items, especially where money is visible.
  • Musty or other noxious odors coming from around a house or building.
  • Houses or buildings where extreme security measures seem to have been taken.
  • Houses or buildings where no owner or primary renter is apparent, and no home activities — yard work, painting, maintenance, etc. — seem to take place.
3. Be prepared to provide as much detail as possible. Just stating that you think your neighbor is selling drugs isn’t going to be sufficient. The police are going to want to know what you observed that makes you suspect drug activity and any information you have that would help them identify those involved. You should be prepared to provide certain details, to the extent you know them, including:
  • The location of the activity (address, intersection, etc.).
  • In what type of building the activity was occurring (house, apartment, etc.).
  • The approximate time(s) you saw the activity occurring.
  • A description of the suspected dealer or dealers.
  • The type of drugs involved.
  • Where the drugs are being hidden if the suspected dealer is selling them on the street.
  • Whether or not there are lookouts to warn dealers of the approach by police officers or other methods of guarding the building (dogs, alarms, window bars, etc.).
  • A description of the suspected dealer’s vehicle if one is used (such as make, model, color, year, license plate number).
  • Whether you have seen any guns or other weapons being carried by the suspected dealers.
  • Who lives in the residence (any children, for example).
  • Who owns the building.
4. Use a local hotline or website to report the illegal activity. Find the phone number or website to use for reporting drug activity to the police in your area. Local law enforcement websites often provide specific phone numbers to use when reporting drug activity, or the phone number may be listed in your local phone book.
  • If you cannot find a specific phone number or website, call the general local number for the police and ask to be transferred to the appropriate department for reporting drug activity.
5. Decide whether to identify yourself. Although you can usually request to report anonymously, police generally prefer that you provide your name and contact information so that they can contact you with any follow-up questions or to serve as a witness. If you provide your identity to the police but don’t want your identity to be disclosed to others – for example, out of fear of retaliation, because you reported on a family member, etc. – you can usually ask the police to keep your identity confidential.

6. Continue to report the activity if it remains ongoing. If you continue to see suspected drug activity or you find out new details, keep contacting the police. Also, don’t assume that you shouldn’t contact the police just because you know of someone else who already did. The more information and witnesses the police have, the better their investigation will be and the more likely they will be able to catch whoever is involved.

7. Don't expect immediate results. Understand that the information you provide may not lead to a noticeable increase in police activity or any arrests. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t see any increase in law enforcement activity after you contact the police. Police can’t round people up for questioning, barge into homes, or make arrests based on one person’s claim that there is drug activity going on. They need to guard against people making false reports or simply misunderstanding what they saw. However, your information, when added to other information that the police may know or learn, may give them sufficient cause to stop and question suspects or even obtain search warrants and make arrests.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Light 'Em Up -- Fire Pits Within Portsmouth City Limits

By now, I guess everyone but me was aware that fire pits are allowed within the city limits of Portsmouth. I have now seen the ordinance granting this privilege and all the stipulations that must be met for burning a fire pit. I must say, I am bothered by the present policy. Let me address certain concerns I have about fire pits in town.

I will not get into the actual language of the code in this blog entry. However, after experiencing four fire pit fires next door in one week, I do have some questions about the safety and liability of fire pits. Perhaps, the ordinance should be reviewed and even reconsidered.

I understand fire pits have become very popular lately. They can be a source of warmth and joy for parties, intimate gatherings and simple marshmallow roasts. However, fire pits are wrought with dangers, and to ensure the safety of everyone, certain measures must be taken. And, even then, questions about additional hazards loom.

The City

Structures and flammable objects tend to be much closer in proximity within the city than in rural settings. Simply put, sparks and flames from open fires may cause fires on properties adjacent to fire pits. Roofs are particularly vulnerable to fire from sparks and smoke damage.

Should Portsmouth consider filing a permit for use of a fire pit? No such permit is presently required. In other words, residents can buy a fire pit and simple start using the pit without proper instruction or knowledge of code. Believe me, most residents have no idea what constitutes violation.

The city of San Francisco imposes fines on any resident who does not apply for a permit for a backyard fire pit. This is to ensure they take the proper safety measures, and also to reduce the risk of out-of-control fires. Permits also ensure that smoke wafting from fire pits does not become a nuisance to neighbors or nearby businesses.

Portage, Michigan requires that original permits will be issued to property owners only after an inspection of the site of the proposed fires. Permits are valid for two years, and a renewal may be granted without a re-inspection if no complaints have been received during the previous permit period. It is the responsibility of the permit holder to apply for a renewal if one is desired.

The Homeowner's Insurance

How about any requirements of disclosure to an agent? Without the right insurance, owners of fire pits may be risking liability for bodily injury and property damage. Allstate Insurance recommends that it's best to talk with your agent to get specifics for where you live. Some areas may even be prone to wildfires. Yes, even within city limits. Your policy may require disclosing your fire pit to your agent.

Whether or not your insurance policy requires disclosure, you shouldn't dismiss the potential safety hazards of owning a fire pit. If it does cause a loss, you may or may not be financially responsible for part or all of the damage. You need to understand that fire pits can be a structural fire hazard and are certainly capable of causing smoke inhalation damage when used improperly.

("Will My Fire Pit Affect My Homeowners Insurance?"
Allstate Insurance Company. September, 2011)

Personal Health

In Milwaukee, some aldermen are considering the fact that open burning is a health hazard and a nuisance. In some cases, residents have complained about the excessive smoke coming their way.

The Newport Beach City Council in California has voted to remove 60 fire pits at Balboa and Big Corona State Beach because of safety concerns.  Acting on a recommendation from the Newport Beach Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission, the council voted unanimously to remove the fire pits over concerns that they emitted toxic fumes and were an open child safety hazard.

The council was prompted to look into the safety issues regarding fire pits by a lawsuit filed by the family of Seth Richardson, who fell into a fire pit at Huntington City Beach last year and suffered severe burn injuries that hospitalized him for several weeks. Seth was six years old at the time of the accident.

The council also said that residents living at the beach have complained that the fire pits emit toxic fumes and smoke that pollute the air.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases and microscopic particles, and when these microscopic particles get into your eyes and respiratory system, they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and bronchitis.

Consider this alarming report from Clean Air Revival (Hall-Fairly). Their research discovered wood burning fire pits are more dangerous than cigarette smoke. These studies done on the effects of second hand cigarette smoke versus smoke produced from burning wood and the effects produced the following findings:

* "Each (wood burning) fire will emit close to one pound of smoke pollution" and "every pound of wood burned costs society $2.00 in health expense."

* Wood smoke is chemically active in the body forty times longer than tobacco smoke, is twelve times more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke and reduces the body's immune mechanisms by 20-40% against fighting infections.

* On top of the health concerns, the carbon dioxide emitted from wood burning smoke is bad for the environment.  

(Jane Hall, Kleinman, Fairley, and Brajer. The Institute for Economic
and Environmental Studies. California State University. October, 1994)

Logical Additions to Regulations

Keep fire pits away from areas with overhanging trees, buildings or other flammable and combustible materials. If there are trees, shrubs or plants in the area in which you want to build a fire pit, consider removing them. I even question fire pits close to grass -- grass isn't considered now in the city regulations. Isn't dry grass a highly combustible material? I believe so.

Always keep a fire extinguisher and a garden hose within reach of your fire pit. It is important that all members of the household know and understand how to use the fire extinguisher. Keep your fires small and manageable, and avoid using the fire pit on windy days. In my particular experience with my neighbors' pits, no extinguisher or hose was available nearby. In fact, the fire department used their own extinguisher and pitchers of water from the house (25-30 yard away) to extinguish a fire in a neighbor's pit.

Never use flammable liquids, like lighter fluid or gasoline, to start a fire. Never leave an open fire unattended. Before you leave for the evening, allow the fire to die down, and pour water over the hot embers to ensure they are extinguished. In my experience, smoke and embers were still visible the next morning in the pit. Of course, no one was at the fire -- one burned until noon the next day. I also saw a nearby container of charcoal lighter fluid there.

When Privileges Clash With Rights

If it becomes a continuous hazard -- a fire hazard or a nuisance to the neighbors -- people have the right to revoke the use of a pit. I was told a neighbor who is opposed to the use of a pit is to call the local department each time, which means a response with a fire truck and fire personnel will likely occur innumerable times, possibly without ever issuing a citation -- what a waste of taxpayers' money when some people simply do not want to be living within close proximity of a fire pit.

In fact, in my particular experience (after suffering the effects of four fire pits in one week), the fire department did not even completely extinguish the fire the first call, and a second call was required that same night to control the situation. Then, I was treated like a nosy complainer by the fire personnel who offered no explanation or assurance before leaving the premises. All laughs and apologies only to those operating the pit. Me -- just a problem.

Unattended, all night fires are a particularly dangerous risk. In Portsmouth, there are no restrictions on hours for using fire pits -- fires can continue long into the late A.M. and beyond. As you can imagine, that usually means alcohol and who knows what party supplies. Oh, they must attended all the time, yet the ordinance does not stipulate that "attendance" means "at the fire site." The people I talked to thought "attendance" meant just being inside the house where the outside fire was burning.

So, the fires in the city can burn continuously. I guess for consecutive days? Weeks? Months? Surely a better stipulation about how long smoke, cinders, and open flames from a single fire pit should be permitted inside city limits should be considered. Right now it's "light 'em up, and let 'em burn" as long as you stay with them.

In one particularly surprising revelation, I discovered that landlords of rental property in Portsmouth do not have to give permission to renters to operate fire pits on their property. I was told by the fire department "as renters, they have the right to light fires under the city ordinance whether the owner of the property has knowledge of the activity or not." In fact, I was told there is question about the landlord even being able to deny use of fire pits at his or her property regardless of a landlord's requests not to do so.

I would still suggest (despite the questionable code) that renters should be required to get their landlord's permission in writing to use a fire pit on any rental property. For the safety of both parties, I think the landlord and the tenants should each secure a copy with proper stipulations, signatures, and dates.

If you live in close proximity to a fire pit, you will not likely be fond of opening windows while the pit is in use or for a considerable time after its extinguishment. Smoke simply invades and chokes a neighborhood.

Gone are air conditioning savings on cooler, pleasant days and nights when open air is a neighbor's preference. With open windows, smoke clings to everything inside adjacent structures as well as choking the air of neighboring inhabitants. After the fire, I guess you could call the fire department to make a run verifying your objection to smoke inhalation and smoke costs for laundry, curtains, home fixtures, etc. Again, what a senseless waste of taxpayer's money.

The fire department questions the intent of my reminder to them that they are public servants and that we, the taxpayers, pay their salaries. They view this as starting trouble and being intimidating. I believe that is wrong. I have lived at my same residence for 40 years, paid my taxes, and reserve the right to question and to complain without being viewed as a troublemaker or as a senseless geezer. I was simply told there is an ordinance in effect, and I was to live with it. I feel I was treated poorly by those who attended the fire runs (especially since I waited until after the fourth pit in one week to report high flames more like a bonfire than a stipulated high "two foot flame."

All in all, I believe Portsmouth has some serious concerns about fire pits -- their operation and their regulation. I hold the Portsmouth Fire Department responsible not only for enforcing the regulations for each pit, but also for checking each fire pit operation for safety concerns. This is their job, and these duties should not be considered unnecessary requirements from a fire company whose first concern should be public safety, not individual rights.

But, what do I know? After all, I'm just an "invisible" 64-year-old permanent resident of the City of Portsmouth complaining after four fire pits next door as the last one raged at least four feet in the air. No reprimands were made to the pit operators; the problem became more my reluctance to accept the danger. And, that was it, except for pretty much inferring that I should "mind my own business."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Your Common Courtesy Increases Our Collective Consciousness

"Modern communitarianism can be considered a reaction to excessive individualism, understood by communitarians as an undue emphasis on individual rights, leading people to become selfish or egocentric."

("Communitarianism" The Common Good Versus Individual Rights."
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2015)

In Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985), the American sociologist Robert Neelly Bellah observed that by the early 1980s most Americans had become self-centered. Increasing prosperity from the 1950s, among other factors, had contributed to a decline in respect for traditional authority and institutions, such as marriage, and fostered a kind of materialistic hedonism, according to many communitarians.

Our trivial acts can be very important. Courtesy is an example. It is referred to it in many different ways, such as civility, good manners, good behavior, good conduct, politeness, decency, respect for others, thoughtfulness, kindness, and consideration.

Author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) described courtesy: "Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."

Paul Johnson -- English journalist, historian, speechwriter and author -- on February 15, 1997 wrote in New Zealand’s The Spectator, "We tend to think today that good manners and right morals are entirely separate. But the truth is, they are a continuum. Bad manners and high crime rates are all part of the same disease."

I think courtesy in American society has become increasingly rarer since Bellah made his observation in the 1980s. I also agree that hedonistic materialism has superseded the need for common courtesy. Today, so many people want to exercise rights and privileges, particularly ones that favor their own interests, without regard for the feelings of others who may be negatively influenced by their selfish personal behaviors.

Let me give you three examples that I believe show lack of courtesy.

1. Smoking in public may be a right in various places, yet some smokers give no consideration of how secondhand smoke and the ugly litter left by openly discarded cigarette butts affects others.  

2. Having a fire pit that burns logs in an close urban environment may be a right, but some fire pit owners care nothing about how the fire and smoke they produce poses a dangerous environment for nearby neighbors.

3. Talking in a crowded theater may be a right; however, those who carry on lengthy conversations and whose speech disrupts others watching a film robs the quiet moviegoers of their pleasant entertainment experience, and may prove to be a stimulus that creates a disastrous, financially and emotionally costly evening with friends or family.

Etiquette in a culture provides the code of conduct and thus lays the foundation for the basic pattern of social interaction. Etiquette relates to what is socially appropriate and is very socially grounded. Etiquette involves appropriate behavior developed from social customs according to psychological principles and from codes of behavior developed from the collective consciousness. In other words, codes for proper social interaction depend upon these two sources as they refer to expected etiquette:

1. Culture and Customs of nations, and
2. Collective Consciousness of the people.

Writer-analyst-speaker Saberi Roy, recently wrote:

"Culture and customs define the social appropriateness of etiquette and the collective unconscious provides the foundation on which etiquette could be developed or explained.

"The collective consciousness is a repository of emotions or experiences of the past and especially experiences of the ancestors or people who have lived within a society and these experiences are carried over in some form to the present generation. Usually the collective consciousness is felt through a sense of shared time, shared past, shared emotions, shared history, and a sense of shared responsibility."

(Saberi Roy. "The Psychology of Etiquette." November 18, 2010)

Are we losing a collective consciousness in modern America? Are we becoming more concerned about our own individual consciousness at the cost of depriving society of own caring, courteous obligation to our fellow man? I believe we are guilty of both transgressions.

It seems many animals have a much stronger connection to a collective consciousness than do humans. Of course, this explains how they instinctively can do things that they consciously have never learned -- like a colony of ants building an underground complex, a vast fortress complete with a ventilation system.

What many people no longer consider is that their DNA (the essence of the physical individual makeup of unique cultures and customs of their nation) has a direct influence on the collective consciousness of all, and this collective consciousness creates their reality. The could use their own DNA to respond to thoughts and feelings to influence the world. They could do so with courtesy and respect while following proper etiquette.

How joyful it would be to live in a community full of people who practice much less ego-oriented decision making and who commit themselves to practice thoughtful and considerate behavior that would raise the collective consciousness of the entire group.

I absolutely believe most of us have been taught to be good to one another on a very superficial level. Yet, our individualistic approach to life is so embedded in our American psyches as freedom-and-liberty-loving Americans that we believe our rights supersede common courtesy and etiquette. To any compassionate, caring individual, they simply don't. To these merciful folks, manners are often more important than cold, written laws that provide them the means to injure others.

The widely accepted Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim and ethical code that essentially states either of the following:

* One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (directive form).

* One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (cautionary form, also known as the Silver Rule of Hillel the Elder, (110 BCE--10 CE) Jewish religious leader.

To Christians, the Golden Rule is commonly known from the Holy Bible, Luke 6:31) The verse states:

"Do to others what you would want them to do to you."
Although easy to understand, easy to apply, and easy to teach, the Golden Rule erodes in an egotistical, materialistic, by-the-book society. Yes, I do believe courteous, trivial acts are extremely important. Instead of screaming "I have the right to do this!" perhaps more of us should be silently thinking before initiating actions and considering what negative effects our selfish deeds may have on those around us, the people who inhabit our undeniable collective consciousness that stands sorely in need of respect for others.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Despite What They Say, Public Servants Do Not Want the Public's Assistance.

In this indifferent society, people are often rebuked for their activism.

Just read the headlines:

"U.S. Envoy Rebuked for Religious Activism Quits"

"185 Arrested on Occupy Wall St. Anniversary"

"A Few Brave Local Politicians in Texas Rebuked for Just Trying to Talk About Drug Reform"

"Racism Protesters Arrested at St. Louis RV Show"

"Activists Rebuked for 'Bullying' Santorum Over Opposition to Gay Marriage"

The truth of the matter is that being an activist is considered noble and just as long as your activism coincides with another authority's opinion. However, most officials in charge prefer public indifference to efforts that promote direct social, political, economic, or environmental change. Why? Deliberate indifference creates a tightly controlled, less stressful, work day for those in charge -- an environment with decreased controversy and risk.

It is no wonder "things" normally operate this way. Authorities trumpet the need for "good citizens" to practice vigilance, proactive involvement, and documenting wrongdoing, but they do this largely to create a widely accepted positive public image of civil servants.

In truth, those "in charge" wish to limit public actions and do the work themselves because civil activism creates more paperwork, more investigation, more confrontation, and more tough decisions. Doing very little and smoothing over problems, even though these problems threaten innocents, is priority Number One. Don't be mistaken, old money and old influence rule in a stagnant "rich get richer" town.

I believe the concern for safety and the respect for the needed response of those willing to face wrongdoings, to report threats and harassment, and to stand against injustice should be the first priority of civil servants such as police, fireman, and other government officials.

I sincerely believe the lack of effective communication between the public and these officials creates crippled communities. And, by communication, I'm not talking about promoting fundraisers or sending reports to the local paper about completing duties as expected. I'm talking about increasing concern for all.

Standing on the law without compromise is logical even if the law is tailored toward offenders; however, being told by authorities simply "There is nothing we can do" or even worse "Just shut up; listen to me; I'm warning you to be quiet" pushes an unsavory authoritative response deep into the throat of those who often truly care.

Expecting quiet, defeated acceptance of "It happens all the time, and we can't do anything because we are hampered by this, that, and whatever" is the preferred reaction to any response call. In the meantime, the taxpayer who foots the bill for the salary of the public official fully understands the reality -- the activist is an enemy of those in power. He or she is unwanted and viewed with wary distrust. The activist needs to be successfully neutralized to inactions in the future. He or she is a senseless troublemaker and a bother to business as usual.

As a teen of the '60s and a young adult of the '70s, I learned very early in life the value of being active and the need for protest in the face of injustice. Since then, I've tried to carry on with activities that serve the public with needed change. I am no award winner or no hero or no esteemed member of any community. Yet, I have done what I consider my fair share for my fellow man.

Doing so is not easy and does present risks. Undaunted, I still accepted the challenges of the causes I supported and suffered the occasional setback. Though I have a belief in some forms of civil disobedience, I have respected authorities for doing their jobs, even when their superiors subscribed to philosophies I believed archaic and harmful to the general good.

I believe we have entered a time marked by acceptance of harm. It is an insidious harm allowed to exist because of politics, not politics in the sense of party but in the true sense of governing influence. This influence is clannish and believes the middle class and common people should only speak when spoken to.

Everyone voices their regret about the poor protection afforded to innocents, but today, the privileged living in higher-class environments and those lucky enough to find themselves graced with the other preferred demographics are the ones tenderly assisted by public servants. Others largely must fend for themselves. Or, they must simply accept indifference, accept berating and often unexplained commands, and silently bow to control. Authorities want them to be indifferent.

I am writing this to record my new commitment to do nothing as an activist other than write blog editorials. My spirit of "doing things" with my physical presence has been broken and is becoming weaker by the day. I believe many would say "Thank God the old busybody accepts the program." In fact, I have been told by authorities not to worry about neighbors or about anyone else but myself.

Neither do I condone nor do I encourage others to begin inaction. I am just sick and tired of feeling like a stranger in my own hometown. I no longer recognize the political and social climate of the place I have lived my entire life of 64 years.

I feel I have worked for change, and yet any future change is controlled by forces rife with injustice.

My town reeks of drug abuse, human trafficking, and immorality of many people in high places. It seems they have successfully corralled underlings to insure control and, most of all, to insure indifference and inactivity so as to instill a believe that "we can't do anything about it."

I am ashamed. I am ashamed of myself. I have done too little too late; thus, I have subjected myself to living the rest of my life under senseless control. Hearing public officials laugh and dismiss my simple efforts is fuel enough to make me realize their stereotype of me as "a nut case" is very effective. I am only valuable to them in the sense of my invisibility and my weakness to resist.

I advise you to listen carefully to officials -- justice, enforcement, public servants -- who work with you here in our town. Read between the lines they speak and write. I think they wish to operate without any disruption or interference from you. Think about what they really mean when they know of injustice and sorrowfully announce "We can't do anything about it."

Here is advice for following orders: vote for increased taxation, pay all questionable citations, bow to power and influence, believe officials who tell you they know who is crooked as hell but they are powerless to do anything about it.

And, believe them when they say ...

"We don't have the money to patrol or to do our jobs."

"We want to have better communication with citizens but don't have the time."

"We evaluate bad actions correctly and expect you to take all instructions without question."

"We really don't need or want your assistance -- just let us do our jobs without inference."

Now, simply reject the diatribe above as ranting from a crazy, old man. Don't practice being active and instead, go sing out, "I'm proud of being an American" with the faceless crowd.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do You Know What Really Frosts My Balls?

From "It's the Little Things"
by Robert Earl Keen

"It's the little things, the little bitty things
Like the way that you remind me I've been growin' soft
It's the little things, the itty bitty things
It's the little things
That piss me off"

It seems like a good day to air it out since my little bit of acquired patience has expired and my "fed-up" internal thermometer reads 105 degrees. I have decided to write a Top Ten List of Things that Really Frost My Balls.

Things That Frost My Balls

10. No-call, Schmo-call. Press "2" to be removed from the list. Nothing seems to stop those incessant  solicitation phone calls from telemarketers. I hate the constant intrusions, especially from those who take forever to answer my "hello" and from those who speak broken English with indiscernible dialect.

9. It's like being in a real life Night of the Living Scuds at Walmart or Krogers walking among the skanky, unwashed, soiled-clothed masses who always seem to invade my personal space and finger the merchandise I'm considering buying. The Fugleys and Freaks need to employ soap and personal makeovers in the worst way. Could we install a "Too Dirty" alarm at the entrances to the stores that automatically ejects the culprits back into the parking lot?

8. I believe in prayer, and I believe we should ask God for His help in dire circumstances; however, when people beg others on Facebook to pray for their son's Little League team to clobber the opposition, to pray for the family to acquire enough money to buy a big-screen television, or to pray that the supermarket checkout lines are short, I'm not onboard. I think the Man has more important concerns other than supplying a person with convenience or simple satisfaction.

7. I understand that the vast majority of fast food and convenience store cashiers are employed in low-paying jobs, but when I pay my tab with my limited income, I expect a nice "Thank you" instead of an ungrateful "Here's your change" followed by cold silence. I would love to take these thankless employees back to the '60s when a dollar an hour or even less was the wage for hard labor. Get a college or tech degree if you are not happy; otherwise, say "Thank you" with a smile to every customer, no matter how much you hate your job.

6. My father was a long-time salesman and a member of the United Commercial Travelers who drove every day in his employment. One lesson he insisted I learn was that space between vehicles on the highway lessens the chance of a bad collision. I have tried to heed that advice since I was 16-years-old and received driving privileges. Now, increasingly, I get on a nice stretch of highway, set my cruise control on the speed limit, and approach someone on the highway I need to pass. I flip on my left turn signal, enter the passing lane, and that driver I am about to pass speeds up, leaving me abreast of him while another angry, speeding driver -- cussing, fingering, and fuming -- pulls his car within a few feet of my bumper to ride it without regard. In such situations, I figure (with my two recent speeding tickets), if I speed to pull ahead, I will surely get ticketed again. So, I say to the other drivers, "deal with it and get off my ass."

5. My wife goes on occasional rampages of rearranging things and putting them in new places where no human being with any sense of logical organization could possibly locate them. Then, I, the designated retired house husband, need something when she is gone, and I can't find it for the love of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Also, after these fits of hiding things, I notice a lot of my "stuff" is completely missing. Of course, I don't notice these strange disappearances until after trash pickup day, and by that time, my possessions are already in the city dump.

4. Why do others feel obligated to make me a part of their miserable situations without so much as trying to improve, moving ahead with self-initiative, and making significant changes in their lives? It seems to me more people today sit tight, expect the world to revolve around them, and genuinely enjoy dragging others into their personal plights. I'm sick of the incessant "poor little me" and "you owe me" attitudes.

3. As I visit and converse with friends and family, I notice all other heads pointed down while fingers peck at electronic wireless communication devices. The human-to-human conversation, no matter what the topic or the importance, is secondary to the need to multi-task on smart phones, computers, and iPads. I wonder if anyone has loaded an app that features voice recognition and automatically disables the device forcing the owner to engage in actual face-to-face conversation.

2. Those who subscribe to the "thug and biatch" attitudes and all their related theatrics push my limits of tolerance to the point of absurdity. When their persona screams "bad ass," it make me immediately wonder if all dignity and common respect have died. In the absence of skills for coping, these attack-mode amoebas use idiotic displays of brutality to register their need to dominate. It makes me wish that many would just "puff up," overinflate, and burst themselves into oblivion.

1. Large displays of body art, tats, tribal designs  -- permanent marks made on the skin by the process of pricking and ingraining indelible pigments -- these visible expressions of cultural and personal belief deface beautiful skin at an increasingly alarming rate. As artistic as they may seem to the person at the point in time they become etched into their epidermis, they also become highly prospective scrawls of future regret. Especially disturbing to me are lovely young ladies sporting highly visible tattoos that blanket their once-unmarked skin.