Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Loving Memory of Phil Rand

I am copying an obituary for my uncle Phil, which appeared last weekend in the Yakima Herald Republic.  Phil loved sailing and was an avid walker--when not programming or reading about programing.  He also loved his family, and we loved him, too.  Phil will also be missed terribly by the feral cat he raised from a kitten.  His gentle side was particularly visible in the gentleness and kindness he displayed towards animals.  Saint Francis has a new companion now.  

(Additional thoughts may be shared later.)

Philip Rand
Keith & Keith Funeral Home
YAKIMA - Philip Rand, 56, of Yakima beloved son and brother, passed away after a very brief battle with cancer on August 25, 2011 in Yakima, Washington. He was born in 1955 to Leo and Helen (Pond) Rand in Shelton, Washington.
Phil grew up in Yakima, graduating from Eisenhower High School and later from Seattle Pacific University. He worked in IT for many years and, most recently at Seattle Pacific University.
Phil is survived by his father, Leo Rand; brother, Tom Rand (Karen); and sister, Jen Erickson. He is also survived by nephews, David (Hannah) Rand, Michael (Jamie) Rand, Karl (Kimberly) Erickson and their children, Sarah and Stephen. He was preceded in death by his mother, Helen Rand.
Mightily loved, Philip died in Christian Hope.
Memorials may be made to the Union Gospel Mission in care of Keith & Keith Funeral Home, 902 W. Yakima Ave., Yakima, WA 98902.
A Private Graveside service will be held at Terrace Heights Memorial Park.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Feeling the Benefit Squeeze

These days many of us fortunate enough to be state employees during the Great Recession feel like we're perpetually in the crosshairs from any number of directions--from lackluster union negotiations on our bargaining contract with DAS to Oregon's Public Employee Benefit Board's list of proposed changes and rollbacks to our health coverage.  In fairness, I'm just thankful to be working right now.  The recent controversies have encouraged me, though, to do a little research regarding the open market costs for health insurance coverage--which is really just part of being an educated consumer these days.

Yes, good health coverage is terribly expensive.  That's not really news, though.  What surprised me was that it seemed that the open market rate quoted by one HMO appears to be about the same as what the state is currently paying on my family's behalf.  That's a little odd when one considers the large pool of public employee members on whose behalf PEBB negotiates with the insurers.  (This small state agency, governed by ORS 243, is now part of Oregon's Health Authority.)  

Now, I am going to fast forward a bit.  Ordinarily, I'd be happy to dig into this issue further and become as much of a pest to PEBB as I'm sure the local union thinks of yours truly.  Unfortunately, I am unable to devote any further time to this matter because of some urgent personal issues requiring my full attention.  (Prayers appreciated for an unnamed family member.)  

I will only add that the letter copied below was never really satisfactorily responded to by PEBB.  Part of the reply I did receive advised that that the state employee's health plan was "community rated," appearing to suggest to me that PEBB doesn't presently negotiate significantly lower rates based on the large pool of its members.

At any rate, I am copying part of my letter to PEBB below.  If you're interested, I hope you will look into this matter more thoroughly, perhaps picking-up where I left off.  Taxpayers and state employees alike deserve certainty that PEBB is working to make the healthcare delivery model as efficient and cost effective as possible.  Presently, I am not convinced that the negotiations between PEBB and insurers are being undertaken with as a great a sense of urgency and vigor as is appropriate in these times.   As always, I look forward to hearing from readers on this topic.

...I am trying to become a more informed consumer when it comes to the significant benefit cost increases slated for state employees next year.  As I explained in my previous message, I was a bit taken aback that very similar medical benefits enjoyed by state employees are also available to the general public at roughly the same cost.  (REDACTED) replied that the plan was "community rated," suggesting that PEBB doesn't presently negotiate significantly lower rates based on the large pool of its members.

My question boils down to this...  For an agency that administers state employee benefits with more than twenty employees and a fairly significant budget, how would state employee benefits suffer if PEBB were to disappear from the current healthcare benefit environment altogether, permitting employees to obtain health benefits directly on the open market--retaining, of course, the employer contribution and Section 125 tax status?

PS.  No dwarf hamsters were injured in the taking of the above photo.  :)

UPDATE (8-31): Today I received information from our HMO that addressed most of the concerns raised above.  The health insurance quote I received initially was too low.  This incorrect quote raised the concerns that sparked my post.  Not only has PEBB apparently negotiated a significant discount over the closest plan publicly available, but the co-payments (at least for 2011) are also better.  So, because of the bad quote, the central concerns expressed above appear to be a false alarm.  (If you are a state employee with concerns regarding PEBB or SEIU, you may wish to drop a note to Statesman Journal state workforce reporter Dennis Thompson.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Time to Let That Dream Go?

We hear a lot about pursuing one's dream, but people don't get quite so excited or worked-up about letting the dream go.  There are times, though, when it's the right thing to do.  Let's face it, Larry King is unlikely to be the next swimsuit supermodel.  In an earlier entry, I talked about letting one of my career dreams go.  In retrospect, it was a very good decision.  It's helped make me into the person I am today--not altogether a bad thing.  

For instance, one shouldn't cling so stubbornly to a dream or goal that it makes it difficult to provide for one's family.  I think one symptom of the "me" culture is that we feel somehow deeply violated if aren't permitted to keep banging our head against that brightly colored door.  There may be a good reason why that door is fastened securely shut.  Maybe it's just the timing is off, but other times sacrificing the dream, goal, hobby, past-time, etc. for the sake of one's family may be the right thing to do for everyone.  Having the wisdom to know when to fight for something and when to surrender it, offering it up, are two sure signs of the successful person in my book.  Not every dream may be destined for success, but we all may see real success if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

While less critical for the single person, the husband and father has a responsibility to provide for his family as well as to serve as an important spiritual role model.   If we are unwilling to lead by example and selflessly surrender those things which impede our relationships or make it difficult to provide a stable household, it's time to take a hard look in the mirror.  The family should come first.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kimberly Erickson Art Sale!

Super Fred
I wouldn't ordinarily use my blog for this...but we've decided to sell some original artwork this week on Ebay.  We also have one signed print for sale.  Most of the artwork is available now because of a decision not to use the pastel art medium in our next children's book.  If you click on the photo caption below, it will take you to the corresponding page on Ebay.  Happy shopping!

If you have any questions for the artist, you may contact her directly at Kimberly.  Her site can be visited HERE.

Summer Morning

Time for a Bath

Mouse on the Run

Slug's Day Out

Pier Pressure


Friday, August 12, 2011

Raymond Arroyo Interview

As the host of EWTN's World Over as well as bestselling author, and journalist, Raymond Arroyo is a man who requires no introduction.  I would like to preface this interview with a sincere thank you to Mr. Arroyo for taking the time out of his extraordinarily busy schedule to answer all my questions.  

I also have to add something about his latest book...We recently bought Of Thee I Zing (co-authored with Laura Ingraham) for the Kindle, and it's currently making the rounds of the house.  Everyone loves it!  Humor with a message is a powerful thing indeed.  I should also make mention of his amazing  biography of Mother Angelica entitled Mother Angelica, The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles.  It's an eloquently written and thoroughly researched book.  I have not been able to put it down since I started it.  It's a deeply moving and engaging story of one astonishing nun's mission to spread the saving message of Jesus Christ far and wide.  I hope you will be sure to read it!

1.  You are a bestselling author, journalist, producer, as well as actor.  Is there one role you find the most satisfying?
Being a father and husband is probably the most satisfying.  At the end of the day no matter how many television shows I produce or how many books I write, it is the children that my wife and I have been blessed with that will most reflect who we are and carry on whatever we have learned.  For me, there is no higher calling or more humbling responsibility.  
2.  As a lifelong Catholic, was there a moment you can point to in your life when you experienced a critical turning point or a “Second Conversion,” a conscious decision to follow Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church?  Did you ever struggle with your faith as a young person?
What do you mean "as a young person"?  Like everybody else, I'm struggling right now!  Conversion is an ongoing process.  This is why I never give up hope on anybody.  None of us are lost so long as we breathe and have life.  The critical turning point that you mention, to my mind, is the moment upon me right now.  Until they lower me into the ground, I will always be faced with the possibility of making good choices or lousy ones--just like you.  I attempt to make the good ones.   

3.  Is there a saint or two for whom you have a special affinity or appreciation?
My patron saint it Saint Anthony.  He was a wonder worker, a gifted preacher and a Franciscan.  And when you lose anything from your wallet to your car nobody is a better friend!  St. Raymond is another saint I can identify with.  He was such a loud mouth (and so effective) that they sewed his lips shut with leather cords--and he miraculously continued to preach.  The lesson: there is no way to shut up an inspired Raymond. 

4.  I like your blog title: Seen and Unseen.  What sparked your choice of those words from the Nicene Creed?  Was there a reason they were especially important to you?
I knew it would resonate with everyone and I like the notion that there are things hidden that we can reveal.  

5.  As a writer also exploring the mystery genre for the first time, I’d love to hear about your new mystery series.  Is it too early to share any details?
Yes, it is too early.  I can tell you that it will be set in New Orleans and that my detective is a charmer.  I have been working on this mystery series in my spare time (ha!) for about 8 years while doing other projects.  I think people will love this detective.  I have known her for 8 years now and can't wait to finish the first book myself.   

6.  Two recurring themes of Mother Angelica, The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles are the great importance and meaning of redemptive suffering as well as the need to pray without ceasing (also very much a part of  Mother Angelica's Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures).  How have you applied redemptive suffering and praying without ceasing to your own life?
I think every moment of life, everything we do can be a prayer.  The trick it to offer it to God.  Even if the task is unpleasant I sort of press on knowing that it has some spiritual value and power beyond the task at hand.  At times I offer up a work for the intentions of a friend or family member.  Like Mother Angelica, I also make deals with God from time to time.  I promise to finish some project if he helps me with a certain situation--- it works.  As for the redemptive suffering, I think some are called to that particular path with God.  I have known many saintly people who have literally moved mountains through their pain and the oblation of their suffering.  It is a mysterious and humbling thing to behold up close.   
7.  What was it that sparked your decision to write the biography of Rita Rizzo (Mother Angelica)?  Did you have any inkling at the beginning how huge an undertaking it would become?  Were there moments when you were discouraged with the size and scope of the work needing to be done?

I was inspired to write the biography following many conversations with Mother about her personal life that I knew the public had never heard before.  Had I known it would take 5 years to complete the project I probably wouldn't have started down the path.  But you could say that about anything of value.  I was constantly overwhelmed by the scope of the project, but decided early on that I could only do one thing at a time.  So I did all my research up front, then organized it, wrote a hundred and fifty page outline and then wrote the book.  The writing was actually the easiest part.  It was the wind up that was the heavy lift.  I recently reread the biography for a speech I was preparing and found myself pulled into the story all over again.  I'm very proud of that book and obviously of the woman that led me to it.   
8.  What was something you discovered in your research and interviews concerning Mother Angelica that surprised or shocked you the most--e.g. her terribly painful childhood in Canton, Ohio?
I always look for visual stories that provide some insight into character whether I am writing a fictional or non-fictional work.  One of the most revealing stories Mother shared with me was her memory of sitting at a kitchen table as a young girl.  Her uncle began bad mouthing her mother.  Rita (Mother Angelica) sat in silence through the rant and then at one point picked up a kitchen knife and hurled it at her uncle's head.  It thankfully lodged in the wall behind him.  That told me everything I needed to know about the deep love she had for her mother, her fighting spirit, and (as she later confided to me) the anger that she would struggle to control as she grew older.  It's a great story and I feel honored to have been the person that Mother felt comfortable sharing it with (along with not a few others).     
9.  I really enjoyed reading your humorous and yet insightful new bestseller, Of Thee I Zing, co-written with celebrated radio personality Laura Ingraham.  What are a couple of the most important messages you hope the reader will bring away from this book?
The overall message is that Laura Ingraham and I have very cruel but honest eyes.  I'm kidding.  The message is that we are in big trouble as a culture and of all things we worry about (the economy, politics, celebrities, etc.) nothing has a greater influence on our daily lives than the culture.  The way we dress, behave, our habits, manners all shape the future.  We are trying to sensitize people to the horrors around us and hopefully inspire them to make a change for the better.  It is funny to chronicle the tragedy of the muffin topped, flip-flop mob, but after the laughs, it is still a tragedy.  Lets hope its short-lived.   

10.  Was it necessary in the writing and editing process to leave out much material you had hoped to use?  Is there a particular section in the book that’s your favorite?
Oh there were tons of things that we threw out for good reason.  I love the manners section of the book because it touches on the abysmal slips of decency that we encounter each day.  The other day I actually saw a rather saggy 60-plus year old woman in super mini shorts and a mid drift.  You might have thought I had wandered into a red light retirement district.  I was at the supermarket!  As Mother Angelica once said, "You old gals, please-- Cover it up!"  I couldn't agree more.  

11.  Father Corapi was a source of great encouragement after we became Catholic.  The controversy surrounding him of late has been deeply disheartening.  Is there a particular lesson as Catholics that we can take from this situation?
As you know I knew Father Corapi personally and found his preaching arresting.  It is a sad and for many a painfully disappointing story.  But let's see how this story ends before we try to draw lessons from it... 
12.  What’s the next big project on the horizon for you?
At this point I am working feverishly on a series of books for children and I have a date with a certain detective on my dance card down the road.  From there we will see.  I am always a little reluctant to answer such questions as something else always comes up that causes me to delay whatever project is before me.  So I'll put it this way: until a better inspiration hits me I'll be working on these projects and producing the World Over and live events and whatever else I feel called to pursue...  You've got to be receptive in each "present moment," right?   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Closer than a Brother

I originally wrote "Closer than a Brother" several years ago, and I thought that I'd go ahead and share it on the blog this week.  I hope you find it meaningful.

Although Sunday, November 16th, 2008, failed to dawn clear and sunny in western Oregon, there was still hope and excitement hanging in the air at the Erickson household.  Our son’s birthday party was planned for the afternoon, and everyone had been scurrying around that morning to get the house ready for the young guests.  Except for the party preparations, all was a fairly typical Sunday morning for us until we arrived in the Queen of Peace Church parking lot.  As we exited the van and walked towards the church entrance for Mass, my wife Kimberly silently collapsed and lay still on the ground.  I bent down and immediately asked what was wrong and gently shook her, but there was no response.  I tried to raise her to her feet, but she did not move.  Her eyes were open, and I noticed a tear slide down from her left eye, but not a word was said.  She recalls trying to stand, then falling back down, and shaking uncontrollably.  I was afraid that my wife had just suffered a stroke, and I felt utterly helpless.

Just as I was about to send our two children into church to call an ambulance, she spoke, and I helped her get to her feet again.  Within a few moments, I had Kimberly seated back in our van, and I was on the phone to the doctor’s office.  We learned from our doctor a few days later that an MRI had located a possible tumor in her frontal lobe (information sensitively sent via e-mail from our HMO, but for which a genuine apology was offered by the doctor).  With heavy hearts we prepared for the coming storm, but I was also reminded of a mysteriously encouraging warning of sorts I received within a dream the summer before.

The dream began in a dark and frightening place, warm sunlight disappearing behind growing storm clouds on the horizon.  I believe we were standing outside our home, when a priest was suddenly there with us.  I did not recognize this dark-haired man who stood a bit shorter than I.  Looking at us, he pointed off to the distance and sternly warned that a terrible storm was coming for us.  He went on to tell us, however, that there was no need to worry; we would be safe.  The Lord’s messenger was reminding us that we were under the protection of the Almighty God.  Although there were black clouds rolling towards us, I felt at the time that the real storm he was talking about had little to do with the weather.  He seemed to be referring to something more dangerous and destructive than wind and rain.  Before the dream ended, the priest said something along the lines of “Remember John 14:14.”  The verse was spoken with such force and clarity that I easily remembered it when I woke.  Not recalling the specifics of the passage at all, I decided to look it up before I went back to sleep.  I didn’t expect anything particularly significant, as I still imagined it was likely just an ordinary dream.  I was quite stunned to read it.  “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”

This, in turn, reminded me of an article ("Mysterious Tools") on prayer I wrote several years ago concerning an experience of healing regarding my son.  In that essay, I wrote about invoking the sacred name of Christ in faithful prayer--with results that left me speechless.  My mind continued to wander after the dream, and, because of the element of prayer, I think I also recall remembering my wife’s first health emergency several years ago.  I remembered driving behind her speeding ambulance on the interstate highway with our crying children in the back of the car.  I prayed to God for protection of my dear wife and invoked the name of Christ in that short prayer we said together in the car.  I pleaded for healing in Christ’s name, and I sought mercy for her and our family--of which she is the most integral part.  After parking the car, I took the kids in tow and headed for the Emergency Room doors, my brain in a haze.  When my son Stephen asked whether his mother was going to be okay, I answered with a certainty which was simply an act; I had no idea, but I was praying it would be so with every fiber of my being.   

Looking back on these past trials through which we successfully passed only by the bountiful grace of Christ, I am reminded that everything we currently experience is seen through the imperfect lens of our past struggles.  It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that God frequently speaks to us through our past and into our present. That is, those things we struggled under are, sometimes at least, infused with a new and profound meaning when we look back at them from the vantage point of the present.  This also sheds light on the way in which God chooses to communicate with us, which often resembles words shared between friends--only at an infinitely deeper and more personal level.  It is encouraging to remember that any trial or hardship we encounter can be met with success, if we trust in the Lord.  (Of course, “success” may not be what we necessarily imagine or understand.)   

When our family crossed the Tiber and came into full communion with the Catholic Church several Easters ago, it was a decision to follow the leading hand of Christ wherever He led.  The choice was not an easy decision for us.  It was never what I had ever expected to do.  Some of our family and friends were mystified by what they mistook as our turning our backs upon what it meant to be a Christian, and a few friendships were broken beyond repair.  The fact of the matter was, however, that our coming home to the Catholic Church only enriched and deepened our faith in Christ.  We simply opened our hearts to the fullness and beauty of the Catholic Church as we continued to be led by Christ on our spiritual journey.  If we accept that we are indeed created in the image of God, then a conscious effort to follow the will of our Savior is the most transforming and healing power we can bring to bear upon our sick culture—not to mention ourselves.  It also offers a way in which we may offer up all of our daily hardships to the Lord, infusing our daily struggles and sacrifices with meaning and importance beyond ourselves.

When I find myself slipping into a cynical or negative frame of mind at the office or elsewhere, I may recall the act of receiving the Eucharist.  Since Christ died for all of us, each person we meet within our hectic daily schedules is someone for whom His blood was spilled, and, therefore, a fellow member or potential member, of the Body of Christ.  As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, there aren’t “ordinary people”.  We all have everlasting souls.  Cultures and civilizations will vanish, but that grocery clerk you may be inclined to snap at has the profound gift of an eternal soul and may be in heaven with you throughout eternity.  If we can apply a kind of internal reverence to our daily lives, we are offering those routine activities up to Christ, and we give them greater meaning.  In this way, we are also acknowledging that we our identity is greater than what our daily life may trick us to think.  In other words, our identity should not be tied too closely to our work or vocation, if our work is secular in nature.  When we understand this, we are transforming the mundane to the eternal and creating stances of grace as we strive to live Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 10:31: “whatever you do, do for the glory of God.”  This mindset also makes us more prepared to endure terrible trials when they come upon us.

While the term “relationship,” has been turned into a bit of a cliche by some recent Christian fiction writers, it’s important for Catholics not to forget the personal dimension of their faith.  Having a personal relationship with Christ is not, after all, simply an Evangelical notion; it’s biblical, which means it’s Catholic.  The problem comes when Christians misunderstand the nature of personal faith.  Like any relationship between friends, there are both boundaries and responsibilities.  If having a personal relationship with Christ means, for example, that it is just “God and me,” then we’re lost in a faith where we alone stand as the final arbiter and the sole authority.  Tradition and valid religious authority educate and enlighten our own interpretations of Scripture and what it means to live the faith.    Furthermore, the Christian faith can’t exist in a vacuum.  To ignore the community in favor of the self is to turn our backs on the essence of our Christian faith altogether.  If the self were all that truly mattered, then there would have been no reason for Christ’s sacrifice.  As we are reminded in Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”   Our goal should be the death of self in the shadow of the Cross.     

Someone recently asked me how to place the love of God above all else, since we have never seen or touched our Creator.  The question was posed by a fellow Catholic who was struggling to understand the nature of love.  It’s an honest question that points to a heart yearning to truly know and love God.  Volumes have been written on the nature of love (C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves being arguably one of the best), but, if we are experiencing difficulties in feeling “connected” to our Savior, we should remember that all relationships take an investment of time, energy, and pain.  We should also avoid depending on feelings too much as our spiritual guide.  Just like it takes time to build a solid marriage, it takes time and struggles to build and strengthen our faith.  If all that a marriage is based on is feelings, it has no foundation for when hard times set in.  Perhaps one way to begin to understand and know God better is through the good we find in others.  If we struggle to know how to go about loving God, do we love the qualities of kindness, mercy, compassion, truth, or forgiveness?  These qualities that we see imperfectly reflected in those we love and care for are but faint glimpses of the eternal nature of God.  

When dealing with the daily temptations and hardships of life, it’s helpful to remember, as that old hymn goes, “what a friend we have in Jesus.”  At the same time, it’s necessary to bear in mind what an enemy we have in Satan.  “The Father of Lies,” after all, is the true source of our trials and temptations.  The hatred and malevolence he bears for God and the human race can’t be over-stated.  If we see Christ as both our friend and Redeemer, we must remember that Satan is a foe whose only aim is to catch our souls within his snare.  If we find ourselves struggling against temptation, do we surrender to the hater of all life and goodness, or do we call out for aid to the Son of Man who humbled himself as an innocent and died upon the cross for our sins; a Creator who knew us in our mother’s womb and knows and loves us without bounds today?  Rather than embracing the betrayal of sin, strive to remember that “you were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.”  (1 Corinthians 7:23)

I am thankful to add a happy postscript regarding my wife’s illness.  After many days of tests, the doctors determined that sometime before the November incident my wife had experienced a very small stroke in a quiet (or non-critical) area of her brain.  The stroke created a lesion, and this, in turn, sparked the seizure she suffered that morning.  Tests currently show that the lesion is healing on its own, and we’re unaware of any stroke damage.  I am confident that the prayers of friends and family played no small part in her healing.  In fact, we were blest with prayers from several priests around the Willamette Valley.  Even our archbishop in Portland mentioned in a letter that Kimberly’s recovery was in his prayers.  We can never adequately express our thankfulness for each and every prayer offered for her, and it is truly a reminder of the power of our Lord.  Whatever our journey may be, let us endeavor to open our hearts to God and persevere in the race set before us, because “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  That friend is our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Union Troubles in Salem

Back in February, I shared a few words about unions in a post called Wisconsin Reflections.  I felt like the time was right to re-visit the issue a bit in light of some "thoughtful" feedback I received from local union organizers when I shared some thoughts critical of SEIU Local 503

The problem is, though...whenever I talk about labor unions I come away feeling like I need to take a shower when I'm finished.  It's kind of like a dog picking-up something dead on the beach.  It may bear some investigation, but you shouldn't forget to wash your hands (or paws) afterwards.  The comments back from my post in a union forum were insightful and articulate, however.  ...Oh, never mind; those were mine.

The gist of my concern was the union (after contract negotiations with the state which might have been better handled by trained cocker spaniel) was taking money from "fair share" state employees while there's no contract actually in effect.  While it may seem like a technicality and not a big deal, it's just another example of the union behaving in a way which would make Lady Gaga (or is it Goo-goo?) seem a downright respectable lady.  Let's face it, the union is all about the pursuit of money and power.

Since the matter seemed a little fishy, I asked around at the office, but never received a really satisfactory response from anyone on the matter.  (A union steward friend of mine is looking into it.)  Of course, the local labor organizers were quick to take my concerns (posted online) and attempt to turn them into a personal attack.  A sure sign that your opposition has no legitimate argument to counter you is when a substantive concern is addressed solely by a personal attack.  While that's not really anything new, it does remind me of insightful observations a friend of mine made concerning what the perceived anonymity of the internet has done to "debates" of this nature.

Bruce Smith of the local union wrote me back that I should "go work somewhere where there is no union if you don't like it." Not to be outdone by this sparkling little gem of wisdom, another labor organizer named Deborra Low passed along some awe-inspiring advice when she said "I hear Wal-Mart is hiring."  Thanks, Deborra!  I didn't realize that union people even spoke the name Wal-Mart these days.  

Yes, there were even more tidbits and strangely irrelevant quotes provided, too.  Deborra, in particular, repeatedly edited her comments in order to convey just the right union tone of contempt--not an easy thing to do, you know.  This resulted in me receiving repeated automated e-mails for each of her little edits.  For a moment, I almost felt like a community organizer with my inbox filling up with such prattle.  All in all, it was quite the experience.  Have this strange need to wash my hands now with bleach.

Seriously, though, I didn't used to be quite so anti-union as I am today.  When SEIU Local 503 recently invited a Socialist to give a presentation it was one loud wake up call for me.  (I tried to find online links concerning this speaker, but had no luck I did find Communist Party Member Jarvis Tyner as a regular speaker for SEIU.)  Another one was following the union members to the Oregon State Capitol for a protest.  I thought their behavior was boorish and adolescent to put it mildly.  I do have several good friends who are union stewards, and I wish them well. 

I agree that unions served a necessary purpose in the past, but I suspect that their usefulness may be starting to wane now.  The corruption, intimidation, and rude behavior of many union members as well as leadership makes me want to have as little to do with them as possible.  The latest comments only serve to confirm earlier suspicions.  

A friend made an interesting point concerning the differentiation of "a living wage against entitlement." Are unions a necessary evil in these economic times, or are they a relic of the past calling out for the trash heap?  Part of the challenge facing us is that this is the environment or dynamic we've all created here.  That is, the state bargaining team takes the positions it does because it has insights into the union demands.  This makes it difficult to inject meaningful change into the process without placing the interests of one or both sides at great risk.  

Still, I submit that the time has come to, at least, consider elimination of union representation for state government employees.  We need to realize we (as citizens and employees of the State of Oregon) are in this together.  We should all expect to make reasonable sacrifices in these times for the larger good of the state.  The state, on the other hand, has to be willing to do likewise.  If my co-workers' increasingly hostile attitudes towards the union mean anything, perhaps dissatisfaction is growing?

I would like to ask SEIU Local 503 members, however...how is all that "hope and change" working for you these days?