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TOUGH AND COMPETENT: AN AMERICAN LEGACY

By Rick Chromey | July 20, 2021 |

Today we celebrate the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969. It was a momentous and heroic feat, a testament to American strength, ingenuity and persistence. Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins are historic names and this moment an “American moment.”

But we should never forget Apollo 1.

Just two years earlier, on February 27, 1967, three Apollo astronauts were incinerated inside their capsule while it still sat on the pad. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were America’s first human casualties in the race to the moon. Their names are no less historic nor important.

Mission Control flight director Gene Kranz summarized the tragedy as being too “gung ho” and not truly being ready for launch. He then issued this directive to all his engineers at NASA’s Mission Control center:

“From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: “Tough and Competent.” Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for.

Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.

When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write “Tough and Competent” on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

TOUGH AND COMPETENT. These were the values that landed a man on the moon on July 20, 1969. These were the principles that made, and still make, America great. George Washington. Abraham Lincoln. Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony. The boys who stormed a Normandy beach. Ronald Reagan. The first responders who climbed the twin towers on September 11, 2001.

Those two words describe true Americans. It’s why no depression is too great, no war too lost and no moon too far. We the people will figure it out. It’s how we landed three Americans on the moon. It’s the heart of the U.S.A.

And the story of US.

American Shame? NOT GUILTY.

By Rick Chromey | July 13, 2021 |

In our current highly-charged, divisive culture, far too many Americans live with a guilt complex. There is an element of our society that has led us to believe we’re SHAMEFUL and GUILTY…that America is wired by oppression, theft, greed and arrogance. They charge us with crimes against humanity.

America, we need to plead NOT GUILTY.

Since the 1960s, certain groups have resorted to violence, fear, falsehoods, divisiveness and hate to “remake” America. They have effectively “cancelled” religion, Christianity, U.S. history, science, age, biology, dissenting voices, European ancestry and anything else that contradicts their political agenda and social narrative.

A year ago, at this time, we witnessed anarchy in our land. Violent mobs tore down statues of American icons, torched our cities and vandalized our stores in the name of “justice” and “equity.” These political dissidents also mocked our police, defied our laws and hurt other Americans simply because of a different skin color, political view or religious belief.

Some Americans would have us ALL believe that we lack awareness (“wokeness”) and equity, that we are greedy, arrogant, racist and narrow-minded. Some teach our children to believe their “whiteness” is somehow wrong and shameful. Some point to our distant history as reason to exact financial reparation. Some of our leaders want America “reimagined” into a socialist utopia that has never existed in the history of mankind.

America, it’s time to plead NOT GUILTY.

No nation on the planet is more philanthropic than the good old U.S. of A. No matter the disaster, no matter the crisis, no matter the conflict…America is always there. Giving. Helping. Serving. Sharing. Rebuilding. We don’t just send our sympathy, but our cash, our children, our time and talent.

America led the way to reconstruct our South, rebuild and resurrect Europe after years of war. We worked with indigenous peoples to improve their society. Perhaps our policies, particularly with the native American Indian, haven’t always proved best, but our intentions were good (even if some of the players weren’t). We have helped many a nation through or out of a mess. Our end game has never been occupation, even if we stayed longer than we should have.

America is no oppressor or thief. We plead NOT GUILTY.

We have also built one of the finest, most compassionate and highly educated nations in history. After 245 years of history we boast 131,000 schools, 5300 colleges and universities, 117,000 libraries, 6100 hospitals, 60,000 food banks and pantries, 11,000 homeless shelters and 380,000 churches. It’s why the world comes here to escape, study, worship, heal, live and succeed.

Before America came along, children worked long hours, begged on the streets and were lucky to live past 25. Women were segregated and silenced. Criminals were violently executed by hanging, gunfire or other torture. People were imprisoned without fair trials, had their property and homes confiscated and lived without a voice. Slavery was common. Human life was expendable and disposable.

Thanks to America and her global influence, that world is largely gone. It’s why the critic is wrong. America made the world BETTER. America made this land (and her inhabitants) better. We forget how both the Indian and Mexican were conquest cultures. They were constantly at war, taking land and seizing property. Until Christianity reached both cultures, these people groups were notoriously violent, diseased, and ignorant. Yes, Europeans introduced novel diseases that proved lethal, but we also sent missionaries, doctors and nurses to foster recovery and live more healthy. We are not selfish or inhumane. At worst, we proved only misguided at times.

America is hardly evil. We plead NOT GUILTY.

Do black lives matter? Absolutely. But so do red, brown, yellow and white ones. All lives matter. There are 328 million Americans who’ve never owned another human as property. Most of us come from ancestors who never owned a slave. Nearly all of us immigrated to America at some time in our history, leaving behind oppressive government, dictatorial rulers and terrible circumstances. We came to America to live “the dream.”

Most of us would never think of looting, vandalizing or hurting another human being, although too many of us do. Most Americans still believe in God, country, family and hard work, although more and more of us don’t. Most Americans live peaceably with our neighbors and contribute to the good of our communities. We help the elderly, encourage the children, serve the disabled, help the under-privileged and welcome the stranger.

It’s why we cannot allow a narrative of American “shame” and “guilt” to overshadow our true American exceptionalism. And we are historically exceptional. Our sons and daughters are buried all over the planet, having given their life to free slaves, liberate political prisoners, save invaded nations and protect fragile democracies. We have won wars thanks to “exceptional” technologies. We have competed internationally with “exceptional” athletes. We have rebuilt nations thanks to “exceptional” charity. We have worked to liberate the black, women, children and other social minorities from injustice and oppression thanks to “exceptional” leadership.

It’s why we cannot allow some Americans to spoil what our forefathers fought to create and insure. We don’t need to “reimagine” America as much as “restore” her. We need GOD back in America again. We need CIVILITY back in America again. We need JUSTICE FOR ALL back in America again. We need PEACE and PROSPERITY back in America again.

I stand with the TENS OF MILLIONS of Americans who still believe America is GOOD. We still pray, pay our taxes, obey the laws, respect authority, embrace our flag, and practice self-restraint. We tolerate differences as long as the differences don’t divide us. We embrace government as long as the government doesn’t rule us. “We the people,” or self-government, remain our founding principle.

Let’s be honest: America is GREAT as long as America (and her people) are GOOD. We are NOT GUILTY of the crimes the scoffers pin on us, however we’ve haven’t always lived up to our principles and values either. In recent years, we have slipped into religious agnosticism, even atheism. We have compromised and tolerated influences that are increasingly violent, sexual and profane. Americans have generally forgotten our Christian roots and religious foundations.

Nevertheless, the so-called narrative of American SHAME is patently FALSE. America was not racist in our founding and is not systematically racist today. If it was, there’d be no Barack Obama or Kamala Harris, no LeBron James or Colin Kaepernick. Minorities have never had it better in America than today. They enjoy wealth, privilege, ownership, education and opportunity in America like no other nation, no other people and no other time in history. Minorities in America receive all the freedoms (civil rights) that all Americans enjoy: to speak, worship, assemble, free press, bear arms, have a fair trial, among others.

I love America! I love her amazing diversity, her productive work ethic, her eternal ingenuity and her inspiring landscapes. I love the men and women who gave limb and life for liberty, not just for me but others on the planet. I love how America has led the world in justice, peace, faith and altruism. I love our STORY.

America the GUILTY? The SHAMEFUL? Hardly.

It’s why it’s time to flip the script to an INCONVENIENT TRUTH: America is still beautiful, brave and blessed. We’ve always been and I pray we always will.

God bless America! Land that I love.

The Day Disco Died (And How We Got It In The First Place)

By Rick Chromey | July 12, 2021 |

In the late 1970s, there was only two opinions about a popular dance craze known as “disco.” It was either the best thing since the jitterbug or the worst thing since the Hindenburg. Very few had a view in the middle.

For the critical ear, the monotonous beat, synthesizer hooks, flourishing strings and banal, often repetitive lyrics created a candy-coated music that, thankfully, had little staying power. Most “disco” songs proved forgettable tunes until they’re needed in a period piece movie or retro 70s birthday party for the geriatric set. If it wasn’t for “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977, disco might’ve remained a minor musical genre, but thanks to the Brothers Gibb (or Bee Gees)–their falsettos, coiffed hair and danceable music–the craze began.

Suddenly disco was everywhere.

America was doing “the hustle” and hanging out in trendy hot spots like “Studio 54.” Disco balls, platform shoes, white leisure suits and dance moves like the “pump,” “New Yorker” and “Disco Duck” were popular. Disco emerged out of the black fusion of soul, r&b and funk in the early 1970s through bands like the Trammps, A Taste of Honey and Earth, Wind and Fire, but it was a white guy named “KC” and his Sunshine Band that gave disco it’s “That’s The Way I Like It” blessing (1975). Another “white” one-hit wonder band known as “Wild Cherry” also helped to “play that funky music (1976).”

After 1977 and “Saturday Night Fever,” disco music was everywhere, launching new careers (or reviving old ones) for Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, Chic, Village People and Ohio Players. Even mainstream rock artists, to the disappointment of their fans, churned out their disco songs, including the likes of Queen, the Rolling Stones and KISS. Thankfully, these forgettable songs are just that.

By 1979, disco faced its Waterloo. The growing backlash and “Disco Sucks” hatred was growing to a fever pitch. Perhaps it was the emerging punk movement in Great Britain, the musical antithesis to disco. Maybe disco was a victim of its own success (anything “white hot” burns out rapidly). Or maybe its because the music was truly that forgettable.

Whatever the reason, the disco era pretty much ended in a base “brawl” game in Chicago on July 12, 1979. That’s the night that White Sox fans hauled tens of thousands of disco records to the ball park to purposely destroy their music. It was planned as part of a double-header game but the second game on the twin bill never happened. Between games, the angry fans stormed the field, destroying more than just vinyl records by these disco artists. Fights broke out. Fires too. It was an ugly, sad and notable night. Disco wasn’t dead, but its days were numbered.

It was the close of the 1970s. The end of disco. In a year a new musical genre, also shipped in from across the pond, would capture the American ear: new wave. This music would explode thanks to a new cable television channel named MTV and disco would die on the vine as a new synth-pop dance music moved in to stay.

 

School Prayer Outlawed (June 26, 1963)

By Rick Chromey | June 26, 2021 |

Today is the anniversary of a ruling that was far more transformative to American culture than Roe v. Wade (1973).

On this day, school prayer was ruled unconstitutional (a year later the same SCOTUS would opine that Bible readings were equally wrong). It’s the day religion (Christianity) was essentially segregated…and barred in the educational curriculum of America’s children born in a post-1960 world.

Both of these rulings, without any legal precedent nor a violation of a law of Congress to “establish a religion” set America on a secular path. Today, nearly sixty years after these rulings, it’s plausible to trace nearly all of America’s social ills, dysfunctions and vices to these two rulings.

Is this what the Founding Father’s desired or envisioned for America? Was America, as many propose, originally a secular, multi-religious culture? If you’d like to get their take on this ruling, check out my article in the current Christian Living (Boise) magazine.

The Long Play (LP) Vinyl Arrives!

By Rick Chromey | June 21, 2021 |
Today is a big day in the “Vinyl is Final” world, as it’s the day that 33 1/3 rpm records debuted. This format allowed for longer recordings (around 30 minutes per side).
 
The LP (long play) would be a significant technological innovation for the coming “rock ‘n roll” era that relied upon “singles” to push a record sale. The more “singles,” the more vinyl was sold.
 
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOUR FIRST VINYL RECORD WAS? Mine was “Crazy Horses” by the Osmonds (1972). Don’t laugh! It was an album that rocked with hard guitar riffs and bluesy tunes. In fact, I’m going to listen to it now. ;)

The Introduction of the VCR

By Rick Chromey | June 7, 2021 |

Television was (and is) a transformative technology.

It transformed how we processed information and received entertainment. It transformed how we interacted with our world. It transformed education, religion and government. And it introduced other transformative technologies, from the remote control to “smart” television. From rabbit ears to cable to satellite to streaming, television has reimagined our world.

And yet few TV technologies were more transformative than the video cassette recorder (VCR). The ability to time-shift (record and watch at a different time) television broadcasts personalized the viewing experience. Suddenly television was democratized. A VCR changed how “we the people” watched television. We were no longer slaves to the TV Guide and network programming schedules. We could watch television on our terms.

Before the VCR, television was a live event. You gathered with family and friends to watch the show. The family room transformed into the new cultural theater. The VCR and later DVR (digital video recording) changed how (and when) it all happened. Today, streaming allows viewers to slate, schedule and save entire seasons in the “cloud.” No more boxes of plastic and tape. No more lost episodes due to a VCR eating the tape. No more recording a baseball game over a priceless family video (been there, done that!).

And it all started on this date (June 7) in 1965 thanks to Sony.

The Cable News Network Reimagines the News

By Rick Chromey | June 1, 2021 |

The emergence of cable television news reimagined how information was reported and consumed. With a 24/7/365 platform the Cable News Network (CNN) could report LIVE news visually, as it happened…with no commercial breaks if necessary. It was the brainchild of media mogul Ted Turner.

Watch CNN in 1980…

Unfortunately, cable news wasn’t good for radio. In fact, to paraphrase the seminal 80’s new wave band The Buggles: Cable television killed the radio star. Not just in music (MTV) and sports (ESPN), but also the news. First it was CNN (who spawned a second darling network called CNN Headline News). Sixteen years later, two new cable news stations debuted. Microsoft and NBC joined to create MSNBC (July 15, 1996) and, a few months later, a conservative Fox News was born (October 7, 1996). By the year 2000, the polarization of political views and news was clearly evident.

In a cyber culture we think nothing of a 24/7/365 news cycle. News is constantly NEWS, but before June 1, 1980 television news (unless “breaking”) was hours old at best. Even on the radio, most stations only carried news at the top and bottom of the hour.

CNN changed all the rules for news.

And it started on this date (June 1) in 1980.

The Real Thing: Coke Advertising

By Rick Chromey | May 29, 2021 |

I’ll confess. I’m deeply biased when it comes to my favorite carbonated beverage.

If it’s not a Coca-Cola, it’s not a cola.

I don’t know if I was born with this affection (some might call it an affliction), but here I am 58 years later still sipping Coke…albeit in more sugar-free varieties. My favorite is a Coke Zero with butter rum and vanilla syrup. One of the early Coke television commercials touted its ability to keep you slim. I kid you not. Take a look.

When Coke switched to “New Coke” in 1985 (and then quickly repented to “Classic Coke”), I saved a bottle of “old Coke” (with a silver cap) for my growing Coke bottle collection. I still have that bottle sitting on my shelf.

Since 1997, Coca-Cola have served more than a billion drinks a day. That’s a lot of Coke.

Coca-Cola learned how to mass market early and grew an international brand on the back of clever slogans, dynamic visuals and memorable jingles. The Sundblom Santa. “It’s the Real Thing” commercial. Polar bears. The iconic Coca-Cola logo. Here are the Coca-Cola slogans from over the years, starting with the one that launched on this date in 1886:

1886 – Drink Coca-Cola
1904 – Delicious and Refreshing
1905 – Coca-Cola Revives and Sustains
1906 – The Great National Temperance Beverage
1917 – Three Million a Day
1922 – Thirst Knows No Season
1923 – Enjoy Thirst
1924 – Refresh Yourself
1925 – Six Million a Day
1926 – It Had to Be Good to Get Where It Is
1927 – Pure as Sunlight
1927 – Around the Corner from Everywhere
1929 – The Pause that Refreshes
1932 – Ice Cold Sunshine
1938 – The Best Friend Thirst Ever Had
1939 – Thirst Asks Nothing More
1939 – Whoever You Are, Whatever You Do, Wherever You May Be, When You Think of Refreshment Think of Ice Cold Coca-Cola
1942 – The Only Thing Like Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola Itself
1948 – Where There’s Coke There’s Hospitality
1949 – Along the Highway to Anywhere
1952 – What You Want is a Coke
1956 – Coca-Cola… Makes Good Things Taste Better
1957 – Sign of Good Taste
1958 – The Cold, Crisp Taste of Coke
1959 – Be Really Refreshed
1963 – Things Go Better with Coke
1969 – It’s the Real Thing
1971 – I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke (part of the “It’s the Real Thing” campaign)
1975 – Look Up America
1976 – Coke Adds Life
1979 – Have a Coke and a Smile
1982 – Coke Is It!
1985 – We’ve Got a Taste for You (for both Coca-Cola & Coca-Cola classic)
1985 – America’s Real Choice (for both Coca-Cola & Coca-Cola classic)
1986 – Red, White & You (for Coca-Cola classic)
1986 – Catch the Wave (for Coca-Cola)
1987 – When Coca-Cola is a Part of Your Life, You Can’t Beat the Feeling
1988 – You Can’t Beat the Feeling
1989 – Official Soft Drink of Summer
1990 – You Can’t Beat the Real Thing
1993 – Always Coca-Cola
2000 – Coca-Cola. Enjoy
2001 – Life Tastes Good
2003 – Coca-Cola… Real
2005 – Make It Real
2006 – The Coke Side of Life
2009 – Open Happiness

One sociologist once quipped that you could teach the history of America simply through Coca-Cola advertising. I think he’s right, but then again I’m prejudiced. I’m a consumer. I’m a collector. I’m a Coke man.

And all this writing about Coca-Cola has made me thirsty for a taste of the “real thing.”

The Model T Defined an Era

By Rick Chromey | May 26, 2021 |

The Model T was not Henry Ford’s first car, but it might’ve been his best. Also known as the “Tin Lizzie” or “Leaping Lena” or “Jitney” or “Flivver,” the Model T was the first truly affordable automobile. In 1999, it was honored as the “most influential car of the 20th century.”

Manufactured between 1908 and 1927, the Model T was the eighth most sold car of all time (with 15 million cars sold). It also framed a new “Transportation Generation” (born 1900 to 1920) who grew up with the sounds of motors, the smell of gas and the bounce of primitive roadways.

What made the Model T special was its middle-class affordability. Suddenly the average Joe and Jane could buy it. It took Ford nineteen models (Model A to S) to perfect his “T” but when he did, the parts all fell into place. That’s because parts and labor were expensive. Thanks to Ford’s assembly line system and interchangeable parts, the Model T was built inexpensively, reliably and quickly.

In his 1922 autobiography, Henry Ford quipped about his Model T:

I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.

It’s no wonder, by 1918, that half of all the automobiles chugging down the roads were Ford’s famously black tin lizzie. Ford made driving a car possible. As his assembly line production improved, Ford was able to reduce production time from nearly 13 hours down to a mere 93 minutes, even while using less manpower. In 1914, the Ford Motor Company produced more automobiles than every other carmaker combined.

His Model T engine even found dual purposes as a homemade plane and boat engines. Model T’s also had conversion ability to heavy snow and deep mud. It could handle rough, rural terrain (making it popular with the U.S. postal service).

Unlike most popular items, Ford actually reduced the price of his cars over time. In 1909 a car cost around $825 ($23,763 today), but by 1925 it was a paltry $265 ($4,002 today). As a result a new car culture emerged. Cars were raced. Owners formed car clubs. Comics Laurel and Hardy used the Model T in all their movies.

It’s no wonder an entire generation of kids–born between 1900 and 1920–grew up with a thirst for the open road. It’s no wonder a whole generation drove many new industries from National Park tourism to home delivery to the infamous Route 66. In a post-war America they’d settle in to collect cars, use drive-thru restaurants, view drive-in movies and make the car an icon of American ingenuity, status and freedom.

What Hath God Wrought? The Birth of Telecommunications

By Rick Chromey | May 24, 2021 |

Samuel Morse is where telecommunications all began. He invented the telegraph and created the Morse code. An 1810 graduate of Yale, Morse was also an accomplished artist who founded and presided over the National Academy of Design for two decades.

But he’s best know for the telegraph.

Initially, Morse had little interest–or financial backing–for his innovation. Despite naysayers and critical voices, Morse believed in his telegraph machine. Finally, in 1843, the U.S. Congress funded telegraph lines between the Supreme Court chamber in the U.S. Capitol and Baltimore.

On this date in 1844, Samuel Morse asked a young girl to pick a Bible verse to send as the first telegraph message. She chose Numbers 23:23, which stated in part: “What hath God wrought?” And with that message, a new era dawned. The clicks of Morse’s telegraph machine reimagined how humans communicated.

During the Civil War, the telegraph proved invaluable to Lincoln’s Federal troops, as they were able to faster position and communicate orders than the Confederate armies. Three decades later another inventor named Alexander Graham Bell would take Morse’s invention one step further: moving the human voice down the line.

No one could imagine “what God hath wrought” in 1844, when the telegraph punched out its first line of text, but 177 years later it’s clear that everything from the telephone to television to the Internet sprouted from Samuel Morse’s telegraph.

What God hath wrought, indeed!