Commentary Sample: I Heard The Bells

This column originally ran in the Freeport Journal-Standard on December 20, 2014 and was later updated to reflect the events of the following days.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

Like me, the great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a son of Portland, Maine. He’s immortalized in bronze there, seated in a chair in a casual listening pose, looking perfectly wise, holding some papers, his books close at hand under the chair. At this time of year he’s usually sporting a striped scarf and has a wrapped Christmas present on his lap.

He had enormous success—in 1874 he sold a poem for $3,000, about $60,000 in today’s dollars—but faced enormous tragedy. The lyrics of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” flowed from deep heartache.

His first wife, Mary, who had been a friend from childhood, was only 22 when she died after a miscarriage. While suffering from agonizing grief, he met Francis Appleton and was stricken with a deep, yearning love for her, a love so great he would court her for seven years. They had six children, and he wrote of her as his “morning and evening star of love” in a published sonnet. But in 1861 she was burned to death in a freak accident. He was badly burned trying to save her and was never able to shave again, hence his famous, magnificent beard. He never fully recovered and was haunted by the fear his grief would drive him mad.

In 1863 their son Charles joined the Union Army against his father’s wishes, becoming the commander of an artillery battery. In late November a Confederate bullet passed through Charles’ back close to his spine. On Christmas morning, the poet put pen to paper and poured out pain:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men”

Longfellow would understand what gushes out of our radios, televisions and browsers today. Hate is strong.

In Ferguson, unreasoning hate burned a neighborhood. Those who claimed they wanted justice for Michael Brown burned the church where his parents worship. They wrecked black-owned businesses, including the cake shop of Natalie Dubose, a single mother of two who had sold cakes at flea markets for years to fund her dream. A photo of her weeping went viral, symbolizing the city’s pain.

In Iraq, ISIS sweeps forward, crucifying and enslaving. They paint an Arabic N, for “Nasara” or “Nazarene” on the homes of Christians, then give them a choice: Convert, leave or die. Most leave, giving up virtually every material possession and their professional lives.

Peace? Goodwill?

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail!
With peace on earth, goodwill to men!”

The day after the riots, Natalie DuBose weeps again. Donations have poured into a charity website set up for her. “I can’t stop crying, finally trying to actually read all your supportive and loving words,” she writes on Facebook. “Phone is ringing AND [I’M] BAKING! I love you all so much! God Bless America!” She receives nearly $500,000 in donations, almost all from perfect strangers.

The Iraqi refugees are hopeful. “God is giving us grace,” says one displaced pastor. Christian relief agencies such as Voice of the Martyrs have stepped in to address their needs: housing, beds, food, water, reading materials. They are bloodied, but not defeated. “[T]hey have united us as Christians,” a local leader says. “The next generation will forget who persecutes us. But they will not forget those who help us and support us.” Ongoing relief efforts will be partly funded by “I Am N” T-shirts sold in the West. They’re emblazoned with a scarlet Arabic N.

And Charles Appleton Longfellow lived and thrived. He became a skilled writer in his own right and accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Japan on important missions there, including a tour of the country that brought them to places no American had yet gone.

I don’t pretend all is healed and wrapped in a red bow. Our world is broken. ISIS boasts. Ferguson stings. This weekend unreasoning hate took the lives of two NYPD officers. But what was it Dr. King said? “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Then ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

Humans hated. God sent love. He sent a Son, willingly. And He lives, too. That’s why more hope than despair poured from Longfellow’s pen that day. To borrow from another carol, our streets are dark, but in these dark streets shines the everlasting light.

Can you hear the bells? Don’t ask for whom they toll. They toll for thee.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men!
Merry Christmas.

Photo credit: “LongfellowMonument2” by Namiba – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


The One Writing Specialty You Need On Every Project–And What To Ask To Make Sure You Get It

When it comes to business writing, you may be thinking that nothing but a specialist will do. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, there’s a certain type of specialty you should be looking for on every project you hire for.

When it comes to subjects, I’m a generalist. I have an inborn desire to explore new subjects or revisit past ones. I have great respect for people who can write only about organic seed supply houses or catheter manufacturers, but that’s not me.

What I do instead is focus on being a listening specialist.

After all, the most important information any business writer uses to accomplish your goals isn’t what they know when they meet you, it’s what they learn from you. A specialist may know the general audience in your industry, but what about your audience? Who are you talking to? What problem do they have that you can solve? What is unique about your product, service or organization? This can only be understood by a writer who keeps his or her ears open and asks the right questions.

And if they don’t have open ears and good questions? The custom copy you need will be cookie cutter copy. It will either never truly meet your needs or only do so after a lot of hassle in revisions, wrangling and re-education.

So, ask these questions when you’re evaluating a writer:

Will this writer learn enough about our audience to turn our features into compelling benefits which address the customer’s real daily experiences?

If you’ve done a project or two with a writer, ask yourself how much revision you’re doing that’s primarily related to tone or perspective.

Is there a synergy in the areas of this writer’s background that could give him or her a unique perspective? For example, if a writer has sales experience, can this make them more effective at moving the reader along in the sales cycle than someone with more specialized experience?

Do they ask questions about the terms and tone your customers will prefer? About how much or how little jargon is right for the piece?

Do their questions indicate they’re looking for the best way to translate complex information into a compelling narrative, or does it seem like they believe they already know it all?

In fact, how many questions are they asking about the writing of the piece itself? And how many upfront questions are they asking in general?

It’s a writer’s job to know your situation, needs, goals and customers. Whether you choose an inquisitive generalist or a specialist with reams of credits from your industry, make sure they’re a listening specialist before you make the leap.

Christopher Clukey
Accurate Impressions
128 N. Bailey Avenue
Freeport, IL 61032
(815) 990-8491

Landing page copy for an arc flash white paper

It’s several times hotter than the surface of the sun.

It’s an explosion, born from plasma and much like a lightning bolt. It vaporizes metal, sends molten debris flying, causes fatal burns up to ten feet away and produces light that can permanently blind unprotected eyes. And it may be ready to happen in your facility.

The phenomenon we’re talking about is arc flash, an explosive short circuit that can occur in any high voltage electrical system. The good news? Greatly reducing the risk of arc flash is relatively simple.

That’s why we’ve prepared a full briefing on arc flash prevention: Making Safer Facilities: Increasing Safety and Productivity With Arc Flash Prevention and Thermal Imaging.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • What conditions in your workplace can cause arc flash
  • What effects an arc flash has on the surrounding environment
  • How you can prevent accidents, reduce liability exposure and avoid regulatory tangles by conducting an arc flash hazard survey and adopting improved safety procedures.
  • Why OSHA and other regulatory agencies judge your intentions by your arc flash prevention efforts.
  • How combining thermal imaging with an arc flash survey will make your facility safer, more productive and more profitable.
  • Six questions to consider when choosing a survey provider, questions that can help them increase the effectiveness of your safety programs and avoid fly-by-night companies. 

For a free PDF copy of Making Safer Facilities: Increasing Safety and Productivity With Arc Flash Prevention and Thermal Imaging, simply enter your email address in the field below.

“Making it right” letter for a regional landscaper

This letter was written for a landscaper in the Stateline region who needed to make things right with some customers whose lawns had been damaged. Since the issue was between them and their customers, I’ve “filed the serial numbers” off this one.

Dear Valued Customer,

We wanted to write and apologize for the damage to your lawn, let you know how it happened and how we’ll make it right.

We had experienced some minor incidents of vandalism at our facility. Recently, these vandals added extra chemicals to a pre-mixed tank which had been put away overnight. Not knowing the mix was far too strong, our licensed applicator sprayed it as usual, and…well, you know the rest. We’ve taken steps to make sure it won’t happen again.

You’ll find a refund check enclosed, but your lawn is an important part of your home and we’re committed to making it beautiful. We won’t be happy until your lawn is lush and green again.

However, this will require some patience on your part.

To restore your lawn, we’ll need to reseed with new grass. Summer is about to begin, and summer is definitely NOT the time for reseeding. Heat and humidity can cause a great deal of damage to grass seedlings, causing disease, root damage or death. To ensure your new lawn starts healthy and stays healthy we need to wait until September, when we can count on the temperature being below 80 degrees in the day and 65 degrees at night most of the time.

At that point, we’ll do whatever it takes to give you a quality lawn which is the same as or better than the one you had before this unfortunate incident. This is our promise to you, and we hope we’ll be able to provide you the best lawn care available for years to come.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call.


Joe Landscaper

Welcoming new clients and a monument update

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be working with V2 Marketing Communications and that I’ve been tapped to handle marketing and media for Faith Center Freeport. Look for a number of changes (and increased activity) on FCF’s website; we’re spreading the word in Judea, Samaria and to the four corners of the Earth!

Also, the private sector effort to save the County Monument now has a steering committee and web designer Ivy Schexnayder is on it. We’ll be rolling out a website in the near future for them to approve.

Malachi Dads: Building homes on the solid rock

I was privileged to be part of the Malachi Dads graduation ceremony last week at the Stephenson County Jail with  Mike Sowell, Ed Ruddy, Dean Schroeder and Todd Welch. 

Chaplain Sowell invited me to speak and I made some brief remarks on Matthew 7:24-27, but I have to say Chief Deputy Welch’s off-the-cuff remarks were better than my prepared ones.

Congratulations to the guys who graduated; keep your houses on that solid rock!

For full details on the program, see the press release I wrote for the event and the article by the Journal-Standard’s Travis Morse:

Malachi Dads press release

Malachi Dads To Be First Graduates of New Jail Program (press release copy)

Download original document: Malachi Dads press release


April 9, 2013
Contact: Chaplain Michael Sowell
(815) 978-0715

Malachi Dads To Be First Graduates of New Jail Program

FREEPORT– A seed planted by Stephenson County’s government is bearing its first fruits next week when students graduate from a course on fathering known as “Malachi Dads.” Last year, the County funded a Chaplain Education Program to provide training to prisoners at the County Jail.

“I began thinking about my Dad who was absent in my life when I was growing up…then I think about my son,” said Chaplain Michael Sowell, director of the program. “I can’t allow other men that I come into contact with to be impacted by that same cycle of crime. I have to do something. I have to be a man of God and teach other men how to be a man of God as well. I have to be a Malachi Dad.”

The program is named for a passage in the fourth chapter of the Old Testament book of Malachi: “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.” The curriculum is based on a proven method first developed at Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison by the Awana organization. Local volunteers focus on five areas of training—fathering, spiritual, educational, moral and vocational—to help detainees prepare to build a stronger family after they are released.

Studies show the children of inmates are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than their peer group, but programs like Malachi Dads are designed to reduce that rate and the recidivism rate of fathers.

“We want to change our community one inmate and family at a time,” Sowell said.

Other certificate programs for inmates, including a GED program, wil be launched in the near future. The graduation will take place on April 16 at 1:30 pm at the Stephenson County Jail, 1680 E. Singer Drive in Freeport, and is open to the public.


Note: This press release resulted in this story in the regional newspaper of record. If you’d like to put the right information about your business or organization in front of the right audience, contact me here or call 815-232-2120.

AI and Ivy’s Web Design sign on to monument fundraising effort

I’m honored to announce that Accurate Impressions will be providing all the copy for the website of the Adopt-A-Soldier program, an effort to raise the approximately $145,000 needed to restore the Stephenson County Soldiers’ Monument. As things progress, AI will be working on other written materials for the effort, including their Facebook page.

Ivy Schexnayder of Ivy’s Web Design will be designing the site, and the initial work I’ve seen is just plain gorgeous.

Stay tuned for further updates…and don’t forget to visit the Facebook page for the monument fundraising drive.

GenSet Design Collaboration Produces Revolutionary New Switcher

In 2004, Union Pacific (UP) saw the need for a new generation of yard switchers and approached National Railway Equipment Company (NREC) of Dixmoor, Illinois to design one to fit their needs. Jim Wurtz, NREC’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, has no doubts about how well they did the job.

“It will change the face of the railroads,” Wurtz said in an interview with G&FM.

The term “genset” is derived from “generator set,” referring to the pairing of a diesel engine and a generator. NREC’s genset locomotive, the N-ViroMotiveTM, uses one, two or three of these sets, depending on the tasks the locomotive is assigned to. The prototype switcher designed for Union Pacific was equipped with two engines, each able to provide a constant 700 horsepower. In production switchers, one genset is used in light duty units, two for heavy duty switchers and three are used in four axle branch line locomotives.

NREC’s gensets use a 19 liter Cummins diesel engine that shares technology with the diesels used in semi trucks. As Wurtz puts it, the engine has “a truck genealogy,” but was originally designed for electrical power generation. “Cummins had the only [EPA] Tier III certified non-road engines in the size we needed. We wanted a more robust engine for this unit than we could get anywhere else.”

“UP brought us their needs and we designed the unit to meet them. It’s a great example of a supplier and a customer working together,” Wurtz said.

One of UP’s problems—one they share with the other Class 1 railroads—is that their four axle locomotive fleet has changed little since the 1950s. Wurtz discussed the reason the fleets needed an update: “[Switcher] production effectively ceased in the mid-80s…For Class 1 railroads, the majority of capital [for power units] has been going to the six axle, 4400hp locomotives you see pulling long trains.” As a result, he says, switchers and branch line locomotives are typically “long in the tooth.” As increasing fuel prices push a greater share of freight business from the trucking industry to the railroads, more pressure is put on the four axle fleets.

Perhaps more urgent were environmental concerns. UP would need to comply with new emission targets set by the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) beginning this year, with another set of targets going into effect in 2007. Regulators had begun by requiring emissions reduction in cars, then in heavy duty trucks and lastly moving on to trains. “This was not a top concern just five years ago,” Wurtz said, but a combination of new laws and a desire to be better corporate citizens has convinced railroads to reassess their four axle fleets. Fortunately, NREC and other manufacturers will be able to benefit from the low emissions technology developed for tractor trailers.

The N-ViroMotiveTM includes a number of new features, each of which is a major improvement over the previous generation of switchers.

  • The switchers are remarkably quiet compared to traditional locomotives, sounding much like a tractor trailer. Wurtz noted that it’s possible for the operator to be in the cab with a single engine engaged and not be able to hear it running.
  • The N-ViroMotiveTM meets or exceeds all rail emission standards and is certified by CARB as an Ultra Low Emissions Locomotive.
      • End users can expect fuel savings of at least forty percent and at least an eighty percent reduction in emissions of nitrous oxide compounds. According to Wurtz, about half of the fuel savings are from greater engine efficiency. The genset engines operate at about twice the rpm of the previous generation of locomotives, resulting in greater efficiency and lower emissions. The N-ViroMotiveTM meets or exceeds the most stringent EPA and CARB targets.

        The remainder of the fuel savings is a benefit of the N-Limit system, which monitors idling. If any engine has been at idle for more than a set period of time, the N-Limit system shuts it down.

      • Genset locomotives have higher unit availability than older units. Frank Pezel, NREC’s General Manager of Operations at their Dixmoor, Illinois headquarters, explained that between clearing out test cocks, prelubing the engine and other procedures, restarting a traditional EMD switcher would be a 30 to 45 minute process. If the EMD has been sitting for 48 hours or more, that stretches out to an hour and a half, Pezel said. For this reason, traditional locomotives are often left at idle for long periods of time to avoid the wasted time consumed by a restart. In contrast, the diesels in an N-ViroMotiveTM can be cranked up as quickly as a truck motor. Long idling periods are also avoided by using a glycol coolant system that allows the unit to be shut down in temperatures 20 degrees Fahrenheit and up.
      • Unit availability is also increased by the skid mounting of the individual gensets. The skids allow the gensets to be removed with a forklift, and the system is designed with quick-disconnect couplings. “With the quick-disconnect couplings we’re looking at an hour and a half—that’s the top end–to remove the skid and about 2 hours to reinstall,” Wurtz said. “With an EMD you would need 160 to 210 man hours to remove and reinstall the engine.”
      • Longer engine life is achieved by using a load sharing system which evens out the wear and tear on the engines. The system tracks the hours each genset has been working, and assigns work to the motor with the shortest amount of hours.
      • End users will also find that a given N-ViroMotiveTM delivers more power than its listed rating. In fact, Trains Magazine reports that Union Pacific expected their 1,400hp N-ViroMotiveTM prototype to perform as well as a 2,000hp EMD GP38-2 in yard switching tasks. This is due to NREC’s use of a European innovation: individual traction motor controllers. In a traditional switcher, controllers respond to slippage by reducing power to the entire truck assembly where the wheel is slipping, cutting the unit’s power in half. The traction controllers in the N-ViroMotiveTM affect only the motor that is slipping, preserving more of the power and providing a 50% increase in adhesion. This power increase has a practical, even visible, effect. Wutz gave the example of three locomotives pulling a long train. “You would only need two of these engines to do the same work,” he said.
      • The N-ViroMotiveTM is also equipped with the SS5506 fuel tank, which will not spill fuel in the case of a derailment.

NREC will deliver 30 of the locomotives to UP this year and 30 more in 2007. The switchers will be used at yards in the Los Angeles Basin. Wurtz said NREC has received inquiries from “other Class 1 railroads as well as short line and industrial accounts, and some organizations outside the U.S.” NREC is also building a demonstrator unit that can be loaned to potential customers for trials, which should be completed by August.