Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The AR-15: America's Mass Murder Weapon of Choice

An open letter to Colt Manufacturing…

Dennis Veilleux
President & CEO Colt Manufacturing Company
P.O. Box 1868
Hartford, CT 06144

Like it or not, the AR-15 is pretty much the gun that is associated with mass murders in the United States. Whether this is a formal or informal moniker, I can’t imagine it’s the type of association anyone would want for themselves or their business operations. And certainly if I knew of someone who owned such a weapon, I would undoubtedly steer clear of them under any circumstances given this weapon’s role in so many mass-murders.

After the events of today in Parkland, Florida (a place I’ve never heard of until today) involving the murder of over a dozen innocent victims at the hands of another deranged individual carrying another AR-15, I would like to believe that you and your board members would feel compelled to take some kind of public action that attempts to convince the general public that these events do not sit well with Colt (or any gun manufacturer).

I realize that several other manufacturers make their own versions (clones) of the AR-15 since the expiration of the patent, but it is the Colt name that has the greatest association and would ultimately make the most contribution in the weapon’s reduced role of slaughtered, innocent Americans.  

If this has not come up in conversation, I would ask you to consider it. Perhaps even read this. And, I would further challenge you to make a public statement accompanied with swift action—that Colt is undisputedly determined to rid itself of being the gun manufacturer that makes the mass-murder weapon of choice.

It’s a crazy idea, and probably not the best for short-term profits, but what if Colt denounced the AR-15 by ceasing its manufacturing immediately? Yeah, I know, not the smartest business plan, but surely you agree that even the life of one innocent person is more valuable than any decision that is best for business? You do, don’t you?

I dare you to announce to the world that a human life is more valuable than gun sales. I double-dog dare you.

And in making this simple statement and action, you could also apply some of your “Colt leverage” to the other AR-15 clone manufacturers. And, with any luck, suddenly the rightful demonization of this weapon of mass murders would commence. Oh sure, there will be those few who snatch up the remaining ones, but in the long run, the AR-15 will become the “Weapon of the Whack’o”—to the point that few would brag of having one or ever bring one out for show and tell. That might boost gun sales in a different—more responsible way. Imagine if that happened. Imagine Colt transforming from the manufacturer of America’s favorite mass-murder weapon, to the manufacturer of responsible gun ownership.

Ford quit manufacturing the Pinto when they were associated with blowing up from rear-end collisions… surely the civil-minded folk at Colt could do the same with the AR-15—America’s mass-murder weapon of choice until you do something about it.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Case Study in Higher Education Ambivalency

While Northwest College wrestles with all things related to the problem of diminishing state funds and enrollment, several ideas are being tossed about the campus designed to offset these critical times of financial crisis. Almost every proposed solution has to do with cutting or merging positions by means of reorganizing or diluting in such a way that cutting and merging are facilitated.

Sadly, as we consider how to keep on doing what we’ve been doing with less, one idea that hasn’t received serious consideration (to my knowledge) is the idea of renaming/rebranding the college—a college with a name so ambiguous, so easily forgettable that it would never be missed.

The idea of “Northwest” in its name for the college came from a time when the school (or any of the other junior colleges) never looked beyond its own state’s borders—a time when the target population was mostly Wyoming based. But, as we know the times have changed, and relying on a student population that is Wyoming based is extremely short-sighted and fiscally irresponsible.

Think about it, “Northwest College.”

Is that in Washington somewhere?

No, it’s in Northwest Wyoming.

Anything else in the area that would be more unique, more recognizable in terms of association?

Well, there’s this place called Yellowstone National Park.

Is there any other institution of higher education using that moniker?

Nope.

This has innocently turned out to be a ripe textbook marketing-identity case study (or nightmare). The current school name is so timid regarding its location that when the college updated its logotype back in 2004, they added “Wyoming” underneath the school’s name. Might as well have attached the zip code too.

Even people in our own state often refer to us as “the college in Powell.” And, when they do use a name, they still get it wrong in saying “Northwest Community College.” Hell, one of my students used that old name in a short essay he wrote the other day.

Yellowstone College. It’s a slam dunk, a no-brainer, but you know, that would cost money in rebranding and whatever else associated with such a deliberate and obvious change. Nevermind that when the college moved it’s website and email address from www.northwestcollege.edu to www.nwc.edu, there was plenty of reprinting of various forms, letterheads and business cards to keep our printshop busy in the year that followed. Basically, we’ve gone through dress rehearsals like this before and barely blinked.

Saddest of all, the college used to be called Northwest Community College up until 1989. As near as I can tell, sometime before that a movement evolved (clearly “movers and shakers”) and managed to get the school renamed to Northwest College (sans “Community”). Supposedly that made things a lot better. Talk about failed rebranding testimonies.

As gutting of the institution’s public relations office continues—from nine staffers in 2010, down to six in 2018, nothing would boost enrollment numbers more than a name associated with one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. What other institution of higher learning is more entitled given the East Entrance is just over 70 miles from our campus. Instead of explaining to the whole world where and what Northwest College is, Yellowstone College would wipe away all of that unnecessary, utilitarian, and no-one-is-listening-anyway language.

Nevertheless, like all of my ideas, this one is also a bit too bold for our milquetoast institution of higher learning. So, as long as we’re keeping “Northwest College,” perhaps we can at least poke a little fun at ourselves by printing up some of those bumper stickers that ask, “Where the Hell is Northwest College?”

Postscript: Along with the gutting of the public relations office, just over a year ago the financial crisis was also the rationale stated for the sinking of the student newspaper which did as much—if not more—to promote the college.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Wyoming Public Media Disappoints Yet Again

I’m disappointed to hear that Wyoming Public Media has dropped On Point for a second installment of the BBC because by the time On Point hits the airwaves its “content is rendered obsolete.” Seriously… That’s your rationale?!

I’ve never listened to On Point and thought to myself, “Wow, what they’re talking about there is totally obsolete now.” I’d rather have a bit of slightly dated in-depth discussion than more redundant, late-breaking news—which can be too new and often inaccurate itself. And, for the record, I’m OK with hearing news from the BBC, that’s valuable to me as well, but not twice a day. I suppose no one ever considered simply switching the two program slots? I will also argue that given how easy it is to find the BBC news in so many public radio offerings (not to mention satellite radio), it’s not as if you’re bringing something really unique to your Wyoming listeners, and I’m sure On Point isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as BBC broadcasts.

Between the all-too-often dead-air SNAFUs common with Wyoming Public Media at any given time and now the dropping of On Point, I make no promises about my continued support come the spring fund-raising campaign.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Small Front Account from the Cola Wars

In the movie Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman’s character, Mia Wallace, declares that you can learn a lot about a person by the choice they make when given only two choices; such as The Beatles or Elvis. She then proceeds to ask Vincent Vega (John Travolta) with her video camera rolling what his choices would be when it comes to The Partridge Family or The Brady Bunch. On Rich Man, Poor Man which character does he prefer, Peter Strauss or Nick Nolte. How does he say “thank you” in a language other than English. 

Over the years, I’ve considered this fictional character’s philosophy and have come up with a few either-this-or-that questions of my own to ask anyone I might encounter. At the top of my list of questions has to do with one’s choice when it comes to carbonated drinks (soda, pop, soda pop, etc.)—in particular, Coke or Pepsi.

Since my college days at Arizona State, I have been a Coke fan. And, it was Charlie Ochoa, a chemistry major who lived a couple doors down in our dorm, who pointed out to me that Coke was made from all natural products back then. I can still remember the list of ingredients: carbonated water, sugar, caramel coloring, caffeine and phosphoric acid.

Not that I’ve ever been a huge consumer of such drinks, but there have been a few times in my life when an entire six-pack of Coke was vanquished in the course of a week.

From the 1980s on, Pepsi has always come across as flat and too sugary for my palette.

Several years ago, my place of employment—Northwest College—sold its soul to Pepsi; meaning only Pepsi products were permitted on campus. I’m sure Pepsi made the school an offer they couldn’t refuse. When all of that went down, I found it very disturbing because it felt so autocratic. It seemed to me that when one was enrolled in college, they should have choices. When they’re in jail, not so much. I was convinced that even on a small college campus, there was room for both brands of carmel-colored sugar-water.

I would imagine that shortly after Pepsi became the only choice on campus, several Coke lovers were converted to Pepsi. But as you may have guessed, not me. With no Coke available anywhere at the college, I preferred nothing (or at least water) over Pepsi.

As it turned out, I wasn’t such a Coke fan after all. Although I occasionally purchased it and kept a small cache of it stocked in my office refrigerator, I couldn’t maintain the energy that was required of such behavior. In the end, I simply learned to go without.

After so many years of abstaining from Pepsi, a strange thing happened… When I finally had the opportunity to have a Coke, it overpowered me with its sweetness to where if I drank an entire 12-ounce can, I felt a little sickly. As a result, I started making other choices that weren’t loaded with sugar—even when Coke was available.

I can’t say I’ve consciously sworn off soft drinks completely, but I can tell you it’s been several months since I even had a taste of Coke or any other drink that’s carbonated and loaded with sugar.

So, instead of cursing Northwest College and Pepsi as I once did, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them instead. I’m sure my dentist approves.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

On Pesky Emails, Cranky Faculty, and Whac-A-Mole

It’s been a fabulous Christmas break, but ready or not, the Spring semester is nearly here. And with the semester’s approach is the inevitable barrage of email to my school account. It’s probably safe to assume that almost everyone hates junk email—a.k.a. “spam.” But, worse than spam from some unknown bookseller or “get-rich-quick” scheme coming from Africa is the spam that is generated by one’s own workplace—especially if it keeps on popping up in the inbox like Whac-a-Mole—the popular arcade game.

At some point in time over the last two years, some administrative folk at my workplace—Northwest College—decided that faculty needed to have their syllabi posted on the college web site as soon as the previous semester was over. And from the end of one semester up until the beginning of the next semester—would you believe all summer long or throughout the Christmas break—email reminders all too often informing me and others that our syllabi haven’t been posted yet. Talk about being treated like a student—a student attending a students-at-risk school.

The other morning I had three of them from the office of academic affairs. The first one came at 6:58 a.m. Can you believe that—sending reminders out at 6:58 a.m. about missing syllabi? And then my questions… Is this not an illustration of academic bean-counting? Is this typical administrative on-the-job behavior? Surely if one is awake at that hour and would prefer to hit the ground running, aren’t there other administrative concerns that are more pressing than sending out harassing and irritating reminders about syllabi? Hell, I’d respect them more if I knew they were up all night gambling.

I’m sure administrative-types would argue with me in the language that they use: “Please remember that posting syllabi in a timely manner allows students to make educated decisions when selecting courses to enroll in during any given semester.” Such language is certainly well-intended, but really in all the years I’ve taught, I’ve never—repeat never—have had a student ask me (in person or email), “How come your syllabus isn’t posted for class.” Not even a week before classes begin. Maybe this kind of scenario is common at Stanford or Yale, but not so much at a junior college in Wyoming.

And if I can drive my point home a bit more, I’m reminded of the first day of class for any given semester when a syllabus hard copy is passed out to every student. After the class meets, it isn’t uncommon to find a handful of the syllabus left behind on the empty desks. 

This new priority in getting syllabi posted “timely” at Northwest College has a history, albeit short. When weekly notices were sent out with an attached Excel file (if you can believe it) of all the culprits starting last spring for the upcoming fall semester, faculty started getting prickly. In one email response to the entire faculty and the Academic Affairs Office, a faculty member shot out a lengthy response that including the following paragraph:

I realize this will come across as snarky, but I honestly don’t know how else to put it. I find it frustrating and puzzling that I am expected to have materials ready four months in advance. Quite honestly, if I was sitting around with the kind of time to put material together this early, I probably would have done it already. In addition to expecting me to have materials ready four months before something is supposed to occur, using a “wall of shame” mechanism such as these messages is just insulting to me.

Over the years, I’ve found myself playing around with the idea of applying for some kind of admin job to finish out my years of employment, but when this kind of administrative song-and-dance goes down, I’m unable to take the idea any further.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Success in the Arts: It’s more than just talent

Struggle. I’m no different. I have a good job, but I can’t take it for granted. And, many (so many) struggle much more than me... and you might not know even though you interact with them everyday. But, worst of all are those who don’t struggle, but put it out there as if they do. They seem to have plenty of leisure in their life, but avoid talking about how they do it. And, when pressed about how their lives are abundant with leisure, their answers are often rather vague or convoluted. Sometimes they’ll even throw in a smokescreen of complaints for how some things are so unaffordable. Yet, if things get bad enough wherever they are or in whatever they’re doing, they always have the ability to walk away without any repercussions. Most bothersome to me is that they aren’t nearly as self-made as they project—more like they’re just damn fortunate, but will make every attempt to claim otherwise hiding behind labels like “successful artist.”

The phrase “successful artist” (“successful photographer,” or “successful designer”) is extremely commonplace but, as of late, strike me as ambiguous and questionable. Attend an artist reception or photo lecture and you’ll likely have one of these descriptions thrown at you during the introduction of the artist/photographer. In such cases, I always wonder, what do they really mean by “successful?” Is this something that is measured in financial gain or is it simply a form of recognition for an impressive body of work?

My suspicion here is that most folk think the term “successful” used in this context is that of financial success or at least making a living from their works, and for that reason I believe such introductions or use of this term need to be more specific. Will we ever see a day when a “successful” artist or photographer provides some kind of proof (copies of their tax returns, billed accounts, etc.) that back-up such claims?

With the opening paragraph in mind, I suspect that many of these “successful” individuals are simply backed by some kind of big money—typically coming from wealthy families, or have tight connections to such families that can fund their expenses. I believe the proper term is “trust-fund baby.”

This will likely make me unpopular, but—for illustrative purposes and to fortify my last paragraph—I have wondered often about the success of the late and highly-touted Cody photographer Bobby Model. Reading his obit, he seems pretty straight-forward in terms of his dedication for photography and no doubt, he was a decent guy who had his heart in the right places. Yet, I’ve often wondered did his photographic work truly keep him afloat given his world travels as a freelance photographer? He has often been wrongly associated as a National Geographic photographer. Even in his father’s Wikipedia bio, it says, “He was the father of the late Bobby Model, who was an internationally known photographer for National Geographic.” However, Bobby Model was only published in National Geographic and in 2006 was selected by the magazine as a top “emerging explorer”—I’m pretty sure he was never on NG’s payroll.

So then, just how did Bobby Model actually fund his photo gigs if he wasn’t employed as a regular shooter for some major media outlet? Search the internet and you have to dig a little to find out that Model’s father is Robert Model, son of Faith Rockefeller Model. That’s right, Rockefeller… and not just any Rockefeller. Bobby Model is the great-great grandson of the Standard Oil tycoon, William Rockefeller. For whatever reason, this little gem of family information isn’t included in any of the glowing biographies about the talented photographer. Do you suppose that some of this family money might have assisted Model in his world travels when the paying photo assignments were thin? Think of what you might do if Rockefeller money was backing your artistic endeavors.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Bobby Model really did gut it out on his own without any assistance from the family trust. But let’s face it, when one is an heir to a family called Rockefeller, such doubt will always exist.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably concluded that I don’t have much love for someone like Bobby Model, or those who have financial resources to back their projects whether they’re successful or not. I’d admit to jealousy more than simply disliking such individuals. But the truth is, such scenarios have existed for ages. Influential and history-changing names like Gutenberg, Columbus, Du Pont, Kennedy and Bush had financial backing from the beginning without having to do much scrapping to access the cash they needed to get their projects off the ground. And many of these individuals did great things from their financially-privileged status. So, I’m not here to condemn such lives. I just don’t think misleading the public about one’s “success” is cool. There’s nothing wrong with being a recipient of such wealth, but at least own it. I certainly would.

I suppose being some kind of “recipient” is relative. I may not be receiving financial backing from the Sam Walton family, but whatever merits I would receive as a “successful” artist (should that day come), I would be obligated to at least acknowledge my income as an educator because that has allowed me to be active in the arts, while it has also provided me far more art contacts than if I was a stocker for the local grocery store.

In short, if financial backing was their from the get-go, a “successful” artist should acknowledge it rather than project an image as if they are cut from the same cloth as a self-made success like Phil Knight (the guy who started Nike).

Considering all the great, undiscovered artists and photographers that are out there right now, surely any one of them could be a household name if they had the financial backing from someone like the Rockefellers.

This kind of thing happens at all levels of affluence too. A few years ago, there was a young photographer working the sidelines at local sporting events. He paraded around at these venues with camera equipment that matched or exceeded what other professionals carried around on the sidelines. Yet, his classmates on the yearbook and school newspaper staff were shooting with very modest equipment. Why did he get the nice equipment while his classmates were limited to the low-end equipment? Simple, because he is from an affluent family—one that owns a newspaper and is relatively wealthy. Is he a better shooter than his peers? Maybe. But, until his peers have the same opportunities to work with the same equipment, we’ll never know. Yet, because he was given the “inside track” during his development, I’m sure he’ll be promoted as a fine shooter and in time, even take his place as a photographer for his family’s newspaper (if he so desires).

To take this subject-matter one step further, even fame from other areas can benefit an aspiring artist. Actor Jeff Bridges (the son of a the self-made, famous actor Lloyd Bridges) comes to mind for his photography and music. Prince Charles, George W. Bush, along with actors Jim Carrey, and  Steve Martin are also known for their paintings. Yet would we know of their artworks if not for the initial fame?

You hear a lot about White privilege these days, but what we’re talking about here is quintessential privilege.

Even in our smallest communities, there are many talented and worthy artist out there that we may never know only because they aren’t famous for something else, or they’re not trust-fund babies.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Trump Tick

Like a tick, the longer he’s in office the more dangerous he is to our country. Nearly a year into the presidency, he has long since infiltrated the nation’s bloodstream with his poison as he bloats up from gorging on the nation’s fear and stupidity. All in plain sight, yet the country just watches as if they are fixated on a horror film at a theatre—completely detached from reality, entranced and wide-eyed while stuffing popcorn into its own face.

There’s been more than enough rationale to run Trump out of town on a rail long ago. And yet, nearly a year later, there he sits—embedded in the White House like some uninvited, blood-sucking tick. Honestly, I’m a bit worn out by the litany of causes that are asking for my money to fight this Presidency and his Republican-dominated Congress that are so blatantly fucking us over. I’m starting to think that all of this is orchestrated to simply generate money for those who oppose Trump as well, but have no real intention of ousting him. If we haven’t eliminated him by now, something tells me that those who have the power to actually pull it off aren’t truly interested.

So, I’m resigned. Whatever damage, disease, catastrophe we suffer as a result of our current “leader,” we have it coming. We deserve it, and there should be no shock when the other shoe finally drops. Because in the end, we are no better than any other country in the world that has experienced the same in the past.

Step up America, it’s time to get punched in the face really hard (and you thought 9/11 was bad). Congratulations, you’ve earned it.