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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A White On Whites Challenge

Let’s not kid ourselves here: Anyone that is likely reading this is probably as white as a saltine cracker. This blog is written by a White dude (a border-line, old-White-dude), living in a very dominant White community in a very dominant White state and so if that’s the case, you’re probably White too. That said, this post isn’t for those White folk who reference Blacks (or other minorities) with derogatory/disparaging references, rather it’s for those who find themselves surrounded by such individuals or who have a neutral/say-nothing viewpoint. In essence, this post is especially for all of you Caucasians out there. Nevertheless, any Black folk that accidentally, luckily, or serendipitously stumble on to this, you’re certainly welcome to chime too.

So first this: Black lives matter. They really do. They matter as much as the lives of everyone else. And as long as we’re here, BLM does not mean that other lives don’t matter. Rather, in the light of so much injustice to those with darker skin, they matter as much.

That’s the essence of Black Lives Matter in case you missed it. No one ever claimed that it was about “Black lives only matter.” This phrase was coined due to the unjustified and unprosecuted deaths in the Black community carried out by a disproportionate amount of law enforcement officials. Specifically, Black Lives Matter is the response that erupted following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Alicia Garza is credited for the phrase in a Facebook post following the news of Zimmerman’s acquittal when she said, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” From that brief love letter to her own people, one of her friends created the hashtag, and the rest is history.

Further, Black Lives Matter is not only about Blacks, I would argue that it is also a rally cry of all marginalized minorities of color, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Black lives matter is another way of saying White privilege needs to be reeled in. You don’t have to look too far back in history to find evidence of this—whether it’s armed White dudes taking over a wildlife refuge in Oregon or armed White Nazis and Nationalists marching through the streets of Charlottesville. Anyone who has lived in this country long enough knows that none of that would have unfolded with so few casualties had these groups been African-American or Latino.

As Anglos, it is dire that we not remain neutral or silent—considering ourselves as only spectators in this struggle of social justice. Perhaps we can look to the examples of White NFL players Chris Long (Philadelphia Eagles), Justin Britt (Seattle Seahawks) and Seth DeValve (Cleveland Browns) who have supported, stood next to and kneeled with their Black teammates. In short, we can now factor in these role models of our own as we consider where we stand in this ongoing dialogue—if that’s what it takes.

Consider the words of Seattle Seahawks player Michael Bennett who has chosen to take a knee during the National Anthem this season after experiencing his own taste of racial profiling at the hands of law enforcement in Las Vegas. “It would take a white player to really get things changed. Because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it. ... it would change the whole conversation. Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of  the conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.” —Michael Bennett / Seattle Seahawks

And so, here we are at a crossroad where I am asking you to take up my little challenge. You don’t have to take a knee during the National Anthem, march in the streets, or take over a government-run operation.

You see, I have a few of these Black Lives Matter wristbands that are yours to wear if you are up for the challenge. It sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But, you know what? I’ve been wearing mine here in Powell, Wyoming (perhaps the most conservative county in the most conservative state of the nation), and I’m still here. And yes, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve even caught myself considering removing the wristband when I’m about to put myself in a setting that might not be too kind to the message’s reception. Yet, I tell myself, those are the times I must keep it on.

Think of this challenge as you’re own little slice of everyday dissidence, or you’re own little silent protest. Yeah, I know, it’s a little uncomfortable at first, but as the quote says on the banner of this blog, If it’s not at least a bit uncomfortable, it’s probably not real dissidence. Some have stated that they’d rather not be political or controversial when it comes to something like Facebook, and if that’s the case, here’s a way of doing such outside of the Facebook universe. And if you just can’t bring yourself to this challenge, I’ll understand. I’m not going to think any less of you should you not respond, only more respect should you take up the cause.

Should you need inspiration beyond my words, here’s a couple good quotes that might push you over the edge to take up this challenge.

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” —Maggie Kuhn

“What we allow will continue. What continues will escalate.” —Katherine Fugate.

I would imagine to some extent, Black folk wearing BLM clothing and accessories is practically a necessity or at least, a given. But, it certainly isn’t expected or considered necessary when it comes to those of us with fair skin. However, as I sit here writing this, I’m starting to think that maybe such displays are necessary if we truly believe “all men are created equal.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Curing Mental Illness vs. Gun Laws with Teeth

“This American carnage stops RIGHT HERE, and stops RIGHT NOW.” —Fuckface von Clownstick.
(And the people clapped)

It’s been well over a week, so it would seem now is good time to start talking about gun laws—before another mass shooting shakes the country to its core again. (Never mind the everyday mass shootings that injure and kill only a handful of our fellow citizens.)

As authorities in law, psychology, and other professions sift through the evidence more than a week after the Las Vegas shooting, everyone remains dumbfounded in the case of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter. Even those closest to him (family, the gambling and gun-selling communities) are clueless and never had a vibe regarding his character of darkness that he kept from everyone so well. He certainly was an anomaly, but that’s how distant we are to addressing mental illness as a solution to mass murders. Think about it: its been over a week after the Las Vegas massacre, and we still have zilch.

Its odd that those who advocate curing mental illness is the solution to preventing mass killings, have no particulars when it comes to how we get there. It’s just this vague, clouded idea—much like asking for directions to a location and your told, “Yeah, I know the place, but I’ve never seen it, but if you go up the road a distance, I’m sure you’ll find it.”

This seems like a good place/time to ask why gun violence is always linked to mental illness? I think our society has a tendency to make the two synonymous. As to say, gun violence is the result of mental illness and mental illness is the result of gun violence. One thing to keep in mind—based on research—the overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are no more violent than the overwhelming majority of people in general.

Simply stated, the mental health discussion to a safer community that carries firearms is nothing more than a smokescreen for the gun advocates of our society. It’s simply a diversion with an impossible solution that keeps as many people away from talking about real solutions. This is a quintessential example of “kicking the can” down the road.

Can you imagine what advances in mental health it will take to reach a point where outward-appearing everyday guys can be found-out before they reach their inward critical mass to do the unthinkable (which has materialized far too many times)? It will be nothing short of placing mind-readers in gun stores, the workplace, and the homes of everyone who is suspect. 

And how far do we go in lumping the various attributes that lead to violence with mental illness? Most agree that things like schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and major depression can fall under the mental illness umbrella, but what about those with a history of child abuse, binge drinking, or simply being male—because those things are also linked to violence. Then there are those who have experienced resentment, revenge, social isolation, a tendency to externalize blame, a fascination with violent video games, and a passion for weaponry.

The immediate answer to reducing the number of mass murders in America  isn’t in wrestling and sorting out the far-off mysteries and fuzzy-logic of mental illness, but rather in implementing concrete, extensive and tougher gun laws that mirror the requirements of other dangerous operations such as the various levels of licensing in the operation of a vehicle.

When it comes to mental illness warning signs, it seems fair that anyone who has over, x-number of guns (a number agreed upon by a rationale-minded group) and a bunch of ammunition is a candidate for some kind of mental illness screening. And, short of legitimate gun collectors, those who possess vast arsenals of guns and ammo, might this passion be an extension of their army-playing days in their youth. (If that isn’t a form of mental illness, I don’t know what is.)

Should we make drastic improvements in mental health that allow us to identify a mass-murderer before they act, then we can talk about the elimination of gun laws. For starters, if you want to stop mass murders, require every person who has x-number of guns and ammo, or owns an “assault-style, non-hunting” gun to get regular screening.

Getting a driver’s license, a car license, and insurance is a true inconvenience when it comes to driving. However, it doesn’t prevent us from securing our right to drive, it’s just a precautionary to ensure that we can carry out the task without being a great risk to society. And so, owning a gun should be the same kind of inconvenience for anyone wishing to possess a firearm and/or ammunition. Besides, if you're a “good-guy-with-a-gun,” you shouldn’t object to a little inconvenience, right?

Despite all of this, I’m reluctant to believe that if the day should come when we can identify people with mental illness quickly, the NRA-gun lobby will likely still resist anything that prevents people from getting their hands on guns.

For the time being, America has long since disqualified itself when it comes to “greatness” in its tolerance for continuous massacres of its innocent citizens. Any great country would have addressed and solved this problem by now. Australia... now there's a great country. New Zealand... another great country. Japan... yes. Etc.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

What’s Your White Privilege Agenda?

This is not a time to be passive. This is not a time to worry about your job or how your employer might react. This is not a time to worry about losing friends or pissing off other family members.

By now, the events of Charlottesville that produced a visual display of hate directed at anyone not in the White Nationalist/Neo-Nazis camp is known to all. If you’re not appalled by what unfolded there, than you might as well go ahead and send in your annual dues to the Ku Klux Klan, The Daily Stormer, The National Vanguard, or any other hate group.

This isn’t a matter of free speech expressing ideas that are beyond the status quo. This is about the treatment of others who are lesser in numbers, lesser in power and influence, and especially those of non-white skin color and not claiming Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

As I search for ways of expressing my views on such matters, I am comforted by those who have made their expressions known already and do it in such a way that there is no need for me to “reinvent the wheel.”

Alex Stonewall, a journalist living in Seattle, Washington had this to say:
1) All the labels aside, what unites these White Nationalists is a belief in turning the U.S. into a White ethno-state. By definition, such a state would undermine the fundamental rights of Americans who aren’t white, and violate our most basic principals.

2) For that reason they’re entitled to the least generous interpretation of the first amendment. They don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, an equal seat at the table, a venue at our schools and universities, or special protections by our police for their demonstrations, because they’re not coming to those conversations in good faith — they’re coming with an explicit end-goal of violating the rights of others.

3) Their employers, family members and neighbors have the right to know when they’re actively espousing such a harmful agenda -- what they do with that information (e.g. firing them, ) is up to them, within the confines of the law.

Lastly, the ageless words of Eli Wiesel, a Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and—most importantly—Holocaust survivor.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”

In short, this is not a time to be spectator. Consider you neutrality, your passiveness, your willingness to be silent, your comfort, your privilege—your White privilege in particular.

As Philadelphia Eagles defensive end (and White athlete) Chris Long put it regarding his recent actions of support for fellow-teammates protesting during the National Anthem,  “I think it’s a good time for people who look like me to be here for people fighting for equality.”