Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Prophecy of Avatar

Woodville Drive-In
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Avatar in 3-D... I hear that’s the way to go.

Nevertheless, I settled for watching it in plain-old, everyday 2-D this past week in my little, hometown of Powell, Wyoming. I suppose we’re just darn lucky to see it with the rest of the world in the same week of its release.

Despite all of the eye-candy special effects, I sat in the theatre wondering if anyone else was picking up on that old and tired story line—the one that we should all know by heart—by now.

If we could put Avatar in a movie classification, besides the predictable sci-fi category, I think it would also fit in nicely with that long list of movies and books that recount the stories of greed, excessive capitalism, power and racism. Dances With Wolves, It’s A Wonderful Life, Remember The Titans, King Kong, and the Star Wars Trilogy are some that come to mind.

The writer of one particular column suggested that there were hidden messages of anti-war, pro-environment and racism in this latest story of underdogs battling an evil empire—that coincidentally looks much like the United States.

If they truly were hidden, they weren’t difficult to find. Even viewing the trailers several weeks ago I detected these messages loud and clear. Yet, I wonder if many viewers (especially American) simply don’t see these messages or only see them in the context of the movie and once it’s over (like church), it’s on to the usual business of mindless and excess consumption in a dog-eat-dog world.

When our civilization lies in its self-inflicted ruins, I wonder if those that survive or those that uncover our soiled tragedy will think of us as even more deserving of our demise given the books and movies like Avatar that warned us of our undoing all along.

On a related note… from James Howard Kunstler’s blog:

“ClimateGate,” the latest excuse for screaming knuckleheads to defend what has already been lost. It is also yet another distraction from the emergency agenda that the United States faces—namely the urgent re-scaling, re-localizing, and de-globalizing of our daily activities.

What seems to be at stake for the knuckleheads is their identity, their idea of what it means to be an American, which boils down to being an organism so specially blessed and entitled that it is excused from paying attention to reality. There were no doubt plenty of counterparts among the Mayans when the weather changed and their crops failed, and certainly the Romans had their share of identity psychotics who doubted reality even when Alaric the Visigoth was hoisting off their household treasure.

Reality doesn’t care if we are on-board with its mandates or not. The human race has to get with whatever program reality is serving up at a particular time. Are we shocked to learn that scientists fight among themselves and cheat as much as congressmen? Does that really change the relationships we understand about parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere and the weather?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Northwest College: The Slide Continues

Buffalo, Montana School
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
’Tis the season, but as one colleague of mine put it, “The children of Whoville had better watch their toys.”

As finals draw to a close and the last student newspaper is on the stands (once again), the powers-that-be at Northwest College ramrodded their proposal for the intercollegiate soccer program through the last board meeting and, on the next day, fired student activities director Mike Taylor.

Timing is everything, isn’t it? Especially for some administrators at NWC. It takes me way back to another time when an assistant basketball coach was hired in a pretty discreet manner as well.

Perhaps no one has said it better thus far about such timing matters than art instructor Kory Rountree in a campus-wide email, “Funny, firing a very popular member of the NWC community at this moment. Everyone immersed in finals & grading, students leaving town, no college newspaper to carry the news that everyone is talking about right now. Funny, that they still call it a community.”

Someone asked if the leadership of this college really believes they’re pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes? Further, others are going as far as to suggest placing bets that Taylor’s position will be filled by the new soccer program’s coach. Wasn’t it Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” who said, “Well, isn’t that convieeeeeenent.”

I walked over to Mike’s office today as he was cleaning out his office to see if there was anything I could do. Strangely, outside of his office were the college’s vice president of administrative services along with the facilities director. Might as well have called the campus resource officer too. What a sad day and a sad sight at NWC.

Another conversation with another colleague on this subject concluded with a quote from his father, “We all know the smell of the sea when we approach the shore… and often it stinks like fish.”

Today isn’t the first day when I’ve heard fellow workers complain about the college’s lack of self-goverance, but today that word is going around like wild fire. We can only hope that these events are reflected in the upcoming accreditation visit.

One colleague went as far as to suggest the college community disbar the various governance committees on campus such as the faculty organization since they are—for the most part—powerless. That would certainly get the NCA visitation team’s attention.

* * *

As soon as Human Resources Director Heather Kobbe sent out one of her canned “going” emails about Mike’s sudden “departure,” music professor Jan Kliewer had the courage to ask and state what we all felt, “Why don’t we have the courage to tell the truth? Mike didn’t leave, he was shoved! What a sad, cold and cowardly sentence to end 17 years of service to this institution.”

In answering Kliewer’s question, “Why don’t we have the courage to tell the truth,” I would simply embody the spirit of Holden Caulfield—the main character of Catcher In The Rye—with something like “...because they’re a bunch of phonies!”

All of this leads me to believe that Northwest College (like any cold, sterile and impersonal institution) will do whatever is required to get rid of anyone who has fallen out of favour in its favouritism-prone, nepotism-based administration. They’ll find a reason, they’ll get the documentation and if need be, hold it over their head to keep them in line if they want to keep their job—or in Taylor’s case, just fire him. I’m sure my candidacy has been kicked around as well.

In short, I have serious doubts that Mike Taylor’s firing was about something so bad that the college felt it had no other choice than to fire him. It was a witch hunt—with the sole purpose of getting Taylor fired and replaced with a hopeful crony—a crony the administration is likely already courting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Would Waldo Do?

Comb Ridge
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Waldo Ruess was the brother of Everett Ruess—the explorer, vagabond and artist who went missing in the Four Corners area back in 1934 at the age of 20. Along with his parents, Waldo spent the rest of his life hoping to learn what became of his brother—whether he lost his life or simply decided to start a new one elsewhere under another name.

Next to Amelia Earhart and D.B. Cooper, there is probably not another missing person case that is more popular or mysterious than the story of Everett Ruess. Wallace Stegner, who penned Mormon Country, likened Ruess to a young version of John Muir.

Go ahead, Google “Everett Ruess” right now if you don’t know his story before you read any further.

So, after 75 years, the stars that shine for Ruess have aligned—revealing a secret story of an Anglo murdered by Ute Indians near Comb Ridge in Southern Utah; a grave on Comb Ridge appears to be that of an Anglo; and physical evidence along with positive DNA matches to surviving members of the Ruess family (nephews and nieces)—all point to a solved 75-year-old mystery.

So says National Geographic (Adventure Magazine) and one of its editors/writers David Roberts, and the University of Colorado. Yet, one has to wonder how Waldo would interpret all of these recent events surrounding the disappearance of his brother so many years ago.

Less we forget, it was National Geographic Magazine that attempted to move the Great Pyramids for one of their covers just to make for a more attractive design. Another time, the magazine’s researchers declared the exact location of Christopher Columbus’ landfall despite all the evidence that is lost or inconclusive. Their findings were dismissed by most Columbus experts.

I’m just saying.

Despite my skepticism, I don’t think of National Geographic and its armada of other publications in the same light as your run-of-the-mill gossip magazine/tabloid. I believe they are, for the most part, upfront and forthright. But, knowing they’ve attempted to pull the wool over our eyes before, one has to wonder how many times they’ve succeeded and continue to rush to judgements with their own interests in mind.

Despite my doubts, let’s look closely at National Geographic, David Roberts, and what his team has been hanging its hat on in their bold declaration that Ruess was found last spring.

The first DNA test used hair from Waldo and bone from the discovered remains. We’re told that the results were negative—the hair was likely contaminated was the explanation. Next, another test was carried out by another—more “credible”—DNA lab (University of Colorado) using saliva samples from Everett’s nieces and nephews. These tests came back with the “overlap” they were hoping to find. From this, Roberts and NG went with the news that “they” indeed had discovered the remains of the famed vagabond. They wrote about it in their magazine and about every major newspaper across the country carried the story too.

My question back then was, “When did negative results followed by positive results equal positive results?”

Photographic Evidence

Wolf Man Panel
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
To back up their data, the University of Colorado also superimposed historic photographic images from Dorothea Lange of Everett Ruess with the skull remains found on Comb Ridge via Adobe Photoshop. UC’s Dennis Van Gerven declared of the morphed portrait and skull, “The bones match the photos in every last detail.”

I found this “research” to be the most questionable. I mean c’mon, they used Photoshop! Hell, I know of college students who could fit these same remains to my own mug—proving the bones belong to me. Given all the tweaking tools in Photoshop, how would any peers validate the integrity of this “research?”

What, Dental Records?!
Besides the DNA and skeletal reconstruction via Photoshop, residing in the special collections at the University of Utah for several years now have been dental records belonging to Ruess from the University of Southern California School of Dentistry (photo to come when permissions are granted).

It wasn’t until after the NGA article on the Ruess findings were printed that a humble, BLM GIS specialist and trained archeologist from Monticello, Utah, stumbled upon the dental records. Like many people living in that part of the country, Paul Leatherbury has possessed a passion for the Ruess story and simply took it upon himself to visit the special collections after reading the Roberts story.

These records indicate that dental work was performed on Everett’s two lower molars on his right side. Leatherbury quickly contacted University of Colorodo professor of anthropology Dennis Van Gerven about the condition of the teeth found at Comb Ridge and was informed via email that the teeth were clean of dental work. Several dentists also examined these records and agree on what should be found. Yet, no evidence of any dental work was detected in the mandible teeth that were found at the Comb Ridge gravesite. The one explanation that could dismiss these dental records could be some scenario where one of Everett’s friends went in to the dentistry school using Ruess’s name. Yet, errors in USC’s record keeping haven’t been proven either. So, the records must be acknowledged or at least considered.

Despite these contradictory dental records brought forward by Leatherbury, one has to ask why Roberts and company pressed on with their insistence that the remains belong to Everett Ruess. Further, how did Dave Roberts overlook the dental records? Was it ignorance (Roberts never made it to the special collections until after the article ran), negligence (he overlooked the records when he did visit the special collections) or arrogance (he found the records, but knew they wouldn’t support the desired conclusion he was seeking so he let them stay buried with all the other documents in the special collecitions)—all of which are inexcusable when stakes are this high?

And I'm not the only one that's not biting.

Waiting for the Light
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Given how much time has passed since Ruess disappeared, the chances become slimmer every year that we’ll ever know where his remains are located—let alone what really happened to him. So, given the story passed down, along with the remains that were found in the same general location described in the story, perhaps this is as good a time as any to make a declaration of this mystery being solved. The evidence is flimsy, but 50 years from now, it will be even less firm.

One has to wonder what profits might come to those who were key figures in the “solving” of this mystery? What book contracts and movie contracts might have already been inked by National Geographic and Dave Roberts—and everyone else who propped up the Roberts conclusions.
As it turns out, Leatherbury’s insistence that the dental records be considered or outright disproved yielded a third DNA test that concluded this week thanks in part to the clout and push of Utah State Archaeologist, Kevin Jones and Derinna Kopp, physical anthropologist, who had their own suspicions about the dental remains too. Anyone want to wager on the results?

Negative. That’s right, negative. Surprised? I’m not. Despite the ever-changing DNA “evidence,” you can be assured that the USC dental records haven’t changed—they still don’t match the remains found on Comb Ridge by Roberts and his associates.

I wonder what kind of profile our friends at National Geographic and the University of Colorado will assume when this news is officially out. Whatever it is, I hope it has something to do with crows.

Even if the mystery of Everett Ruess is never solved, one has to wonder if it might become a landmark case in disputing the omnipotence/absoluteness of DNA testing. Perhaps playing the DNA card isn’t the ace of spades we have made it out to be.

And to think, what if Leatherbury’s questioning could have been easily dismissed? Surely no harm would have been done if the dental records were disproved or dental work was discovered on the teeth that were found. But as the BLM worker said it, “What is more likely: Everett’s teeth healed themselves or the DNA analysis is wrong?”

How close we were to laying to rest a mystery that wasn’t actually solved? What would Waldo think of our sloppy work?

I suppose if the third DNA testing had been positive, a book or movie would have been imminent. Even so, it already makes for a good book or movie without uncovering Ruess’ remains, or knowing his fate. But in America, we typically don’t like endings that leave us hanging—at least that’s not a formula for ticket sales at the box office.

Postscript: This just in…

Ruess Family Accepts Comb Ridge Remains
Are Not Those of Everett Ruess
October 22, 2009 - After further DNA testing, the Ruess family is now convinced that the remains found last year and reported to be those of Everett Ruess are in fact the remains of someone else.

Because of concerns as to whether the skeletal remains found at Comb Ridge in May of 2008 were actually those of Everett Ruess, the Ruess family decided to seek independent scientific confirmation of the initial findings. The family contacted the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) in Rockville, Maryland. AFDIL, which is part of the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), performed an additional round of DNA extraction and analysis from samples taken from the same skeleton.

AFDIL's studies determined that remains were not those of Everett Ruess using Y-STR testing and mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) sequencing. Taken together, the MtDNA and Y-STR evidence establishes the remains are not related to Everett’s closest living relatives. Subsequent reanalysis by the original DNA team could not duplicate their original results.

As a result of the AFDIL findings and the reanalysis, the Ruess family has accepted that the skeletal remains are not those of Everett Ruess. The bones and associated artifacts will be returned to the Navajo Nation Archaeologist for disposition.

The family wishes to thank all the parties of the original research team for their interest in solving the mystery of Everett's disappearance as well those who felt it was important to undertake additional study before concluding the identity of the remains found at Comb Ridge.

The Ruess family would also like to extend its gratitude to all those who have drawn inspiration from Everett's life and work. We hope that their enthusiasm will continue whether or not the mystery is solved. Additionally, we offer our empathy to families everywhere who have lost and never found a loved one. They know, as we do, the subtle and continuous presence of a family member who has disappeared.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Revisiting Reefer Madness

Mountain Lupine
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
It’s been a long time since I last smoked pot. And for the record, I really did inhale.

So much for getting elected to any kind of public office.

Looking back on it now, it wasn’t that big of a deal to me, nor did I ever come to “appreciate” its mind-altering spells. I wasn’t a regular—never bought weed from anyone, and in general, it wasn’t required for a good time. My memories of marijuana usage are mostly of delirious laughter, sudden cravings for junk food and becoming almost too aware of everything around me. I was never out of control, didn’t wreck any cars, or become hostile toward another as the result of smoking marijuana—some of which I have demonstrated as a “recreational drinker.” I never experimented with or considered other drugs either.

As a football cheerleader for Arizona State University in 1979 and 1980, I was lucky enough to visit all the other Pac-10 campuses when we travelled for football games on the road. I remember Palo Alto, California and walking across campus at Stanford University to the sights and smells of people smoking marijuana along the school’s pedestrian malls. Yes, this was the same Stanford University known for its rich history of academics—where they declared, “Harvard… the Stanford of the East.” Nevertheless, I was quite taken back because I’d never seen anything like that on the campus of my conservative and mainstream-academic ASU.

That was another time apparently.

Last week, four Northwest College students were charged for being under the influence of marijuana in Powell, Wyoming—also my workplace. Two of these students were led out of the dormitory in handcuffs and later evicted from their campus housing residence. After the dust settled, Powell Police officials and their drug dogs were unable to find any illegal substances in the dorm room. According to the student newspaper, the only thing that was found was a roach in the bathroom’s shower drain. Although it did not have any marijuana in it, the papers tested positive for THC.

Talk about a witch hunt.

They’ll probably all pee down one another’s legs if they ever uncover a student with a dime bag in their room. Maybe Powell, Wyoming and Northwest College should put in a bid as the next setting/location for the remake of Reefer Madness.

What makes all of this so embarrassing for me as an employee of this (typically) fine institution is that our campus is a “dry” campus; where the possession of alcohol—especially by those under 21-years of age—is illegal and should be considered as severe as one in possession of marijuana. Yet, students aren’t kicked out of the dorms if they are found with alcohol—even if there is a case of it in their room. But, if there is even a trace of marijuana on an individual or in their room, they’re a gonner!

As an illustration to this inconsistency of tolerance, take a stroll through one of the college parking lots near the dorms and you’ll likely see several empty beer cans in the back of just as many pick-up trucks.

But you know, marijuana is a controlled substance. And in the eyes of some, it appears to be considered more dangerous than alcohol and thus it is somehow “more illegal.” Yet, over the years our campus has lost several students to alcohol-related car accidents—not counting a brutal murder that involved alcohol several years ago. On the other hand, marijuana usage has probably contributed significantly to the late-night sales of Powell’s only 24-hour supermarket.

Some folks just don’t get it—and in this case, it appears to be the college’s administration and the Powell Law Enforcement.

Northwest College would make significant gains if it simply did one of two things in an effort to be fair and consistent—get tougher with alcohol offenders or back off on those who are found with marijuana or under its influence. I’d like to think that the latter of these two options would be sufficient especially if an offending student is making significant progress in their education.

Postscript: Another one of the four students involved in the above campus incident was evicted from his dorm room because a scale was found in his room. The campus resource officer determined it could be used for drugs, the student agreed that indeed a scale could be used for such activity although he did not say that was how he used it. Nevertheless, he was evicted for the admission. Finally, the NWC registrar stepped in and cancelled the eviction after hearing the student’s account. Finally, some rationale thinking is beginning to surface.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dancing Around The Code

Tea Party Cowboy
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Why was it such a surprise? Why the big news about so many Americans opposed to President Barack Obama’s address to the schoolchildren of our country?

We were told by the media that this outcry came from those who believe “he was trying to pitch his arguments too aggressively in a local education setting.” Further, they requested our schools to boycott his address because, “Obama was using the opportunity to promote a political agenda.” No one seems to recollect any fuss like this coming from the liberal, Democratic-minded folks about a couple of Republican Presidents addressing our nation’s schoolchildren not so long ago.

Neal McCluskey, associate director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom goes as far as to say that students who do not support Obama or his educational policies will begin the school year “behind the eight ball,” or somehow academically trailing their peers.

Like hell!

All of this is simply code for: “We Whitey’s aren’t gonna stand for some Black man (even if he is the President) lecturing our children, period.” I suppose it’s bad enough that those with such narrow views have had it hard enough in accepting that their kids look up to the accomplishments of non-White sports figures, but they’re not about to have anyone of colour lecture to their kids about... well... about anything beyond the world of sports. No siree bud.

So, it’s more fear from the political right—a fear they can’t state bluntly any longer because our country and the world won’t tolerate any kind of outright racism as was once the norm not so long ago.

Some say all of this is simple politics in action—the Republicans don’t want to see a Democrat succeed in the office of the President. I say it’s a bit bigger. Pardon the overt generalizations here, but no Anglo, camo-wearing, Fox News-crazed, Jesus-loving, NRA-jingoist who considers him/herself Republican and conservative wants to see some scary, dark-skinned, Willie Horton-like boogeyman succeed at the Presidency.

There, I said what many people already know or think.

And so they dance around it acting all concerned about things that really don’t matter to them assuming there was an Anglo in the White House—Republican or Democrat.

Surely even the most casual observer can see that the political right’s views are hidden behind the language that falls just short of outright racism. Most of us know some of those replacement words and phrases that are meant to scare us—all with just a whiff of racism floating about: “socialism,” “Chicago politician,” “welfare-loving,” “Barack-Hussein,” “smooth-talking,” “baby mama,” and even “reverse racism.” But, I know my own kind and I can detect that horrible n-word lingering on the tips of their tongues. And it’s killing them that they’re not as free to speak their racist views as their elders once did.

God only knows what these same people say to their children about our President inside the privacy of their home. They speak of Obama’s wishes to “indoctrinate” the youth. Yet, I suspect the real indoctrination and brainwashing is going on inside their homes—all of which will be ratcheted up following the President’s address to our youth.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that—if you quit on school—you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country… —B. Obama

Yeah, pretty horrible stuff for our kids to hear from a President.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Subtleties of Living in a Red State

Full Mast
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Talking to a friend yesterday at the first Powell High School football game of the season, he pointed to the American Flag anchored to the top of the mast. “Isn’t it suppose to be at half-mast today,” he inquired. Right away I realized the context of his curiosity as I considered the burial of Senator Edward Kennedy earlier in the day, way back East somewhere.

I didn’t know for sure. When I rode past the First National Bank building earlier in the afternoon, I noted the gigantic flag at half-mast.

But now, neither of us really knew. What was the time span for the flags to remain at half-staff? Was it something directed by the President or did each state of the Union determine if such a display was required and how long it endured? Was it meant only for Federal operations to observe or was it a directive for all?

We also wondered if the flying of the flag at full-mast was a purposeful act given the liberal status associated with the deceased senator by our conservative state or was it simply an oversight—just one of the many “automatic” tasks that unfold before the start of any football game? We considered the passing of a conservative senator such as Utah Senator Orin Hatch; could the same scenario occur?

It didn’t take me long this morning to confirm that indeed the flag should have flown at half-mast last night—all the way up until sunset this evening.

Maybe it was purposeful, maybe it was an oversight. What I really wonder now is this: how many other Americans attending the game last night had the same conversation about the Flag and if my friend hadn’t come along with his inquiry, would it have even crossed my mind?

Friday, August 07, 2009

FaceBook: Functional Fluff?

Prairie Kitchen
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
So, I finally caved-in to the pressure. I’ve joined Facebook (“FB” as everyone refers to it). That’s what I tell everyone.

The truth is, I gave Twitter a try and summed up that it was like being in a classroom full of energized second graders, all raising their hands because they have the answer. So, my FB test drive begins with first impressions about the same—maybe just a little more complicated or convoluted than Twitter.

Really, I suppose there’s no surprises in FB thus far. It’s pretty much what I thought it would be—95% fluff and 5% substance. As my friend Dave said the other day, “Near-dead relationships can be kept on life support via FB.”

“Radio Nowhere.”—Springsteen
“Internet Nowhere.” —Facebook

Regardless, if I really want to make a serious go of this, I’ll need to develop my FB sorting/navigation skills so I don’t waste so much time that leaves me feeling like I just watched four hours of vapid TV. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind or maybe not. Regardless, I’ve already received a few messages that accuse me in so many ways of being a FB party-pooper. I won’t refute that—there are worse accusations one could suffer.

Considering making me your friend on FB? Consider it... seriously.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

What Would Mikey Do?

Tuba City Dog
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Finishing a fourth lap on the Powell High School track and making note of the extremely slow pace, I was determined to run at least eight laps before heading home. Dusk was settling in along with its cooling temperatures and I found myself pondering, “Why bother if this is as fast as you can run?”

The answer came within seconds. Something like, “Well, you do this because the day may come that you have to really exert yourself and if that happens, you’ll be better off.”

It was a Monday evening and up to that point I was the only one at the track. A half lap later along the backstretch, I noted three people entering the facility and their three dogs—two medium-sized, a third was miniature. All three were off leash.

Watching the dogs to see if they would notice me, I’d gone through this routine before without incident. However, it’s likely that the arriving party hadn’t planned on anyone else in attendance and probably hadn’t seen me from the other side of the track in the dimly-lit setting. Nevertheless, I proceeded with my running. Entering the turn, one of the dogs noticed and headed directly for me. I don’t remember if it was barking, but I slowed as it approached and said in a normal voice, “Hey there pooch,” and extended my hand out so it could take a sniff or two while still maintaining my shuffling—all seemed well as the dog passed in front of me.

But as I went by, the dog circled back around from behind and took a bite at my moving leg. It’s mouth grazed over my calf with the snapping sound of a jaw closing rapidly. Stopped, I turned to confront the animal and found it growling and barking in a very hostile manner.

Perhaps I should have simply held my ground or backed away slowly. Who knows what will result when such events rapidly unfold. And every dog is as different as is every person. Nevertheless, I chased after the dog (a technique that has worked in the past) resulting in its temporary retreat, but it returned when the pursuit ceased. The commotion summoned the other dogs and the frenzied showdown was on.

In a matter of seconds, we were in the openness of the football field with two canines circling like sharks on a swimmer in open water. (The third and smaller dog wasn’t of concern despite its threatening behavior as well.)

It wasn’t long before the owners were calling their dogs off, but to no avail. The dogs may as well have been deaf at that juncture. It appeared the owners were completely caught off guard by the presence of a stranger as well as the aggressive behavior displayed by their pets.

It seemed like five minutes had passed, but one should never trust the estimate of time lapse by another who is thrown into a tumultuous event such as a multiple dog attack. Nevertheless, there I was, ironically exerting myself beyond my wildest dreams just minutes after pondering the importance of being in shape.

Too bad I wasn’t in better shape.

During the encounter, I managed to do several things though: communicated with the owners (in not the most civil manner mind you), kept the dogs at bay with kicking feet and fist (connecting on occasion, but not effective in thwarting their attack) and intentionally travelled toward the fence in front of the stands so the attack could be limited to 180 degrees instead of 360.

After the owners finally gained control of their dogs, exhaustion was my next battle, yet free to finally leave. Naturally I was furious about what had just happened especially as I took inventory of my injuries—a deep gash on my index finder and a hyper-extended thumb. The owner approached me requesting we talk about what just happened. In my mind, the only talking required now was with the police along with his name. After several requests, he reluctantly gave his name and I retreated for home while looking closer at the splayed index finger that eventually would require a visit to the hospital and a few sutures.

Walking home in the evening’s soft summer air, I felt pretty lucky given the other possible outcomes.

* * *
My opinion of dogs has not changed regarding this event. Like people, some are good and some... not so good. Although I was furious when it unfolded, I’m not too resentful to the owners of these animals now. And dog attacks won’t cease because the details of one particular conflict were spelled out here.

Nevertheless, here’s how it is from my corner of the ring... my hope is a formidable fine will be produced for the dog owners—short of their pets being destroyed. There’s no need for anyone to lose a member of their family in this case. Beyond that though, it’s likely that there are many dog owners out there who view their pets in the same light as those parents who think their children never get in trouble or never do wrong. Such thinking is dangerous in either case. If we really love our pets as we shamelessly contend, let’s make sure we do everything we can to protect our neighbors from such offenses, before they start asking themselves, “What would Michael Vick do?”

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Sorry, Rye Confession

Beartooth Grasses
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
I just read this book that I should have read years ago. I don’t know how it happened like this. Did you ever find yourself wondering how you missed out on something that everyone else knows about? It makes you feel kind of sorry for yourself if you know what I mean. Here’s what’s really funny about it. The other day I heard somebody use this word that I’ve heard before. Even when I was a kid. But, afterwards I realized I didn’t know what it meant. Well, I sort of had an idea, but I didn’t know for sure. So I looked it up and felt like a goddam fool for not knowing all these years. And I’m 49-years-old. I can’t remember what the word is now, but everyone knows it but me. Well, not anymore, I know it now. Anyway, this book’s called The Catcher In The Rye. Maybe you heard about it, maybe you didn’t. It’s considered a literary classic, but if you want to know the truth, I thought it was OK and all. But some of it really did kill me, really did. You just need to read it yourself. There’s really some funny crap in there, but it sort of depressed me too. Honest to God, all these years, I always wondered what or who the catcher in the rye was when someone mentioned that book. I’d just nod my head like some goddam phony. Anyway, I won’t spoil it here and tell you, but it has nothing to do with baseball. You should read it, even if you already read it years ago.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Going Straight on Route 28

Straight on Hwy 28
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
There are other roads out there that are surely longer when it comes to being straight or flat, but Michigan’s State Route 28 has its own monotonous magic. Located in the Upper Peninsula, these observations are from an obscure 25-mile section between the towns of Seney and Shingleton.

The mostly-two-lane highway is lined with evergreens, paralleled by a railroad track to the south and occasionally widens for passing lanes. There are no communities or services to distract travellers except for a rest stop just beyond Seney. Most outstanding about Route 28 from its other homogeneous cousins is that even its surroundings consisting mostly of tall evergreens remain the same as one passes over the 25-mile stretch.

In my second traverse of this route—going from east to west this time—I noticed that besides being completely straight (between the two towns mentioned), there were times when I felt as if I was climbing or descending the asphalt. So bothersome was it, that when I felt confident that I was ascending a slight grade, I turned my truck around in the other direction only to find that it felt as if I was climbing in that direction too.

A couple travellers told me Route 28 is considered by some the most boring stretch of highway in Michigan; but really, how can it be? As one zens on its flatness and straightness travelling at 55 mph, the section is consumed before one has the opportunity to become truly bored.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pearls Before Swine?

Old Hoop
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
When the new basketball hardware (consisting of hoops and backboards) was installed at the St. Barbara’s Church parking lot in my home town earlier this spring, I was amused, thinking to myself that suddenly there was another location to shoot baskets. I was especially interested in this new development because I knew putting up the baskets wasn’t required, necessary or expected of the church. Simply put, it was a gesture of good will extended by the church to anyone in the community who liked to play the game.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long after the installation of this hardware that some of Powell, Wyoming’s finest delinquents spoiled the new courts for everyone when they started hanging from the rims with their lame attempts at slam dunking the ball, leading to the destruction of the south basket. A couple weeks later, the same fate came to the north basket. It wasn’t enough for these punks to destroy one rim, they had to wreck both. And do you suppose any of them were considerate enough to thank the church for their short-lived escapades in their pathetic display of amateur slam dunking—let alone offer to reimburse the church for the damage? Get real. Sadly, no one does that today.

So, what were those fools at St. Barbara’s thinking? How dare they install sub-par basketball hoops that can’t support the weight of a rotund 5’7”, 250-pound teenager who probably had to jump from the back of his friend’s pickup truck to “dunk and hang.” The good folks at St. Barbara’s just don’t understand that it’s not good enough to only install a basketball hoop that is regulation height—if it can’t support the full thunder and weight of Shaq himself, don’t bother! Further, I’m doubtful that the rims would still be intact if the church had pasted “No Dunking” signs on the backboards—talk about an invitation to tear them down.

So my question is this: When did basketball rims become monkey bars?

Blame it on the NBA. Dunking the ball has become the ultimate shot. There’s nothing more in-your-face and insulting than jamming the ball down your opponents throat... ah, I mean hoop. It’s so God-damn American just like George W. Bush’s, “Bring it on.”

We used to say, “Baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet” when speaking about those things that are American. Clearly this needs to be updated to something like, “Slam Dunk, Bud Lite, and ATVs.”

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon (since I’m nearly 50-years-old), when we played basketball in my youth (pick-up or organized), it was a game of finesse. Every now and then, in a short, comedic outburst we would start playing the game the way it’s played today—only we weren’t prophesying, we simply called it “jungle ball.” After such antics, we quickly went back to playing the game properly. We never encountered bent or damaged rims, only an occasional rim without a net.

Don’t get me wrong, the slam dunk wasn’t alien to us. We knew about it thanks to Wilt Chamberlain, but Wilt didn’t hang from the rim following a “stuff” and besides, none of us were that tall or could jump that high, but we certainly had enough class to offer repair expenses for anything we broke.

I can only think of one way to bring the slam dunk and its self-centered, look-at-me attitude back down to earth in an effort to restore the integrity of basketball... It’s time to raise the rims to eleven feet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Extinction of Another Dinosaur

Dinosaur, Colorado
4 June 2009

Years ago 1,200 people lived in Dinosaur, Colorado, though someone in town told me it was as high as 8,100. Just over 300 people live here today in Colorado’s westernmost town—only three miles from the Utah border. Up until 1966, the town was named Artesia, but changed to Dinosaur— hoping to capitalize on its proximity to nearby Dinosaur National Monument.

According to the Colorado Historical Society: In addition to oil, the Rangely Field rigs dredged up a sense of Colorado's gold-rush past. The drilling frenzy of 1945 brought a torrent of fortune seekers, quite a few of them cruder than the oil itself. Many landed in Artesia, a brand-new supply center twenty miles north of Rangely. Within a year of its founding in 1945, the community had 1,200 residents and seventy businesses. The high-octane boom could not last forever, of course; in 1965, its population down to 400, Artesia changed its name to Dinosaur and began serving visitors to the nearby national monument. The 1980s brought another growth industry—oil shale—and another surge of new residents, but by the 1990s Dinosaur was once again fighting to stave off extinction.

In the past three years, the local kids have attended an on-line school. Sadly, there are no athletic teams in Dinosaur either. Think of the unique mascot name possibilities for a town called Dinosaur that remain idle now. If any kids want a setting within a traditional education system, they travel 18 miles to nearby Rangely, Colorado—an ugly company town surrounded by oil and gas rigs and all of its residual junk strewn about haphazardly.

For $13 I slept on the ground in my tent at the quiet RV park. I dreamed of my cousin Ricky whom I haven’t seen since I was a teenager. He had returned to take over his brother Ronny’s business following his death.

Everything is for sale in Dinosaur—old motels, restaurants, stores, etc. and many of the streets have dinosaur names like Triceratops Terrace and Brontosaurus Boulevard.

Several old-timers visit one of the local restaurants in town—the B&B. It’s typical small-town talk: something about someone’s dog, high gas prices, winning the lottery, today’s crossword puzzle, health issues, hard-luck-son-of-a-bitch stories, hunting, and fishing—all with the rasp of a smoker’s voice.

Nowadays they go outside to smoke. A picnic table is provided near the front door. A few years ago they must have smoked freely inside the restaurant. I bet they despise these new anti-smoking laws. I can understand their perspective, but I’m thankful I don’t have to breath cigarette smoke while I have my pancakes and bacon—I did plenty of that when I was growing up. It seems like anyone of them could drop dead in the next year—perhaps I should include myself even if it seems more unlikely.

I wonder now, is this a part of America that is disappearing? Is the gathering of old folk in the local diners of America on the brink of collapse? Despite my less-than-complimentary observations, I feel lucky to come across this sight—life beyond the internet, shopping malls and posers living in à la mode towns like Jackson, Telluride or Moab.

I’ll take Dinosaur any day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Giving And Graduation

Toyah Texas School
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
In 1978 when graduating from Springfield High School in Akron, Ohio, I accumulated over $200 in gift money. A little more than three years later when I received my bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, I might have received about $100 in gift money—maybe. Seven years later, I received a Master’s degree in Vocational Education from Northern Arizona University and following graduation, I found myself completely broke with a five grand balance on my credit card. As a result, I ended up selling my ski and camera equipment so I would have gas money to drive back to Ohio for a visit with the family.

I wonder if my experiences in these life’s accomplishments are unique? I suspect they are not. So, I’ll ask the question: Why is it that when almost anyone graduates from high school these days, we lavish all kinds of gifts on them? Yet, when some of these same people go on to earn degrees in post-secondary education, professional certifications or licenses—often going into debt in the process—there’s little fanfare compared to that which is associated with the achievement of something as a mediocre high school diploma.

Perhaps when we receive the announcement from a relative, friend or neighbor who is completing their high school diploma, nothing more than a twenty-dollar bill should be offered. After all, they are only achieving today’s “minimum daily requirement” in this common achievement. However, when they complete their associate’s degree, or secure their multi-engine pilot’s license, we should up the ante—each time for the completion of a higher level.

Given this philosophy of giving, think about how unfortunate it might be for you and your pocketbook to know someone finishing up their Ph.D.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

McDonald's: A conduit to world peace?

McDonald's Coffee Stirrer
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
It’s easy enough for any of us to poke fun at McDonald’s. They’re a big enough target given their status as a successful mega-corporation. And if anyone can be made fun of without serious fallout, it would be a big, international corporation like McDonald’s. Further, this is the same entity that has been aligned with the world’s questionable eating habits while transforming our English lexicon by adding “Mc” in front of words like “fish,” “chicken,” and “flurry.” Even beyond the McDonald’s menu, new McWords are created by McOthers every McDay, implying a certain McDonald’s-esque in anything to do with our McWorld.

And I’m as guilty as anyone in allowing myself to stoop to such frivolity at McDonald’s expense.

So along comes McCafé—with the appropriate accent mark over the lower case “e.” I was ready to hoot and holler with everyone else when I heard of this. As I recall, this has been a purposeful attempt by McDonald’s to take away some of the fussy coffee drinkers from another mega-corporation known as Starbuck’s.

Lucky for my hometown of Powell, Wyoming, McDonald’s decided to install a version of McCafé in our very own McD’s franchise, even though the closest Starbuck’s is 90-miles away in Billings! They didn’t have to do that, did they?

So, the other day I invited a coffee-drinking friend of mine to join me for a test-drive at our local McCafé—he’s a bit of a coffee snob too. Not surprising, it was easy for us to serve up wisecracks as if they were hamburgers—ordering European coffee drinks made with gourmet coffee at something as American as McDonald’s. How preposterous!

McCafé Peace Cup
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Now, for my confession: the McCafé latté was as good as any I’ve had at Starbuck’s. I can’t say it was the best latté I’ve ever had, but it was worth the two-dollar-plus price and certainly beat the hell out of the dark-coloured dishwater that is passed off as coffee in other local establishments for half the cost.

I’d like to think if McDonald’s can do justice to coffee, it’s time for all the other coffee-serving establishments to pony-up as well.

Nevertheless, as we sat there with gourmet coffee in hand, I experienced an epiphany of sorts—caffeine induced no doubt. What if there’s more to this than something as simple as McDonald’s raising the bar on coffee standards in America? Whether intentional or unintentional, is it possible that MacDonald’s McCafés are instilling a greater awareness of cultural diversity with these little, gourmet coffee stand installments—more than Starbuck’s could ever imagine? And stretching this meditation even further, might McCafés be responsible for deconstructing classism, encouraging tolerance while moving us all closer to world peace?

I know the above will take some explaining so, here’s where I’m coming from—along with an abundance of generalizations.

Despite its huge success over the past 15 years or so, Starbuck’s answered the call of those Americans who desired better coffee due to their keen awareness of coffee quality as a result of their worldly travels, culturally sensitive education or both. I would venture to say that Starbuck’s clientele could be distilled down to a profile that is upper middle class, college educated, white-collar workers living comfortably. McDonald’s clientele on the other hand are lower-middle class, not as much college (if any), blue-collar workers and just getting by for the most part. Therefore, it’s probably safe to say that by in large, people who patronize Starbuck’s do not patronize McDonald’s and vice-versa.

Two-Cup Guy
So, along comes McDonald’s with high-end Arabica coffees and espresso drinks hoping to win over some of the Starbuck’s customers—and perhaps they have. However, there’s something greater happening here: McDonald’s patrons who may have scoffed at Starbuck’s and other coffee house foo-foo espresso drinks might become a bit curious about this new product since it’s in their own backyard now—and Lord knows, come to like it!

What happens when people come to appreciate something as alien as gourmet coffee and espresso? Don’t they become curious about it—what’s it all about, what is the history, how is it made, who else uses it and where else is it served? All this leading to my theory that McCafés transform the huddled masses of America (that never gave Starbuck’s the time of day) into a people who are more tuned in and sensitive to the world beyond its shining seas.

I know, it’s a stretch, but just think about it when your sipping your next cup. Besides, where else can you get a mocha in Powell at 9:30 p.m.?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nepotism and favoritism: Can it be defeated at Northwest College?

Kick Off Blues
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
NWC’s Director of Student Activities and Orientation, Mike Taylor, was recently awarded as this year’s distinguished adjunct faculty. Congratulations are certainly in order and from what I’ve heard of Mr. Taylor’s instruction, the college got this one right. The same is true with Dennis Davis and in his distinguished full-time faculty award.

As the congratulatory remarks came in over the college’s email system, absent were any kind of comments from his direct supervisor—NWC’s Vice President of Student Affairs Dana Young. Further, given Mike’s accomplishments, it was even more odd/ironic that in the same year of his award, he has been removed from all but one of his golf classes for the upcoming summer and autumn offerings and replaced by the Vince Kobbe, husband of NWC’s human resources director, Heather Kobbe.

It’s likely that the good folks in administrative services and student life will defend his removal because the courses “conflict” with Taylor’s incredibly flexible schedule even though he had been teaching the classes for years. Could it be that Mr. Taylor simply teaches some of the funnest classes offered at NWC and a few bullies out there want some of that action?

While Taylor’s predicament is history, the college is now gunning to fill the Dean of Student Engagement and Success Director—a position that has been vacant for over a year and pays somewhere in the neighborhood of $70K-plus. I’m betting few employees of the college could recite the functions of what appears to be yet another administrative job in our top-heavy institution. One of the finalist is Deb Mills, spouse of the college’s Vice President of Administrative Services, Kim Mills. Speaking of betting, does anyone want to make a wager on who gets the nod for this position as well?

An edict is likely coming from the Governor’s office calling for budget reductions at Northwest College and other community colleges around the state. As a result, there’s a good chance a reduction-in-force (RIF) will be activated. And with commentaries like this, I wouldn’t be surprised to know that my position is on the chopping block. Nevertheless, I hope President Paul Prestwich also considers a little “spring cleaning” in his own administrative offices. While he’s at it, perhaps this would be a good time for him to remind us peons on the anti-nepotism/favoritism policy details at Northwest College—if there are any.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bud Lite vs. The Badlands

Desert PC
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
“Wyoming people know what’s best for Wyoming.”

This is the expression that kept on going through my mind as I was walking through a garbage-strewn expanse of Wyoming badlands last weekend. Included with the above statement, there is often some kind of declaration about keeping (big) government out of our lives. I suspect this attitude is fairly popular with many of those who live in the country’s other western states as well.

“Those people in Washington D.C. don’t know nothin’ about Wyoming and what it’s like to live out here, I’d just assume they stay put in their big cities and stay out of our business.”

Yeah, the last thing we need is some big government regulation telling us we can’t litter in our high-country deserts. Surely once it piles high enough and becomes visible from town, we’ll go pick it up... you betcha’.

Here are a few other big questions I was mulling over in my head...

Is the cornucopia of trash residing in the surrounding desert the personification of Wyoming’s distain for big government intervention?

Do people who live and love Wyoming do so because they find the vast areas of wilderness desirable or because they prefer to do whatever they please even if it means transforming the landscape into a giant landfill? Surely most of us living in Wyoming would relate to the former of these two rationales, yet there appears to be enough of the latter who are ruining it for the rest of us.

As far as particulars go, most of the trash/litter out there is limited to those places that are accessible by a vehicle—clear evidence of our ongoing haul-it-off-and-throw-it-away society. Some of the trash is very old, some from the day before. Shotgun shells and Bud Lite containers (both bottles and cans) litter the desert—rivaling the excessive number of cow pies. There are a few other beer bottles and cans from other breweries, but Bud Lite is undoubtedly the hands-down winner.

Bud Lite & Friends
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
I always thought Bud Lite was shitty beer and now I have another reason for not drinking it.

It’s likely that underage drinkers are responsible for most of the beer-related litter, but I have to wonder if they are the same individuals who are hauling refrigerators or old cars out into the desert, filling them full of bullet holes and leaving them.

And what else might one find amongst the fossils and petrified wood: old automobile transmissions and other car parts, computer monitors and CPUs, furniture, a microwave oven, plastic buckets half filled with rock-hard drywall mud, dirty rags, televisions, ovens, and plastic bags from an assortment of stores in town. Almost all of the above items are riddled with bullet holes too—true to the spirit of an authentic Wyoming desert party.

Again I wonder, if given the opportunity to sit down and visit with the person who took the PC and monitor out into the desert, shot it up and left it—would there be anything they could tell me or explain to me that would convince me that they weren’t a total, self-centered ass?

Wyoming: Like no place on earth.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter who’s to blame in all of this. Aren’t we all to blame—especially if we continue to ignore this steadily growing eye soar in the desert that surrounds us? Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that citizens of my community (Powell) and the outlying areas are the ones who have created this local environmental blight.

If you think Wyoming has a better quality of life than just about anywhere else in the country, we agree. —Wyoming Republican advertisement

Monitor Landscape
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
There are those in other states that think their state is as beautiful, I won’t argue. Yet, Wyoming probably makes the top 10 when it comes to any poll that list the most scenic states, so aren’t we obligated to uphold this truth as keepers of its beauty?

In a note of irony... some of the older debris out there has a certain nostalgic appeal to it and perhaps will be picked up by a collector in the near or distant future. Yet, this is no justification for our reckless disposal of our now-worthless, worldly possessions.

I’m not a community organizer, but if there is such a person in our community, my wish is for them to organize/activate our community in a clean-up-the-badlands project. I suspect it’s a big job (and ongoing), but surely it is worth it. Imagine, every weekend (at least during the warmer months of the year) a handful of people venture out into a designated area of public land to pick up and haul out the trash. The local landfill is waiting for our recovered products and we probably have one of the highest number of pick-up trucks per capita than any other part of the country. We owe it to ourselves and the desert that surrounds us. I’m ready to volunteer my time and pick-up truck.

So, let’s meet on April 18th at 10:00 a.m.—the Powell Airport parking lot. From there (depending on the numbers) we’ll head off to a location that is in need of a clean-up. Maybe we can get something started. Seriously! I double-dog-dare you to show up.

And while I’m at it, I have a favor to ask of the gun owners and Bud Lite drinkers who wander out into the desert... is it too much to ask of you to bend over and pick up your spent casings and empty beers?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Demetrification of Interstate 19

North Dakota Interstate 94
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
The interstate highway that runs between Tucson and Nogales, Arizona (I-19), might not be one of the most scenic stretches of pavement in the country, but it definitely possesses a different “personality” thanks to the metric-based road signs and highway markers posted along this ribbon of asphalt. I always thought it was kind of cool that we had this "eccentric" little stretch of highway in America that was metric based—a little testimony/illustration of America's diversity where the literal rubber meets the road.

So, how did we get these metric-based road signs on I-19 in the first place? It was a little experiment the government carried out when we were seriously considering adopting the metric system—sometime in the early 70s. However, some 30 years later, the good politicians in Arizona have adopted that McDonald's homogeneous mentality and are planning on using $1.5 million of the state’s half-billion dollar stimulus package to replace the signs with our old-school mileage system.

God forbid the travellers of I-19 become a bit confused or mentally challenged all these years with those damn metric signs.

One colleague pointed out that while John McCain has been ranting and raving over the “pork” particulars that have been folded into the stimulus package, he hasn’t complained a word about the pork that’s in his own back pocket—replacing perfectly good kilometer-based road signs with mile-based road signs.

As I sit here and contemplate this menial travesty, perhaps the money would be better spent if it were applied to converting all the other road signs throughout the country into metric-based road signs. Yet, I suppose we’d rather snub our nose at the rest of the metric-based world because it might be a little too much for our educational system to teach another base-10 measurement system. I mean, let’s face it, there’s only a handful of countries in the world that are not using the metric system.

As long as we’re hell-bent against the rest of the world, I propose we get rid of our nickels and dimes and replace them with eighth and sixteenth coins instead. That’ll show’em!

We always talk about what a great country we are—our innovation, our ingenuity, our creativity, and so on. Yet, after all these years of consideration, we are either incapable or too stubborn to adopt something as simple as the metric system.

Go figure.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Remembering Mrs. Brazil

African Doll
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
What a time to be alive in America—to believe in America.

Having just celebrated Dr. King's 80th birthday, swelling in the background for the entire week was the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

I wasn't sure exactly how to go about the business of celebrating on that pseudo-double-barrell holiday. Dr. King and President Obama reminded us about the importance of public service, but I couldn't help but reflect on those of African-American descent who have touched my life over the years. Too bad for me that such individuals are so few. Yet, I'm the only one to blame for such an abbreviated list.

It was only a couple weeks ago that I remembered Mrs. Brazil, and because of these recent events, for the first time I saw her in a new light.

I never gave much thought about her as an African-American. And, to be sure, no one in my family let it be known to me that (in 1966) my foundation for reading and writing were being shaped by an African-American woman. Yes, I owe my humble beginnings in reading and writing to my first grade teacher, Mrs. Brazil.

Up until now, I’ve been rather oblivious to the unique scenario that had shaped my early years—especially in light of those tumultuous times. Only three years earlier the racial atrocities were recorded regarding the 16 Street Baptist Church in Alabama and not long after 1966, Dr. King was gone.

So, folded in between all of this racial strife, a bunch of young White kids growing up in an all-White neighborhood of East Akron, Ohio, were given the first tools of reading and writing by an African-American woman—tools that have defined the inner core of any civilization.

What a contrast from Kindergarten with Mrs. Scheatzle to the first grade with Mrs. Brazil. Mrs. Scheatzle was a petite and attractive Anglo woman who spoke calmly and evenly. When I walked into Mrs. Brazil's class on the that first day of the first grade, I knew I had graduated. She was a smart dresser, but she was big enough to play linebacker with Ray Nitschke of the Green Bay Packers (or so it seemed). In short, she was no Mrs. Scheatzle. Mrs. Brazil was gentle with us to be sure, but her voice was capable of booming across the room and she had a great, uninhibited laugh. Occasionally, when we started to become unruly she would settle us down by reminding us that we weren't in Kindergarten anymore. She conducted that class as if she were holding court.

In reflecting on that time, the other day I called my mother to see if there was anything she remembered that may have been too harsh for a first grader like myself to comprehend. She only remembers the surprise to hear about Brazil's assignment as a teacher at Ritzman Elementary where I was entering the first grade. Both of us suspect that she may have been the first non-White to teach there—and long before any African-American children attended as students. Regardless, my mother couldn't recall any controversy regarding Mrs. Brazil at Ritzman and only remembers her as a caring and friendly teacher who would call the house to check on my status when I'd been sick and away from school.

I hold a certain sadness today in that I don't know what became of Mrs. Brazil, nor do I know how many years she actually taught at Ritzman. I suspect it wasn't very long because I don't recall being aware of her presence by the time I was in the fifth grade—the last year I attended Ritzman. Like many of my former teachers, I truly regret not knowing what paths she pursued after sharing the 1966-67 academic year with her. I never learned her given name either.

Today, I find myself wondering what pressures and anxieties she experienced as a teacher working at a school that was 100% White way back then? I can't imagine it was as innocent and uneventful for her as it appeared from my first-grade perspective. How did such an assignment even come about? Whatever racial tensions she may have experienced, tolerated, suffered, it never showed. Yet, I have to wonder what would a first grader really notice? For me, she was competent, effective and influential as a first grade teacher. What more has ever been required?

Perhaps even more perplexing is that I don't recall any of the kids from the other classes saying anything about Mrs. Brazil while on the playground or in route to and from school. And the kids attending Ritzman were hardly angels—many used the various inappropriate and offensive names for those of colour and other nationalities. In fact, I remember hearing more jokes about Poles than any other race or nationality.

The fact that my first grade experience with Mrs. Brazil was racially uneventful is probably a credit to my parents who never demonized Blacks or used any of the derogatory, popularized-by-Whites terms for African-American people, although several members of our extended family did—and probably still do to this day.

I've told many people over the years about Mrs. Brazil—not because she was African-American, but because she always called me "Tyree"—my surname. I thought that was cool because my brother and his friends in high school always called each other by their last names and suddenly, my teacher was as cool as they were.

As it turned out, sometime later in the year, she pulled me aside and apologized when she realized that my given name was actually "Morgan." I'm pretty certain I told her it was OK, but had I a little more courage, I would have told her I preferred to be called "Tyree" all along.

On this week when we've celebrated the 80th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the swearing in of Barack Obama as our 44th President, I'd like to look her in the eye and thank her for being such a powerful and influential force in my early years. Maybe I could even have her read this essay and offer me a little feedback on my writing one last time.