Volunteers Needed

George Floyd under the knee of Derek Chauvin.

There’s a contingency of individuals out there who insist that George Floyd died from a drug overdose instead of affixation. I suppose it is possible, but a little experiment needs to take place first—and a simple experiment at that.

Starting with the defense team of Derek Chauvin, one of the members should step forward and volunteer to be handcuffed, face down on the asphalt and have the weight of a… say, 180-pound man kneel on the back and side of their neck for almost ten minutes.

It would be an easy test to refute the claim that Mr. Floyd was indeed murdered by Chauvin. All they’d have to do is endure about 10 minutes of what is likely to be an uncomfortable experience—but certainly survivable, right?

And just to make sure that nothing goes wrong, unlike George Floyd’s experience, this little test will be closely monitored so if—for example—the volunteer passes out, the pressure will be released and a medical expert will be there to revive them if needed.

That seems like a simple enough request. Who wants to volunteer?

Midwest Midnight

The following was written for National Public Radio in response to their request (for listeners) to answer the following question: What music has changed your life? This post first appeared in October 2007.

An Akron Goodyear Factory Building… now gone.

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, working-class rock-and-roll music seemed to find its way into nearly every home—ours was no exception. And while Dylan, Springsteen, and Mellencamp permeated the airwaves, the one song that stirred me to my soul (and still does to this day) was written and performed by a singer and band that fell just short of national stardom status—Midwest Midnight by The Michael Stanley Band.

Stanley once said that Midwest Midnight was, “…the most honest song I’ve ever written,” and it was the first song that spoke to me about my hometown—or at least that part of the country that I called home. Stanley’s anthem left me feeling that there was no denying who I was or where I was from—no matter where I chose to live following my high school graduation in 1978.

It’s funny how one can know the words of a song by heart after all these years and still only possess a vague notion of the song’s intended message—such is art. Today, the lyrics of Midwest Midnight are still abstract to me and at 47-years-old, I would have thought this little mystery would have been solved by now. Perhaps I really don’t need to know what Stanley was trying to say because his song has woven its way into the fiber that defines me, which is understood, but not necessarily articulated.

Living in the wide-open spaces that straddle the Wyoming and Montana border, I consider myself a Westerner now. And while my taste in music has expanded exponentially over the years, every now and then my MP3 player will select Midwest Midnight in the shuffle mode and I’m instantly taken back to the world of Northeast Ohio—its overcast skies, industrial skylines and its proud, working-class ambience.

Excerpt from Midwest Midnight
Why can’t she see what she’s doing to me
If that bandstand girl only was here
And I’m living the dream, getting lost on the screen,
doing Presley in front of the mirror…
And I’m hanging around, getting high on the sounds
of the ladies and electric guitars
Cross a double yellow line to who knows where
with six sets of glory a night in some bar…

(CHORUS:)
Midwest midnight
Ten thousand watts of holy light
from my radio so clear…
Bodies glistening, everybody’s listening
as the man plays all the hits that you want to hear.

Postscript: Michael Stanley passed away on March 5, 2021 after a short battle with lung cancer. His last performance was in March of 2020 at the Akron Civic Theatre just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Here’s a video of Stanley singing another early song and a favorite, The Rosewood Bitters, recorded in his basement on April of 2020.

In 2019, WKSU’s Amanda Rabinowitz interviewed Stanley for his Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement Award. LISTEN HERE for the interview.

Inocculation Observations

Today I received my first COVID-19 vaccine. It was fairly uneventful, yet here I am somehow writing about it. I filled out a one-page form and before I knew it, I was taking off my jacket and rolling up my sleeve for the curly-haired, red-headed nurse.

In our short visit, I found her sense of humor and bed-side manner a pleasant surprise given the gravity of a pandemic. She said sternly, “Morgan, take off your clothes,” and then chuckled. The only reply I could come up with at the moment was, “Gee, I haven’t heard that in a long time.” If I could do it all over again, I probably would have said something even more self-deprecating like, “Oh, you’ll be so disappointed.”

I knew a few people there for the same reason. I found it amusing how some of the men—older of course—felt the need to remove their shirt rather than roll up their sleeve to receive the vaccine. I don’t know, maybe it was a long-sleeve kind-of-thing, but I was reminded of my father. Even in his late years, he never had second thoughts about being shirtless. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Regardless, after I turned 40, I felt pretty certain that no one would see me shirtless in public even if it was Jay-Lo wagging her “come hither” finger at me from her hotel balcony.

My partner, Mish did her fair share of socializing with the medical staff as well—especially after her inocculation. We sat together afterwards and she told me of her moments with the nurse and needle—as we witnessed another shirtless, old-guy with man-boobs directly in front of us receiving his vaccine.

Looking around the cavernous room of others visiting at the fairgrounds I considered how normal mask-wearing was becoming in any given social setting. I wondered if this new norm might have some staying power long after the pandemic is behind us. If one needs any evidence to support such a possibility, look no further than  the Japanese culture and their practice of mask-wearing, long before any pandemic was on the horizon. It seems very possible that the rest of the world will now see the wisdom in that practice of social hygiene. 

The actual shot was pretty typical of any—like a bee sting that doesn’t last very long. Six hours after getting the shot, the only thing I have noticed unusual is that my arm is sore where I received the injection—reminiscent of the occasional charly-horses John Polinger administered back in junior high. I do feel a bit fatigued as well, but that’s more likely just attributed to another Thursday and knowing that the bulk of my class load is behind me for another week. Whatever aches or pains come with this vaccine, I’m thinking they’ll blend right in with the aches and pains that come with a 60-year-old body. 

Stay tuned for Part II.

A Recipe for a Greater America

The Mars rover Perseverance is slowly lowered to
the Martian surface by the onboard sky crane.

You want to talk about making America great (again)? I’ve news for you—it’s already here.

It was on full display this past Thursday in NASA’s Pasadena, California Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) when the Perseverance rover was lowered onto the surface of Mars after a seven-month journey covering over 300 million miles.

No matter how you look at it, the landing of the car-sized Perseverance on the Martian surface was a great event that went without a hitch. And, great events don’t happen without great people running the show.

As I witnessed this event unfold, I started noting how many people of color and how many women were part of this show—starting with Swati Mohan, the mission’s guidance, navigation, and control operations lead. I have no idea what the demographic breakdown of the mission’s team is, but it certainly didn’t resemble anything like those Apollo missions with a room full of Anglos assembled in Houston’s mission control back in the 60s and 70s.

I read recently that NASA as a whole still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, with 72% White and 34% women employees. I’d be surprised if those were the same numbers on the Perseverance mission team.

If we truly witnessed greatness the other day—and I believe we did—then the recipe for greatness was right in front of us in the diversified gathering of individuals who define the Perseverance mission to Mars.

Defining a Friendly Community

Some people around here say Powell is one of the friendliest small towns you’ll ever come across. “Everyone is so friendly,” they’ll say.

Today, as COVID-19 cases creeped up to a new all-time high in our state (Wyoming), I made a trip to our local supermarket for a weekly supply of provisions. Out of a store that probably had close to 100 shoppers in its aisles, myself and maybe five others were wearing masks as recommended by every health department in the country—that makes for five percent who were conscientious enough and felt the need to do our part in helping to prevent any further spread of the pandemic.

My question turned to the others—you know the 95% who weren’t wearing masks and how they reckoned with that moniker of  “one of the friendliest towns” one might ever encounter.

This wasn’t early March when the pandemic was just reaching our shores. This was a time when the virus had not only arrived, but was taking up residence and sipping lemonade in our country’s sparsist communities—with no real deterrent/silver bullet on the horizon.

With that in mind, I found myself wondering how am I still to view this community where a random 95% of them are without mask during the height of a pandemic? Should any outsider continue to consider them “friendly” as they have always been labeled? How can they been seen as friendly when they appear to be people that don’t seem to care about spreading a virus to their fellow citizens? Or, how can they be seen as friendly when all they seem to care about are their Constitutional rights being taken from them in the form of being forced to wear a mask? Or this: how can they appear to be friendly instead of just outright stupid when they don’t take the pandemic seriously, despite what the medical community has been telling them since March?

Surely this random 95% didn’t just happen to forget their masks as they headed for the supermarket on this ordinary day.

No More Ohio State

GLENDALE, AZ – Fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes cheer after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 44-28 in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Buckeyes defeated the Fighting Irish 44-28. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As a naive young child growing up in Ohio (Akron), I wasn’t a big Ohio State fan in those early days. When the Buckeyes took down O.J. Simpson and the mighty USC Trojans in the ’69 Rose Bowl, I didn’t really care. However, a few years later my best friend would evolve into a major fan of the Columbus-based university, attributed to his older brother receiving a scholarship for the OSU Track and Field team. So, eventually, I got sucked in—how could I really resist?

In the years that followed, I found myself in good company discovering many of family and extended family were also OSU fans. So, along for the ride I went.

As a high school student, I never had any inclination or dreams of attending Ohio State. I considered Ohio U (in Athens), but ended up attending Arizona State University. While there, a strange thing happened—a tried out for and won a spot on the ASU football cheerleading squad. In payment for hoisting pretty women over my head and tumbling across the gridiron, I had one of the best “seats” at any game I attended, including the 1980 contest against Ohio State in Columbus.

In payment for hoisting pretty women over my head and tumbling across the gridiron, I had one of the best “seats” at any game I attended, including the 1980 contest against Ohio State in Columbus.

It was odd being down on the field at the “Horseshoe,” cheering for the other team. But, I wasn’t phased by it at all. I secured seats for my family and friends at the game, and never once experienced any kind of traitorous feelings for the scarlet and grey. In fact, being on the “other team,” I saw the Ohio State fans in a new light—and it was hardly flattering. Compared to many other road games I attended, the Ohio State fans were by far the most obnoxious, and some of them downright ugly.

Not long after graduating from ASU, I still kept track of the Buckeyes and as long as they weren’t playing ASU (see 1996 Rose Bowl), I still considered myself a fan—even attending their ill-fated game against USC in the 1985 Rose Bowl.

After tonight’s heart-breaking loss to Clemson (making them 0-4 against the Tigers), I decided I had enough of Ohio State. But, I wanted some facts to back-up my emotions in disowning them. So, here’s what I found regarding their not-so-illustrious post-season record. In 49 post-season bowl games starting with the 1969 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes have a record of 19-30 (.388); mind you, not all of them being major bowl games. But of those 49 games, 18 were played either in the Rose Bowl (as Big 10 Champs taking on the Pac 10 Champs) or as a National title game. In those 18 games, Ohio State was 8-10 (.444). Hardly an impressive record when it comes to the post-season stage.

A Saturday night in “C-bus” at “The Shoe.”

Tonight I spent $37 on food and drink to watch a typical post-season Ohio State team lose in a fashion that only Ohio State seems to be capable of pulling off. I’ve seen this story play out way too many times in my short life, and with most of it behind me now, I’m walking away from Ohio State. I’ll never go out of my way to watch them play again as I did tonight—especially if it is a major post-season bowl game against a Southern university.

There is some victory/salvation in all of this. Given my “fan” status over the years, I really have no Ohio State swag that I need to unload (or burn as in the case of the jilted fan).

It’s true that during the regular season, it takes any visiting team a monumental effort to defeat the Buckeyes in C-bus, but in the big games come the post-season, at best they are predictably mediocre.

Postscript: When will one of the strong Southern Universities like Alabama, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Auburn ever venture north of the Mason-Dixon for a November or December contest with the likes of a respectable Minnesota or Iowa team? That never happens. As my brother put it, “They never will as there is nothing to gain and everything to lose.”

Sixty & Way Beyond

My father at boot camp.

I don’t remember many of my birthdays. There was a neighborhood party when I was five. When I was 21, my big brother and I hit a couple bars that were open on a dull Sunday evening in Akron, Ohio. When I turned the odometer over at 40, I had just arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, but there were few people I knew, and those I did, not very well, so I didn’t tell anyone.

On the eve of my 60th birthday recently, I ran a little over two miles at the local track—running one lap in all eight lanes continuously. I’m unsure if I ever ran farther in the span of my 59th year. If I did, it wasn’t often and it couldn’t have been much farther.

I thought about my father during that run. Could he have run two miles when he was at the same point in his life in 1985? Probably not, but unlike me, I never knew of him to do any kind of long distance running—even when he was much younger and I was only a child. Regardless, he would have destroyed me in the bench press.

Thinking back a year from this time as I was turning 59, I remember being concerned that my partner Marsha and other friends might throw a big party for this 60th milestone. As it turns out, that worry was all for nothing thanks to the new norm of social distancing compliments of COVID-19.

I have wondered if I’ll be one of those looking back on the pandemic and thinking about those who were lost to it, or will I be one of the casualties. It’s odd how clinical I can think about this even as it could be residing just outside my window.

Getting back to my father in 1985, I think about what he was doing as a 60-year old. He was still working at Goodyear as a pipe fitter. And, much like me, he was starting to see his retirement on the horizon. And when he was 60, I was going back to school for my graduate work at Northern Arizona University—I was 25 then.

Further down the family line, my paternal grandfather, Emory Hansford Tyree was 60 years old in 1960, the year I was born—also working for Goodyear as a tire-building supervisor.

Another grim thought came to me recently regarding this milestone. If I live to be 100, I’ve exhausted 60% of my life and the remaining 40% should be anything but a joy ride. I reckon if I’m lucky, I have another 20 years of decent quality living. Past 80, surely I’ll be on borrowed time. Should I check out tomorrow, I can’t complain as I look back on the big picture of my life, it feels pretty complete.

Sixty-years-old is one of life’s fencelines. I see it as the official threshold between the middle-age years and the senior years. Although a bit grim as I consider my status, there is a small amount of consolation in that I’m a young and spry old man rather than a washed-up, middle-aged man.

* * *

Along with the pandemic of COVID-19 that is currently upon us, another unexpected, but delightful event has emerged during this milestone in my life… only a few months ago (late March) a comet was discovered making its approach toward the Sun and here in July of 2020, it is close enough and bright enough to be seen with the naked eye as it makes its way around the sun and back out to the periphery of the solar system. The comet has been named NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) after the orbit-based telescope (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Space Explorer) that detected it.

As I understand, the comet’s last pass by Earth was about 4,500 years ago. That would have been about 2,480 B.C. Recorded history is scarce that far back and what is known has mostly to do with Egypt and its “Golden Age.” This would have been around the time when the famed “Seated Scribe” was created. The Temple of Khafra had just been completed too—along with the second largest pyramid at Giza. What a great time for something as mysterious as a comet to show up in the heavens above.

In North America, little history is known while exact dates are only imagined. But it’s worth noting that in NEOWISE’s previous appearance, the Independence I people from North America had just arrived in Greenland, while the Aleutian tradition was emerging in Alaska along with Arctic Small Tool tradition around Bristol Bay.

From here, I went down another historical rabbit hole. If the great dinosaurs of the Cretaceous period were roaming the Earth some 145 million years ago, NEOWISE has probably made some 20,000 round trips in the solar system since that time—assuming its existence back then.

As a result of the comet’s close approach to the sun in this latest visit, its orbital period has increased another 2,300 years meaning that the next time NEOWISE shows itself near Earth, it will be around the year 8820. As it approaches the Sun, NEOWISE rises above the orbit plane of the planets, but not long after as it makes its way back into the outer solar system, it dips below the orbit plane at an angle of about 30-degrees.

As NEOWISE makes its way back to the darkest reaches of our solar system and beyond, moving at a speed of 144K miles per hour (or 40 miles per second), it will have passed a distance that matches Jupiter’s orbit by this time next year, and about a year later it will have passed a distance that equals the orbit of Saturn. In June of 2025 NEOWISE will be as far away as Uranus, and in a few months before my 70th birthday, it will have reached a distance that equals Neptune’s orbit. By the time my 80th birthday has arrived, NEOWISE will be some 40.4 astronomical units* (au) from Earth—as far away as the Kuiper Belt where Pluto resides. And should I live to see a century, NEOWISE will still be traveling away from Earth at a distance of 63.998 au—toward its origins in the Oort Cloud before it starts making its way back for that 8820 rendezvous with Earth.

By 8820—who knows—maybe short trips to see the comet up close will be possible or our descendants will have bridled the celestial traveler and placed it in a permanent orbit around Earth to be viewed indefinitely like the moon.

* * *

Two days following my birthday, I planned a solo overnight trip to the light-depleted expanse of Polecat Bench—only eight miles from my home town. I arrived well before sunset waiting for the comet to appear. I laughed so loud when I finally saw it as if someone had let me in on their joke. I even danced a little as it was pure joy.

Turning 60, may have been my best birthday ever.

*One astronomical unit represents the distance from the center of Earth to the center of the Sun—approximately 93 million miles. NEOWISE’s location on any given day, HERE.

The Law Enforcement Problem

A welcomed or regrettable visitor?

I’m not one to generalize about different groups of people—whether by race, religion, profession, or residence. But if I were required to make a broad statement about law enforcement, it would not be positive.

It’s said that there are many good police officers out there. But even in the community of “good-guy” law enforcement personnel, officers must now be  asking themselves what can be done to correct the downward trajectory of their profession in the eyes of the citizens they serve. It was bad enough that one of their own was recorded killing George Floyd, a Black man, in broad daylight with cameras rolling—bringing a new and focused attention to other recent and past police killings in dozens of other cities throughout the U.S. But now video after video is also surfacing showing law enforcement’s heavy-handed tactics against protesters, non-protesters and the press in almost every major city of the country. If there is such a thing as a “good cop,” where are they now in these carte blanche melees that play out in their presence?

The argument that a few bad apples out there are ruining it for many fine officers surely has some validity. Yet, in an age when everyone carries a recording device wherever they go, and anyone can share anything they record with the entire world (on social media via the internet), those “bad apples” have a way of rising to the top far too often. And, just imagine if such recording devices were in the hands of the public in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s (or much earlier). What would we have witnessed back then?

In my critique of the law enforcement community, one thing stands out. The tightly knit fraternity of the profession resembles a brotherhood of those who fought side-by-side in military battles throughout history. The solidarity is understandable, but as we watch the countless videos of police brutality, one thing is noticeably missing. Nowhere are the “other officers” attempting to intervene, stopping their fellow officer from taking things too far. Wouldn’t that kind of action make for a “good cop?” However, the law enforcement officers in the vicinity of these violations only seem to make sure that the bystanders watching in shock don’t interrupt the beatdown. Given such procedures, there appears to be some unwritten vow, some informal bond to fellow officers that supersedes whatever oath was taken to “serve and protect” the public. My question is, can a “good cop” truly exist in such a fraternity that behaves like a judge, jury and executioner on our streets?

I’d like to believe that our Black brothers and sisters walk a little more confidently, and with less fear today then they did back in… oh let’s just say the 1950s. However, as these racially charged crimes at the hands of our law enforcement officers unfold, I’m far from convinced that they feel any safer.

I don’t know the specifics for solving the “law-enforcement problem” in our country, but whatever we do, it can’t be subtle and/or superficial. I’ve heard some ideas that certainly qualify as worthy candidates for law enforcement reformation—starting with the outlawing of any kind of choke holds, especially on a suspect who is already restrained with handcuffs. That certainly is not outlandish. Community review boards that preside over law enforcement cases should reflect a community’s demographics. Stopping and questioning a person because they match some generic description of someone they are looking for is lame, overly used, and a deceitful tactic at best.

In short, a major overhaul is required when it comes to American law enforcement—a reformation of recruiting, training, leadership, and perhaps an entire philosophy. In light of George Floyd’s “death-by-cop” and so many others who suffered the same fate before him, the idea of “serving and protecting” our Black communities is just another vapid and broken treaty in American history.

Pandemic Pondering

COVID-19 poster child.

It’s here. It’s in the country’s least populated state. That also means it’s everywhere else, and there’s nowhere to hide! The official word went out to the campus community via email during Spring Break that all face-to-face classes will be replaced with remote/on-line instruction “wherever possible for as long as needed.” So, like it or not, Northwest College is officially an on-line institution of higher education. I suspect every school across the country will be the same by week’s end.

With schools closing or moving to “on-line” delivery systems, we educators have another opportunity presented to us—becoming “YouTube talent” and adding to the glut of “self-titled experts.”

I know it all feels a bit over-reactionary, but the mortality rates attributed to COVID-19 are piling up and that’s difficult to dismiss. I’m certainly going to heed the words of the medical profession over anything that spills out of Trump’s lying face or the lineup of stooges on Fox News.

Lately I’ve been wondering which flu/virus would win in a smack-down—say between today’s COVID-19 and 1968’s Hong Kong Flu. The Hong Kong Flu of 1968 left its mark of mortality on the globe (one million perished) yet, I don’t recall the country coming to the stand-still that it is today. Is the Corona Virus that much worse, or is all of this just the result of better and more specific science supported by better and more immediate communications—thus resulting in our heightened sensitivity to all things pandemic?  

As long as I’m here, is there such a thing as a generic flu anymore? They all seem to have names, especially the new ones that take the stage every year. They rise up like featured Pantone Colors of the Year.

At this point in time, one has to wonder what will it be like next year or the year after when another version of the flu or another virus strain rolls around. Might our cycles of life become permanently altered given the annual flu season that arrives every late winter? Might schools in the near future only have one semester of face-to-face classes while the spring semester moves to a flu-free, on-line format?

“You are at your very best when things are at their worst.”

—Jeff Bridges in “Starman”

A person from Billings (reportedly) walked into Powell’s local market, Blairs, and purchased all the toilet paper in the store. The owner/manager in the store was apparently happy to sell it to her despite leaving the local and regular customers wanting while perched on their porcelain thrones. Thanks Blairs, you capitalist fucks. Where is your commitment to community in that deal? I’ll be second-guessing myself in the future when planning a trip to Blair’s. 

What would the America of World War II—uncertain of a war’s outcome and forced to live with rationed goods and supplies—think of the self-serving-hoarders of 2020 threatened by a seasonal virus? I thought America was a little better when it came to looking after our fellow citizens.

For now, I look forward to that breaking story—because you know it will be reported—of a toilet-paper-hoarder found dead in their home from Corona Virus surrounded by 400-plus rolls of toilet paper.

Here’s a sharp and well-written related piece.