A Nuked Dream

Last night's dream re-enactment

Last night, I awoke around 1:30 in the morning after retiring at 10:30—typical of my sleep patterns in the last three years. I restarted a YouTube ASMR video on my phone nearby—the same one that I fell asleep to at 10:30, but it would be another two hours later before I would fall back to sleep.

 

When I finally fell back asleep, I found myself in some large parking lot associated with a big arena or stadium—it felt like somewhere in the Phoenix metropolitan area. There was some event going on as the parking lot surrounding the structure was full. For whatever reason, I was outside of the structure (near its doors) hanging out and waiting for the event to conclude. It felt as though I was waiting for someone who was still in attendance on the inside, but I don’t know who that was.

 

While outside, it seemed as though I was carrying on in small talk with someone that I knew—it could have been Jerry Brown, an old friend I knew when I was working for ASU Student Publications.

 

Then suddenly, Jerry or someone else nearby shouted out, “It’s finally happening… Here it comes.”

 

I walked away from the doors so I could see around a portion of the building to where a person was pointing—a rising and colorless mushroom cloud on the horizon—akin to a giant jellyfish in the sky. There was no sound at that moment, and it was far away, but not too far to be seen, growing larger and taking up more of the sky. Perhaps it was on the outskirts of Phoenix like one of its Air Force Bases—Luke or Williams, I couldn’t be sure.

 

What I was sure of, more would be coming—perhaps at any moment.

 

I was hesitant in what to do next. Should I venture into the arena and throw myself into a crowd that was certainly going to be panicked by the time I was inside, finding the person I came with, or simply go to the car and wait for them—or wait for the next strike?

 

Knowing what I had just witnessed, I knew it didn’t matter. The end that was surely near was going to override whatever I would do next. And then I woke myself for another round of sleeplessness.

 

Meanwhile, Russia’s attack on Ukraine enters its third week with everyday reminders that this is a war no one can afford to escalate.

A Confirmation of Coolness… Finally

Russell and Ron Mael by Gems/Redferns

While I was laying half asleep the other day, I heard the NPR Morning Edition announcer going through the usual list of sponsors for their show—watered down advertisements that bypass the hype of a product, but simply say who they are.

In that cloudy region of my head I remember hearing something about a new movie/documentary titled the “Sparks Brothers.” Unlike most times, I hear something like this and forget about it, but given the title of the movie, I made a mental note right there in my state of near-awareness to google it when I was more coherent. 

As I was making that note, I thought of the band that I came to know way back in the 9th grade—Sparks—and wondered if this movie was about that same band. Although they weren’t called The Sparks Brothers, two brothers formed the band—Russell and Ron Mael—and it was called Sparks.

As it turned out and much to my delight, the movie is indeed about the band from my youth, Sparks, and the two brothers who created it—Russell and Ron Mael.

Before going any further, I must confess that I was never a huge Sparks fan—a fan for sure nonetheless. I did purchase several of their early albums including “Propaganda,” the album that contained the first Sparks songs I heard.

An acquaintance with Sparks…
While attending Schrop Junior High School in the spring semester of 1975, Tim Kittinger and Terry Verble performed a lip-synch video in our 9th-grade English class of the Sparks song “Achoo.” This little in-class video was shot, recorded and played back in class. Beyond the quirkiness of the actual song, Terry Verble played the no-nonsense Ron Mael on the keyboards providing the lion’s share of the visual spectacle it was. Not long after that, I was chasing down the album for my own listening at home.

On a historical side note, I don’t recall a conversation in class about the video recording technology we used that day, but this must have been something very new for the time as VHS wasn’t out yet and Beta tapes had just been released. I’m guessing this was done on a Beta system the school had just purchased. Whatever the case, I recall watching the recording on a normal television after the production, not a reel-to-reel film that had to be processed.

At that time, I didn’t know how obscure Sparks was (or would continue to be), I just took it for granted that I was a little out of touch, and besides, Kittinger and Verble were way cooler than myself. Yet, looking back now, I wonder how my two classmates came to know of Sparks themselves, especially since few people in my circles knew of Sparks whether it was in high school, college, or any time beyond.

Given the suburbia status of Springfield Township just beyond the city limits of Akron, Ohio, it is still somewhat puzzling that there were so many eclectic students in my class (and surrounding classes) with a knack of discovering various non-mainstream acts like Sparks, or The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Todd Rundgren, and some of the local upstarts in The James Gang and The Michael Stanley Band. Although I really didn’t possess the same creative skills or smarts to be one of these students, I enjoyed their company, their keen wit and drew on their energy for those things beyond what were known and well established.

So, energized by this new movie release, I looked into how a few of us could have come to know about Sparks—way back in pre-internet, pre-MTV 1975.

Just who are Sparks?
Sparks (brothers Russell and Ron Mael) originated in Southern California, and like Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, they made their mark in the U.K. first—only before the Pretenders came along. It was after their success in the U.K. that Sparks experienced some popularity in the States, but it was somewhat limited to certain areas of the country—San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Cleveland.

Now the “How-We-Came-To-Know-Sparks Origin Story” was starting to make sense.

In particular, Cleveland’s WMMS jockey Kid Leo and his colleagues were playing Sparks, while the influential radio station sponsored a Sparks concert at the Akron Civic Theater on April 17, 1975 and a follow up show the next day at the Cleveland Music Hall. It’s very possible that my old junior high classmates had actually attended the performance at the nearby Civic Theater. And, given this was a time before MTV and music videos, attending the Civic Theater performance might explain how Verble knew how to mimic Ron Mael on the keyboards.

Passing it on.
It wasn’t long after the purchase of my first Sparks album that my best friend, Steve, who attended one of the Akron High Schools, also came to know of Sparks through me. In return, he would introduce me to other music that I adopted to my music collection starting with Jim Croce, Queen, Tom Waits, Jimmy Buffett and John Prine.

This started me thinking about how I came to know the various musicians and bands in my current music library—especially the ones that share a sense of obscurity with Sparks.

Seniors Mike Walent and Richard Sapronetti would have our art teacher, Mr. Bako, play The Sensational Alex Harvey band during my sophomore year with “Midnight Moses” becoming one of my favorite guitar riffs of all time.

The WMMS jockeys adopted and delivered Springsteen to Northeast Ohio before he was huge, Michael Stanley as he was gaining traction in Northeast Ohio and even the obscure live recording “Friday On My Mind” by a band from San Francisco appropriately called Earth Quake. This song was engrained in all of us as one of three songs played every Friday at 6.00 pm to mark the beginning of the weekend. The other two songs that kicked off the weekend were Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and Ian Hunter’s “Cleveland Rocks.” (For those familiar with the WMMS Weekend Salute: Don’t think for one moment that I’ve forgotten Murray Saul. That’s a post of its own for another time.)

More recently, thanks to Wyoming Public Radio, I’ve come to know the music of Cincinnati-based singer and songwriter, Kim Taylor and Chicago/L.A.-based Gold Motel. Finally, during a field trip to Portland, a student of mine arranged for us to see Todrick Hall, while an episode of Letterkenny had my partner and I looking up Canadian artist Peaches and downloading some of her more-than-suggestive music.

Looking back, much of the more obscure music I’ve come to know over the years, seems to have come to me by way of these whimsical, short, odd (and yes, even obscure) moments in life where I happened to be in the right places at the right times. And, after watching this movie, I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing more of Sparks without the worry of explaining the music to anyone who comes along and says, “What/Who the hell is that?”

See the official Sparks Brothers trailer HERE.

Waste & Aesthetic of Energy Systems

Wind Farm, Iowa

Because I’ve been pretty outspoken against fossil fuels over the years, a few people I know like to remind me of the wind turbine blade landfill near Casper, Wyoming—pointing out to me that after the blades have been used up due to wind erosion and whatever else wears them down, they have a dedicated place for disposal in this supersized landfill. Currently there is no recycling options for them other than covering them with dirt (see link below).

 

Their reminder about this always strikes me as a little odd. They say it as if the fossil fuel industry has nothing in comparison, or almost as if they are unaware of any waste or discarded material when it comes to the fossil fuel industry. When in truth, much of the fossil fuel waste is simply laying around unused where it was last operational or it simply ends up in the everyday landfills. Further, harnessing the wind and sun have no significant residual by-products like that of the fossil fuel industry.

 

Just because the fossil fuel industry has no “dedicated” spaces for their trash, doesn’t mean there is none. I would even reason based on the wide variety of equipment you find in any oil or gas field that the amount of trash probably surpasses that which is generated by renewables—for the simple reason there are fewer moving parts when it comes to renewables, especially with solar. Further, whether the waste is renewable or not, I’ll bet my paycheck that the waste generated by renewables is far less toxic than the waste coming from fossil fuel operations.

 

Regardless, I’m not here to argue which industry generates more waste. The point is anything that is of this world generates waste—automobiles, appliances, construction, medical equipment, textiles, printing and publishing, shipbuilding, agriculture, hospitality, aviation, etc. Sooner or later, everything wears out, and waste is the result, period.

 

Then there is the aesthetic of it all. Granted, anything man-made in the wilderness is not great, because, well… it’s man made and doesn’t look natural. So, given the two offerings of a fossil fuel landscape or a renewable energy landscape, I’ll take the renewables every time. Not because they can’t be seen, but because the visual they offer includes simple lines and shapes along with various patterns, and a minimal amount of peripheral and chaotic related structures. (See photos).

 

Yes, a wind farm can be seen from far off, but it is anything but ugly. Keep in mind, power lines and their transmission towers are just as visible from far away whether they carry electricity from a coal-fired power plant or a wind farm, and are probably here for a long time to come.

 

Lastly, there is no odor associated with renewables—and certainly nothing that can make you dead before you hit the ground like hydrogen sulfide (H2S). 

 

I’ve witnessed many travelers stopping and just simply gazing at a wind farm for its grandness, quietness and simplicity. But, I don’t recall (ever) hearing someone say, “Let’s go out to the gas fields and look at the structures,” or “Let’s go watch the pumpjacks!” Not to say there are some exceptions to this twisted idea.

 

 

Which would you rather view?

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 (or the jury), one of its 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. They would also have the option to “tap out” much like a mixed-martial arts contest if they feel they can’t go any longer.

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

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.

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.”

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.

Taking a pass on a school packing heat

You know he carried a gun to school too.

I knew the day would come. I’d been dreading it ever since I read about it in the newspaper.

Back in 2018, the Cody, Wyoming School District passed a resolution allowing teachers and staff to possess firearms on school property—as a method of deterring potential mass shootings within the school district. I remember saying to myself back then, I’ll never set foot in their buildings if that’s the case.

I’ve never worked or wanted to work in an environment where employees are permitted to carry weapons. If my employer, Northwest College, were to adopt a similar policy as the Cody School District, my resignation would follow close behind the passing of such law, and without doubt many would rejoice. 

Some might say that I’ve already been in situations where someone was carrying a weapon and I didn’t know it. That’s an ugly truth I try not to think about, but if I see someone with a weapon or know they have a weapon—whether concealed or open carry—I clear out. If I’m in a supermarket with a trolly full of groceries and see someone carrying a weapon in the same location, I’m gone—leaving the cart and vacating the premises.

And, yes, I’m aware that I could be shot dead on the gun-free campus of Northwest College by a bad guy (or good guy) carrying a gun. Despite that, sooner or later we all find ourselves in a situations where we’ve reached a boundary that we’re not willing to cross over.

One could say that carrying a gun is a freedom, but isn’t it also a freedom in a person choosing to avoid—what they consider to be—a potentially dangerous situation?

Recently, an email went out to various faculty on campus asking for participation in the Cody Job Fair at the high school. I ignored it, hoping a  sufficient number of faculty would volunteer. However, my supervisor received a call asking if there were any from our area that would be interested in going. As a result, I was approached and ask if I could attend.

Perhaps I could have fabricated some innocuous excuse for not going, but I felt it was important to be honest in declining the offer to go. I’m unsure if my supervisor shared my explanation with anyone higher in the chain of command. It doesn’t really matter. I’m just thankful to have a job that allows me to decline off-campus events where fellow educators are packing heat. 

Thinking back on it now, I suppose I would have attended if one of my superiors ordered me to do so, but if that were the case, drafting a resignation letter probably would have followed—assuming I didn’t get hit by a stray bullet accidentally discharged from the gun of a poorly-trained staffer at the job fair.

There’s not much significance in my stand here. It’s certainly nowhere in the league of a Rosa Parks or Tiananmen Square moment, but it certainly was an opportunity to abide by my principles. And, in knowing that I spoke my conscience gives me a bit more confidence that I will do the same in the future—regardless of the stakes.

More reading on this…