Surrendering to Mediocrity

Call me a disgruntled worker—I’m OK with it. The unhappiness with my workplace hasn’t come about because I thought I was screwed over, or because I’m just plain old and nothing makes me happy any longer—neither is true, except that I am just plain old.

I’m disgruntled because I’ve finally grown tired of our institution’s determined march toward mediocrity. This includes a willingness to do nothing, or at least do nothing that has any imagination, nothing that is bold, nothing that is earth-shaking or nothing that even smacks of daring. And I’ll lay this banner of mediocrity and ineptitude almost entirely on our Board of Trustees and their milque-toast leadership.

Of course, what I’m specifically talking about is changing the name to Yellowstone College. As most folk know on campus (and beyond to some extent), I am the broken record that keeps on reminding people of the need for a name change whenever there is talk of how to promote the college and get it more exposure. I’ve sat through several meetings where such discussions come up, and everything under the sun is discussed at length except a name change.

Northwest College—a school in northwest Wyoming about 70 miles from the border of Yellowstone National Park (that’s the mandatory tagline that goes with our name so people know where the hell we are)—is a place where we love to tout how different we are from other junior colleges, yet when it comes down to planning (or lack of) we tend to defer to what everyone else is doing. We talk about being unique, but the only thing truly unique about Northwest College is its location—something we’ve never had any control over to begin with. If Northwest College were in Paducah, Iowa, it would be just another, average community college with some obscure, innocuous, generic, and sadly forgettable name. But, instead we are located at the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park with an obscure, innocuous, generic, and sadly forgettable name.

To my knowledge, the talk of a name change—from Northwest College to Yellowstone College—became serious in October of 2018 (four years ago) when former college president Stefani Hicswa sent me a brief email that simply and only said, “I heard a rumor you are promoting Yellowstone College. Tell me more…”

From that time on, the idea of a name change has been seriously kicked around, but mostly just kicked down the road for another time. Four years have passed and no decision has been made—to change the name or not change the name. As an old friend of mine once said, “They don’t know whether to shit or steal third.”

The name-change continues to be a no-brainer and yet the Board of Trustees continues to treat it like a complex problem—overthinking it and giving way to much consideration to the “old guard” who prefers mediocrity and the status quo of pounding a square peg into a round hole.

Over coffee a friend pointed out to me that placing all the blame on the Board of Trustees might not be warranted in saying, “A leader can not be successful without the support of a bold board, an open-minded community, a faculty willing to do things differently & students hungry to consume the product.” He went on to say that our failure to react is not unique to our local community either, that as a society we need to redefine today’s successes in saying, “We cannot re-create our past successes we need to create new ones based on the realities of today & tomorrow.”

Meanwhile the school’s enrollment is flat and remains way below its numbers from say, fifteen years ago. A couple resident halls remain closed and the faculty numbers and programs of study are significantly less. Further, the competition for prospective students in the future grows more intense.

After 31 years, I’m over it and it’s time to move on if I can. Again, call me a disgruntled worker. That said, NWC has paid me fairly and I have tried to rise up to my net worth. We are square, period. And when the time comes for me to go, no goodbye party, social, gathering, etc. is needed—nor wanted. I’ll leave as quietly as I arrived, insuring I don’t disturb this sleepy community of mediocrity.

Consistent Inconsistencies

A letter of feedback to Wyoming Public Radio

 

Less than a year ago I decided to not support Wyoming Public Radio (WPR) any longer after being left hanging multiple times in the middle of an NPR story as the result of your transmission failures. Sometimes less than a minute, other times more than 30 minutes. When one of the hallmarks of quality journalism/news includes attributes like “dependable,” WPR has some serious challenges in this one area.

 

In short, I’ve lived in several areas of the country during my life, and I’ve never come across a public radio station that has failed so miserably as WPR when it comes to consistent and reliable broadcasting.

 

Late last week I tuned in to see if things are any better. Sadly I’ve lost track how many times my radio went silent when tuned in to 90.1 FM. In fact, as I write this your All Things Considered broadcast for today was interrupted twice by dead silence.

 

NPR likes to boast about the “driveway moments” that result from their stories, but I hope I never have one while tuned in to WPR, because as soon as I’m hooked, the signal will surely drop and I’ll go from a sense of awe and wonderfulness to rage and frustration.

 

To be sure, there are fantastic stories that come from WPR, so I have no complaints of the actual journalism generated by your staff over the years, but when captivating stories are interrupted suddenly by silence or filler music, even the best story turns into a mediocre one (if that).

 

If I am surprised by anything, it is in the consistency (over the years) of your operation’s inconsistencies.

 

Good luck on the fall fund drive… you’ll need all you can get.

 

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?

Attack from Below

Shoshoni Punks.

Today I flew my drone several times on the way to Casper, Wyoming for a recruiting trip. One of my “sorties” was in the small town of Shoshoni, Wyoming. As I was driving through town, I saw that the old “downtown” area where they leveled the derelict buildings was mostly vacant, but the community appeared to have built a nice little basketball court with a fence around it—and their were some young males playing there. I didn’t get a good look, but if I had to guess, I’d say they were freshman or sophomores in high school.

I pulled over at the public restrooms located a little farther down the main drag and decided I would fly my drone over the railroad track until I reached the new basketball court and capture a couple images of the new recreation space.

The drone was about 60-70 feet high as it made its way toward the court—higher than any trees in town. I could see through the drone’s camera that the young men/boys must have heard the drone because they stopped suddenly and looked up as they started walking toward the other end of the court where the drone was. Although I wasn’t over the court, I must have been close enough that they heard the whirling props.

One of the youth took the basketball and threw it in the direction of the drone… not coming close at all. But then I could see that the other boys were squatting down on the side of the court and suddenly came running toward the drone with a throwing motion—no doubt, probably picked up some rocks and were heaving them in the drone’s direction.

Naturally, I flew away and found a couple other things to photograph before bringing it back to the rest stop and continuing my journey towards Casper.

But, that little incident stayed with me as I made my way down the road—considering the action from Shoshoni’s youths. I was reminded of the old movies about aliens visiting Earth and how humans are often portrayed as violent and militant in their first contact of those things that are a mystery to them.

I wondered, if I had walked down their with a camera around my neck, would they have thrown rocks at me too? Probably not, but something less familiar to them like a drone was immediately perceived as what… a threat, someone spying on them in their public basketball game? Maybe they just wanted to see it crash, but I found their vicious reaction a bit disheartening.

I thought of myself at the same age and wondered if I would have reacted the same way. I’d like to think I would have only stopped and observed—maybe even a little wave at the small aircraft suspended overhead.

Many people who are born and raised in Wyoming often display or express suspicion of those who aren’t the same. If I was given $100 for every time someone told me to “go back to Ohio, Arizona (or even California),” I’d be a rich man by now. Perhaps these youth in Shoshoni had simply illustrated that same, small-minded temperament.

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…

Everyday Dissidence: Reboot

“You are in a continuous cycle of renewal, where all you comprehend doesn’t stay unchanged for long.” 

Steven Redhead, Life Is a Dance
Drone image of Sheep Mountain Anticline near Greybull, Wyoming

This is the first post on my revamped blog. Perhaps you’ve visited the original site at everydaydissidence.blogspot.com. If so, you’ll find that all my older posts from blogger will eventually be migrated over to this site (so no content is lost), and I’ll be adding new content as well—hopefully on a more regular basis.

The Gas Pump Blues

When I was growing up, one of the things my father instilled in me was how dangerous it is to play with matches and, worse yet, the dangers of including gasoline in such frivolity. Everyone gets that lecture. And rightly so, as anyone who has ever worked with gasoline can attest to this everyday fuel’s extreme volatility.

Naturally, this is the rationale for the warning signs posted at gas pumping facilities stating it is forbidden to smoke or leave your engine running while one is fueling. And as big, bold, and numerous as these signs are, that should be enough to discourage anyone from doing otherwise. However, a population amongst us appears to have anointed itself exempt in following such safety precautions.

In the past year, when filling my gas tank on three different occasions, I noticed someone who was smoking and/or running their engine as they fueled their vehicles. In fact, two of these incidents happened last summer on the same day—once in Evanston and the other, later that evening, in Riverton. To no surprise, the offenders were both young men (under 30) reeking with invincibility as if they were a super-hero comic book figure.

After the Riverton incident, I headed toward Powell in dismay, wondering if the laws had changed regarding the handling of gasoline or if the oil companies (unbeknownst to me) had recently changed the chemistry of gasoline so it was no longer flammable outside an internal combustion engine.

In the first two occasions, I pointed out their dangerous “oversight,” and asked them to quickly correct their action, without sounding too offensive (but really, who is offensive in this scenario?). I half-expected them to acknowledge my vigilance—if not outright thank me—but instead the young man in Evanston gave me a sly smirk as if to say, “Whatever old man,” and slowly leaned out of his rig and snuffed the fag out on the concrete of the petrol station. The young man in Riverton didn’t even acknowledge what I’d said, but walked away to the cashier’s box, flicking his cigarette to the concrete slab without snuffing it out.

Maybe it’s not that dangerous anymore to smoke while pumping gas. I thought it was. And what of the danger associated with running your engine while pumping gas? I reckon that’s just a bit of pump station hysteria. So then, what gives with the signs?

I decided to call around and talk with those who might know the truths and laws related to fuel handling and the dangers associated with the activity. My first calls went out to the local petrol stations in town to see if they could fill me in. Yes, they all reassured me that gasoline is indeed highly flammable and that the signs posted are not just there to make peoples’ lives more difficult. What struck me odd, however, was that no one really knew for sure if disobeying such signs was a violation of any law(s). One manager told me that if they see someone smoking, they’ll request them to put it out, while another said they were to shut off the pump immediately. None mentioned a course of action that would involve reporting such violations to law enforcement officials.

I decided to call law enforcement here in Powell to see what they knew about this. At first, no one had an answer for me, but they’d check into the matter and call me back. I called later in the day after not receiving a response. They seemed a bit annoyed, but I pressed them.

I asked, “What would happen if a police officer pulled up to a petrol station and observed someone pumping gas into their vehicle as they were smoking or their vehicle was idling away?” Both Powell and Cody officials (including one officer) “didn’t know of” or “didn’t believe” there was any law against such activity.

“Didn’t believe.” “Didn’t know of.” How’s that for getting it from the horse’s mouth?

One police official told me rather matter of factly, “If a person wants to have a cigarette while they fuel their car, I guess that’s their business.”

I questioned both departments about the consequences of discharging a .22 from my back porch into the blue yonder above. They didn’t have to do any research on that question. Without hesitation, I’d be ticketed and fined.

Am I the only one who finds all of this a bit odd—I can risk the lives of several people by simply ignoring safety notices at the pump and not be fined or ticketed? Yet, I’ll receive a fine for firing a tiny piece of lead into the air that won’t lead to anything catastrophic (unless it lands in the middle of a gas station where some careless individual has spilled gasoline all over the island). Better yet—how would speeding down Bent Street at 50 mph be any more dangerous to the general public than smoking while pumping gasoline?

If the gas station management is unsure about any laws that address negligence at the gas pump and local law enforcement “doesn’t know of any laws,” why are those annoying signs posted all over the place? What leg does some peon like me have to stand on if I wish to stop such careless actions?

Well, thankfully, I hooked up with an official at the state fire marshal’s office in Cheyenne. In that little phone call, I learned what all gas station owners, operators, employees, and law enforcement officials should already know: Those signs aren’t just for safety matters only. They are state law, according to the 2003 International Fire Code (IFC) which was adopted by the State of Wyoming and is considered law. Violations can be a misdemeanor and punishable by fines and/or jail time.

What was really disconcerting for me in our little visit was the laws regarding gas station attendants. You know the people who take your money, stock the shelves, clean the toilets, sweep the floor, make the coffee and all that. Section 2204 of the 2003 IFC spells out the following: “Attended self-service motor fuel-dispensing facilities shall have at least one qualified attendant on duty while the facility is open for business. The attendant’s primary function shall be to supervise, observe and control the dispensing of fuel.” From my experience, this primary function appears to be way down at the bottom of their list of job duties.

I also learned that all the regulations of the IFC are the result of someone seriously injured or killed related to the listed violations. In other words, we learned the hard way that smoking at the gas pump and leaving your engine running is has some serious consequences.

When I shared my findings with the fire marshal’s office regarding law enforcement’s ignorance on this topic, they showed no surprise in this lack of policing at the pump because local police do not deal with IFC violations very often.

Perhaps this local-level confusion regarding one particular state law explains and illustrates the series of intelligence blunders resulting at the federal level regarding the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

In defense of local law enforcement, we can’t expect them to stay up with every fire code that’s out there, but this particular one is directly related to the responsible operation of a vehicle and, in my mind, should be policed no less than violations for speeding or failure to stop at a controlled intersection.

Despite this ambiguous and apparently obscure law, I suppose if someone wants to flirt with exiting this world in a blaze of glory at the local gas pump, who am I to stop them, all I ask is that they not include me in their science project. Does anyone else object?

No doubt, some of you out there are probably saying to yourself, “So what? Who cares? I see this stuff all the time and nothing ever happens.” This is just another one of Morgan “Tyrade’s” rants.

Well, maybe we are all a bit lucky to date, but keep this in mind: If and when a gas station does go “poof,” I doubt the resulting injuries will be a little scratch or a bump on someone’s head. There is approximately one “gasoline incident” per month in the state of Wyoming alone. Not all of these lead to an ignition, but the potential outcome in these spills is considered hazardous enough to report.

If all of this isn’t enough, earlier this month, on my way out of town and topping off my tank at the Maverick Store, a late-model pickup truck attended by yet another young man pulled up and started pumping gasoline while his engine was chugging away. Surely he didn’t notice my family sitting in the car in his approach. In dismay, I looked around and sure enough, there were those darn signs about not smoking and turning off your engine while fueling.

What is it about these guys? Is showing a lack of caution while fueling your rig a part of proving one’s manhood now, or is it just dumb luck on my part that carelessness at the gas pump seems to be practiced by young men in pickup trucks? I suspect such wrecklessness extends beyond this demographic—for better or worse.

Like last summer’s incidents at the pump, I confronted this latest young man asking if he was aware that a vehicle’s engine is required to be off while fueling. He confidently looked at me and replied, “Yep.”

I sounded off again, “What then, do you think you’re better than everyone else around here?”

“Nope,” said the monosyllabic homo-habilis.

And that was it. He climbed into his daddy’s idling truck after the tank was filled and away he went.

I walked into the Maverick store and informed the cashier of the incident as he drove off. I’m sure nothing became of it because attendants are likely no better informed than law enforcement in this violation of fire code.

As I returned to my car, I reasoned that this was the ultimate rationalization for reinstating mandatory gas station attendants who work the pumps as well—as in Oregon. Maybe big government is the best thing for everyone because the masses can’t be trusted to be 100 percent responsible. Think Enron, think Columbine, think Halliburton. “Trickle down” is a great concept, but there will always be those who abuse its inherent lack of accountability—ruining it for everyone else.

Too bad I’m not more confrontational than my series of spineless questions. I recalled how my Uncle Earl would have handled this in his day. Nothing would have been said. No, my Uncle Earl would have walked over and simply punched the “homo-yungmanis” square in the chops and then reached into his truck and turned off the ignition. And that would have been the end of it.

Of course, that’s not how things work in this day and age. Assuming I didn’t get beat up for attempting such an act and actually succeeded in duplicating the feats of Uncle Earl, no doubt I would have ended up in jail for several days, fined and sued for over $100,000—and of course dismissed from my job.

Finally, here’s the irony of it all—anyone can fill up his vehicle while the engine idles and he has a smoke with the potential outcome of disintegrating any number of innocent folk along with him. Assuming nothing catastrophic unfolds in this gamble of lives, (at best) these offenders will likely only be reprimanded by schmoes like myself in such modest confrontations or editorials. Yet, there would be a stiff penalty to pay if someone had given him a deserving and—for the most part—harmless fat lip for his total wrecklessness and disregard of others.

One morning in the near or distant future, I’ll awaken to the news of some families cremated while they sat inside of their cars at a gasoline station. Surprise will unlikely overwhelm me.

Barking Dogs


The arrival of summer is always a welcomed event with the exception of two elements that I’ve come to associate with the season and living in the city proper of Powell. It would be wonderful to go on writing about all the positive things of summer and living in this part of Wyoming, but no one wants to read about nothing that isn’t happening. So, it’s on to the business of complaining.

Besides the fact that we have a considerable mosquito population here in the middle of a desert, I see another problem that gives me even more concern than the excessive water consumption in a desert town that could be plopped down in the middle of Indiana and not one Hoosier would notice.

Although everyone has been going on about SARS lately, the epidemic of dog ownership is bringing me to my knees. Everyone seems to have a dog. In particular, a barking dog. And so my real concern is directed at those citizens who turn their dogs loose in their tiny, fenced-in city lots so it can bark and bark and bark. Although summer is still down the road, my bedroom window is finally and permanently cracked open (at least) until late September. Yet, on this particular Sunday morning (April 13 to be exact), I was awakened by a neighbors excessively barking dog at 5:00 a.m. I repeat, summer isn’t even here, not a mosquito have I seen, and I’ve already encountered the true scourge of summer—barking dogs on early Sunday morning. I think this is a bad omen.

And when I hear such a dog violating my quiet time, I instantly start referring to it as “stupid dog.” Yet we all know who is really stupid in this scenario.

Laying in bed in an attempt at the novel idea of sleep once again, all I can think of is, “What kind of person can allow their dog to go on with a litany of barking and not be annoyed themselves? A stupid and inconsiderate one to be sure.”

Perhaps it’s the person who has big plans (or not so big plans) for the day and needs to get an early start for work or recreational purposes. Sure, they know it will be a nice day so the last thing they do before they jump in their pickup is leave the dog in the backyard and forget to consider the neighbors whose bedroom window is only across the street, alley or small strip of yard that separates the two homes. I suspect these are the same people who believe their children are the smartest in their class and would never do anything wrong.

Than their are those dog owners who let their dog out at a civil time in the evening to take care of its business only to forget about it as they proceed to get themselves tanked that night inevitably leading to their passing out on the couch with the TV or stereo still blaring. Ah yes, ignorance truly is bliss in this scenario. Barking dog? Hell, they don’t even hear the police banging on their door when someone like me complains. My question here is, how many six packs does it take to make a dog (seem) quiet?

I often wonder if I’m just overly sensitive about this subject. Are their others like me who are fed up with barking dogs? Whatever the fines are, whatever law enforcement there is about barking dogs, it’s not enough.

Maybe I dreamed it or maybe I read it somewhere, but isn’t the amount of barking by any given dog indirectly related to the intelligence of its given owner? That being the case, perhaps anyone who has the police called on them because of a barking dog should automatically be forced to take the G.E.D. exam on site. I suspect many would fail it. And given the fact that they would fail, along with a stiffer fine, I propose they be stripped of any titles, certificates or degrees in their possession at that time—including their driver’s license.

The sad thing about my letter is that the community of barking dog owners probably won’t or can’t read this—hopefully the former.

I used to like dogs when I was a kid, in fact my family had one too, but it never barked excessively or on and on into the early morning. I’m trying not to be prejudice about dogs. I still like them, but these days it’s getting tougher. Lately they remind me of rap music—annoying, obnoxious and in my face.

Seems like I remember a few years ago where someone was going around poisoning the local dogs in Cody, was it? I didn’t give it much thought back then, but now I suspect I understand how that unfolded. Although such acts are wrongful and despicable they are mostly misdirected.

Postscript: About a week ago the home next to mine exchanged owners. The new owners have two dogs that bark at me everytime I step out into the back yard. I sure hope they get used to me.

Postscript2: Two years later and no such luck regarding the situation next door. Their dogs are as retarded as they get while their owners are beyond inconsiderate. There went the neighborhood. The only reprieve is they don’t leave the hounds out all night, but on several occasions have let them out early on weekend mornings to give the neighborhood an unappreciated wake-up call.