Saturday, May 31, 2014

How The Rick Scott Administration Can Address the Issue of Urinal Ball Theft on State Lands

This sign on the wall of the men’s room in the visitor’s center at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in Homosassa Springs Florida on May 26, 2014, was my first inkling that the theft of ammonia balls from urinals was such an issue in Florida that the Scott Administration had to take special steps to curtail the thievery.  After calling the Governor’s office and leaving five voice mails requesting information on the issue, and then being hung up on by a receptionist after I called a sixth time I decided to write to the Governor directly to get his learned input on the issue and to offer some suggestions on who the culprits might be and how to catch them.  That letter follows

May 31, 2014

Governor Rick Scott
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0001

Re:  Theft of urinal balls from State lands

Dear Rick

On Monday May 26, 2014 I stopped in at the Homosassa Springs State Park in Homosassa Springs and while in the visitor center I had occasion to use the men’s room.  While relieving myself at the one urinal in the men’s room I casually glanced up and looked at the wall.  As you know, being male and having used men’s rooms on occasion, the walls in men’s rooms are usually blank and uninspiring affairs.  However the wall in the men’s room at Homosassa Springs State Park was not.  On that wall, in plain sight (I guess that was the point) was a sign printed out from a State computer admonishing all males of any height and age to be certain that they did not steal urinal balls from the urinal.  I took a picture of the sign and have attached it for your edification.

It was not until last Monday that I had any inkling that urinal ball theft was such a problem that it would have to be pointed out to the pissing public.  Still, I’m elated to see that the Scott Administration finds this issue of such import that you have taken the bold step of warning wayward pissers that they should not be ripping off state-purchased urinal balls.  I have visited each of the state parks in Florida a minimum of six times now but apparently only Homosassa Springs State Park has been struck by urinal ball bandits.

Further research into this issue reveals that urinal ball theft is becoming a nationwide problem.  In fact just three days ago there was an incident in Alabama where the police arrested two perpetrators for grand theft urinal balls near Birmingham.  In that instance the perpetrators struck at five area restaurants and were so brazen that they also stole components of the actual toilets in addition to the urinal balls themselves.  The story from the Decatur (AL) News tells the story here:  

Apparently theft of urinal balls has now reached near epidemic proportions as far north as New York City.  The following tells the sad story there:  

 On April 1st [2013] the Parks Department discovered that thieves had stolen plumbing from the comfort station in Franz Siegel Park in the Bronx. The bathrooms have been out-of-service since. Last Saturday hundreds of ballplayers as well as friends and families were forced to find other places to relieve themselves. ”We have to go in the bushes,” said a member of the Canabacoa ball club playing on the poorly maintained fields. “We’re used to it.” According to the Parks Department, 4 flush valves (approximate value $500 each) were stolen. The agency replaced the valves this week and they should be open today.

There are other incidents of grand theft urinal ball from as far west as Houston where locals have described the incidents as being of “epidemic” proportions.  The reason for all of these thefts is to recover metal contained in the balls for sale as scrap metal – something I had no idea existed until I began researching this issue.

Immediately after leaving the men’s room at Homosassa Springs I phoned your office to find out what, aside from putting signs on a men’s room wall, the Scott Administration was doing to address this growing issue, however being Memorial Day your office was closed.  Throughout the day last Monday I called and left 5 voice mail messages asking for someone to call back so I could learn how the Florida public could help the Scott Administration to wipe out urinal ball theft on public lands.  Nobody ever returned my calls and when I called your office again on Wednesday this week and explained my concerns, the smarmy receptionist who took my call hung up on me.

Urinal balls cost about $4.35 a ball.  You can buy them in packets of 24 on for $105.  Given the apparent seriousness of this issue I think I might know where you could start looking for find the perpetrators and I wanted to pass on that information to you and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (and maybe the Florida Park Service police).  Given that you and the legislature have seen fit to not provide underpaid Florida state employees with a raise in salary for a minimum of 8 years now, my guess is that the urinal ball thieves are not casual visitors like me but in fact cash-strapped State employees trying simply to make ends meet. 

If I was you I would set up a surveillance camera in the men’s room and watch to see who might be pilfering those little aromatic balls of scrap metal. That or you could post one of your underpaid state employees by the door of the men’s room in the visitor center and have that person sniff the hands of every potential culprit who leaves the rest room.  I’d especially focus on people who hide their hands in their pockets and look down at the floor as they leave.

As a concerned Florida citizen I wanted to bring this issue to the attention of the top decision maker in the state.  In the end, I think this issue exists because state employees would prefer to piss on you personally, but lacking that ability they decided to pilfer your smelly balls instead.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

It's Wine O'Clock Somewhere

This South African Airways Airbus A340 sitting on the tarmac at the Cape Town airport took me to Johannesburg where I very reluctantly left one of the nicest nation’s on the planet.

If you ever get the chance to travel to South Africa don’t think about it, just do it.  I have now traveled to 111 countries on the six continents and one of my three most favorite is South Africa.  When that opportunity to travel presents itself there is only one airline to fly on to get there.  South African Airways, the flagship carrier for this wonderful nation will make you feel like you are already on a Durban beach or hiking the Drakensberg Mountains even before you leave the United States.  After you touch down in South Africa and stretch your legs for a few minutes, you simply must spend some time in the wonderful wine country east of Cape Town.  If you’ve didn't like wine before traveling to South Africa I can almost guarantee you will when you return home.  

This morning South African Airways posted a message on their Twitter feed that began with the words “It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere.”  The message contained an advertisement for the Cape wine country and as I read the Twitter message and the story about the Cape wine district, and as my mind wandered back to the opening line “It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere” I remembered a Friday afternoon at 5 O’Clock cover band I listened to in a bar in Lambert’s Bay near the end of my 5 week trip to South Africa.  It was a trip that resulted in the writing and publication of my book Sojourn to South Africa and in that book there is a story about that 5 O’Clock encounter with a cover band.  That story is recounted and remembered here:

Lambert’s Bay Hotel sits across the street from a giant fish processing plant that, understandably, reeks of fish.  Likewise the air in Lambert’s Bay reeks of fish.  I had guaranteed a reservation for a sea view room at the Lambert’s Bay Hotel and that is exactly what I received when I checked in.  If I stood on my bed and looked west over the roof of the belching fish processing plant I could view the sea in the distance.

The hotel bar was one of the town’s hotspots.  If you were a local and wanted to pick up a tourist from Cape Town or Johannesburg, then this was the place to be and be seen.  There in the Anchor Bar at precisely 5:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon, a local cover band took the stage.  Their first song was not some South African melody.  Instead it was a song about time and Jamaican vacations and the fact that no matter where you are on the planet it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.  And it was in Lambert’s Bay and that is how the cover band got its start.  Next they sang “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” which was most appropriate when you are headed south toward increasingly smaller latitudes.  Then, as the sun was crossing a fictional yard arm on its descent to the South Atlantic, they played “Margaritaville” the national anthem of the Parrothead Nation.

How cool is that?  Here I was 9,000 miles from home in the southern hemisphere in a bar next to the ocean, surrounded by palm trees and the first music I heard was a threesome of Jimmy Buffett tunes.  Anyone who is not aware of Jimmy Buffett's worldwide impact and influence should have been sitting next to me in the Anchor Bar curled up with an ice cold bottle of Windhoek beer listening to this band near the south end of South Africa singing songs about time and latitudes and lost shakers of salt.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I Met The Person For Whom "You Can't Fix Stupid" Was Coined

This morning at my local Hess gasoline station I think I met the person for whom the phrase “You can’t fix stupid” was coined.  She was in her mid-late 20’s driving a small white car like mine and was wearing both a pink top and white shorts that appeared to be painted on her nearly perfect ass.  She pulled up at the pump next to mine and on exiting her car started the pump and on inserting the nozzle in her gas tank set the pump on automatic and returned to her car.  There she began a frenzied session of texting with someone.

She continued texting the entire time that her pump was pumping gas.  When I finished filling my 10 gallon tank I put away my nozzle and washed off my windows.  Meanwhile Ms Hardbody was burning up her fingers in her still-frenzied texting session.  

When I finished washing my windows I heard the distinctive sound of gasoline spilling out of a gas tank and onto the ground.  Obviously the automatic shut off had failed to work and the sound coming from the escaping gasoline sounded like a miniature Niagara Falls.  Concerned about her safety not to mention the wasted gasoline I knocked on her window to get her attention telling her that her gas tank was overflowing.  As I did she was still texting like crazy.  Thanking me for bringing it to her attention she ended the conversation saying “I’ll get it as soon as I finish this text.”

I looked at the gas pump.  It read $70 and some change and was still climbing as I walked back to my car.  The pump was still pumping and the woman was still texting as I drove out of the Hess gas station.  My guess is the gas pump was approaching $100 by now.  

I certainly hope the text message was worth it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Black-eyed Peas and Corn Bread for Lunch

Thirty years ago today, in a truck stop along Interstate 20 near Cuba, Alabama, I had my first encounter with black-eyed peas and corn bread.  Happily it wasn’t the last time I tried them. 

Black-eyed Peas and Corn Bread for Lunch

Sumter County, Alabama

Spend the first 25 winters of your life in northern Wisconsin and you quickly acquire a fantasy-filled lust for anywhere south of the frost line.  Add that six more winters in North Dakota and soon despite being an atheist you begin to believe that if there is a heaven its somewhere along the Gulf Coast of the United States.  Sitting in a bare-walled one bedroom post-divorce apartment in Jamestown North Dakota one December night I watched the latest in a seemingly endless parade of blizzards blow through town on what local meteorologists called an “Alberta Clipper.” A clipper is just that – a fast moving system of fast moving wind and fast moving snow and quickly plummeting frigid temperatures that were probably in Alberta just an hour earlier. As the night dragged on and the snow blew sideways I watched a news story about the United States invading the tiny island of Grenada in the southern Caribbean.  All the video showed was palm trees and tropical beaches and tropical heat and most especially not one scintilla of a smidgen of snow. I looked out my living room window and saw barren aspen trees and Arctic wind and snow drifts and I knew that something had to change and it had to change before another Alberta Clipper glued me to my apartment for another excruciating storm. 

That change came several months later when I was selected for a position in Athens Georgia on the campus of the venerable University of Georgia.  I had several misgivings about living in Georgia and many of them centered on the fact that people there are still upset that former U.S. Army General William Tecumseh Sherman turned Atlanta into a bonfire as he rode through town on his way to Savannah.  Still, despite its shortcomings, Georgia was much warmer than Jamestown, North Dakota and I hurriedly and excitedly accepted the position. 

The research I was expected to conduct would begin in Michigan in June and I arrived in Athens in early May and for a month I had little to do but open my pores and let in the warmth.  My supervisor, a man named Don who grew up in North Louisiana, and who said that squirrel brain was his most favorite meal as a child, was conducting research at Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi and he asked me to join him for a trip to the Delta.  Having never seen Alabama (through which we would have to travel) or Mississippi I quickly accepted Don’s offer.

Don had received his PhD from the University of Arkansas and was as fervent a fan of the Razorbacks as I am of the Wisconsin Badgers.  I first noticed this as we drove into Greenville, Mississippi on the banks of the Mississippi River and Don saw a sign for the bridge to Arkansas.  When he saw the word “Arkansas” he broke into a perfect University of Arkansas “Woooooo-Pig-Sooooooie” chant.  Personally I prefer the more civilized “Fuck ‘em Bucky” chant of the University of Wisconsin but that is just me.  Don and I spent two days at Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge collecting bird eggs for pesticide analysis, and then began the long trek back to Athens.

On our return we traversed the center of Mississippi and intersected Interstate 20 near Jackson.  We then followed it east and crossed the border into Alabama at about noon just in time for lunch at Billy Bob’s Bar-b-Que and Bait Shop near Cuba, Alabama.  That is not the name of the place but it should be.  Don was attracted to Billy Bob’s because a freeway billboard announced a “down-home southern buffet lunch” every day but Sunday.  Don, in his perfect southernese accent pronounced “buffet” as “buff-aaay.”  It was imperative that we stop for lunch because as the billboard said in a small reminder at its bottom it was closed on Sunday, the day that “the Lord wants us to rest and he wants y’all to rest too.” 

Billy Bob’s had a huge spread of food laid out and being a truck stop the restaurant lacked any semblance of ambiance.  Its walls were bare of any art work except pictures of Peterbilt trucks (one sign said “Old truckers never die. They just get a new Peterbilt”), the stench of diesel fumes was everywhere and Willie Nelson crooned loudly and hoarsely through speakers placed at intervals along every wall.   This certainly was not the restaurant in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In fact it wasn’t even the Country Kitchen in Grand Island, Nebraska.  It was Billy Bob’s and there was no denying that fact.

Before this trip my total experience with eating southern food had been restricted to two incidents each of which was indelibly etched in my brain.  The first was my only-ever meal of biscuits and gravy consumed in a truck stop restaurant near Paducah, Kentucky.  I had to try it because the name on the menu sounded inviting and almost everyone anywhere south of Indianapolis eats biscuits like they are popcorn.  What the waitress placed in front of me when my meal arrived reminded me more of what my dog had thrown up than it did any culinary delight of southern travel.   Reluctantly but bravely I ate the biscuits and gravy and just like after your first time having sex when the meal was over I wondered what all the excitement was about.  The meal stuck with me literally and figuratively and now nearly 40 years later I can still taste it.  My other southern culinary delight was grits (or “greeutz” in perfectly spoken southernese) that crossed my palate in a restaurant at Oden’s Dock on the Outer Banks of North Carolina a year after my first and only bout of dog biscuits and gravy.  At least with enough butter and pepper, grits were bearable and they didn’t look like dog vomit.

The lunch buffet at Billy Bob’s contained no biscuits and gravy because, mercifully, we were there after breakfast but there was a huge crock pot full of grits.  Along with them was every southern food imaginable.  One container held boiled okra and another held collard greens. Next to it was turnip greens and there was a huge vat of green beans complete with the little hunks of ham that make it southern.  There was also cauliflower and mustard greens and poke (not polk!) salad.  There was country ham (someday I want someone to explain the difference between country ham and city ham because it all looks the same) and hush puppies and succotash and boiled potatoes (“balled ‘taters” in perfect southernese) and sweet taters and pimento cheese and a strange kind of bean with a black spot on it.  Over on the meat table was more ham and more chicken and pulled pork and beef steak and shrimp and oysters and something that was passed off as jambalaya and almost everything was fried.  None of it was simply fried.  It was all southern fried.

Don returned to the table and his plate was filled with a sampling of almost everything that Billy Bob offered.  His plate also contained those curious beans with the black thing on them that I had never seen before so I asked Don, “What are those funny looking beans you’re eating?”

“These,” Don began, “are black-eyed peas.  Haven’t you ever eaten black-eyed peas before?”

When I admitted that I had never seen let alone eaten black-eyed peas Don motioned for the waitress to approach our table. When he did each of the 50 other patrons seated at the buff-aaaay lunch at Billy Bob’s turned to listen.  “Ma’am,” Don began in his finest southernese, “This god-damned Yankee sitting here has never had black-eyed peas. Can you believe that, ma’am?”

The waitress Bonnie, complete with a bouffant hair do, had a shocked look on her face as she turned to me and drawled “is that right?” (Only in Bonnie-speak it sounded like she said a long drawn-out “riot”).  Admitting my transgression, Bonnie looked at me with the same level of shock and disgust as the 50 other people in Billy Bob’s, each of whom now knew that a black-eyed pea virgin Yankee was in their midst.

Don turned to the still-shocked Bonnie and drawled, “Ma’am would y’all fix him a mess of those mighty fine black-eyed peas, please?”

Bonnie turned to me and asked “Do y’all want corn bread with your black-eyed peas?”

Not knowing the proper etiquette of black-eyed pea consumption, I replied, sheepishly, “Are you supposed to eat corn bread with black-eyed peas?”

Bonnie, now on the verge of cardiac arrest, bellowed “of COURSE you eat corn bread with black-eyed peas!”  I could tell she wanted to add “you ignorant god-damned Yankee,” however her proper southern upbringing would not allow it.

I timidly dug into the black-eyed peas and washed them down with fresh corn bread as Bonnie stood over me, right hand on her right hip shaking her head in disbelief that anyone more than one year old had never had black-eyed peas.   The other patrons kept shoveling in fried everything as I found myself wanting nothing but black-eyed peas and corn bread.  In fact the meal was so good I had seconds, and black-eyed peas and corn bread was all I had for lunch.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

More Than Just Fish Stories Are Told on Great Abaco Island

Great Abaco Island in the northeast corner of the Bahamas is a must-visit place for anyone interested in bone fishing, chilling out, and seeing cool West Indian birds.  It also seems to be a place where self-proclaimed Jimmy Buffett "experts" find out that they really aren't.

One thing I have learned since moving to Florida is that everyone south of Indianapolis claims to have met Jimmy Buffett at least twice and everyone south of Chattanooga has had Jimmy out on their boat seemingly every time its keel hits the water.  

Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas is most definitely a Jimmy Buffett sort of place to be.  Boating and sailing are two of the biggest attractions and bonefishing on the "Marls" west of the island are a close third in importance.  The sun bakes here and tourists waste away here and usually the most strenuous thing you can do on Great Abaco is hold yourself up at the bar after two too many Kalik beers.

The Conch Inn Hotel and Marina with its famous Conch Crawl Restaurant and Conch Out bar was right across the street from the Lofty Fig where I stayed for a week my last time on Great Abaco.  Jimmy Buffett admonishes all of his disciples to eat seafood “only when you can see the ocean” and at the Conch Crawl Restaurant that is easily accomplished because most of the place is built on stilts out over the water. You’d have to be blind to miss the ocean here.  Their menu included blackened grouper and the Conch Out Bar had lots of ice-cold Kalik Beer so I was a happy camper.

The Conch Inn and Marina in Marsh Harbour is one of the best places on the island to do absolutely nothing.

As I ate my dinner and absorbed a bottle of Kalik, I couldn’t help but hear an obnoxious 30-something American sitting at the bar trying to impress three stunning 20- something South Florida beach blondes (can’t blame a guy for trying).  His line of bullshit was all about Jimmy Buffett so I listened intently.  Much of what he said was wrong.

“When I met Jimmy the last week of April, 1992, he was sailing from the West Palm Beach to St. Maarten. He sailed right into this dock, got out and bought us all a beer.”

I knew this was a bald faced lie because I met Jimmy backstage at his concert in Fort Lauderdale during the last week of April 1992. He had just come back from bone fishing in the Ragged Islands.  He was no where near Abaco or a sailboat that week. I listened more closely.  The blowhard continued to lay it on.

He professed to be an authority on Buffett and was laying the bullshit on thick to these three absolute babes who were obviously Parrotheads.  He sealed his fate, however, when he pronounced to his covey that “Margaritaville was Jimmy’s first top 10 hit.” I knew then I had to take action. 

Finishing my meal I paid the tab and then slowly walked back past the blowhard.  When I was even with him I stopped.

“Sounds like you really know your Jimmy Buffett music,” I started.  “Do you sing his songs when you play your guitar?”

He said that he did.

I then said, “Do you know where Jimmy was standing when he heard that he first made the top 10, and what was that song?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he boasted. “He was in Key West and the song was Margaritaville. I just told these girls that before you showed up.”

“Well, partner,” I said, “you’re dead wrong.  Jimmy was in a music store in London, England, when he first heard that Come Monday was his first song to hit the top 10.”


I then asked “What language is Jimmy singing in when he does the chorus in “One Particular Harbour?”

“Oh, that’s easy. He’s singing in Spanish.”

“Wrong. He’s singing in Tahitian.”


“Jimmy owns a ranch in south Georgia that he uses for what purpose?”

“He goes there fishing.”

“No. He owns it for quail hunting.”

By now he’s starting to sweat a little because he can tell the beach blondes realize he’s full of Cheney.  I then put him out of his misery.

“Okay,” I said. “Here’s your last question. – What is the name of the dolphin in the song “Jolly Mon Sing”? 

He said “That’s easy. I sing that song all the time. The dolphin’s name is…” He stammered and stuttered a bit and finally said “I don’t know.”  The first truthful thing he’d said all night.

“The dolphin’s name is Albion.  You would only know that if you were actually a Parrothead.  We know the answers to the questions I just asked you.  I personally think you’re full of shit and so do these three women.”

I expected to get hit in the mouth but instead when he realized that he’d lost all face, he stood up from his chair and bolted for the exit. As I did one of the three hot south Florida blondes he was trying to impress chimed in saying "That guy Alex is such a pompous ass.  We were getting so sick of him, and then you came along and put him in his place. It was perfect timing.”

What would have actually been perfect timing would have been meeting those three about 30 years earlier.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

May 4 1970 - The Day America Killed Its Children

At 12:27 p.m. on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard committed murder on the campus of Kent State University in Portage County, Ohio.  It was the single most important formative event in my young life and one that changed my personal and political views forever.

I was a freshman on the University of Wisconsin River Falls campus that day yet even today I remember it like it was yesterday. One of the first warm days of spring that year and not a cloud in the sky. I was back in my dorm room, 209 Johnson Hall, studying when someone on the floor yelled "They're killing students in Ohio!" I thought at first it was just a normal afternoon drunken outburst on the floor. Then someone walked in with his transistor radio set on WCCO Radio from Minneapolis. They gave complete coverage of the carnage, at least as much as they knew at the time. As we all sat around listening to the news a feeling of gloom set over us.

Granted, UW River Falls wasn't a hotbed of political activity in those days but we had experienced our share of campus protesting of the intractable unwinnable, unnecessary war in Viet Nam. Now Richard Nixon had expanded the war into Cambodia and our few campus activists were more agitated. I wondered as did most of the guys on my floor, if the Wisconsin National Guard was going to show up and start shooting us.

Kent State happened because of the over reaction of the Ohio National Guard in response to legally assembled (according to the United States Constitution ) students exercising their legal right (according to the United States Constitution) to protest an illegal war (the President never asked Congress for a formal declaration of war therefore it wasn't a legal war) and its expansion. Some of the students weren't even protesting - Alison Krause was merely walking to class.  I will never forgive the Ohio National Guard for what they did that day.

When it finally sank into my thick skull that students were being killed for exercising their rights, and the government that sanctioned this killing was a Republican government, I rejected all of the conservative mantra that my mother ever spoke. The next day May 5, 1970, I started to let my hair grow, I participated in my first anti-war sit in. My politics and my outlook were radicalized.

Just two days before the massacre, Richard M. Nixon, made the following statement regarding the campus unrest. Never once in his statement did Nixon acknowledge that it was HIS actions that were causing the unrest.

You know, you see these bums, you know, blowin' up the campuses. Listen, the boys that are on the college campuses today are the luckiest people in the world, going to the greatest universities, and here they are, burnin' up the books, I mean, stormin' around about this issue, I mean, you name it - get rid of the war, there'll be another one. -- Richard Nixon, New York Times, May 2, 1970

Fuck you Richard Nixon. It is my sincerest hope to one day piss on your grave.

Despite the tragedy that day there were some positive things that came out of it. Most importantly for me is the very real fact that my political beliefs were forever altered on that fateful day. In response I have voted in every election since my first election in 1972 (the first vote I ever cast was for George McGovern and I feel proud of that vote). In that election I voted a straight Democratic ticket. I have never missed an election since that day in November 1972 and I have never once voted for anyone who was not with the Democratic Party.  I would eat a steady diet of used kitty litter before I would vote for a Republican. 

Another positive thing that came out of the murders was this song with its haunting music and haunting lyrics written by Neil Young.

On May 4 1990 while living in Grand Island Nebraska I contacted every radio station in town and in the surrounding area and asked them to play, at 11:27 a.m. Central Time that morning (the exact minute the murders took place at Kent State 20 years earlier) "Ohio" by Neil Young as a memorial to the fallen students. All the stations agreed to do it but one where I was told by the programming director "We don't have the music or I would play it." I asked if they'd play it if I brought the music to them. They would.

I was standing outside the music store in Conestoga Mall at 10:00 a.m. when the door opened. I darted in and purchased the vinyl album and raced down to the south side of town to the radio station. I arrived there by 10:30 with 57 minutes to spare. Breathlessly I told the woman behind the counter that her station was going to be playing this song as a memorial to the murders 20 years earlier. She looked at me with a deer-in-the-headlights look on her face not understanding a thing I'd said. Finally I asked her age. "I'm 19" she said. She wasn't even born when the single greatest formative moment in my life occurred. I would be afraid to ask the question again today.

Finally the murders at Kent State were the catalyst in 1988 for the University to establish the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence.  The mission statement for the Institute reads:

The Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence:

* promotes interdisciplinary research on the causes and prevention of violence
* engages in the design, implementation and evaluation of community-based programs for violence prevention
* trains teachers, law enforcement personnel and other professionals on principles and practices related to violence prevention
helps bridge the gap between science and practice to effectively inform public policy related to violence prevention

Some good has come out of the insanity of that day after all.

In 2005 I traveled from Washington DC to Kent State to be there for the 35th anniversary of the murders. Stepping from my car in a University parking lot I asked a couple I saw walking "where's the Hill?" Without batting an eye they pointed to the west. As I walked toward the hallowed grounds that are the site of the murders several students came up to me and asked "were you there?" I told them I was there in spirit alone that day.

On getting near the Hill I found four curious areas cordoned off with light fixtures. Asking what they were I learned that they were permanent memorials that marked the outline of where each of the four kids died that day. The first one I found was Alison Krause.

Standing on the Hill overlooking the scene I met a mother and her college freshman son. The son was showing mom the campus and brought her to the Hill. I saw them and made a comment about the tragic deaths that day. The mom, about my age, snapped back in reply saying "Those fucking kids DESERVED what they got that day."

Shocked I said "you mean Jeffrey Miller deserved to die for protesting something that was wrong?" Mom said "You're god-damned right he did. All of them did."

Her son then jumped on her case and backed up what I was saying. They walked away yelling at each other. I guess, at least 5 years ago, there was still a lot of angst and anger on the Hill.

And a note for any Vietnam Veterans reading this post - know up front that our protests were designed to get you home and we didn't even know you at the time. We were mobilized against the war, not against you.

Now the Kent State University Historic Site has been established and dedicated on the campus as a memorial to the tragedy of that day. I hope the memorial is completely successful in helping America to Never EVER forget Kent State.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rededicating a Monument to the Loss of a Species

On May 11, 1947 the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology established a monument to the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. The monument was dedicated by none other than author and environmental philosopher Aldo Leopold, the first wildlife biology professor at the University of Wisconsin 

The monument resides in Wyalusing State Park at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers in Grant County just south of Prairie du Chien. For the 100th anniversary of the extinction (the last bird, a female, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in September 1914) the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology has redesigned the monument and will be re-dedicating it on Saturday May 17th 2014

The original monument to the pigeon was immortalized in Aldo Leopold's essay “A Monument to a Pigeon” that was published in "A Sand County Almanac."  (That's an Eastern Wood-Pewee singing in the background at the start of the video).

I'm headed back home to Wisconsin for the rededication ceremony for this most somber occasion. The photo at the top of this post shows the design and wording on the new monument