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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

February 4, 2017

On Letting Go

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I drove home from work on Friday. It had been a productive day.

 

I had had meetings with our project team, wrapping up a major initiative that our Institute puts on every year. The feedback was helpful. To a person, we were all very pleased with how the initiative turned out, particularly given the vexing circumstances and truncated timeline that had precipitated its beginning.

 

In the words of the ignoble Charlie Sheen, we were “#winning.” And we were all enjoying the moment of a job well-done. Rightly so. We deserved it.

 

Fast forward to the end of the day.

 

As the desert sun set over Tucson, I drove home, windows down, blaring Sinatra’s Nothing but the Best from my Ford Escape. True I wasn’t nearly as badass as the suped-up Tahoe next to me, which blasted Migos’s Bad and Boujee. But being neither bad nor a member of the bourgeois, I simply didn’t care. It had been a great day, and I was of a mind to head directly over to the store, in true bourgeois fashion, and pick up a few treats for my dog - which I did. #FirstWorldProblems.

 

As Sinatra sang of bull fights in sunny old Spain, a smile graced my lips for the first time in weeks. Damn straight, Frank. The month of January had been hell. Friday was payday. From here on out, Nothing but the Best.

 

 

Understand, however, that my version of ’the best’ may be a bit different than most. Mine started off at the local Walmart off of Wetmore here in Tucson. It’s an unprepossessing place. Its denizens are of the sort that would be ripe for cameo appearances on the “People of Walmart” website. (Note: I would make contributions to the site, the locale is that ripe for humor. But for all I know, I may well end up on the site myself one day, so why tempt the fates?) 

 

Regardless, I joined my betters and wandered through cramped aisles, narrowly avoiding the carts and electric wheel chairs of the Walmart vanguard. Before long, I found all of the essentials for my little dog - a new crate, a new bed, and a box of treats as a reward for just how good he had been all week. 

 

For the record, since my last post, not only did Nigel have zero accidents in the house (and zero incidents of destruction), but he also let me know every time that he needed to go out. Often, this amounted to jumping on the bed and kissing me awake at 6am (ALWAYS 6am - Every. Single. Day.). But I welcomed this outcome, as opposed to the times when he felt that he had no choice, but to soil his doggy bed rather than soiling the apartment. (Apologies if you have a weak stomach. No trigger warnings for you on this slice of the web.) 

 

Ebullient, I drove home. So pleased to reward my little dog. It had been touch and go, but perhaps we had turned a corner. Leaving my wares in the car, I bounded up the steps, unlocked the door, and went in to check on my Nigel. 

 

He had an accident in his crate again. But his eyes were so overjoyed to see me. It looked as if he might burst from happiness. It was a magnificent reunion. While I struggled to unlock his crate, I saw a yellow stream of urine flow from between his legs as his body shook with excitement to see me.

 

And my heart fell. 

 

After taking him down, to do his business, I cleaned up the old crate, before promptly folding it up and throwing it in the trash. I would never leave him crated like that again. It was cruel. All while I did my work, he lay on the floor looking at me. 

 

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It’s a strange thing to realize that one is wholly inadequate. That no matter the best of intentions, it will never be enough to meet the need/s of another. Such was my Friday night realization with Nigel - what he needed, I would never be in a position to give him:

 

  • Nigel needed a place to roam free. Because of his anxiety, I had to leave him crated during the day. 
  • Nigel needed consistent human interaction, lest his anxiety lead to an adverse outcome. I work a typical 9am - 5pm schedule and coming home for a mid-day hello is unrealistic.
  • Nigel needed an owner with energy and time to play. My idea of fun is firing up Call of Duty online.

 

In my rationale, there was simply nothing that I could do to meet his needs, while also maintaining enough scratch to meet my own.

 

Except, that I could find him a new home. And so I did.

 

The internet is remarkably adept at facilitating pet adoptions. Within 14 hours, I had placed Nigel in a home with a large family, where everyone is home at some point during the day. They have two other Cocker Spaniels to keep Nigel company. And Nigel’s new home is much bigger than the two bedroom space I’m renting here in Tucson.

 

It was the right call. But it certainly wasn’t easy. 

 

Sitting here now, in the quiet of my apartment, I’m torn. Rationally, I understand that what I did was in the best interest of everyone involved. And yet, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed Nigel. That I’ve followed the status quo and took the easy way out. On the other hand, I think about Nigel’s shaking after a day in the crate. His joy and relief (literally and figuratively) at being let out - and it somehow, seems cruel to keep him in such dire straits. 

 

At any rate, the transition is done on my end. It’s only beginning for his new family - though they are well acquainted with the breed, and with the quirks of Cocker Spaniels in general. 

 

Here’s wishing them my very best. And here’s hoping that my existential dilemma will have no bearing on their very practical efforts to take good care of my little dog. 

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January 31, 2017

New Adventures in the Desert


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I moved back to Tucson in early November of 2016. I hadn’t spent any time to speak of here since I left shortly after Clark’s birth in 2013. But a failed marriage (June 2016), new opportunities (August 2016), and the promise of sun (Jan - Dec. 2016) - all have a way of drawing a man back to a place.

So, here I am beginning a new adventure in the desert. And if the early billing is any indication, I'm in for quite the ride.

Truth is, while I love my job (more on that in a future post), a city can still be a dreadfully lonely place. Particularly when one is in their mid-30s, newly a bachelor, a bit out of shape, and settling into the routine of life anew.

Given the predicament, this week, I did what any rationally-thinking, non-impusive, risk-averse person would do: I adopted a two-year old Cocker Spaniel.

Originally, his name was Mickey. But this was far too plebeian for so august a dog.  So, I renamed him Nigel, after the sulphur-crested cockatoo in the cartoons Rio 1 and Rio 2. (See here).

See also, exhibit A:

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Now, Nigel, is a wonderful dog in many respects. When I’m home during the day, on balance, he either lays in his bed or at my feet in a crumpled ball of fluff on the floor.

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Which was all fine until this afternoon. I came home from work per usual. The blinds were partly open just as I had left them. There was no barking or noise to speak of. And upon entering my abode, I see my pooch, bounding in my direction from the hallway, excited to see me, and even more ready to go potty downstairs.

So far, so good.

After taking him downstairs to do his business, I came back up, entered the apartment and pulled the screen door to. It was a lovely day. High 70s low 80s. And I wanted nothing more than to have some dinner and enjoy the evening breeze.

As I’m mulling about, however, I glance in the corner near my bedroom door. The carpet looked oddly pixelated - as if the real life image I had tried to see was still downloading from the servers that span the breadth of time.

It was only after I glanced again that I was able to process the magnitude of what had happened.

Whilst away for the day, it seems that young Nigel tried to dig his way to freedom through the carpet of my hallway. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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After conversations with friends, an expletive laden evening spent cleaning up the mess, and a couple of DIY videos on youtube for dog training, as it stands now, I really have two options for Nigel.

I can:

A) try to rehome him (viz., get rid of him); it’s an option that’s easy, elegant in its simplicity, and ruthless in its execution.

Or…B) give him another chance; an option grounded in the hope that a sturdy crate and the promise of routine can mute his burrowing sensibilities. Not nearly so neat or final an option as A.

It’s a tough call.

Thinking back to last year, there were more than a couple of sleepless nights when I wish that I had had a second chance. Given the outcome, it’s especially ironic that the Christian set amongst us are so often the least forgiving. And as this applies to Nigel, do I really want to be like THEM?

On the other hand, perhaps what Nigel did is beyond the pale? He did bore a hole in my carpet after all - a surely expensive mess that I will have to sort out with my apartment company.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the rub seems to depend upon whether or not an ‘old’ dog can be taught new tricks. And, of course, the extent to which I am willing to entertain this fact. Funny how it is all sounding so very familiar...

One can say many things about my life in Tucson. But it hasn’t been boring.
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July 10, 2016

Laramie Restaurant Review: Roxie's on Grand

As a newly divorced, thirty-something, male, I've had a few revelations of late. Chief among them is the fact that, for what little cooking my ex-wife actually did, I now find myself in dire straits to procure sustenance for myself on a semi-regular basis. 

As a result, I find myself flying solo, eating out more, and sampling the local fare. Honestly, not a bad outcome given that I've lived here for three years and never eaten here. 

So, naturally, it occurred to me that rather than sitting awkwardly alone, I could pass the time by providing dining tips to others (Plus, it looks less awkward to be alone and typing feverishly on one's phone, than it does to simply be alone amidst a sea of couples and families). Talk about reliving high school prom. 

But I digress. 

On this Sunday brunch, I found myself nary a block from my apartment building, having lunch at Roxie's on Grand (http://roxiesongrand.com/)



The staff on this visit was harried due to the lunch rush, but they were perfunctory, professional, and efficient, which is exactly what I want as a single man dining alone. No chit chat. Just give me my food. And leave me to it. 

I ordered a mimosa and one of the brunch salad options - Roxie's own "Black and Bleu" salad which consists of sirloin strips, blue cheese, hard boiled egg, tomatoes, and bleu cheese dressing. The salad paired really well with the mimosa. A lite Summer's lunch for a wam day. 

The mimosa was unremarkable. A bit too little champagne, and a bit too much orange juice. But it seemed to offset the taste of bleu cheese which is normally too pungent for me. 

In the Roxie's configuration, however, it all worked together really well. The salad ingredients paired extremely well with the mimosa. None too overbearing. With just a hint of bleu cheese to keep the bites interesting. 

It was enough to make me think that "brunch" should be a thing. 


On the other hand, the sirloin strips, I ordered cooked medium well. Having been around lawyers, and an ex out for blood, the thought of anything rare leaves me nauseous. 

But they were a drop over cooked. Not really the fault of the staff, but perhaps the stove was running a bit warm today. It was all eminently edible of course, and I quickly gobbled it all down. 

I polished brunch off with an O'Dell's IPA - a beer with just enough citrus to keep things lite, and I left feeling sated. Mostly, I no longer gave a damn that I was eating alone. 

Overall, the damage was $32.25. I happily left a 20% tip, and returned to my place for an afternoon of Call of Duty. 

Day one of procuring sustenance = success. Expensive but...  #winning
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May 16, 2016

Graduation Miracles

This past Friday, the University of Wyoming's American Indian Studies Program celebrated the graduation of seven American Indian students from college.

The ceremony was fairly pro forma. Held at the Laramie Hilton Ballroom, flanked by family and friends, each student selected a faculty member to speak on their behalf. Each faculty member shared personal anecdotes about the student, along with a brief biography that the student had put together. It was a nice evening, but far from unique among the many graduation observances across the Nation.  
I think what made the ceremony portion special, though, were the events that followed a faculty member's remarks: every graduating student was presented with a Pendleton Blanket, long the gold-standard for gift exchange among American Indian communities. Once the ceremony was over, the invited drum group played a closing song, and an invited elder fanned each student with the incense of burning cedar (a process otherwise known as cedaring in Indian Country).

It was a pan-Indian ceremony to be sure, but one that reflected the diversity of backgrounds and tribal affiliations of the Native students who call UW home.

As the evening carried on, there were plenty of laughs and smiles, along with the inevitable tears of pride from families. But as we discussed the achievements of each graduate, it became easy to take their accomplishments for granted. After all, that's what we do when we celebrate graduates. We celebrate their accomplishments - even if it's merely finishing the arduous task of a university education itself. No small feat, but it's expected. As a society, it's what we do.

Naturally, as I listened to the accolades, the mindset that "of course, students will amass a number of accomplishments" was never far from my estimation. And yet, now that a couple of days have passed, it's clear to me that this is so very far from the truth.

The article is a bit cold on the wires now, but according to Dr. Dean Chavers, Director of Catching the Dream (Ph.D, Stanford University), the accomplishments we witnessed on Friday night were actually quite rare:
Only 17 percent of Indian students go on to college from high school. And since 50 percent of these high school students drop out before graduation, only 8.5 percent of Indian students enter college. This compares to 70 percent nationally. Thus Indian enrollment in college is only 12 percent of non-Indian enrollment. And 82 percent of these Indian college students drop out before they graduate from college; they never earn a degree. For every Indian college graduate per unit of population, there are 30 non-Indian graduates. And the gap has been getting larger over the past 40 years, not smaller. 
Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/06/16/myth-indian-scholarships-and-native-dropout-epidemic-118525
Based on this assessment, a whopping 6.97% of American Indians will actually earn a college degree. Set aside the adversity of losing a family member in the midst of college, and set aside the rigors and stress of student competition at the highest levels of college debate (personal disadvantages that two of our students had to overcome), what we witnessed and celebrated on Friday night was the rare graduation of a group of American Indians.

Far from falling victim of the statistics of Dr. Chavers, our UW graduates joined that narrow 6.97% of their American Indian peers and earned a college degree. Regardless of their GPAs and resumes, upon graduation, our seven students entered a meaningful elite - for who is better positioned to do more, to continue to compete, and to utilize the skills that they have learned to the direct benefit of their communities, than the Native students graduating from college?

Indeed, perhaps, among no other ethnic group in America is a college degree so important as it is to Native Americans.

And so, as our Native graduates move from hither to yon, I wish you all well. Thank you for the years you've shared with me. Thank you for the perseverance that you demonstrated, however fraught the circumstances may have been. And thank you for allowing me to witness as close to a miracle as we still have in this modern era - the celebration of your collegiate accomplishments.

And most of all, thank you for the things you will accomplish. May your journal, henceforth, be blank.
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January 30, 2016

The Art of Making Strategic Decisions

In class this week, we walked through a few of the main arguments that set the theoretical framework for building effective tribal governments (See Rebuilding Native Nations).

According to the authors', one of the key elements for building effective tribal governments is for tribal leaders to engage in strategic decision making. The whole section reminded me a bit of the biblical adjuration, Where there is no vision, the people perish. I think that passage is actually talking about prophetic visions, but divorcing a quote from context has never stopped me before.  

Regardless, the point is the same. In order to run an effective government, organization, institute, non-profit, etc., there has to be some vision toward which the entity aspires. For tribes, some of the questions include, What kind of society do we want to create? What's our primary objective? What values guide our decision making? Where do we want to be in ten years? How do we get there from here? How do our values inform our policies? And, fundamentally, What do we want? 

While the text applies these considerations, quite correctly, to tribes, the potential applications ofsuch analyses are actually much broader.  In fact, they even lie at the heart of the U.S. Presidential Election:
  • What kind of country do we want? 
  • Would we shut the borders of the United States to Muslims seeking entry? 
  • Would we seriously consider deporting 11+ million illegal immigrants? 
  • Why are we afraid to categorize people who are here illegally as illegals?
  • But, is deportation the best use of our rather finite National resources? 
  • Are we content with a criminal justice systems that disproportionately affects blacks? 
  • Are we content with a nation where top officials can flaunt their violation of our strictest national security laws? 
  • What kind of person would we like to see on the Supreme Court? 
  • How can we provide health care in such a way that we maximize the Liberty interests of citizens, while delivering the best possible service?? etc...
The point is simply that the questions besetting tribes are no different than the kinds of questions that we face as a Nation. The only difference is that tribes must ask such questions not as free peoples exercising their right to self-government, but as wards under the guardianship of an external government that has assumed the authority to nullify their decisions with the stroke of a pen (See Congressional Plenary Power). 

And so the question remains for tribal governments, When will the moment in time be right to challenge the legal presumption that Congress has absolute authority over American Indian tribal nations

Granted, the time isn't now. But when the time comes, what is the strategy for throwing off the yoke of Washington in order to truly allow tribes to engage in their own exeperiment in government by the consent of the governed?  And make no mistake, consent is key here. Any exercise of tribal self-determination must begin with the will and consent of Indian peoples. 

Even so, what's the plan? What would that form of sovereignty look like? 

Lots of questions to explore and it's only week one. Onward...
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