Like others who from time to time find their way to newspaper offices, John Christian Saxer believes he grasps truths that elude almost everyone else. (Invariably, these folks dismiss the simpler explanation - that they're wrong - as wildly implausible. "Absolutely not," says Saxer, when asked if this is possible.)
Often these truths are sad and self-centered: The FBI is tapping my phone. My multimillion-dollar lottery win is being denied through a vast conspiracy. But Saxer's delusion is actually quite exciting.
Saxer, 56, is convinced that huge stones with strange holes he's found in Florida unlock secrets to humankind's past. And he wants to donate one of these stones to his alma mater, the UW-Madison, to give it "a head start on the rest of the world" in recognizing his discovery. He envisions it on Bascom Hill, for all to see.
A native of Janesville now staying with family in the area, Saxer attended the UW from 1969 to 1973, leaving without earning a degree. In recent years he's lived in Tarpon Springs, Fla., working as a bicycle mechanic and bartender, reportedly spending much of 2004 homeless.
Saxer first noticed the stones in the mid-1990s, along Florida's western coast. He's since identified about 2,000 in all.
"Everybody in Florida thought these were decorative rocks," he relates. "They had no idea they were ark anchors from ancient Atlantis."
Ark anchors from Atlantis? You bet. And that's not all. Saxer believes Tarpon Springs is the true biblical Garden of Eden and was once populated by a race of humans up to 15 feet tall.
"To find 2,000 anchors means this used to be a seaport," explains Saxer. "To find them this big means it was a seaport of giants."
It's hard to argue with logic like that.
Saxer, who purports to have "a patent in pyramidology" - actually a 1988 patent on a pyramid bed - has tried to interest scientists in his find, mostly to no avail. "Professionals," he clucks, "don't want to hear about a discovery like this. It's too big a correction."
But last year, Saxer got California archeologist Bill Donato to investigate. Donato agreed that some of the Florida rocks showed signs of human manipulation and could well have been anchors, similar to those used by ancient Romans and Carthaginians. Since then, Saxer's claims have gotten some (mostly skeptical) media attention.
Within the next month, Saxer plans to bring four rocks to Wisconsin, at his own expense. He claims UW emeritus professor James Scherz, who's studied the regional archeological site Aztalan, is "very excited" by this prospect. Scherz did not respond to phone messages.
The UW chancellor's office has told Saxer his gift must go through the UW Foundation. Saxer, who says "I'm going to bring one here whether they want one or not," last week delivered letters to UW officials, urging them to accept: "Let Wisconsin have the courage to delve into the unknown so as to attain the TRUTH."
Saxer reckons that the rock he's picked for the UW is worth "$1 million," although on reflection he deems its value "incalculable." So is the burden his discovery puts upon him: "Since the Bible is incorrect, since archeology is incorrect, it's up to me to correct it."
Will the UW assist him in this mission, getting a cool big stone in the process? It'd be crazy not to.
School assaults, by the numbers
In the 2006-07 school year, there were 224 instances in which staff members in Madison schools were assaulted or injured by students, according to records provided to Isthmus. (This represents a significant increase from 2005-06, when the district tallied 173 such incidents.)
Most occurred in elementary schools, and eight out of nine involved special education students. The incidents are mostly minor - kicks, bites, scratches and such - although 43 required some medical attention. Police were called on nine occasions.
Luis Yudice, the district's safety coordinator, says the most serious incidents were the two reported recently in Isthmus (Watchdog, 6/8/07), both involving injuries to staff members trying to break up fights.
The most startling revelation is the extent to which a handful of students drive these numbers upward. A single fourth-grader at Chavez Elementary accounted for 41 of this year's incidents. At the middle school level, a seventh-grader at Sennett and eighth-grader at Cherokee had 19 and 12, respectively. And a ninth-grader at East had 10.
Together, these four students generated 37% of the total assaults for the 24,576-student district. (In 2005-06, a single student at Lowell logged 36 incidents; no one else had more than seven.)
Yudice says some district students have "significant behavioral and emotional disabilities." At times they do well and benefit from school; other times they act suddenly in ways that put staff at risk. The phrases "without warning" and "attempting to restrain" appear repeatedly in entries for the fourth-grader at Chavez, before other words: kick, trip, bite, punch, scratch, pulled hair, ripped bra, etc.
Linda Allen, the principle at Chavez, says the student has not caused serious injuries, nor prompted any parent complaints: "We work very hard with our special education department with students who are somewhat aggressive."
Yudice and a district psychologist have provided additional training to staff at schools with problem students. And while it may be necessary to add staff, no one is talking about giving these students the boot.
"I was totally amazed to see the extent to which teachers go to keep kids in the classroom and maintain a positive environment," says Yudice. "If I had a child who had an emotional disability, I would feel very fortunate to have that child in the Madison school district."
Remembering Kathie Rasmussen
As a valued contributor to the pages of Isthmus, Kathie Rasmussen picked stories she felt were important, and poured herself into them.
In the early 1990s, Rasmussen and collaborator Chip Mitchell wrote several meaty investigative pieces on public institutions, including the State Investment Board and State Elections Board. The team's 1992 exposé tying campaign cash to legislative actions is widely credited with destroying state Rep. David Clarenbach's political career - and underscoring the danger of putting fund-raising ahead of the public interest.
Rasmussen, a longtime state employee and volunteer at WORT radio, Broom Street Theater and Mercury Players Theatre, died unexpectedly of natural causes earlier this month at age 57. A memorial service will be held Saturday, June 23, at the Ocean Grill, 117 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 2-5 p.m.
Praise Jesus - and here's the latest lane closures
A recent weekly road construction update e-mailed from the state Department of Transportation included a somewhat startling tag line: "Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you...Jesus Christ and an American GI. One for your soul, the other for your freedom."
Holy proselytizing, Batman! Has Pat Robertson taken over the DOT?
Lois Losby, the La Crosse-based DOT employee who added this note, says "it never even occurred to me" that this was problematic. She borrowed it from another e-mail, feeling it was "very interesting and to my mind very true," but on hearing from a reporter immediately grasped that it may not have been appropriate.
DOT spokesman Michael Bie notes that Losby is a relatively new employee (a year on the job, two months into her current role) and has since been counseled as to the agency's administrative rules. One says e-mail users "may not post or transmit opinions unrelated to or inconsistent with the user's job duties...."
God will forgive her, of course. And so should we all.