Friday, March 24, 2017

All the Stupid that Fits

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

This morning I made the nearly five-hour drive to Kansas City, and tomorrow I will fly out of KCI and head off to Oregon where I will spend a few days with my West Coast grandkids - Sebastian, Judah, and Willow.  I am currently enjoying the company of my Kansas grandkids - Olive and Sullivan - and they are well and happy.

The drive north was fairly uneventful, perhaps because the police were out in force.  I encountered eight law enforcement vehicles on the road (mostly Highway Patrol) with three of those working and the other five lurking. 

I especially enjoyed the drive through Springfield, Missouri, the community in which I earned three of my five college degrees.  Springfield is an ever-expanding cow town that is steeped in conservative values and big, expensive churches.   It is the second home to Senator and Mrs. Ol' Roy Blunt - on the two or three days a year when they are not staying in their multi-million dollar home in the Washington, DC, area.  Today, while cruising along on the bypass, a little car passed me with its back end covered in bumper stickers.  The biggest one said "God, Guns, and Trump" and a smaller one right under it carried the image of a Confederate flag - or, as I put it - all the stupid that could fit on the car's small backside.  My first thought as it passed me was, "Hey, the Blunts must be in town!"  But then I realized that Ol' Roy and his trophy second wife, lobbyist Abby Perlman Blunt, have probably never ridden in anything that small.

Yo, Jeeves, bring the Town Car around!

There was an old "Break Time" convenience store in Clinton, Missouri, where I used to occasionally stop for gas and gizzards (as opposed to God and guns), but while driving through that community one day last summer and hankering for a full order of hot chicken gizzards, I was shocked to find that the old facility had been torn down.  (It was in sad shape and needed demolition - just not before I got my gizzard fix!)  During a few subsequent trips north I saw that that the store was being slowly rebuilt.  On my last trip this way at the beginning of this month I noticed that the new store was up and open - but I was in a rush and didn't get to stop.

So today, as I drove north, my thoughts were consumed with the good chicken gizzards that the Break Time used to sell.  I stopped there for gas and then went inside where the special of the day appeared to be mayhem.  People were everywhere and obviously enjoying themselves.  It just so happened that today was the"open house" for the new convenience store, and there was free food galore as well as other things.  I dined on free pizza, cheese bread, a small portion of a barbecue sandwich, and a mini-malt.  Sadly, though, there were no chicken gizzards!  I also spun a prize wheel and won a nice water bottle, won a free Powerball ticket at the Missouri Lottery table, and picked up a heavy duty chip bag clip.  The open house was scheduled for a four-hour period, one day only, and old Pa Rock stumbled right into the middle of it!  That has to bode well for the Powerball ticket that I won!

But now, as with the back end of that little car, I seem to have reached the point at which all of my available space has been slathered in stupid.

More tomorrow from the Left Coast!

Fat Boy and Ryan Lose Bigly - and America Wins!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Just moments ago the news broke that House Speaker Paul Ryan is pulling his hateful "American Health Care Act" because he couldn't commandeer enough Republican votes to pass the bill that would effectively end health care coverage for millions of Americans.   Yesterday Trump had vowed that if the Republicans couldn't get the bill passed today, he would move on to other priorities and Obamacare would remain in place.  Of course, conservatives who still want to kill Obamacare can take comfort in the fact that Trump seldom keeps his word.

But, for today at least, the GOP war on the poor has suffered a major setback.

With health care now officially on Trump's back burner, the Orange Menace can move on to his other priorities - like getting that big wall built along the southern border, the one that most of the people who live along the border don't want, and maybe squeezing in a few rounds of golf.

(All of this must be very upsetting to members of Congress who normally only work Tuesday through Thursday.  They had to show up on a Friday - and then didn't even get to vote!  Maybe it's time to fire the Speaker.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Congressman Jason Smith Has Heard from Me

by Pa Rock
Citizen and Voter

My congressman, Republican Jason Smith, is not one of the more enlightened members of Congress, nor does he aspire to be.  Smith represents southeastern Missouri, a very conservative area, and he knows well just how his bread is buttered.  He talks in conservative sound bites and routinely ignores the poverty and need that are pervasive in his district.

But regardless of Congressman Smith's well known lack of intellectual curiosity or doing anything that would actually be of significant benefit to the poor people of his constituency, I chose to call the congressman's office this morning and register my disapproval of the American Health Care Act, a bill whose ultimate purpose is to relieve Americans of effective health care.  It will also have a devastating impact on struggling rural hospitals, something that I mentioned to Smith's operator, a lady named Grace, who registered my opinion.

Smith is one of the Republicans whose vote in favor of the American Health Care Act is already set in cement, and thus he has no room for doing any wheeling and dealing that might ultimately have some benefit for his constituents.    Congressman Smith is focused on pleasing Paul Ryan and Donald Trump.  He will wind up with a few great photo ops with Republican celebrities and some campaign cash from the insurance industry, and thousands of constituents who suddenly discover that they can no longer afford to get ill.

The people of Missouri's 8th congressional district deserve so much better.

Today is March 23, 2017.  In addition to being my 69th birthday, it is also the seventh anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  The Republicans would love nothing better that to sully that important legislative anniversary with the House passage of their American Health Care Act, the first phase in their war on the poor.  Medicaid and Social Security are phases two and three.

Remain silent at your own peril!

Pa Rock and the Mennonites

by Pa Rock
Celebrant

Today marks my 25,203rd day of riding this speeding mud ball through space, or, in a more comprehensible view, my 69th birthday - and through it all, the world goes on.  Tomorrow I am heading out to Kansas City, and on Saturday I will fly to Oregon for a brief visit with my most remote grandchildren.  When I return home next Thursday, the first order of business will be getting the mowers out of the packed garage and starting on the mowing, an activity that will last up into November.

The grass just keeps growing, and Pa Rock just keeps getting older.

This past week I bought myself a birthday present - two presents, actually.  I have been in dire need of a big storage building ever since relocating to Missouri three years ago, and I recently found a prototype of one that I really liked.  The model storage unit was on display here in West Plains, but the manufacturer was eighty miles away in Salem, Missouri.  Last Friday I called the manufacturer and got more information, enough to entice me to drive to Salem earlier this week to look at their full line of buildings.

People in this area know that when it comes to on-site construction, nobody does it better than the Amish and Mennonites who are located in pockets of small communities throughout southern Missouri.  With that knowledge in place, imagine my delight when I pulled onto the grounds of the small factory in Salem and discovered that it was a Mennonite operation.  I knew even before stepping into any of the model metal buildings that I was going to be impressed - and I was!

I told the neatly-attired bearded man at the front desk who I was and who I had talked to last week.  He asked me to wait while he went into the factory and brought out the young man who had given me the initial sales information over the phone.  The salesman, a lad of no more than twenty,  had a square beard and was modestly dressed in blue jeans and a work shirt.  He was obviously more at home constructing storage buildings than he was with selling them.

But he overcame what appeared to be discomfort in sales and proceeded to show me several models and answer all of my questions.  When I learned all that I needed to know about the storage units, I changed tack and asked him about his religion.  In response to my query about whether he was Amish or a Mennonite (Hey, I wanted to know!), he told me that he and his family, the owners of the establishment, were Mennonites, and added, "but we prefer to be called Christians."

We walked back into the office where I ended up buying two units.  They are being constructed to my specifications and will be delivered in early April.  As the young man struggled to enter my order into the computer - using two fingers - I perused the office.  The counter that I was leaning on had two stacks of religious tracts that appeared to be free-for-the-taking.  One had a title dealing with "Radical Islam" and the other purported to be teachings of Jesus that people might not know about.  I resisted the temptation to leaf through either of them. 

In a few weeks the new buildings will be here and set up on the old basketball court.  It will be so nice to finally be able to unpack and get my life back in order.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Japanese Angel

by Pa Rock
Citizen of the Planet

Several days ago in a blog post entitled "Sleeping Rough" I told of a homeless young man who had come to my door asking to use my telephone.  What he was actually after was a ride into town which I was happy to provide.  During the ride, and at my prompting, he told me a little about his life and said that he had spent the previous evening sleeping in a field a couple of miles down the road from my house.  Once in town I got him a burger and fries and helped to reunite him with his girlfriend, a young lady who also appeared to be on the verge of homelessness.

I am pleased to report that the burger and fries did not create a sense of dependency, and that I have not seen the young man or his lady since.  I am hopeful that their lives, as with the weather, have shown improvement.

Mineko, my dear friend in Japan, read that column and replied with a lengthy email detailing her own experience with homeless people in and around Tokyo.   Many years ago Mineko was a foreign exchange student who lived with our family, and I have mentioned her in this space on several occasions.  She is a lovely person.

Mineko has given me permission to print portions of her email about homelessness in Japan in this blog posting.  That follows:

"It so happened that last Sunday, desiring to go for a walk outside, my husband and I went to the huge Imperial Park in Shinjyuku.   It was the first time we had been there in some years, and we were rather shocked to find a row of futon beds and blue sheets whereupon quite a number of homeless people were hiding themselves under covers in front of the entrance ticket sales booths. It was a rather spacious open public area where people meet-up before they go into the park together.   Homeless men with just a blue sheet and without any futon or coverings were sitting on the asphalt ground, holding a backpack before their chest as if to protect themselves from coldness, and seemed to be wondering how to go find futons, mattresses, blankets, etc. for the coming night.  They appeared to be newcomers to the place.

"The sight reminded me of my own experience from early to mid 90’s when I used to teach and had to walk past a big park in order to reach the school campus.  It was after our bubble economy suddenly collapsed, and the park was almost overnight packed with tents and cardboard houses of the homeless people who had been suddenly thrown away by their companies.  
"I noticed by going through that park three times a week, that even among the homeless, there were the weak and the strong, extroverts and introverts, as a matter of course, as it was just a small human community.  Then I took notice of one lone wolf who didn't comingle with others, who didn’t have enough willpower to go collect empty cans and bottles during the daytime so that he could sell to gain what little change he could from stores, etc.  In other words, he was always alone, most poorly dressed, stunk worst, and just wandered around. I didn’t even know if he had a tent house of his own; probably not. Then, I decided to give my bento-boxed lunch that I prepared at home for myself to eat at school as lunch to this man whenever I passed him in the morning. It didn’t happen regularly, but whenever I saw him, I handed him my lunch while others were not looking.  He was really hesitant, and asked “may I really?”, and when I said “It’s all right,” he hurriedly went away.

"But then a winter break came, and I didn’t go to school for nearly three weeks. I was concerned about his health conditions, but I couldn’t get involved as much as going there on my holidays to bring him food.

"In the end, when I returned to school after the break, he was gone.  I sensed that he had died on the street. So one day, after school, I visited some of the homeless tents where people seemed to gather the most and asked about the man. Alas, he had been found dead and was taken away by the municipal office.

"After this, I joined a NPO which specifically supports the homeless in that particular area by sending medical patrol once a week and distributing food regularly - and especially during the year-end and New Year’s week when stores are closed.  Since I live away from that area, the most I could provide was donation of extra food, clothing, blankets, and money. It was too far for me to really provide my labour after I have come home and go out again to the area I have just returned from. Although I am still a member, since I quit teaching at that school several years ago, and the number of the homeless remaining in the park in the latter half of 90s was so small, and I saw none in 2000’s, I thought the problem was somehow solved by municipal and private efforts.

"Thus, my shock of seeing men sleeping last Sunday during the daytime in the open public area took me by surprise. It’s the  same municipal ward as the school and the park were. So the homeless were just migrating from place to place? I know some people, especially some men, prefer that way of living, free from any bonds. If it is a way of living by choice, then I shouldn’t be concerned. But others must have fallen into that kind of state by force or without realizing that they are falling. I took it as their way of protest that they are making rows of futons in front of Imperial Park where so many people, even non-Japanese, visit.

"I only hope that our authorities will not just hide them in some institution during the coming Olympic games where there will be more observers from abroad, as Chinese government often does during big social events like international conferences.  I do not know how to deal with this problem of homeless people in the middle of our capital city, but both public and private sources must get together to come up with a smart solution; for example,  Imperial Park could hire so many park caretakers, who I suppose are civil servants. If there are so many men sleeping in front of the park during the day, could we perhaps contract them to gather twigs and fallen leaves? Perhaps, that wouldn’t work. Well, I will keep on thinking."

Didn't I tell you that Mineko is a lovely person!  Giving her lunch to a homeless man each day is so much like the young girl that I remember from all those years ago.

People living outside in the elements and subsisting on begging and handouts is something that should not be happening in civilized society.  America, Japan, and the world should and must do better!

Thank you, Mineko, for sharing your experiences with us!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Tale of Three Governors

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Just when you think you know somebody, along comes some new information to throw that strident opinion into a cocked hat.  For more on that, witness these stunning betrayals of party orthodoxy by three Republican state chief executives:

Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota is a Republican and a member of the National Rifle Association.  Governor Daugaard had warned his Republican-controlled state legislature that if it passed a pair of bills designed to loosen gun controls in South Dakota, he would be obliged to veto those bills.   Last week the legislature called his bluff, only to learn that the governor was not bluffing.  Daugaard quickly vetoed a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons inside of the state capitol as well as a bill that would allow concealed-carry without a permit.  (The current concealed-carry permit has a $10.00 fee which funds a background check on the gun owner.)  The bills did not initially pass with enough votes to override the governor's veto.

There is no word yet on whether Ted Nugent will be dispatched to Pierre to counsel the errant governor or not.

I have written about Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, on several occasions, and each time I am careful to mention that he is a graduate of Bob Jones University.  I note that because I believe that people's educational backgrounds help to explain why they act as they do.  Governor Hutchinson has been a fairly reliable right-wing troglodyte - witness his state's pending spree-killing of eight death row inmates over ten days - beginning the day after Easter.

But Hutchinson and his legislature (which contains several of his family members) have recently acted in a manner that is likely to leave many of his ardent fans scratching their cootified heads in bewilderment.   Arkansas has been one of several southern states that conjoined the federal Martin Luther King birthday holiday with a state birthday commemoration of Confederate General Robert E. Lee - a move some felt has the impact of narrowing the importance of King's recognition.  Now, thanks to action by the legislature and Governor Hutchinson's approval, Dr. King's birthday will stand alone.

The Arkansas coupling of the holiday for King and Lee began in 1985.  After Hutchinson signed the bill separating the two holidays, he noted that "It gives us a chance to show respect for one another."  That's a fairly egalitarian sentiment for a graduate of Bob Jones University!

Jan Brewer, though no longer a state chief executive, was the governor of Arizona until very recently.  Her tenure coincided with much of the time that I resided in the Scorpion State, and I succumbed to the urge to write about her political outrages on numerous occasions.  It was during some of those early tirades at the keyboard when I dubbed her the "Sand Hag," a play on the old "Sea Hag" of Popeye fame.  I don't regret that label because Jan Brewer was, as governor, not a nice person.

But even bad guys have their off-days, and Jan Brewer broke with national Republicans when she suddenly decided that Arizona should expand Medicaid - and then strong-armed enough members of her state legislature to get the job done.  Now she is following through on that earlier apostasy with some exacting criticism of Paul Ryan's "health care" plan.  The following was taken from a diary at Daily Kos:

Brewer said in an interview earlier this week that "it weighs heavy on my heart" when she thinks of the current Republican plan to repeal and replace Obama's law.
"It just really affects our most vulnerable, our elderly, our disabled, our childless adults, our chronically mentally ill, our drug addicted," she said of the potential elimination of coverage for the expansion population. "It will simply devastate their lives and the lives that surround them. Because they're dealing with an issue which is very expensive to take care of as a family with no money."

Jan Brewer is the mother of a seriously mentally-disabled adult son - and, unlike most members of the Grand Old Party, she is able to view health care as a humanitarian issue.  Perhaps she isn't such a Sand Hag after all.

So, with signs of intelligence and human decency beginning to force their way through tiny cracks in the concrete of the Republican facade, is there any hope for the likes of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, or Donald John Trump?  Probably not - humanity, after all, hinges on being human.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "Roll Over Beethoven"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news:  Chuck Berry is gone.

Chuck Berry, the man whom many consider to be the founding influence of rock 'n roll, died at his home in St. Charles County, Missouri, over the weekend, and with his passing goes one of the strongest influences on music in generations.  Berry, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ninety-years-old at the time of his death.

(Alexa has been in Chuck Berry mode all weekend!)

Chuck Berry stormed onto the music scene in 1955 with "Maybellene," the story of an unfaithful woman and a drag race.    "Maybellene" was written and performed by Berry, an artist who took special pride in penning lyrics that told a coherent story - and singing them in a clear voice so they could be understood.  Over the next few decades he introduced the world to a host of memorable characters with names like Nadine, Marie, and Johnny B. Goode.

A friend of mine ran into Chuck Berry at an airport back in the early 1970's when "My Ding-a-Ling" was rocking the charts.  My friend, a fellow soldier from Ft. Riley, Kansas, spoke up when he recognized the singer with something like, "Hey, Chuck, how are you doing?"  Berry replied,  "Great.  Whoever thought my ding-a-ling would turn to gold!"

Chuck Berry was a complicated individual whose troubled life found release in his music, lyrics, and the energetic performance of his songs.  He served three stints behind bars, one as a juvenile in a reformatory, and two brief periods in prison as an adult.  He married Themetta "Toddy" Suggs in 1948, a marriage that lasted until his death 68 years later.

Today's poetry selection, "Roll Over Beethoven," was written and performed by Berry in 1956.  It was an announcement of the new type of music that was just beginning to sweep over the planet.  The song has been covered by many artists - including The Beatles.  It really calls for no analysis, because like all of Berry's song lyrics, this one tells a compelling tale in terms nearly everyone can understand.


Roll Over Beethoven
by Chuck Berry

I'm gonna write a little letter,
Gonna mail it to my local DJ
It's a rockin' rhythm record
I want my jockey to play
Roll over Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today


You know, my temperature's risin'
And the jukebox blows a fuse
My heart's beatin' rhythm
And my soul keeps on singin' the blues
Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news


I got the rockin' pneumonia,
I need a shot of rhythm and blues
I think I'm rollin' arthritis
Sittin' down by the rhythm review
Roll over Beethoven rockin' in two by two


Well, if you feel you like it
Go get your lover, then reel and rock it
Roll it over and move on up just
A trifle further and reel and rock it,
Roll it over,
Roll over Beethoven rockin' in two by two


Well, early in the mornin' I'm a-givin' you a warnin'
Don't you step on my blue suede shoes
Hey diddle diddle, I am playin' my fiddle,
Ain't got nothin' to lose
Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news


You know she wiggles like a glow worm,
Dance like a spinnin' top
She got a crazy partner,
Oughta see 'em reel and rock
Long as she got a dime the music will never stop


Roll over Beethoven,
Roll over Beethoven,
Roll over Beethoven,
Roll over Beethoven,
Roll over Beethoven and dig these rhythm and blues.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pistol Packin' Peckerwood

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Three unnamed sources have reportedly told CNN that one Fox News personality pointed a pistol at another Fox News personality following an on-air debate last October.  The incident occurred off-air.  The sources related that Sean Hannity pointed a pistol at  Juan Williams in a manner that caused the pistol's laser-light to bounce around on Williams body.

The matter was allegedly reported to Fox management.

After the story broke this week Williams tried to minimize the incident by saying it was being sensationalized and that he never felt that he was in harm's way.    Hannity, who stressed that he has permits to carry guns in five states and is well trained in firearms use and safety, said that the gun was not loaded and that he never pointed it at his black co-worker.

Sean Hannity's multi-state gun licensure would seem to indicate that he has had some training in the proper use of firearms.  Sean, did those instructors forget to tell you to always treat weapons as though they are loaded - and to never point a gun at anyone unless you are prepared to use it?  And try as you might to deny pointing the weapon at Williams, that pesky laser light provides a stronger and more convincing statement to the contrary.

And as for you Juan, your claim that "It was clear Sean put my safety and security above all else and we continue to be great friends." almost sounds like you are apologizing for being in Hannity's gunsight.  Are you sure you wouldn't rather be back working with your sane friends at NPR?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Lucky Star

by Pa Rock
Reader

My Lucky Star is Joe Keenan's third novel featuring the irrepressible trio of Gilbert Selwyn, Philip Cavanaugh, and Claire Simmons.  Gilbert and Philip are young gay men, and former boyfriends, just barely on the sunny side of thirty, and Claire, Philip's musical theatre collaborator, serves as the cool head who usually manages to extricate the boys from the messes that they invariably seem to stumble into.

The first novel, Blue Heaven, found Gilbert marrying a conniving vixen by the name of Moira Finch in a plot to collect and sell the wedding gifts that were bestowed upon them by their wealthy friends and family - including Gilbert's mob-connected in-laws.  In Keenan's second book involving the same characters, Putting on the Ritz, the boys become involved in the machinations of a pair of feuding New York billionaires, one of whom winds up hiring Philip and Claire to prepare his wife for a comeback as a cabaret singer.

In the third novel, My Lucky Star, Philip and Claire reluctantly join Gilbert in Hollywood where he assures them that he has a screenwriting job awaiting them, a job offered as a result of a script that he had dashed off to show the producer his abilities as a screenwriter.  Philip and Claire are dubious because the narcissistic Gilbert, who always claims to be a writer, has never actually written anything.  But it's off to Hollywood they go, and from there on the fun never stops - even when they encounter the evil Moira who has also relocated to the West Coast.

Joe Keenan, a former producer and head writer for the hit television series, Frazier, is a deft plotter whose tales never cease to surprise with their clever, and sometimes maniacal, twists and turns.  He is laugh-out-loud funny on page after page after page.  Take for instance the scene where poor Philip has to hide beneath a massage table while a closeted action star has robust sex just above him with a gay hustler who is dressed up as a statuette of "Oscar."  Could that get anymore complicated?  Well, yes, when the action star's mother and wife knock at the door demanding entry!

With Keenan, the action - and the fun - never stop, and it's always a wild ride!

I highly recommend all three classic comedy novels by Joe Keenan:  Blue Heaven, Putting on the Ritz, and My Lucky Star.   They are breezy, clever, and very, very funny!

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Last Political Sacred Cow

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A few days ago I came across the term "seven hated groups" while researching a political incident.  The term was meant to encompass a listing of groups that smart politicians are quick to vilify as a campaign tactic.   As I nosed through the Internet looking for more information on the make-up of the list, I found only two references to the model which contained actual lists of groups - and while they were similar to one another, they also varied somewhat in content.  From that base, as well as with a strong dose of personal opinion, I drew up my own list of the "seven hated groups" and posted them in this space.

Those groups, routinely demonized and gleefully ravaged by opportunistic politicians everywhere, in my humble opinion, included:
Women, the LGBT community, non-Caucasians, immigrants (including resident Hispanics), non-Christians, the poor, and the disabled.

A reader of that blog entry replied with a bit of counterpoint.  She inquired as to what I would see as the "sacred" groups most used for political opportunism.   Her query, of course, set me to thinking.

A decade or so ago I would have said that the sacred cows of politics centered on the elderly, idealized families, and Christianity, but now I sense that the once-solid ground beneath those bulwarks of American civilization has begun to erode.

Social Security, a program whose intent was to keep old people out of the poor house, has been around for nearly a century, and, until recently was considered to be the "third rail" of American politics - something a smart politician knew not to mess with.   But now, after several years of a steady conservative attack on Social Security (and Medicare), young Americans have, by and large, become convinced that these social aids to the elderly will be gone by the time they are old enough to benefit from them, and therefore a drain on their incomes which will never be paid back.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy inspired by politicians who are motivated by their own self-interests and the interests of their corporate overlords.

Now we are living in a time when both Congress and the presidential administration appear to be very focused on the demise of Social Security and Medicare.  Old people are no longer "sacred" in the political calculus that runs America.  Many of America's most economically fragile old people flock to the polls to vote against their own self-interests.  And as young Americans lose interest in maintaining these social safety nets for the elderly, the programs become easier to attack, minimize, and ultimately eliminate.

The idealized family - Ward, June, Wally, and the Beaver - never existed in the real world, but it was given form by artists like Norman Rockwell and his famous Saturday Evening Post covers - and a generation of radio, television, and movie scriptwriters.  It was the standard by which we were all measured - and by which we measured ourselves.  Politicians knew that the term "family values" carried a certain amount of political power and protection.

That has changed in recent years, however, due in some measure to politicians who were seen as standard-bearers for family values getting caught up in scandals, often of a sexual nature, and America's shifting sense of what the term "family values" actually means.  As one example of that, the righteous-sounding American Family Association, a stridently homophobic organization, tries to usurp the notion of the idealized family, but its values no longer align with those of the majority of Americans.  In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center now classifies the American Family Association as a "hate group."

In the same vein, Christianity, once a safe and fertile field for politicians to reap votes, is no longer seen as a solid block with homogeneous issues.  Christianity itself has splintered into hundreds and hundreds of denominations, each with their own views on a myriad of political and societal issues, and two other religious groups, Jews and Muslims, as well as atheists, also serve to counterbalance any political stance that Christianity might be able to effect.  Add to that the emergence of the most liberal Pope in history, and the "sacredness" of Christianity as a voting block is further diminished.

So, back to the question posed by the reader, if the elderly, idealized families, and Christianity are no longer "sacred" to our self-serving politicians, are there any groups left to which almost all politicians genuflect?

I propose that the American political system has one sacred cow left in the barn - and it's a hoary and extremely dangerous old beast, one that roars in fiery indignation with only the most infinitesimal of provocations - a beast that could ravage and kill a political career with the ease and nonchalance of swatting a fly.

The most sacred political cow currently chewing everybody's cud in America is the gun lobby - and in particular the systemically insane National Rifle Association.  The NRA has, over recent years, pushed a crazy quilt of legislation nationwide to arm more and more people and to allow those people to carry guns into almost all public venues - except, of course, for the NRA national offices.  (What's safe in your local churches and taverns would be an unacceptable risk within range of Wayne LaPierre or Ted Nugent.)  Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives did the NRA's bidding once again and passed a measure which would allow "mentally incapacitated" veterans to buy guns -  a situation which will ultimately lead to more veteran violence and suicides.  But, hey, if the NRA wants it, what choice does a political weasel have?

The National Rifle Association strong-arms legislation that results in the bloody deaths of thousands of Americans every year, including innocent little children.  It is an organization that creates mayhem and carnage, and then convinces stupid people that the way to avoid becoming a victim of the NRA's loose gun policies is to arm themselves with even more guns.

The NRA is not about protecting anyone - the NRA is about selling guns.

The NRA is despicable, and to sleazeball politicians it is very, very sacred.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Working on My Third Billion

by Pa Rock
Rock of Ages

I subscribe to a free e-newsletter entitled "What I Learned About Today" which showcases interesting information that might prove to be of value should I ever make it onto Jeopardy.  Today's focus article concerned ways that humans can get a grasp on the actual size of really big numbers:  millions, billions, and trillions.  A million, for instance, was presented as seconds where a million seconds equaled roughly eleven-and-a-half days - and a million pennies stacked one atop another would form a column nearly a mile high.  Most days I walk four to five miles, so I can readily see that four to five million pennies would be a mess of coinage.

A billion, being a thousand millions, is even more challenging to comprehend.  A billion seconds amounts to thirty-one-and-a-half years, meaning old Pa Rock has completed two billion seconds on this relentlessly spinning mud ball and is now working on his third billion.  A billion pennies stacked up neatly in a single column would top out at almost 870 miles in height.  (Nobody sneeze!)  The entire population of the world is currently estimated to be 7.5 billion.

One thousand billions make a trillion.  That means if every man, woman, and child on the planet took off their shoes (for those fortunate enough to have shoes) and counted all of their digits, including fingers and toes, one by one, the total would be a paltry 150 billion, far less than even one trillion.  One trillion seconds would eat up almost 31,000 years, and one trillion very carefully stacked pennies would be about 870,000 miles high, or the equivalent of a trip to the moon and back to the earth and up to the moon a second time.

Trump says that he wants to pour one trillion dollars into improving our nation's infrastructure over the next decade - that would be in addition to the two-and-one half trillion dollars already budgeted for infrastructure improvements over the next ten years.

A segment on NPR this morning looked at what that would actually look like when the rubber hit the road, so to speak.  A mile of highway in an urban area costs eight to ten million dollars to construct, and somewhat less in rural areas.  NPR postulated that the Trump budget for infrastructure could rebuild all of the nation's roads, with some left over.  Trump, however, is boasting of updating roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, and hospitals.  The NPR piece quickly showed that would not happen with a paltry trillion dollar increase in spending.  An airport alone can run six to eight billion, and an additional three subway stops in New York City would cost at least four-and-a-half billion.  The NPR segment concluded that necessary infrastructure improvements in New York City alone would total one hundred billion dollars a year.

Clearly Donald Trump will not be able to get all he wants with his trillion dollar infrastructure investment.

So, when it comes to pennies, a trillion dollars is yuuuge - but with infrastructure, not so much!

And through it all Pa Rock keeps on a-tickin':  2,187,946,878 - 2,187,946,879 - 2,187,946,880 . . .

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Seven Hated Groups

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Joe Barton, a conservative Republican from Texas, recently did something that most Republican congress critters seem to be actively trying to avoid.  Barton held a town hall with his constituents.

Joe Barton, who once famously apologized to British Petroleum (BP) for U.S. government inquiries into its business practices after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, held a public forum in the very small community of Frost, Texas, more than a hour away from his district's metropolitan center of Arlington.   A skeptic might suppose that Barton wanted to make attendance as difficult as possible, especially for his urban voters.

But it was a town hall, nonetheless - and it was very well attended in spite of the hard-to-get-to location.  One woman at the meeting had the temerity to ask Barton why he had voted against the "Violence Against Women" act, and he fired back that he felt it was a state's rights issue and needed to be resolved by the enlightened denizens of the Texas state legislature.  When a man in the audience began debating that point, the open-minded Barton told him in no uncertain terms to "shut up!"

Nice one, Joe.  Maybe you don't need to be operating out in public after all.

After reading about that town hall and the congressman's testy exchange with a citizen who attended the event, I went on to read the public comments that were attached to the article.  Several people focused on the "state's rights" issue, with most noting that conservatives preferred funneling social issues back to the states where they better hold the line of old belief systems - things like voting rights and the rights of particular groups of individuals (such as women) would have a tougher time reaching the standards of the enlightened world if they had to deal with cantankerous and small-minded state legislators.  Some readers pointed out, however, that there were some things that conservatives do not want to be handled by the states - such as marijuana legislation.

In the midst of this discourse on why conservatives preferred certain things to legislated by the states, one reader commented in passing on "the seven hated groups," without any clarification.  A later reader picked up on that and opined that he suspected the "seven hated groups" were:  African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, immigrants, atheists, and liberals.  Still later another commentator stated that she was writing a book on state's rights and she felt the seven groups were:  the not-male, the not-Christian, the not-well-to-do, the not-heterosexual, the not-native-born, the not-white, and the disabled.

That set me to exploring some of the uglier areas of the Internet in search of the alt right's definitive list of the seven hated groups, if indeed, any such list existed.    A cursory examination of the cesspool of extremism revealed that while hate exists in abundance, a codification of targets into a simple list of seven does not seem to be in evidence.

Perhaps Bannon and Kellyanne are working to remedy that on their weekly flights back and forth to Florida.  They do represent a President who, along with his father, built a rental empire through various schemes to avoid renting to blacks, promised to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and bragged about being a sexual predator toward women.

But there was no definitive list of seven, per se - so here is my suggestion based on the actions of the current President and his advisers, the Congress, and the attitudes of rural America - as I perceive them.   These, in no particular order, are the people most easily vilified and taken advantage of by unscrupulous politicians: 

Women, the LGBT community, non-Caucasians, immigrants (including resident Hispanics), non-Christians, the poor, and the disabled.
Each of those groups represent a unique strength in our society, but politicians use them to stir old hatreds and divide us for their political advantage.   May the day soon dawn when we will be able to see past the political manipulations and embrace the concept of an all-inclusive America.  As one we will be beautiful.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

For Steve King, Hate Is Where the Heart Is

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When America took a sharp right turn last November and elected an inexperienced blowhard to the presidency, the country was, in fact, taking its place in what appears to be an international shift toward extreme right-wing ideology.  One of the more prominent characters in that movement is Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who is building a campaign to become the political leader of the Netherlands on a platform of vilifying immigrants, particularly Muslims. 

Sound familiar?

Over the past weekend one of America's most controversial congressmen, Steve King of Iowa, felt the need to tweet support for Wilders, and, in turn, picked the scab off of one of our country's longest festering wounds - racism.

The Iowa congressman got everyone's attention with this little gem of a tweet:

"Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

Later in defending his controversial remark, King got into even more hot water when he said that we must increase our birth rate to protect Western values.

King's remarks received positive reviews from some not-surprising sources.  Swanson Foods heir and Fox News correspondent, Tucker Carlson, opined on his television program "Everything he said is defensible and probably right."  Former KKK "grand wizard" David Duke was downright jubilant in his tweet rejoinder.  Duke roared, "GOD BLESS STEVE KING!!!"

Others, however, were a bit more critical of the congressman's incendiary remarks.  Congressman John Lewis, a veteran of civil rights struggles going back more than half-a-century, called King's comments "bigoted and racist."   Former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, and Jeff Kauffman, the chairman of Iowa's GOP,  both noted that America was founded by immigrants and that diversity is a strength.  And journalist Tom Brokaw, an activist for military veterans, tweeted this:

"Somebody else's babies are in US mil uniforms and in harm's way.  Volunteers to protect America.  Cong King, please!"
But Steve King is known for being controversial, and he is loathe to back down. 

In addition to being strongly anti-immigarnt, Congressman King is also vocally opposed to gay rights and gay marriage, is very pro-gun, and is opposed to affirmative action programs.  He has a 100 percent rating by anti-abortion groups due to his zealous stances to force women to carry pregnancies to full-term regardless of medical or social circumstances, and a zero rating by the American Humane Society as a result of his positions defending the "sport" of forced fighting of animals and the treatment of animals at food-processing plants.   And, not surprisingly, he is pro-lobbyist, saying that those influence-seekers provide Congress with lots of valuable information.

Remember Congressman King, from the perspective of Sacagawea, Pocahontas, Squanto, Cochise, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Wilma Mankiller - you are a result of other people's babies.   Open your heart, sir, and accept that we are all other people's babies, brothers and sisters in humanity, and we all should be welcome to enjoy the blessings of the earth, free of fear, and able to pursue our dreams. 

Anything less is just plain ugly.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "Sleeping Rough"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Dear Donald John,

I had an interesting experience yesterday, one that I would like to share with you.

The weather outside was chilly, and I was busy in the kitchen getting things organized for the evening meal when I thought that I heard someone knocking at the front door.  It was a light tap, so quiet that it didn't set my two big-talking house dogs to barking.  Because the dogs didn't respond, I chalked the taps up to my imagination and went on with the meal preparation.  Then it happened again, still very quiet - and still the dogs did not respond.  I got to the front door just in time to see a young man with a backpack turning and walking away.

The fellow stopped and turned as I pushed my way past the suddenly loud and protective canines.  He said that he was sorry to bother me but was hoping to borrow the use of my phone so he could call someone for a ride.  When I asked where he was headed, he said downtown in the vicinity of the library - a distance of about three miles.  It was, I suspected, an oblique way of asking me for a ride.   When I told him to meet me around back at the car, he added that he would be very appreciative of a glass of water also.

I suspect that every community in America harbors homeless individuals, though they aren't overly obvious in West Plains, Missouri.  I wanted to use the ride to town to learn a little about life beyond my comfort zone.

My passenger (I'll call him "Dale") told me that he was twenty-nine-years-old, was originally from central Missouri, and had lived in the West Plains area for three years.  Dale said that after his father had died, he came to West Plains to live and work with an uncle.  He said that things went along okay until the uncle died and the Dale suddenly found himself out of work and homeless.  During Dale's time in this area he met a girl (I'll call her "Sue") and they fell in love.   Sue, too, lived with an uncle, and that uncle would not let Dale stay with them.

I asked Dale where he had slept the previous night, and he said that he had a sleeping bag in his backpack, and that he had slept in a field about two miles north of my house.

When we got to town I bought Dale a burger and fries, though he had not asked me to - but he seemed appreciative.  He dug into the fries and saved the burger for later.  I figured it would be his supper.  We got to the library and found it closed.  Dale had wanted to go there to access the free wi-fi for his phone, undoubtedly so he could contact Sue, so we went on down the road to the Civic Center which was open and also had free wi-fi.  As we pulled into a parking space, Dale, who had constantly been scanning his surroundings, became very animated and said excitedly, "There's Sue!"

A young lady, also in her twenties, was sitting outside of the front door leaning on her backpack.  Dale quickly thanked me for the ride and rushed forward to join his girl.    I drove off as the young lovers were embracing.  They were together again, at least for an afternoon, and they had a warm burger to share.  They could enjoy a bit of respite before again focusing on how to survive the night.

Homelessness in America is a real problem, Donald John.  Not everyone had the good fortune to have been born on the sunny side of Easy Street, like you, and many find that is almost impossible to pull free from the flypaper of poverty.

Yet they persist.  America's poorest of the poor sleep in fields, and alleyways, and in dumpsters, and doorways, and over subway grates, and on park benches - while America turns her face away and pretends not to see.  But they are there, sleeping rough, and desperately trying to survive one more night in a world that shuns and ignores them.

A "great" nation would be as concerned with the least of her people as she is with the wealthiest.  A "great" nation would insure that everyone has access to health care, education, nutritious meals, and a safe place to sleep.  Anything less is just a patchwork of privilege.

If you really want to make America great - then do it, but don't fall into the trap of thinking that what is great for you personally is great for everybody - because it isn't.   There's a blizzard warning today for the northeastern United States.  You can escape the snow by flying off to Florida, but for thousands and thousands of your fellow citizens (including many children) there will be no escape from the rigors of winter - other than death.

Man-up, Donald John.  Look around and see who is actually living on the streets of America, and then be their President, too.

Most Sincerely,

Pa Rock


Sleeping Rough
by Graham Leese


Mud begins to grow
Its skin again; the pools
Of silver reflection
Collecting like the dead
Leaf freckles on her snow
White skin.

Frost bites at her eyes like rain
From a summer storm- viewed
High from a weathered mountain.
Frailty trapped inside glass pupils,
Lies entangled in a poisoned glade.

Looking through her broken breath,
Recycled like the oppressively
Clean cuts of calm; you can just
Make out the faint sound of sirens-
A few streets away.

Drifting through the 6am desolation;
Beside cats waking from underneath cars
And rust ridden birds feeding their young
She walks a crisp and void trail,
The December air slicing her faded cheeks.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sarah Palin Utters Something Less than Stupid

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's sort of like the old saw which suggests that if a dozen monkeys were locked in a room filled with typewriters, sooner or later one would type the great American novel.  Well, Sarah Palin will obviously never write the great American novel - on a typewriter, keyboard, or a Big Chief tablet - at least not without a well-paid ghostwriter, but if she continues to spew words the way Kilauea spews lava, she eventually might utter something that makes sense.  And while I am loathe to admit it, that may have already happened.

Last week the former half-term governor of Alaska gave an interview to Breitbart News on the subject of the GOP-planned replacement to Obamacare.  Sarah, who once regaled friends with stories of how her parents used to bundle the family up and "sneak" into Canada to take advantage of that country's free health care, regards the new plans by Republicans as "socialism," an evil she can no longer tolerate.  She is all about repealing Obamacare, but then if those newly uninsured people still want to have their illnesses and injuries treated by medical professionals, let them sneak across the border like her folks did and lie about their nationality. 

Either that, or die.

In the middle of Palin's tirade with Breitbart, however, her mind began to wander.  She noted that people who gave up their insurance and then tried to re-enroll later would have to pay a 30% penalty.  She believes that under the proposed plan only certain companies would get to collect and keep that 30% bonus, and that those companies would be chosen by "politicians," who would make those selections on the basis of which companies had lobbied them the mo$t effectively.

Then Palin, who seemed to be forgetting that she herself is a politician, started lamenting the way corporations invest in politicians, and she proffered that politicians should have to advertise the names of those to whom they are beholden.  Or, as Sarah put it:

“It would be really helpful if every single one of these politicians would do like the NASCAR drivers do ... let them wear their sponsors [the names of their contributors] plastered all over their three-piece suits ... so we know what side they’re on and who they’re actually doing their bidding for."

Ooh, somebody is sounding like a cranky, old populist - and this cranky, old populist likes it - you betcha he does!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Pistol Packin' Mama

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

An incident at an elementary school drop-off point yesterday in Deer Park, Texas, resulted in police being summoned.  Things started to get dangerous when one upset mother tapped on the car window of another mother and proceeded to complain about the woman's driving in the school zone.  The angry parent said that the other woman, who was still in her car, had been speeding and had nearly hit her.  The woman in the car reacted by pulling a gun, pointing it at the woman who was confronting her, and telling her to back off.  An on-looker called 911, and the police, finding no blood on the pavement, arrested no one.  Just another day in Texas.

Both women had their children in their cars at the time of the incident, and other children were frolicking about in the immediate vicinity.

The principal, feeling the need to address the matter in some way, sent a letter home with all of her students that evening telling parents about the incident and encouraging them to behave like responsible grown-ups and be good role models for their children.  What the principal did not say in her letter was "Leave the damned guns at home!"  If she had added that postscript, her school board would have met before the sun set that evening, and the principal would have been fired.

It's regrettable to endanger the lives of innocent children, and their parents, and underpaid educators, but interfering with someone's god-given right to bear arms and stand their ground, even while sitting, is as blasphemous as it is seditious.

It is legal in Texas to carry concealed weapons (with a permit) almost anywhere, and to use that weapon to "stand your ground" in the event a person feels threatened.  Of course, what is considered to be a threat is almost entirely in the eye of the beholder. 

One old coot in Florida who shot sand killed a man in a movie theatre is claiming to have stood his ground because he felt threatened when the other guy threw popcorn and a cellphone at him.  The judge isn't buying that one, and the National Rifle Association is once again pushing new laws in the state legislatures that would help bring the judicial process under control - in the NRA's favor, of course.  The new laws require prosecutors to prove that those claiming stand-your-ground status did not feel threatened.  That's right.  The shooters no longer have to prove that they felt threatened, now prosecutors, if they want to convict those crazy buggers, must prove that they DID NOT feel threatened.

It's easy to poke fun at Texans because generally they trail most of the nation in common sense, but sadly, for me at least, Missouri's gun laws are even worse.  Our state legislators, the vast majority of which are so dumb as to suggest they could have been educated in Texas,  have recently enacted a stand-your-ground law - as well as a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons almost anywhere - with NO training or permit required.  Consequently, Missouri's stupider and more paranoid citizens are all proudly packing.

And it's all in the name of safety - you bet it is.  There is one place in our well armed and almost completely unregulated society, however, where guns are absolutely forbidden - and that is at the headquarters of the National Rifle Association!

What a bunch of stinking hypocrites!  Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent deserve each other, but the rest of America deserves better!

Friday, March 10, 2017

On the Road Again with Rosie

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

Rosie and I are on our second road trip in less than a week.  Last weekend we headed out to Kansas City, and today saw us traipsing through southwest Missouri and and on to northwest Arkansas.  The primary purpose of today's trip was to deliver my income tax information to the lady who has prepared my taxes for the past forty years. 

Before getting to the tax lady's office, which is in rural Jane, Missouri, in a remodeled chicken house, we stopped in my home town of Noel and had a nice visit with one old and dear friend, before heading off to see another old friend whom we took to lunch.  We also had brief visits with two other acquaintances from the past that we just happened to run into.

This evening we are at my sister's home in Fayetteville, home of the main campus of the University of Arkansas and the Razorbacks - woo, pig, suey!  Friday afternoon traffic from Bentonville to Springdale to Fayetteville was horrendous.  There isn't enough money in this entire state to lure me to live here!  I noticed a few things while navigating the traffic snarl and observing my fellow travelers - most of the drivers were millennials and they had very nice cars in which to sit motionless on the highway.  One other observation was that many of the road warriors were of alone in their vehicles.  Arkansas is proud to be a very redneck state that does not condone any socialist beliefs or projects - like public transportation.  

Of course, the notion of city buses and even trams might gain public acceptance if they promised to allow passengers to carry firearms and open alcohol containers.  Social norms here are strong.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Paul Ryan, Class Warrior

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Some Americans who were fortunate enough to have been born on the moneyed side of America's great economic chasm are nevertheless able to harbor some empathy for those who were not as lucky in life's initial lottery.  There are, in this country, some angels with means who spend their lives looking for ways to lift others out of the wretchedness of poverty.  House Speaker Paul Ryan, alas, is not one of those good souls.

Ryan, the son of a physician, never took his economic comfort for granted.  As a rising star among Republican politicians, his focus has always been on taking care of the privileged while constatnly being on the lookout for ways to increase the class divide and insure that America's poor stay that way.

An opinion piece in today's New York Times by columnist David Leonhardt illuminates the fact that there will be a great deal of savings to the government in the new health care bill that is largely the handiwork of Ryan and his minions.  The money will be generated by higher premium costs to individuals between the ages of sixty and sixty-four, a lowering of services to certain categories of patients including disabled people, hepatitis patients, and opioid addicts - and, of course, the elimination of many low income families from the program who would be unable to afford coverage without government supplements.

That would be a tidy bundle of "savings," and it would achieve a major part of Ryan's real agenda by screwing the infirm and the poor.   But a true class warrior like Paul Ryan wants more than just sticking it to the poor.  He also wants to reward the rich for . . . well . . . for being rich.  Ryan's greedy-assed "health care" scheme would reinvest those savings into America by doling them out as tax breaks to households making over $700,000 a year - and most would go to households making millions of dollars per year.

Why with savings like that, the DeVos family alone would be able to bring in an additional stable of politicians to do their bidding, and Trump could open another university to take advantage of educate the breeze-brains who graduated from Betsy's school choice programs.  It's a win, win, win - with all of God's true children making money.  Thank you, Paul Ryan.

David Leonardt said in his column today that a reporter had asked Paul Ryan at a press conference why the new medical plan would cut taxes for the rich.  Ryan's response, according to Leonhardt, was to laugh, wave the question away, and tell the reported to read the bill - or, as the columnist so succinctly put it, Ryan "can't defend the tax cut."

Yeah, that would be a tough one alright.  Explaining how giving a tax break to the rich does anything to alleviate America's burgeoning medical crisis.

Paul Ryan's new plan to address America's health care crisis while lining the pockets of people who don't need the money is opposed by AARP, the American Medical Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and a host of hospital organizations and associations.   But hey, those groups can't possibly know as much about health care reform as a room full of greedy politicians - right?

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump do not speak for America - they speak for themselves and their friends.  This is class warfare at its ugliest, and right now the good guys are battling for their very lives - and they are about to do it without insurance.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Unasked Questions

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Republicans have released their much anticipated and ballyhooed Obamacare "repeal and replace" plan, and, as feared, it is almost all "repeal" with damned little in the way of "replace."  The GOP, being the party of greed and avarice, has crafted a bill which basically tells America's poor to just crawl off somewhere and die.

The plan keeps in place two of the extremely popular provisions of Obamacare - allowing people with pre-existing conditions to buy insurance and letting people keep their adult children on their insurance plans until those young adults reach the age of twenty-six.    Beyond that, however, it completely eviscerates the system currently in place.  Now individuals who don't have insurance through their employment will have to buy it on the open market at whatever the "competitive" rate is, and then save their receipts so that they can get a tax credit of two-to-four thousand dollars at the end of the year - an amount that is unlikely to cover the cost of most insurance policies.

Who among us really believe that insurance companies "compete" with one another on their rates?

National Public Radio (NPR) has had two Republican congressmen on its morning program over the past two days to give their takes on the new plan.  Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia, the man who ended the political career of Eric Cantor, is opposed to the new plan because he sees it as a continuing government entitlement.  He wanted a complete repeal with no efforts at replacement.  He is also opposed to the federal government funding Medicaid expansion, saying that if the states want an expanded Medicaid they should fund it themselves.  In his blistering tirade, which was at times little more that loud gibberish, Congressman Brat also managed to air his belief that both Medicare and Social Security are insolvent.   Any guesses as to what he will be focusing on in the future?

Congressman Buddy Carter of Georgia also spoke with NPR.  Unlike Brat, he did not get loud and talk in circles, but he did extol the virtues of a "free market" system of insurance saying that it would better serve customers in the end.  The problems with that are:  1. insurance companies have never been models of competitiveness and thus torpedo the notion of a "free" market, 2. many individuals cannot afford to shop based on the lure of future tax credits, and 3. tax credits of only two-to-four thousand dollars are unlikely to cover the cost of adequate insurance.

Neither congressman was asked about the impact that the elimination of Obamacare would have on struggling hospitals as people once again begin lining up to be treated in emergency rooms - and in particular the impact that repealing Obamacare will have on rural hospitals where much of their customer base is funded by government subsidized programs.

And . . .

Neither congressman was asked if he would be willing to give up his own government-funded healthcare in return for a tax credit.

And therein lies the rub.

Do unto others, congressmen, as you would have others do unto you.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Arkansas Deadline

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I suspect that most governors get a bit of personal satisfaction from signing death warrants for condemned prisoners.  Taking responsibility for ending the life of another human being, in a perfectly legal manner, adds a bit of machismo to a perennial candidate's political cachet.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is a case in point.  The Republican, who is a Bob Jones University graduate, has been in office two years but has yet to preside over the execution of a single individual.  In fact, career politicians in Arkansas have not had their blood lust sated since the state's last execution, way back in the dark ages of 2005.  Since then the state's death row has been suffering a human clog as legal challenges and difficulty in obtaining the proper drugs to snuff a life have snarled the process.

But those problems have now been surmounted, at least temporarily, and Governor Hutchinson has his sweaty little palm on the pen ready to begin signing death warrants with wild abandon.

However, there is another problem on the horizon.  The state uses a three-drug cocktail to exterminate prisoners.   The state's supply of Midazolam, one of the drugs used in the cocktail,  is set to expire at the end of April, and the state is unsure if it will be able to find more of that drug or a suitable replacement.  Midazolam has been at the center of some botched and very gruesome lethal injection scandals in other states.   There are eight prisoners who have exhausted their appeals and are awaiting death at the hands of the state, and Arkansas is loathe to wait any longer.

To get the job done, the state of Arkansas is planning to execute the eight in an orgasmic ten-day span during the month of April.  Governor Hutchinson says that he wishes the deaths could be spread out over a longer and more suitable period of time, but he has to work with what he's got.  So get those gurney's lined up and start them rolling because the great state of Arkansas has a deadline to meet!

(A few family notes:  Governor Hutchinson is a former congressman from Arkansas (one who helped make the presentation to the Senate during the Clinton impeachment process) and the Administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration during the presidency of George W. Bush.  He is the younger brother of Tim Hutchinson, a former congressman and one-term U.S. Senator from Arkansas and another graduate of Bob Jones University.   Asa and Tim are both natives of Bentonville, the home of Walmart and the Walton family.  Tim has a pair of identical twin sons currently serving in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Another Arkansas politician also made national news this week.  State Representative Kim Hendren of Gravette, a neighboring community to Bentonville,  introduced legislation in the Arkansas House that would ban the teaching of any books by Howard Zinn in all Arkansas public schools.  Zinn, a revisionist historian, relates tales of American history from the perspective of ordinary and oppressed peoples, points of view sometimes at odds with more traditional narratives.  Hendren, a seventy-eight-year-old car dealer, is married to Asa and Tim's sister.  

All politics remain local, particularly in Arkansas!)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Monday's Poetry: Art Garfunkel's 70th Birthday Poem for Paul Simon

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Okay, I promise that this will be my final post dealing with Simon and Garfunkel, at least for the time being, and tomorrow I shall return to the more tedious, but necessary, business of trashing Trump.  However, for today at least, bear with me.

Art Garfunkel read several pieces of his own poetry at the concert in Kansas City this past Saturday evening - each piece carefully written on a number 10 white envelope.  One longer poem stretched across both sides of an envelope.   Garfunkel did not, however, share the poem which follows, a piece he wrote and then read to Paul Simon at his 70th birthday fete.   A summary of the event posted on the Internet said that he read it from the far side of the room and did not make eye contact with his former partner during the recitation.

But, separated by a room full of revelers or not, this poem speaks very clearly to the closeness of this duo who will forever be linked in life and song.


70th Birthday Poem for Paul Simon
by Art Garfunkel

He was enigmatic to himself.
Which of us was more aware?
Which the elder?
I was born November fifth.
He on October 13th - a few weeks premature, you following me?
He was born three weeks before me, my dear,
But he was a premature baby.
Were we both conceived at the same instant?
February 5th 1941, the dead middle of winter,
In the heart of World War Two
Was I born at the right time?
For 70 years his arm has been around my shoulder,
He's dazzled me with gifts.
I nurtured him in his youth.
He brought me into prominence.
I taught him to sing.
He connected my voice to the world.
I made him tall.
All of our personal belongings are intertwined.
We say it's exhausting to compete,
But we shine for each other.
It's still our favourite game.
It goes on, this embrace, whether I speak for him or he for me:
Love ruled our lives.
It rules the mourners,
And the winter of longevity.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Art Garfunkel Does KC

by Pa Rock
Too Hip to Trip

The Art Garfunklel show came to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City yesterday evening, giving this fan and perhaps as many at fifteen hundred others the chance to relive a bit of their youth.  It was a grand performance that rolled back the years to the time that I was busy acquiring social skills and a lifetime of bad habits in college.  A time it was, oh what a time it was. . .

First, a few words about the Kauffman Center, Kansas City's premier performing ats facility.  From the outside it bears a resemblance to the iconic Sydney Opera House, something that Art Garfunkel, a Brooklynite, noted during his performance.  He commented on the quality sound of the threatre in which he was performing, saying that perhaps the only venues he has performed in where the sound was better were the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall in London.

I had always wanted to tour the Kauffman, and last night provided me with that opportunity.  The theatre where Art Garfunkel performed was an elaborate affair with four sections of floor seating and multiple balconies, but it was obviously not the facility's main hall.  There were a number of people headed to the other end of the building in more formal attire than the Kansas City Power and Light District tee-shirt, blue jeans, and sandals that I was wearing!  I presumed there was opera in the air.  They were undoubtedly heading to the main stage.

Last night's show that us more common types attended was a bit on the minimalist side, much like the original duo of Simon and Garfunkel who captured the hearts of America's youth with their unique and highly poetic songs back in the sixties.  There were no pyrotechnics and dancing lights to distract from the simple, elegant music.  The vocalist, Art Garfunkel, is an older gentleman now who is teetering on elderly - age seventy-five!  He said that he had a voice issue in 2010 that left him unable to sing for over a year, and his recovery has been a slow process.  The voice is still distinctive and lovely, but its power has diminished considerably.

But damn, it was still Art Garfunkel - and Pa Rock was sitting third row, dead-bang center, close enough to the legend to have counted the fillings in his teeth or held his microphone!

Back-up consisted of two individuals -  a fellow from Nashville, closer to the singer's age than not, who played guitar, and a young man who could not have been out of his twenties on keyboards.  Garfunkel described the keyboardist as the "best piano player" that he had ever worked with - and the lad was amazing!  The guitar picker wasn't too shabby either.

The evening began with a beautiful rendition of "April Come She Will" and progressed through many songs of Simon and Garfunkel, including most of the ones that a reasonable person would murder to hear performed live by either member of the duo - "Sounds of Silence," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Homeward Bound," "Mrs. Robinson," and "Scarborough Fair," to name but a few - as well as solo songs by Garfunkel and other noted artists and friends of his such as James Taylor and the Everly Brothers.  At one point Garfunkel said that James Taylor should be President, and the crowd boisterously agreed.

A nice part of the evening focused on Garfunkel reading some of his own poetry (he is, of course, a very introspective guy), and commenting on various aspects of his life.  The vocalist is a great walker who has strode across Japan,  the United States, and a big chunk of Europe.  He told about an evening when he was walking across Pennsylvania and came upon some cows grazing on a hillside.  He said that he stood there staring and began to sing - and the cows gathered around to listen.  Say what you will about Pennsylvania cows, but they are not stupid.

There were lots of asides about the early days with Paul Simon, and it was obvious that they are still great friends.

He also told  an hilarious tale involved with the filming of the movie, Carnal Knowledge.  He and Jack Nicholson walked into the bedroom of the character played by Candice Bergen, who was asleep.  Jack became upset because Bergen's character was "always asleep," not realizing that she was slipping into a coma.  Nicholson's role called for him to quickly escalate from zero to furious, but each time he hit the zenith of his rage, the director, the late Mike Nichols,  called "cut" and made him start over.  That went on for several takes, and Nicholson, the consummate professional, always came through.  Garfunkel said that he asked him later about the difficulty of doing that scene over and over, and Nicholson replied simply - "I'm an actor, that's what I do."

Art Garfunkel, who had begun the show by saying, "I can't believe I'm still doing this," added later in the show that he is still doing it because he is a singer and that what he does.

And he does it so well!

Did I mention that I was on the third row, dead-bang center?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Me and Garfunkel

by Pa Rock
Culture Vulture

Rosie and I are in Kansas City, our first trip up to see the Roeland Park Macys since just before Christmas.  It's a beautiful weekend and we are enjoying playing with Sully and Olive.  Both of the kids are growing faster than the weeds at Rock's Roost!

My birthday is later this month, and yesterday Olive was very excited to give me a card.  Enclosed with the birthday greeting was a ticket to see Art Garfunkel tonight at the Kauffman Center here in Kansas City!

That's right - Pa Rock is going to see one of the premier poets, songwriters, and singers of the twentieth century, the fellow who helped to write and sing the soundtrack to the only movie that I ever paid to see twice!  Me and Garfunkel will be at the Kauffman Center tonight!

Alexa, play some Simon and Garfunkel!

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Several years ago some clever Republicans started putting up billboards with a picture of former President George W. Bush along with the caption, "Miss Me Yet?"  They were certain in their own minds that true Americans had had enough of Obama's social engineering and were ready to return to the good old days of deaf autocrats and never-ending war.  But they misjudged America's infatuation with basic decency, and the Bush billboards quietly disappeared from the landscape.

But time, as they say, heals all wounds - or, in some cases, wounds all heels - and public perceptions slowly began to change.

The election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency seems to have been the catalyst that brought George W. Bush out of the quiet solitude that he had cultivated in retirement and back into the public view.  Over the past few weeks he has made several critical pronouncements regarding Number 45 that have been widely reported in the news.  He has spoken out against Trump's impulsive war on undocumented immigrants and his questionable interactions with Russia - noting that America needs answers to questions about Trump's ties to the Putin regime.   And to frost the cake of criticism, Bush commented that he does not like racism and name-calling - two pillars of the new administration.

Today there were stories in the press telling of George W. Bush's "affection" for Michelle Obama.  Come on, America, how can we not love a guy who is fond of Michelle - after eight years of Rush Limbaugh and every other Republican troll calling her everything from uppity to fat to militant?

Although I was never a fan of the politics and policies of George W. Bush, an affable soul who managed to get elected to a position that was well beyond his ability to perform,  I do feel some compassion for him.  Bush, even in the best of circumstances, was mortally crippled by a tragic mistake in his choice of a Vice-President and was never able to overcome the  dark power and control of Dick Cheney. 

America grievously misunderestimated George W. Bush.   He was and is, at his core, is a decent human being.

Donald John Trump fails that test - bigly!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Trump Stink Spreads to Sessions

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Like London's famous fog or the smog enveloping Beijing, the stink hovering around the Trump administration shows no sign of dissipating any time soon.  In fact, if anything, it's getting worse and may soon trigger an increase in gas mask sales in and around our nation's capital.

Last night the story broke that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who's been busy hampering on-going justice department investigations into suspected voting rights abuses and hinting at a renewed war on marijuana, was suddenly back on the political griddle himself for lying to Congress during his confirmation hearing.  The ambitious politician, in response to a question from Senator Al Franken as to what he would do if he found out that members of the Trump campaign team had been in contact with the Russians during the campaign, answered boldly and said that some had considered him to have been a surrogate to the Trump campaign and added, "I did not have communications with the Russians."

The surprised Senator Franken said later that he had just been fishing for a promise from Sessions that he would recuse himself from the investigation if he learned that officials in the campaign had been in contact with the Russians - but the garrulous then-senator Sessions had gone beyond that and declared flatly that he personally had had no contact with the Russians.

Except, as we now know, he met twice in 2016 with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.  One of those meetings even occurred in Sessions' office in the Capitol.  An article by Tom Lister at today's CNN.com notes that Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States for the past nine years, is described by "current and former U.S. intelligence officials" as a "top spy and recruiter of spies."

Attorney General Session's office now says that he met with the Russians a couple of times, but he can't remember what they talked about.

Is dementia setting in, Jefferson Beauregard?  Have you considered seeking treatment with medical marijuana?

Coincidentally, it was interactions with Sergey Kislyak that led to General Michael Flynn's firing as National Security Adviser.  Flynn and the wily Russian had been discussing the sanctions that President Obama put in place against Russia - at a time when Flynn and Trump were still private citizens and had no official standing to be dealing with any foreign government, particularly one as averse to the interests of the United States as Russia.

There are currently three on-going investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election - one in the House of Representatives (controlled by Republicans), one in the Senate (controlled by Republicans), and one being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation - and organization which is within the Department of Justice - the department headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Consequently calls for Sessions to, at the very least, recuse himself from the FBI probe, are coming in from every quarter.

Several prominent Republicans are openly suggesting that Jeff Sessions recuse himself from the investigation.    Those stepping forward include Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (the good folks who spent years looking into Benghazi), Rep. Darrell Issa of California, former head of that same oversight committee, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. 

Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, goes further and says it is time for Sessions to resign.

Can you hear that music drifting over from the Capitol, Jefferson Beauregard?  It's the theme from Jaws!

And Donald, you might do well to remember that it took Richard Nixon more than five years to bring this level of stink into Washington, DC, and your team has pulled it off in just under six weeks. That's huuuge!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Enter the Lion

by Pa Rock
Farmer on the Cusp of Spring

I awakened shortly after midnight last night to one of the fiercest windstorms of recent memory and knew that - yes - March was coming in like a lion.  His roars were magnificent and harrowing as the many wind chimes on my front porch - just outside of my bedroom window - clanged in abject pain and sounded as if they were preparing to take flight.  I could only imagine what the dozens of trees that adorn my little farm would look like when daylight finally broke.  The limbs that I had been dragging to the brush piles over the past few unseasonably warm weeks would surely have been replaced with new ones freshly ripped from their host trees.

And if one of the big, glorious pines did not blow over onto my house or car, well, that would be worthy of a visit to church even before Easter.  With Fat Tuesday barely in the rear view, there would even still be time to give something up to repay the kindness of the sudden gale.

My good friend says that he has given up Trump for Lent.  If only it were that easy - I would gladly give up Trump, Pence, Ryan, McConnell, and every other greedy and hateful fecal stain on the beautiful and very diverse fabric of America.

Daylight has come and a quick inventory of the farm suggests that all of the trees withstood the roaring entry of March pretty much in tact.  When I go into town in a couple of hours I will see if my neighbors were as fortunate.  There is still a strong breeze blowing across the hills and hollows.

Much of February was warm and beautiful.  I managed to start getting my garden set up, raked leaves into the fenced-in garden area, lugged some rocks to the rock piles, and grew the brush piles to where they look, from a distance, like thatched English cottages.  The daffodils and narcissus are up and starting to bloom, and many of the tulips are peeking through the thawing ground.  February was so warm that I managed to surpass the 10,000-steps mark on fifteen of the twenty-eight days of the month.  (I had no 10,000 days in December, and only one in January.  Nice weather makes all the difference!)

But, nice Februaries or not, this March roared in like a lion - and one can only hope that it will exit peacefully in a little over four weeks, like a lamb. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Trump Moves to Kill Freedom of the Press

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It used to be that the nation's press was instrumental in getting the President's message out to the public, a situation that called on the Commander-in-Chief to at least behave in a quasi-cordial manner to the ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate.  Good relations with the press could make the President - as it did with Reagan, and an antagonistic press had the ability to destroy - as it did with Nixon.

With the advent of social media, however, the role and strength of the press began to show signs of diminishing.  President Obama was the nation's first chief executive to see the power of connecting directly with the people through venues like Twitter.   But it was Obama's successor, Donald Trump, who turned "tweeting" into his personal discourse with America.   FDR had his "fireside chats," Reagan (and subsequent Presidents) had their Saturday radio addresses, and Trump has his Twitter tantrums.

But Trump, who benefited politically from a raft of fake news that swamped social media in the months preceding the election, quickly adapted and began labeling any story that put him in a bad light as "fake news."  He also came to the realization that he could attack segments of the press and override any negative effects with reliance on right-wing media and his own formidable presence on social media.

CNN was the first news outlet to suffer the ire of the tempestuous Trump for stories that the organization did regarding Trump's ties to Russia.  The blustery politician was roaring that CNN was "fake news" weeks before his inauguration.  Trump's press strategy seemed to quickly become based on selectivity.   Breitbart News, a right-wing sludge-pot, gained what many see as an almost insurmountable advantage when its CEO, Steve Bannon, became Trump's most trusted advisor - and now even has a seat on the National Security Council, while others began suffering indignities - not being called on for questions, and the recurring threat of petulant reprisals like changing the correspondent's seating chart in the press room.

The past week the conflict between the Executive Branch and the White House Press Corps flared up a couple of times.  First, Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press "gaggle," something more informal that a daily press briefing.  Spicer held the event in his office, which was limited in space.  He invited in the press pool which insured that all outlets would have access to what was said, but then he added a few other news outlets to the gaggle - an action which seemed to show a preference for some while excluding others.

Those excluded from Spicer's special briefing included the BBC, Politico, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, and, of course, CNN - among others.  A sense of solidarity quickly developed between the "haves" and the "have nots" when the Associated Press and Time declined their invitations to join Spicer and his select group in support of those who were excluded - and the Wall Street Journal, a Rupert Murdoch publication, said it would not attend any of the exclusive type of events in the future.

The Trump administration was going to pick and choose who to grace with their news.

The following day Trump suddenly announced that he would not be attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, a black-tie event that raises money for charity and also provides a platform where the press and the President take turns roasting and making fun of each other.   Trump, the big narcissist, apparently can't take a joke - even if its for charity.

So the President of the United States is trying to drive a wedge through the press by dividing it - and also by ignoring it - and by calling its product "fake."  He seems to think that in this day and age he can make that work.  News will become whatever Donald Trump says it is, and any criticism of him personally is not only "fake," it is a crime against America.  The press, in Trump's world view, is the enemy of the people.

It's almost surreal.

No, it is surreal.  It would have even shocked Orwell!

Back in the day the axiom was "the man who buys his ink by the barrel always wins."  Donald Trump is betting that those days are over.  If they are, he will have won and America will have lost far more than we ever imagined.

First he came for CNN, next he came for the major dailies, and soon he will come for your Facebook!