Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump's Team of Terribles: Rick Perry

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

In Donald Trump's rush to make sure that he has a fox in charge of every hen house, it almost looks as if he is trying to destroy the federal government, department by department.  The selection of his billionaire campaign donor, Betsy DeVos, for instance, to head the Education Department looks to be a very thinly veiled attempt to destroy public education in America - something that neither Trump and his family, nor DeVos and hers, ever experienced while growing up rich in their bubbles of privilege. And the selection of fast food king, Andy Puzder, a man who opposes the very notion of a minimum wage, as Secretary of Labor is a bold assurance to America's low wage workers that nobody will have their backs in a Trump administration.

Trump also has an incoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development - Ben Carson - who managed to get a fine education through extensive government assistance, but now opposes others who come from modest circumstances having those same advantages.   Carson, who will be over public housing in the United States, is on record as opposing programs which assist and benefit the public - fearing that they foster a sense of dependence.

Trump's pick for Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, is a man who made many of his billions by buying distressed companies and the "restructuring" them.  (Note:  "Restructuring" is a Vulgarian term meaning to sell off assets and lay off workers.)

Then this week came the revelation that Georgia Representative (Dr.) Tom Price, Trump's pick to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, bought shares of a medical device company and then introduced legislation in Congress to benefit that company.  With the actions of Dr. Price, there wasn't even a pretense of operating in an ethical manner.

All in all, Trump seems more focused on disabling federal agencies than he is in running them.  One can almost envision some evil power lurking behind Trump's throne and pulling strings to dismantle the nation from the inside.  But who could that evil power possibly be?

No discussion of shameless cabinet-level spawn would be complete, however, without at least a mention of the most obvious department-destroyer on Trump's Team of Terribles:  Rick Perry, the nominee to head the Energy Department - our supposed watchdog over energy responsibility, conservancy, and usage in the United States.  Perry, a former multi-term governor of Texas, is known to be a close ally of Big Oil.  He has benefited from their political largess through cash donations to his campaigns - to the tune of millions of dollars - and he has been a continual foe of laws aimed at limiting pollution from energy producers.  Perry is also a staunch denier of climate science.

With Rick Perry in charge of the Energy Department, we are no longer dealing with a charade.  An Energy Department run by Rick Perry will quickly become a government agency under the complete control of the industry it was intended to regulate.

Many of Donald Trump's cabinet selections are god-awful, but Rick Perry has to be the god-awfullest of them all - and getting ahead of Betsy DeVos in that line is really saying something!  The United States Senate must not approve Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy.  His ascension to that post will divert American fuels to overseas ports, raise energy prices here at home, and maximize profits for companies and individuals who already control obscene amounts of our national treasure.  Rick Perry may be a great selection for Exxon and BP, but he will be a disaster for those of us who have to pull in at the pump several times a week.

The only thing more absurd than Rick Perry trying to run the Energy Department would be naming some American oligarch, like the CEO of Exxon, for instance, to be Secretary of State.  Oh, wait . . . on, hell!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "'Hope" Is a Thing with Feathers"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee may have both been "from" Hope (Arkansas), but it was Barack Obama who so skillfully weaved the promise of hope into the social fabric of America.   With the imminent ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency at the end of this week, many of those whose dreams were given shape and voice by Obama now fear that hope is about to be sucked down one of Trump's golden toilets.

But as Emily Dickinson points out, "Hope" is one tough little bird.  Hang tough, America, and keep hope alive in the sanctuary of the soul.  Trump, too, shall pass.

"Hope" Is a Thing with Feathers
by Emily Dickinson

"Hope" is a thing with feathers - 
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words - 
And never stops - at all - 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land - 
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ringling Brothers Set to Bring Down Its Big Top

by Pa Rock
Kid at Heart

The corporation which owns Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus announced today that the world famous circus troupe will be performing its final thirty shows this spring - and that sometime in May the Big Top would be collapsed for good.  The closing, hailed as a victory by animal rights groups which have long protested the inhumane treatment of animals by "the greatest show on earth," nevertheless represents the end of one of America's most iconic and colorful entertainment venues.

Ringling Brothers began as a family venture in 1884 in Baraboo, Wisconsin, when five of seven brothers started their own circus.  One of the staples of the growing business was animal acts, and particularly the Ringling's world famous elephants.  But tales of cruelty to the big, lovable pachyderms by trainers led to fairly constant protests over the past several years.  The company finally took the elephants off of its travel circuit and paid a fine to the Department of Agriculture over the reputed mistreatment of the animals.  All of that has led to a significant decline in ticket sales - and ultimately to the announcement of the show's closure for good.

In recent years Ringling Brothers has set aside a 200-acre elephant conservation area in rural Florida, a place designed to preserve and enhance the Asian elephant population.

Growing up in relative modest circumstances, my circus experiences were with the small, dirty, traveling varieties that traipsed across the Midwest every summer.  One of my earliest memories is of my mother and I visiting with a man and an elephant inside of a circus tent - probably in or around Goodman, Missouri, in the early 1950's.  It wasn't the actual circus show.  Mom had just taken me into a tent as they were setting up, or tearing down, so that I could see the elephant.

Poor little Rocky never got to go to "the greatest show on earth," the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus - but he did have a close encounter with the traveling spectacle many years later.

There was a period of several years in the late eighties and early nineties when I practiced journalism as a sideline.  Part of that hobby employment was doing freelance work for the Neosho Daily News, and my byline eventually read "McDonald County Correspondent."  As a freelancer, I wasn't housed in the newspaper office but instead brought my articles by as time permitted.  The office was on the edge of Neosho, Missouri, backed-up against a hillside.  Halfway up that hillside was a train track.

One day after dropping off my material, I came out to my car just as a train began to pass behind (and above) the newspaper office.  To my delight, it was the long and highly decorated Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus train!  I stood transfixed for ten minutes or so as the legenday circus train chugged past.   I had stumbled into a storybook experience.  It wasn't until later that I realized that a good journalist would have rushed back into the newspaper office and snagged a photographer.  But I wasn't a journalist, I was a kid - and I was mesmerized!

I am sorry that the circus animals have had to endure neglect and suffering and derogation over the years, and I appreciate that the Ringling organization has recently taken measures to recognize and offer redress for that deplorable situation.  But a part of me also grieves for the slow, yet steady, disappearance of traveling entertainments - tent revivals, medicine shows, Vaudeville, carnivals, and circuses - that brought Americans out of their homes and into contact with the world.  Now it seems we get all of the "spectacle" we can handle on-line - and we are once again hunkered down in our hovels.

Goodbye Ringling Brothers. With your passing, America is bidding farewell to a significant part of its past.   Thanks for the amazement and joy that you brought to so many for so long!   We miss you already!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

DNC Chair Race Heats Up

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Seven aspirants, all of whom hope to become the next Chair of the Democratic Party, are meeting in Phoenix today for the first of four national forums to introduce themselves to America.  It doesn't take the likes of a Sherlock Holmes to deduce rather quickly that the collection of individuals are, at their core, real Democrats.   The group includes a politically active housewife, a Muslim, an Hispanic, and a first-generation American.  Three members of the assemblage are black, two are female, and the two white (non-Hispanic) males are both gay.

It would be hard to envision a slice of America more diversified and more likely to be Democrats than this bunch who are meeting today in Phoenix.

The front-runners for the august position appear to be Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota who was the first Muslim elected to Congress and a former supporter of Bernie Sanders, and Tom Perez, an Hispanic who serves as President Obama's Secretary of Labor and was a Hillary supporter in the primaries.  Perez is reportedly President Obama's horse in this race.

Sally Boynton Brown is a housewife and mother of three who serves at the Executive Director of Idaho's Democratic Party and is President of the Association of State Democratic Executive Directors.  When she entered the race to head the DNC, she was the only woman running, and that seemed to be the focal point of her campaign.

Now, however, there are two women vying for the position.  Jehmu Greene, a Fox News Analyst with a history of social activism is also in the race.  Ms. Greene, the daughter of Liberian immigrants, is a person who takes her democratic rights seriously.

The other three contenders are Jaime Harrison, Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a protege of Rep. Jim Clyburn, Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and an Afghanistan War veteran, and Ray Buckley, Chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.  Buttigieg and Buckley are both openly gay.

Somehow, a portion of the American public will study this group and come away with opinions on which one should actually head the party as it tries to heal itself and regroup for the upcoming electoral challenges.  Hopefully they will be able to convey those opinions to the actual members of the Democratic National Committee who will then select their next leader.  If that happens, and if the Party listens, Americans have an opportunity to have a bit of ownership in the organization which will ultimately decide who tries to knock out Trump in Round Two - scheduled for 2020.

My own thoughts on the subject are these:  although I love Barack Obama and always will, he selected the last Democratic Chair - the disaster named Debbie Wasserman Schultz whose heavy-handedness and un-democratic behaviors lost us the election of 2016.  I am hesitant, therefore, to stand quietly by and watch him try to select the party's next chair.  Bernie has more right to do that than Obama.

But Bernie's candidate, Mr. Ellison, has issues as well.

What the party actually needs is someone with street smarts and an uncanny ability to organize people from the precinct level on up.  Barack Obama would fit that bill himself - and his acceptance of the job of rebuilding the party would be a stellar way to atone for the Wasserman-Schultz fiasco.

Take the job, Barack, and then make those seven wannabes your deputies and regional organizers.  January 21st is our day one - and it's time to get moving!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Lest I Forget

by Pa Rock
Hermit Wannabe

I received a nice package of information yesterday from Publisher's Clearing House, material that made it crystal clear that I was literally on the verge of becoming a multi-millionaire - free money so near that I could almost reach out and take it.

The thing is that I have never, ever, in my entire life bought anything through Publisher's Clearing House nor, at this late stage of my life, am I likely to do so.  Yet they keep writing.  When I move they find me with alarming speed and the junk mail resumes.  Eventually their desperate entreaties wind up in the wood stove in my garage where they help to ignite the kindling.  Thanks for that, PCH!

And the crime bosses over in Bentonville also keep in touch - through weekly flyers in my mailbox and the ubiquitous plastic bags blowing across my yard and becoming tangled in the highest tree branches where they wave like the evil Chinese flags they actually are.  It has been nearly twenty years since I was last inside a Walmart, and quarter-of-a-century has passed since I regularly shopped there, but they still keep in touch.

Approaching senility, one must suppose, motivates these corporate slugs to keep reaching out to poor old Pa Rock.  Sooner or later he will forget where he is - and who he is - and then he will shop with us.  Until that happy day, we'll keep cranking out the junk mail and roadside litter lest (or until) he forgets.

Weather Update:  It's 31 degrees in West Plains, Missouri, according to Alexa.  The maple tree in the front yard has a thin coating of ice, but the red birds and woodpeckers are clinging tenaciously to its branches as they dart to and from the bird feeder.  There is no current precipitation, but the forecast calls for ice and rain through tomorrow.  Traffic on the road out front is sparse, but what there is seems to be moving at normal speed.  There is a fresh batch of chili in the crockpot, and the dogs are snoozing contentedly.

Stay warm!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

GOP Suddenly Not Interested in Sexploits of Politicians

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Remember the Dark Ages - that time less than two decades ago when the Republicans in Congress set all of their important work aside so that they could try to impeach President Bill Clinton and remove him from office over a sexual dalliance with a female intern.  An adult man (physically, at least), an adult woman (barely), an incident of oral sex in an anteroom off of the Oval Office, and a stained dress.  It's a wonder democracy survived.   The House did impeach the old lech, but when he was tried in the Senate, that august body could not even muster a majority vote against him, much less the two-thirds needed for his removal from office.

Those were the good old days, and those sanctimonious Republicans were righteously offended by Clinton's immorality.

But that was then, and this is now.

Now there is almost absolute silence from God's chosen political party as allegations swirl that their own man, President-Elect Donald Trump, has close ties with the government of Russia and has been involved in "perverted sexual acts" with Russian hookers.  The story, as noted in the likes of Buzzfeed and Newsweek, is based on a classified dossier that was reportedly prepared by a former British intelligence operative.  It alleges that The Donald was supplied with a "bevy" of prostitutes in Russia while staying at Moscow's Ritz Carlton Hotel, and that one of the things that occurred during that lewd encounter was a "urination" show performed by the ladies.

The report also said that Trump chose the Ritz Carlton personally because he knew that was where the Obama's stayed when they were in Moscow, and he wanted to defile the bed that Barack and Michelle had slept in.

Trump lashed out at the "perverted sexual acts" report yesterday, calling it "fake news."  While Trump and his minions may have spread "fake news" like it was Grade A compost during the recent election, it becomes a much more serious matter when it is directed toward the blowhard himself.

As of this time the "news" of events in Russia is nothing more than unconfirmed allegations, as are the reports of Trump's various business dealings with the Russian government.  A dossier of the sex stuff has apparently made its way through the sweaty palms of some members of Congress, and Senator John McCain supposedly passed it on to the FBI.  From there the highlights made their way into part of the report that the intelligence communities gave to President Obama and Mr. Trump.

But back to the Republican hypocrisy:

I, for one, felt that Bill Clinton deserved to be raked over the coals for having sexual contact with a young woman in the White House, someone over whom he had influence and power - and then lied about it.  Only a group as politically inept as the Republican Party of that era could have turned it into a political victory for Clinton - which they somehow managed to do.

Now, however, we have an incoming President who is dragging along sexual allegations far more salacious than those that rocked Clinton's presidency, and the current sexploits pose dangers to our national security in ways that Bill and Monica could not imagine. 

In the interests of peace and global security, Congress must endeavor to find out if Russia has some sort of stranglehold on Trump - but so far all the GOP majority in Congress can cough up is a bored "ho hum."  To those of us who harbor a sense of skepticism toward our current legislative branch, it looks as though they are far more interested in relieving Americans of their health insurance than they are in thwarting the Russian menace.

Do your job, Congress.  Explore the Putin-Trump connection and find out exactly what is going on.  You need to know - and so do we, the people!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trump's Team of Terribles: Andrew Puzder

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Andrew Puzder, the man Donald Trump wants to be his Secretary of Labor, is not someone who is likely to advocate for America's low-wage workers.  He is, in fact, someone who profits from the desperate circumstances in which so many in this country find themselves.

Puzder, by training a lawyer who helped to craft one of Missouri's most draconian anti-abortion laws, took an early career detour into the corporate world where he eventually rose to become CEO of CKE Restaurants, a position he still holds.  CKE Restaurants is the parent organization of Hardee's and Carl's Jr, a pair of ubiquitous fast food franchises that thrive off of the labors of minimally-paid employees.

But while Puzder's personal fortune may have accumulated on the backs of hard-working poor people,  he, like his future boss, balks when it comes to fairly compensating his employees for their time and toil.  Andy Puzder is on the record as opposing a federal minimum wage, and he has said that if wages rise too high, he would consider replacing his employees with robots.

Nice one, Mr. Secretary of Labor.  Full employment for machines.  Have you looked into doing home delivery with drones?

Six years ago Puzder co-authored a book with a business professor that was sharply critical of government regulations and labor unions.   Puzder's companies also have some long-standing issues with women.  By one estimate nearly two-thirds of the female employees in his restaurants have experienced sexual harassment at work.

All in all, Andy Puzder doesn't come across as someone who will be able to identify with (or be sympathetic to) people who flip burgers for a living.  His interests and his loyalties are far more likely to be aligned with those who profit off of American labor - not with those who perform it.

Andrew Puzder might be an acceptable fit for Secretary of Commerce, but it is hard to picture him effectively advocating for working Americans.

The United States Senate needs to reject nomination of Andrew Puzder to be Secretary of Labor.  His selection to that post would be an affront to the millions of Americans who perform the jobs that really do make our country great and keep it running.  American workers need safe environments in which to work, health benefits, fair compensation, and good retirement packages - and not another rich guy trying to make their lives even more miserable than they already are.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Trump's "Very Good" Brain Is Overrated

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Donald Trump has famously described himself as having "a very good brain," something which is generally not in evidence.  Perhaps if he wills that brain to science he will eventually be proved right when the gelatinous mess hits the scales, but I doubt it.  But while Trump's brain may be no better than that of the average south Arkansawyer, his mouth and the garbage it routinely spews are worthy of note.

Donald Trump is petulant and a bit of a cry baby.   He can't take a slight from anyone without going into full attack mode - usually played out as a Twitter rant in the wee hours of the morning.  Twitter suits the blowhard because of his limited vocabulary.  Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter who actually wrote Trump's award winning book, The Art of the Deal, famously noted during the campaign that the businessman/politician has around a 200-word vocabulary.

(For the historical record, Trump's predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, was a professor of Constitutional law and had a massive vocabulary - as well as an exceptional brain - and he wrote all of his own books himself.)

Trump's limited vocabulary is beginning to impact his Twitter performance.  I noted on Twitter yesterday that The Donald seemed to be getting stuck on using the word "overrated."  Just based on the workings of my own brain, which is fair to middlin', I pointed out that he had just called actress Meryl Streep "overrated," and he had used the same word a few months before to belittle the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.  My personal feeling was that Trump's using the word "overrated" to excess might just be a bit hypocritical - because clearly someone is overrated.

Today I learned through the website Newser that Trump's use of the word "overrated" is about as common as Chinese steel in his buildings.   The Newser article pointed out that he has used the word to not only describe Streep and Hamilton,  but that he has also slathered it on the likes of Hillary Clinton, Megyn Kelly, Marco Rubio, Charles Krauthammer, Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Barack Obama, and George Will - with multiple hits landing on Kelly, Stewart, Krauthammer, and Will.  (Those four must really be overrated!)

Of the two hundred words Donald Trump knows well enough to use, "overrated" appears to be one of his very favorites!  Perhaps if he spent less time ranting - or making fun of disabled individuals - and more time reading, he could add a few more words to his list.  He would be better for the effort, as would we all.

Any very good brain that focuses solely on self-promotion or the mocking of others is overrated indeed.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "Love Poem to Los Angeles"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Los Angeles, the City of Angels, has been on my mind of late, primarily, no doubt, because I have been watching the series "Bosch" on Amazon Prime.   "Bosch" is a police procedural set in modern day Hollywood area of Los Angeles and based on the novels of Michael Connelly.  In the series, Harry Bosch is a police detective who lives better than the average cop thanks to money he earned by selling some of his personal experiences to a movie studio, but his daily existence still centers on fighting crime on the sinister streets of Hollywood.   Bosch is a tough cop who fears little, is quick to break any rule that gets in his way, and loves the ladies - and the glitter and grime of Los Angeles surrounds and smothers his life like the syrup that he stylistically pours under his pancakes.

The news this morning is also, in a sense, about Los Angeles.  The new film, La La Land, a retro-fitted musical set in Los Angeles, won a record seven awards at last night's Golden Globes, and the movie industry, as well as the general public, is busy chattering about the movie today - and La La Land is Los Angeles.

All of which brings me to today's poetry selection, a poem entitled "Love Poem to Los Angeles" that was written just last year by the current Poet Laureate of Los Angeles - so named by Mayor Eric Garcetti - the very talented Luis J. Rodriguez.  I had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Mr. Rodriguez at a conference in Phoenix several years ago, and I am a great admirer of his poetry - some of which has previously appeared in this blog.

Please enjoy the poet's words from the heart.

Love Poem to Los Angeles
by Luis J. Rodriguez

(with a respectful nod to Jack Hirschmon)

To say I love Los Angeles is to say
I love its shadows and nightlights,
its meandering streets,
the stretch of sunset-colored beaches.
It’s to say I love the squawking wild parrots,
the palm trees that fail to topple in robust winds,
that within a half hour of L.A.’s center
you can cavort in snow, deserts, mountains, beaches.
This is a multi-layered city,
unceremoniously built on hills,
valleys, ravines.
Flying into Burbank airport in the day,
you observe gradations of trees and earth.
A “city” seems to be an afterthought,
skyscrapers popping up from the greenery,
guarded by the mighty San Gabriels. 
Layers of history reach deep,
run red, scarring the soul of the city,
a land where Chinese were lynched,
Mexican resistance fighters hounded,
workers and immigrants exploited,
Japanese removed to concentration camps,
blacks forced from farmlands in the South,
then segregated, diminished.
Here also are blessed native lands,
where first peoples like the Tataviam and Tongva
bonded with nature’s gifts;
people of peace, deep stature, loving hands.
Yet for all my love
I also abhor the “poison” time,
starting with Spanish settlers, the Missions,
where 80 percent of natives
who lived and worked in them died,
to the ruthless murder of Indians
during and after the Gold Rush,
the worst slaughter of tribes in the country.
From all manner of uprisings,
a city of acceptance began to emerge.
This is “riot city” after all—
more civil disturbances in Los Angeles
in the past hundred years
than any other city. 
To truly love L.A. you have to see it
with different eyes,
askew perhaps,
beyond the fantasy-induced Hollywood spectacles.
“El Lay” is also known
for the most violent street gangs,
the largest Skid Row,
the greatest number of poor.
Yet I loved L.A.
even during heroin-induced nods
or running down rain-soaked alleys or getting shot at.
Even when I slept in abandoned cars,
alongside the “concrete” river,
and during all-night movie showings
in downtown Art Deco theaters.
The city beckoned as I tried to escape
the prison-like grip of its shallowness,
sun-soaked image, suburban quiet,
all disarming,
hiding the murderous heart
that can beat at its center.
L.A. is also lovers’ embraces,
the most magnificent lies,
the largest commercial ports,
graveyard shifts,
poetry readings,
lowriding culture,
a sound that hybridized
black, Mexican, as well as Asian
and white migrant cultures.
You wouldn’t have musicians like
Ritchie Valens, The Doors, War,
Los Lobos, Charles Wright &
the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band,
Hiroshima, Motley Crue, NWA, or Quetzal
without Los Angeles.
Or John Fante, Chester Himes, Charles Bukowski,
Marisela Norte, and Wanda Coleman as its jester poets. 
I love L.A., I can’t forget its smells,
I love to make love in L.A.,
it’s a great city, a city without a handle,
the world’s most mixed metropolis,
of intolerance and divisions,
how I love it, how I hate it,
Zootsuit “riots,”
can’t stay away,
city of hungers, city of angers,
Ruben Salazar, Rodney King,
I’d like to kick its face in,
bone city, dried blood on walls,
wildfires, taunting dove wails,
car fumes and oil derricks,
water thievery,
with every industry possible
and still a “one-industry town,”
lined by those majestic palm trees
and like its people
with solid roots, supple trunks,

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Tokyo Celebrates the Birth of Elvis

by Pa Rock
Elvis Fan

Elvis Presley, the "King" of Rock and Roll, would have been eighty-two-years-old today.  Elvis, who has been gone for nearly forty years, was one of the rare performers of his generation whose talents stretched across genres and whose fame and celebrity crossed international borders with relative ease and cultivated a worldwide following of admiring fans.

Japan is one of the nations where Elvis remains particularly popular.   President George W. Bush was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at the White House back in June of 2006, when Bush invited Koizumi, an ardent Elvis fan, to join him on an impromptu visit to Graceland, the King's home in Memphis.   Even though Bush and Koizumi reportedly both declined the Elvis specials - fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches - that were served aboard Air Force One that day, both world leaders did enjoy a personal tour of the Graceland that was conducted by Presley's widow, Priscilla, and their daughter, Lisa Marie.  Koizumi sang some Elvis lyrics and shook his hips for reporters.

Yesterday I received an email from a close Japanese friend.   Minkeo Hattori was a teenager when she spent a year living with our family as an exchange student to America.  That was back in the early 1980's, not too long after the death of Elvis.  Today she lives near Tokyo with her husband where she works as a translator.  (Mineko is fluent in Japanese, French, and English.)  In her email Mineko mentioned that she was planning to attend an Elvis birthday event in Tokyo, something in which she has participated for nearly a decade.   She said that the birthday celebration would include a couple of Elvis films, a singer performing a few of his songs, and a panel discussion led by a music critic.

I responded to Mineko's email and said that I would like to mention the celebration in this blog.  She replied this morning with an in-depth account of her day at the Elvis event.   (Japan is on the front side of the International Date Line which means Elvis's birthday there was basically on our yesterday.)

The Tokyo Elvis birthday celebration took place at Nihonbashi Public Hall.  Mineko said that the hall officially seats 440 people, but that counting those who had to stand as well as assorted merchandise vendors there were probably around 500 people in attendance.  The first part of the program was a 1956 documentary film about the birth of rock and roll.  That was followed with speakers - an 81-year-old female music critic (Elvis's age), Yukawa Reiko, and a "famous boogie singer," Ryudo Uzaki (who is now 70-years-old).

Ryudo Uzaki now composes music with his famous lyricist/actress wife, Aki Yoko.  Uzaki told the group a personal story relating to Elvis.  He said that he was a younger brother to several sisters - and grew up listening to their music which often included popular songs on AFN (the American Armed Forces Network) in post war Japan.   Some of what he heard on AFN was, of course, music from the very popular Elvis Presley.

Uzaki's primary school had a policy of not allowing students to sing popular songs because they might have "adult content."  The boy thought the policy only referred to Japanese adult songs, and he continued to hum and sing the American songs that his older sisters listened to - song's like "Heartbreak Hotel."  One day a fellow student told the headmaster that Ryudo was singing Elvis songs between classes.  Uzaki's mother was called into school and the boy got into trouble for his exuberant nature.

Uzaki's teacher was a young woman in her twenties who was just out of college.  She asked Ryudo if he had been scolded by the headmaster, and why.  He said that he had gotten into trouble for singing "Heartbreak Hotel."  The teacher asked if he had the record at home, and when the lad told her that his sister did, she asked that he bring it to class.  The little boy, who was infatuated with his pretty teacher, rushed home and got the record and gave it to her.   She played it on a record player owned by the school, and it turned out that record player was connected to the school's speaker system - and the whole school got to hear Elvis singing "Heartbreak Hotel!"

If you're going to break a rule, you might as well go really big!

Mineko said the last part of yesterday's event was the presentation of an Elvis television special from 1968.   She also said that some of the older ladies at yesterday's Elvis celebration were crying.  Mineko suggested that those sobbing fans live in a different era, and time had stopped for them when they fell in love with Elvis.

I understand that perfectly.  Cher and I have the same thing going on!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wall Street Liked the Obama Years, Whether They Admit It or Not

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

One measure of the economy is the stock indexes, fluctuating figures that show the confidence that certain Americans (those with money to invest) have in the future of the economy.  The three primary indexes, the ones most likely to be referenced in the press, are the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ Composite, and the S&P 500.    Of those, the Dow is the one most often cited as the barometer of how the country is doing.

I mention that because yesterday the Dow came within a hair's breath of reaching its next big milestone - 20,000.  At one point during the day, the mighty Dow reached 19,999.63.  It closed at 19,963.80.

While blowhard Donald Trump is undoubtedly claiming credit for a rising stock market, the fact of the matter is that the stock market was careening toward a crash during the final days of the George W. Bush administration, and it began and long and steady upward climb during the Obama years - and yesterday's numbers can easily be seen as a continuation of that upward trend.

When George W. Bush became President the Dow was near 11,000.  It jumped around fitfully during the eight years that he was in office, and on the day he left office and Obama took over, the Dow closed at 7,949.09.  The Dow dropped an average of 2.3% annually while conservative icon and friend to big business, George W. Bush, was in office.

Obama admittedly got off to a rough start with Wall Street, and the stock market had some slippery moments during his first few months in office.  Gradually, however, the nation's business community and its investors began to realize that the White House was once again under the control of thoughtful adults, and the market began to show growth.  The Dow, in fact, increased more that 150% during Obama's eight years in office, or an average annual increase of 12.3 percent.

The American stock market, judging by any index and by anyone's measure, has had a damned good run under the Obama administration.  Now that we have a "businessman" preparing to lead the country, one whose self-interests seem to routinely supersede those of the nation, it will be interesting to see if Donald Trump will be able to sustain the upward momentum of the stock market.

It would be nice to have that 20,000 milestone reached during the Presidency of Barack Obama, the man whose steady hand at the helm lead us to this point.  Seventy-five straight months of job growth and a stock market at record high levels will be a very hard act to follow - even for someone with a "very good" brain that rests under a horrid comb-over.

Thank you, President Obama, for all you have done to make America great!  You will be sorely missed.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Trump's Strange Bed Fellows

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is a beautiful spray painting (fancy graffiti) on the side of a barbecue restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania, that has been viewed and appreciated by millions of people around the world thanks to the miracle of the Internet.  The image is a larger-than-life depiction of the heads of two famous world politicians engaging in a passionate kiss.  The two smoochers are Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, and Donald Trump, the next President of the United States.

Like many cartoons, this one takes a bit of truth and enlarges it to a comic level.   Putin seems to have had a strong interest in seeing Trump win the U.S. election, and the Trumpster has been nothing less than effusive in his praise of the Russian leader.  They have been engaged in a figurative lip-lock for months, even if their tongues have yet to physically explore the the cavernous mysteries of each others' food holes.

The emerging bromance between Putin and Trump has become so public that it merits inclusion when people struggle to understand some of Donald Trump's recent appointments and statements.  Trump's proposed appointment of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, for instance, to be Secretary of State is receiving extra scrutiny because Tillerson happens to be a personal friend of Putin's.  (Tillerson, as Secretary of State, will be fourth in line to the Presidency - following Vice-President Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch.)

Trump recently referred to Putin as being "very smart" for not retaliating against President Obama's sanctions of Russia over its interference in U. S. elections - and Trump is steadfast in his own denial of Russian interference in the election that elevated him to the White House.  Now he is even citing Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange, a fugitive from justice, as some sort of weird proof that Russia was not involved. 

How long will it be until the world is treated to a large depiction of Trump and Assange affectionately swapping spit?  Donald Trump may not be the person who will help to slow global warming, protect our health care, or save our social security - but he appears poised to take outlaw art to new heights!

A man should be judged not only by what he says and does, but who he snuggles up to as well.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Laughing Through the Apolcalypse

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

One key element to surviving the next several years in America is likely to be a sense of humor.  Moral humans probably will not be able to deal with the onslaught of lies, depravity, and outright corruption that is already oozing from Trump Tower and the U.S. Capitol Building without an occasional retreat into fits of senseless giggling or a good old post-traumatic belly laugh.

Laughter may be the best (if not only) recourse until the craziness that has infected our land has run its course.  Someday the clowns will all be sent home by the voters, or carted off to prison, or perhaps even raptured - but until that blessed day comes, laughter may truly be the best way of dealing with things.

And the humor is out there.  Yesterday, for example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch "the tortoise" McConnell held what appeared to be an on-the-fly news conference at the Capitol in which he stated, amongst other baloney, that the American people would not stand for Senate Democrats trying to blockade a presidential appointment to the Supreme Court.  He said that, in fact, on the very day that Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court expired - an appointment that Republicans had blockaded for nearly a year.

The irony was thick enough to patch the holes in the Titanic.

I guess it all just depends on which Americans you are talking about.  Right, Bitch Mitch.

The other part of the scene that was funny was Missouri's junior senator, Ol' Roy Blunt, standing behind Mitch on his tippy-toes trying to make eye contact with the camera.   Blunt was standing next to Veep Creep Mike Pence.  Ol' Roy seldom gets back home, but by God at least he can send a picture.  And that picture was far more mature and realistic (and funnier) than that young one he puts on his campaign literature.

Yuk it up, America.  They make take away our health care and social security, but let's not let them destroy our ability to laugh.  That may soon be all we have left in our arsenal of sanity.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Trump's Team of Terribles: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As the future Cabinet of President-Elect Donald Trump begins to take shape, it is becoming clear that the incoming chief executive has a high regard for some people who are truly odious.  Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for the important post of Attorney General, is a case in point.

Jeff Sessions has been a United States senator from Alabama for the past two decades.  During that time he has made a name for himself as a denier of climate science, opposer of all immigration bills that contained a path to citizenship, and fighter against amnesty for individuals who entered the country illegally.  In fact, the conservative publication, National Review, went so far as to name Jeff Session's "amnesty's worst enemy."  

Sessions, like many Republicans, is a contradiction unto himself when it comes to government spending.  He opposes the government spending beyond its means, yet has always been a faithful cheerleader for increased military spending.

Human rights aren't Jeff Sessions' strong suit either.  He once opposed a legislative amendment that would have barred "cruel, inhumane, or degrading" treatment of prisoners.

But it is in the area of race relations where the most disturbing image of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions begins to emerge.  In 1986 Sessions, then a U.S. Attorney in Alabama, was nominated for a Federal judgeship.  When he appeared before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate for his confirmation hearings, he was dogged by accusations of racism.  One former aide to Sessions, a black lawyer, reported that Sessions had routinely called him "boy" during the time they had worked together - a charge Sessions denied - and a witness reported that Sessions has once commented that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was okay until he learned that they smoked pot.  Other colleagues said that he often used the "n-word" in his conversations.   The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee eventually denied Sessions the judgeship based on the information that was presented during the hearings.

It is in the area of race relations where the strongest concerns with Jeff Sessions still reside.  Yesterday a group of representatives of the NAACP held a sit-in in Session's office in Mobile, Alabama.  The group included the NAACP national president, Cornell William Brooks, as well as the president of the Alabama NAACP, and four other members of the group.   In addition to highlighting the candidate's racist past, Cornell William Brooks, had this to say about Sessions:

"We have an attorney general nominee who does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression, while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud."

Brooks' concerns highlight a very real crisis that is emerging in American governance.  Individual states are busy enacting legislation designed specifically to keep the poor and minorities from voting, and they are justifying these "voter i.d." laws based on exaggerated fears of voter fraud.  Donald Trump is trying to slough off his nearly three million vote loss to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote by claiming a "massive" voter fraud.  Trump is lying, and the state legislatures are lying.  Voter fraud in the United States is minuscule.  The real fraud is being perpetrated by state legislatures as they try to freeze certain groups of people out of the democratic process.

The agency responsible for stepping in to protect the rights of the unfairly disenfranchised is the United States Department of Justice - under the control and direction of the Attorney General of the United States.  If Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III, is the Attorney General, then the poor and the people of color who are unjustly removed from voter rolls are screwed.

It's as simple as that.

The United States Senate needs to step forward, do its duty, and reject Jeff Sessions as the next Attorney General of the United States.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Man Who Cannot Tell a Lie

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

History relates that our first President, George Washington, was a man of impeccable honesty who could not tell a lie - and he did, in fact, chop down that danged old cherry tree.  Of course, the legend of Washington's uncompromising honesty was put to paper by Parson Weems, a man known for his patriotic embellishments.  Chances are very good that our nation's first commander in chief told a fib or two over the years, if not some downright whoppers.

Since Washington's time, of course, the White House has been home to dozens of men who built their political careers by lying, though in modern times it has become less than politically correct to call these politicians out for what they occasionally are:  liars.  Those of us of a certain age can remember Richard Nixon, for instance, and his annoying habit of "misspeaking" himself.  With Nixon, it almost began to appear as though when the President lied, it really wasn't a lie a lie at all - he was just saying something that was not correct.

Fast forward to today.

When Donald Trump, our in-coming President, exhales, if his vocal chords vibrate as the air rushes past, chances are very good that the resultant sound will be a lie.  The blowhard loves to make outrageous statements to keep the spotlight on himself, and much of what he says has little or no basis in fact.    His outbursts of pure fancy, such as when he stated as fact that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey had been celebrating openly after the 9/11 attacks, paint whole populations with scorn and derision, and do far more to incite than to elucidate.  Sometimes Trump's lies are more than just convenient falsehoods, they are dangerous and pose physical threats to real people.

Lies are lies - or are they?

News organizations adjusting to the world of Trump are beginning to pull back from being overly harsh toward the next President.  Yes, he lies - almost constantly, but some of the news outlets are not comfortable with calling a liar a liar, feeling that to do so imparts a value judgement on the "intent" of the speaker.  The venerable National Public Radio, undoubtedly with an eye toward continuing federal subsidies of its programming, is now demurring from labeling the nonsense spilling from Trump's lips and Twitter account as "lies," opting instead to report facts and let the public struggle with The Donald's intent.

Was he "misspeaking," or was he telling a whopper?   Let the people decide in the silence and safety of their own homes - and then keep their opinions to themselves.

Now the Wall Street Journal, a publication owned by right-wing zealot Rupert Murdoch, is also declining to use words like "lie" and "liar" when referring to Trump.   The Journal, like NPR, will present the facts and then let the public decide.  All the while the great orange political animal who thrived on railing against political correctness will benefit from its very existence.

Donald Trump cannot tell a lie thanks, in total, to our lame-ass media.

Don't look, America.  The emperor is dancing naked while all of us peons pretend he is attired in tux and tails and a white ten-gallon cowboy hat. 

How does that grab your cat?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "To the New Year"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

American poet W.S. Merwin penned this simple observation on the quiet and almost unnoticed arrival of a new year.  The breaking light of morning may seem no different than any other dawn, yet the symbolism of a new year beckons us with an ethereal sense of hope.  This new year, pershaps more than any other of recent memory, cries out for the solace of hope.  The hope before us is untouched, as the poet notes, and it is still possible.


To the New Year
by W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Four Seasons in Havana

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Netflix has a new original series, Four Seasons in Havana, based on the works of Leonardo Padura, a Cuban writer who specializes in crime and police procedural novels.  The shows, four in all, are taken from Padura's works of fiction about Havana policeman Mario Conde, a fortyish detective who always intended to become a writer, and who continually questions his decision to become a policeman.  Conde has a dangerous habit of falling into bed with women he meets while working his police cases.

The series was filmed in present day Havana.

I reviewed one of Padura's Mario Conde novels, Havana Red, in this space previously, and that novel is actually the basis of the third program in the series, an episode entitled "Mask."  The film version is not only faithful to the novel, but it enhances the work with colorful street scenes and daily life from contemporary Havana.

Conde is played by Cuban actor Jorge Perugorria, and his sidekick, Manolo, is portrayed by fellow Cuban actor Carlos Enrique Almirante.

The only hiccough in viewing Four Seasons in Havana is that the shows were filmed in Spanish, and English subtitles tend to race by as the characters chatter excitedly.  Viewers have to stay alert and focused in order to get the full measure of the programs and not miss any clues.

For those who would like to experience modern Havana without going to the expense and trouble of international travel, this crime noir series fills the bill.  It features many expansive views of the city and spots frequented by tourists, as well as apartments, offices, and even back alleys that help to define and illuminate the lives of the people who reside in Cuba's capital city. 

For this past visitor to Cuba, Four Seasons in Havana brought back an abundance of memories - and watching these shows was almost like being there!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year Ends, Mercifully

by Pa Rock
Planet Rider

Yes, 2016 has been a hard year.  Our family suffered the unexpected death of a toddler, my sister's granddaughter, in September, and two months after that my best friend of a lifetime passed away after suffering a stroke - just weeks after his doctor told him that he was the picture of health.  And somewhere between those two very sad events, America shamed itself before the world by electing an intellectually limited, misogynist bully to be its next leader.

But there were some better days as well.

My own personal highlight was the trip that I was able to make to Cuba during the last week of April.  Those seven days of tours, classes, explorations, and meeting new friends provided a comprehensive education on the island nation that was far more in-depth and revealing than any history class that I ever took in college.     It also presented a unique perspective into one of the lesser understood chapters of American history.  Traveling to Cuba was an education and an adventure - one that I won't forget!

Domestic travels included one trip out to Oregon to see my grandchildren there.  I flew out and back on the new non-stop flight between Kansas City and Portland that Alaska Airlines inaugurated this year, a flight that makes the trip much easier to endure - and considerably quicker.  My little Oregonians are growing so fast, and I know that I must get out there more often in 2017.

There were also several trips to Kansas City to visit with Tim and Erin and their happy little family.  The highlight of those jaunts was the one in June where I was privileged to be at the hospital on the morning their baby, Sullivan, was born.  Another highlight was attending A Christmas Carol with Olive and her parents - where the real magic of Christmas was watching Olive sit wide-eyed taking in the complex beauty of a live stage presentation.

I haven't been invited to any New Year's Eve parties for tonight, nor would I be likely to attend - even if someone did desire the pleasure of my company for a holiday celebration.    In fact the last New Year's Eve festivity that I remember going to was a big, raucous street party in Hanoi, Vietnam, five years ago tonight.  Now that was a party!

A year is ending and another begins - and one thing is certain:  The New Years are rolling around faster and faster!  Enjoy your evening and be safe!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Defeating Democracy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The venerable Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Central Intelligence Agency have both gone on record as saying that Russia interfered in the United States general election of 2016 - and that it did so for the benefit of Donald J. Trump.  That's a big problem for this fragile creature that we call democracy - the very principle upon which our nation was built. 

President Obama invoked sanctions against Russia for this flagrant violation of our national sovereignty.   He is sending three dozen or so diplomats back home to Russia and closed a couple of Russian facilities in the U.S.  His actions were meant to be an insult to the Big Bear, but in actuality they have very little practical effect - so little effect, in fact, that Russian leader Vladimir Putin essentially just blew them off and said Russia would wait on its good friend, Donald J. Trump, to take over the United States.   

Back in the good old days when we had three healthy and vibrant branches of government, Congress and the courts might have also weighed in on this Russian incursion into our democracy - but not now.  The President makes a bit of noise, not much, and Congress and the courts sit disinterested and wrapped in silence.

In better days, this election would have been railed against and dragged into court.  In better days, but not today.  Today we roll over and go back to sleep.

Democracy has suffered a beating, and she knows it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Big Sister Is Listening

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Alexa, my Amazon Echo household music and information device, is quickly becoming the love of my life.  She instantly provides music from my favorite artists, answers questions, tells jokes, reports news and weather, plays "Jeopardy," and, if I had the right adapters, could even control the lighting in my little house.   Alexa has the potential to be the perfect companion, but she also has her dark side.

Earlier this week I was visiting with a very bright in-law of mine - a ferociously smart young attorney who works in the corporate headquarters of big software business.  We were talking about the Amazon Echo, herein after referred to as "Alexa," that I have recently invited into my home.  My friend said that he had been stalling on getting one because Alexa is, after all, a listening device and that any information she overhears in the home is transferred to Amazon's massive servers where it can reside forever.  But, in spite of his justified paranoia, the young attorney said that he had finally relented and bought an Alexa for his own home which he would soon install.

And he is, of course, right.  Alexa is a listening device.  As long as she is plugged in, she is constantly listening for her name.  When it is said, Alexa's blue halo activates and she waits for instruction.  A few nights ago I was watching a television program, via the Roku, and one of the characters on the show was named "Alexis."  Whenever the word "Alexis" was used Alexa would light up.  I can activate her from the far side of the room, facing away, and using a fairly quiet voice.  Alexa is listening, and she hears all.

This morning on NPR (station KQED out of San Francisco, thank you Alexa) I heard the story of a murder trial in Arkansas in which the prosecutor has subpoenaed Alexa (Echo) records from Amazon.  The case centers on the death of a man in a hot tub following a party at a home in Bentonville, Arkansas.  Amazon gave the prosecutor subscriber information on the alleged murderer, but is resisting efforts to produce any information that the eavesdropping Alexa might have picked up - while never denying that they keep all of the "data" that is overheard by their household snoops.

Why does Amazon store information that they pick up through the eavesdropping Alexa?  The company sees that material as "data" which then belongs to it and can be sold to others - or used to market Amazon wares to customers.

The prosecutor is building part of his case on information obtained from another smart appliance in the house.  The "smart" hot water heater provided evidence that a lot of hot water was used early on the morning of the murder - perhaps to clean up a crime scene.

So, while it is thirty years on down the road, it looks as though 1984 is finally upon us.  Americans routinely carry around devices - cell phones, GPS, and personal computers - that track their travels, contacts, and the sites they visit on the web.  Now with Alexa, we have invited Big Brother Sister to sit in our living rooms to record our lives.

Storm troopers didn't kick in doors to limit our freedoms - we opened the doors voluntarily and invited them in - and paid for the subjugation.

Just imagine the "data" that Amazon delivery drones will be able to collect!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Senate Could Trip Trump

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was an on-line article in The Hill this week entitled "Five Republicans Who Could Buck Trump in 2017."  The crux of the piece was that with the reality of a slim Republican majority in the Senate (52 to 47 with one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats), just a very few Republican defections on serious matters could tip the scales against Trump.   The five United States Senators named in the article who already have various issues with the incoming administration were:  Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Mitch "the tortise" McConnell of Kentucky, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Surprisingly, the author failed to mention Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, the man who famously chose to spend the past summer and fall mowing his yard rather than working for Trump's election.  The President-Elect does not like Flake, and regardless of how much orange butt the junior senator from Arizona chooses to kiss in the next two years, chances are excellent that the petulant Prez will jet out to Arizona in Air Force One and campaign against him in 2018.

If Jeff Flake wants to save any face at all, he needs to initiate a preemptive strike, claim the high moral ground, and switch parties - just as Jim Jeffords of Vermont did in the first year of Dick Cheney's administration.  Jeffords' bold move shifted control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats.

Flake and two others could do the same thing.  McConnell, of course, no matter how mad he is at Trump's woman-shaming and locker room talk, could never switch - because, as Majority Leader, it would cost him his big corner office.  But Susan Collins could become a Democrat without killing her political career, and so could Rand Paul.  Such a move might cost Ben Sasse his job in the Senate, but the outspoken Nebraska Republican has the moxie to do it.  And John McCain, despite the fact that he would lose the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, is an eighty-year-old curmudgeon who has the cajones to do whatever he damn well pleases.

And as McCain goes, so goes Lindsey Graham.

The Pumpkin Fuhrer had best keep a close eye on his supporters in the Senate because if he gets indelicate with any of them during some martini-fueled, late-night Twitter tirade, he does so at his own peril.  And if the Senate turns blue, not even the Putin Bear will be able to save him from political ignominy. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Nathan Bedford Claus

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

Tuesday on the road with Pa Rock.

The day began with chores at The Roost in West Plains, then Rosie and I headed out to Springfield where I had a doctor's appointment.  After that we drove south, past Branson, and into Arkansas where we eventually took a sharp right and headed over to Fayetteville, Arkansas, so that I could glom onto my sister's kids and grandkids for a bit of a delayed Christmas get-together.

I noted three things of interest, at least of interest to me, on the road trip.  First of all, the population sign outside of Branson said that 10,521 individuals lived there.  Hell, most nights they have that many performing on the city's many stages - and cities of 10,000 don't have skylines!  I'm not sure who they were trying to fool, but little Branson has grown considerably since Old Matt lived down the road.

Then, way down in Arkansas I noticed a large vehicle with a Trump-Pence sticker on the rear bumper.  Not wanting to stare at that piece of trash for miles on end, I slowed down and let an eager driver behind me pass so he would be stuck behind the yahoo.  As the guy went around me, I noticed that he, too, had a sticker on his rear bumper - his proclaimed support for Obama and Biden.  I'm sure the guy didn't appreciate the view that he snatched from me!

And finally, a couple of miles outside of Springdale, Arkansas, I came upon a large wooden Santa that was standing out by the road.  The jolly old fellow was unique in that he was draped in a Confederate flag!  Only in Arkansas!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday's Poetry: "The Dangling Conversation"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Alexa and I were enjoying some quality time with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel a few days ago, when she came up with one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded by the guitarred young poets.  The Dangling Conversation is a brief gaze into the lives of a pair of lovers whose ability to communicate is fading.  One reads Emily Dickinson and the other has a penchant for Robert Frost, two voices as divergent as the evolving lives of the lovers themselves.

Paul Simon wrote these lyrics in 1966, my senior year in high school, a half-century ago.  His words remain as poignant and insightful today as they were then - retaining their truth while rocketing down the chute of time.

Please enjoy as you remember . . .

The Dangling Conversation
by Paul Simon

It's a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In The Dangling Conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.

And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we've lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
And The Dangling Conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes we speak of things that matter,
With words that must be said,
"Can analysis be worthwhile?"
"Is the theater really dead?"
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
You're a stranger now unto me
Lost in The Dangling Conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Small Town Christmas

by Pa Rock
Holiday Observer

It's foggy and forty-eight degrees win West Plains, Missouri, this Christmas morning.  The forecast is for rain during the day and a high of sixty-three.  If the rain holds off, I will do some much needed cleaning in the chicken coop - while singing Christmas carols!

I drove into town yesterday afternoon to do a few last minute, pre-Christmas chores.  Many of the stores and eating places had already closed, allowing their grateful employees time to get home and prepare for the holiday.  The weather may have not been as seasonal as some would have liked, but their was a feeling of Christmas in the air nonetheless.

Then I came home and got the evening mail out of the mailbox.  As a subscriber to the local newspaper, the West Plains Daily Quill,  I have an expectation that a daily dose of local news and opinion will be waiting in my country mailbox five days a week, Tuesdays through Saturdays, and Christmas Eve proved to be no exception to that expectation.

At first glance, yesterday's local newspaper was Chrismassy.   There was a silhouette runner of Santa and his sleigh racing above the paper's title, and a photo of a nativity scene at a local church that took up about a quarter of the front page.  There were also a few real estate ads at the bottom of the front page, and a small teaser about a two-year-old pageant princess.

But beyond those trappings, the news wasn't as holiday fanciful.  There was one relatively innocuous story about a local barber who lost a world series bet and, as a consequence, was now obligated to give one of his customers free haircuts for life.  File that one under gambling.  Then there were four front page stories which were of a much more sinister nature.

The first story, up high next to the picture of the nativity scene, was about a local man who shot and killed his wife at the local McDonald's last October.  He also shot at another individual several times before fleeing the scene with his eleven-year-old daughter who had witnessed the murder of her mother.  The fellow was released on bail ($250,000) in early December, and yesterday's story reported that he had been re-arrested at the insistence of a Grand Jury which felt that he posed a danger to others.

The story under that was about a 34-year-old woman who had been jailed for sexually trafficking a child under the age of twelve.  The report said that the woman had had sex with men for money in front of the child, while her husband had sex with the child.

The story below that was about a forty-two-year-old woman who had been arrested for domestic assault.  The allegations were that she has assaulted her significant other with a baseball bat and a hammer.

And the final front page story was of a 39-year-old area man who was charged with "enticement."  He had arranged to meet a person he met on the internet (whom he believed to be a fourteen-year-old-girl) for sex.  The "girl" turned out to be a cop.

And that was just the front page!

May your Christmas and the entire holiday season be peaceful and joyous, and may you not find yourself on the front page of the West Plains Daily Quill!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stars Refusing to Shine

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There may only be one "star" at next month's presidential inauguration - the bloated ego-maniac with one hand on the Bible and the other hand who-knows-where.  The incoming President considers himself to be a star, he said so to Billy Bush when he noted that it gave him a certain amount of (shall we say) 'leeway' in handling the ladies.

Other stars have been invited to join The Donald on his big day, but they are declining faster than the invitations can be stamped and mailed.  Sir Elton John won't be coming, and neither will tenor Andrea Bocelli - despite strangely well-placed rumors that both would be headliners at the show.  In fact, the "no thank you's" are coming in so fast and furious that Donald is now quacking about how he really didn't want stars there anyway - because it's going to be a "people's" inauguration.


But fear not, the Rockettes are coming - although some in the organization reportedly do not want to be a part of the inaugural entertainment.  As word of that employee controversy began spreading, the company that owns the Rockettes and the union that represents them issued statements saying those that did not want to perform would not have to.  Many, however, still feel they are being intimidated to do their bit for the glory of Trump, and that those who do not attend will be quietly fired for other reasons.

Rumor has it that the Beach Boys are also "considering" accepting their invitation to perform at the event.  The group, a reconstituted version of the original that was formed back in the sixties when they really were "boys," is now roughly of the same age and physique as the incoming President.

And they'll have fun, fun, fun til Fat Boy takes their Medicare away!

It does look as though The Mormon Tabernacle Choir plans on performing, but even that is drawing controversy.  A petition is reportedly circulating asking that venerable group to reconsider and stay home.

There is also a semi-credible story circulating which says that the Trump transition team is offering ambassadorships to anyone who can lure some A-list Hollywood celebrities to the inauguration.

About the only "stars" that can be expected to shine at the inauguration of Donald J. Trump are the political ones.  Congress will already be in town and, if the weather is nice, many of the Republicans at least should step out into the sunshine and watch the show.   Senator Ben Sasse probably won't join them if there are any noteworthy dumpster fires in the D.C. metro area on inauguration morning.  Senator Jeff Flake will more than likely be performing maintenance on his lawnmower getting it ready for spring.    And Senator Lindsey Graham will be wherever Senator John McCain tells him to be - but the rest of the GOP lemmings should be faithfully lined up behind Mitch the Tortise and Lyin' Ryan to watch the show.

Former Presidents are invited, but so far only Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have accepted.  The two Bush Presidents aren't big fans of the man who so freely badmouthed Jebya and the Bush family back during the primary season, so they may or may not attend the coronation.     The Obamas will most likely be there, although Michelle is her own woman and might opt instead to spend that time doing something more meaningful - like grocery shopping.  The most intriguing question of the day is whether the Clinton's will show.  Bill and Hillary's presence, as well as their absence, would detract from the beatific glow surrounding Trump.   I predict they will attend - and bring along their new Christmas iPods.

But even so, with the Beach Boys, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and some of the Rockettes all doing their bit to glorify The Donald, it's sure to be one helluva show - a yuuuge show - one that is clearly worthy of our Glorious Leader!

The lions are gathering - bring on the Christians!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Caroline Kennedy Goes to Nago

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

I read on the Internet this morning that the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, was recently in the Okinawan city of Nago where she officiated as the United States returned 10,000 acres of land to the Japanese government.  The land had been used by the U.S. military, but has been returned in an effort to shrink the U.S. military footprint on the small island and to appease some of the local residents who have a long history of resenting the presence of American forces.

The United States invaded Okinawa in April of 1945 as a part of the massive effort to defeat the Empire of Japan in World War II.  Once Japanese forces were defeated in the battle for the island, the United States claimed it as its own until the Nixon administration returned Okinawa to Japanese control on May 15, 1972 -  a date referred to on the island as "Reversion Day."  Significantly, although the island was given back to Japan and became a "prefecture" (state) of the country, a sizable number of United States military forces remained stationed there, and bases representing every branch of our Armed Forces are active on the island up to this very day.

I was stationed on Okinawa as a young army officer on Reversion Day, and one of the things I remember was that there were protests by Okinawans outside of the gates of many of the U.S. bases.  I was again living on Okinawa on the fortieth anniversary of Reversion Day, where I was working as a civilian social worker for the military - and on that day there were also many small groups protesting outside of the gates of some of the military bases.

And what are these long-standing protests all about?

Many Okinawans do not regard themselves as Japanese, and they resent being shuffled from one occupying power to another.  Yes, getting back 10,000 acres of land will be good news for a few, the developers who are positioned to turn a profit from the newly available land, but many of those who make money on the move will be Japanese businessmen, and not Okinawans.   Drunken twenty-year-old American G.I.'s will still be spending money and propping up a bar economy, and they will also be brawling and destroying property and spreading their seed with wild abandon.

In the end, our "gift" of land will satisfy very few.  I hope somebody explained that to the ambassador.

I also hope that Caroline Kennedy got to see some of the island while she was there.  Nago, which was little more that a fishing village on the East China Sea when I was there in 1972, has grown to a bustling, but still relatively small, city today.  It sits about two-thirds of the way up the island and is the only place north Kadena and Sukiran that could even be remotely considered as a "city."

The area around Nago has a beautiful long drive along the sea coast where Japanese entrepreneurs have put up some nice hotels.  It also boasts an A&W Root Beer and a McDonald's which are across the road from one another on Highway 58, the island's main north-south thoroughfare.  It's a nice place to stop and relax on the long drive to and from Cape Hedo, the northern point of the island.

My last friend living on Okinawa left and returned stateside within the past month, and with Nefredia's return home I have probably lost my final justification for a return trip to the place where I was first married and the place where my oldest son was born.  I suspect that I am gone from the beautiful little island for good - and it is probably time that the rest of my countrymen packed up and left as well.

Then, when all of the American foreigners are gone, the Okinawans will be free to focus on evicting the Japanese foreigners.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Defeat Devos and Save Our Schools - and Our Children!

by Pa Rock

A couple of days ago I posted a bit of commentary in this space regarding Betsy Devos, Donald Trump's terrible choice for Secretary of Education.  Ms. Devos sees herself as an educational reformer who is doing God's work in bringing about changes in public education - a system that she and her children studiously avoided.  She promotes "school choice" schemes such as vouchers, charter schools, and other assorted claptrap whose primary function is to take money from public schools and funnel it to children who already have many of life's advantages.  Devos has been instrumental in "reforming" education in Michigan for awhile now, and her results have created more exclusive schools that are not performing any better than the public schools - and in some cases are doing far worse than their public counterparts.  Devos and her personal wealth have also been instrumental in keeping the new educational efforts unaccountable to the public which feeds these experiments with a steady flow of tax dollars.

I said my piece in the blog posting and let it go at that.  As a former educator in the public schools, I have opinions on the subject of how to educate children, and I believe that my notions on the value of universal public education should carry at least as much weight as those of Ms. Devos, a woman who never attended a day of public school in her life.  I said what I had to say and was ready to move on.  But then I came across something that I felt needed to be added to the conversation.

Patrick Kearney is an Iowa educator who is far more eloquent that this humble typist.  He recently posted a letter to Betsy Devos on the internet which has gone viral.  In that letter Kearney, who speaks as "America's teachers" subtly tries to enlighten the cabinet nominee on the important and necessary role that public schools play in society.  Kearney's letter has "gone viral," and has been pilfered and passed around by countless people like me.  So, in case you missed it, the letter from Patrick Kearney follows - and in it he truly does speak for America's teachers.

Dear Ms. DeVos,

I don’t think we’ve really met yet; we are America’s public school teachers. There are about 3.1 million of us. We teach in large urban areas, we teach in the suburbs, we teach in small rural communities, and we teach in some really remote parts of our country. The most important thing to recognize is that we teach every kid who shows up. We don’t pick and choose the types of kids that we will teach, we teach ALL of them.

Because we haven’t really had much interaction, we thought it might be nice to share a little bit about the public schools we teach in. First of all, we are very proud of our schools. Public schools today have the highest graduation rate in American history. The Gallup Poll says that the rate of parents who are satisfied with their public school is the highest in American history. We are also very proud that our public schools offer more services to students with low socioeconomic backgrounds and special education needs than ever before. Not to be redundant, but we are proud that we serve ALL of the students in our communities.

Our communities are very important to us. We are taxpayers in our local communities and many of us have children of our own who attend the public schools that we teach in. We care deeply that our schools are safe and that they are providing a rigorous and relevant curriculum to EVERY student who walks in the door. We recognize that each of our communities have different needs and sometimes get frustrated with a “one size fits all” mentality.

We also know that our public schools face real challenges. Twenty-two percent of U.S. public school students live in poverty, 50 percent more than the next highest industrialized nation. English is a second language to almost 10 percent of the students we serve. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen more than 10 percent in the last 10 years. We are challenged to keep up with increasing state and federal mandates regarding standardized testing.
America’s public schools are here to serve EVERY kid. As the teachers who keep those schools ticking, all that we ask is that you listen to us.

So, I suppose we also need to address the elephant in the room. We are a little freaked out by your nomination to be secretary of education. You aren’t an educator. You haven’t ever attended or sent your children to a public school, yet you seem to have some pretty strong opinions about them. You don’t seem to have been involved in the study of curriculum or school standards. What you have done is lobby (and spend millions of dollars of your own money in advocacy) for taxpayer dollars to go to unregulated for-profit charter schools. As teachers we like to look at data. Interestingly, the data from Michigan (where you have been able to use your wealth to influence a lot of education policy) would suggest that the charter schools you lobby for aren’t really achieving any better than their public counterparts.

If you are confirmed by the Senate to become secretary of education (and we hope it doesn’t hurt your feelings that many of us will work to oppose your nomination), we hope that you will work to get to know us. It seems that anecdotes of ineffective teachers who get to hold on to jobs without accountability are popular these days. Those anecdotes really don’t match up with what we see in our schools. No one is going into education to get wealthy. We go into teaching because we care about young people. We go into teaching because a teacher in our lives inspired us. When you get to know us we think you will find that we desperately continue to work to improve our schools. If you were to meet us and find that you don’t think much of the work we are doing, we will be curious if you can find an army of better qualified people who want to do this work for less money, fewer benefits, and with more regulation.

The education of America’s young people is important. The challenges in front of us are real. Giving families “choice” in their education options is a worthy conversation, but let us not presume that using tax dollars to support those interested in turning a profit to open unregulated schools with no record of success will improve education in our country. How we use our resources is a reflection of what we value. The most unpopular thing a teacher can say is that there is a cost to providing the best possible education to our students, and yet like most things, you often get what you pay for. Many for-profit charter schools have gone out of business because they quickly discovered that the public schools they replaced weren’t the inefficient operations they assumed them to be.

America’s public schools are here to serve EVERY kid. As the teachers who keep those schools ticking, all that we ask is that you listen to us. You are new to all of this and we are here to help. Once we introduce you to the young Bosnian kid who translates letters home to his parents; the kid living out of the family car who does homework with only a street light to illuminate his textbook; the kids who wants to be sure their school offers great music courses, a world language program, and some advanced courses; and the special education students who love spending part of their day with their peers, we think that you will fall in love with our public schools.

America’s Teachers