Thursday, March 22, 2018

In Support of the Proper Use of Language

by Pa Rock
Lifetime Learner

I went to a very small high school, but have never felt disadvantaged by that circumstance.   The students in the little school that I attended were close, and in many cases the friendships formed there have endured well for over half a century.  We had a desire to learn and succeed which was undoubtedly a result of the hardships that our parents had endured during the Great Depression and World War II, and we were blessed with some extraordinarily good teachers.

Our curriculum was not extensive, but it did address all of the major areas that are still emphasized in schools today:  math, science, social studies (basically history and government), and "English" which is today usually referred to as "Language Arts."  "Technology" back in the day was a slide rule, and "engineering" involved skills acquired in shop and home economics.

When I was in high school, four years of English were required for graduation, and it was a rigorous discipline.  We learned things like parts of speech, punctuation, and subject and verb agreement through written and spoken assignments and even through the arcane practice of "diagramming" sentences.  We were also taught to write in complete sentences and compose proper paragraphs, and our senior year had a major project of writing a "research paper" which was a culmination, of sorts, of all of the language arts skills that we had acquired in high school.  Spelling was a big part of the English curriculum, right up through graduation week, and, at certain intervals, we delved into literature and poetry where all of the skills that we had been taught in the grammar segment of the class were reinforced through the works of great writers.

The "English" education that I received in high school was so extensive and enduring that today, fifty-some years later, I still cringe when I see or hear the language misused.  Yesterday, for example, I was saddened - and a bit appalled - to observe the following tweet from Donald Trump which was being highlighted in the press - highlighted for its errors:

“Special Council is told to find crimes wether crimes exist or not. I was opposed to the the selection of Mueller to be Special Council, I still am opposed to it. I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have bee a Special Council appointed because…..,”

A few teachers took to the internet and graded Trump's tweet, with most assigning it a grade of "F."  The obvious errors are in spelling with Trump's "wether" being used instead of the correct "whether," and "Council" being misused three times for what should have been "Counsel."  He also mistakenly used the word "the" twice in a row, and omitted the last letter of "been" which became "bee."   Trump jumped around from speaking in the first-person to speaking in the third-person - going from referring to himself as "I" to "President Trump."  Overall, I would have probably awarded him a grade of "G" for "gibberish."

It's disturbing that the leader of a modern nation does not have a better command of his country's majority language, and it's distressing that someone with ready access to almost unlimited power does not have assistants close by who are able to swoop in and fix his mistakes.  But Trump sees himself as a force of nature with no need for restraint or caution.  He also made news yesterday when it was revealed that he had deliberately ignored the advice and caution of his staff not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his rigged election victory.  Advice?  Donald Trump doesn't need any stinking advice!  Caution?  Caution is for sissies!

Trump is the product of a "private" educational experience, and with obvious intellectual deficits as a result of that rarefied form of schooling, he should at least be open to help from others who are better versed in the mechanics of language than he is.   He owes that to us, his countrymen, who are judged in the eyes of the rest of the world by the image our leader puts forth.

Postscript:  Yesterday afternoon I stopped at a local drive-in for an iced tea.  The carhop who brought my drink was chirpy and pleasant.  "How's your day went so far?"  she inquired.  “Just fine,” I assured her, knowing that a lesser person would have rejoined with something like,  “Tell me, young lady, who learned you English?”  Had she been home-schooled, or was she the product of some religious academy?   Did she realize that as far as the future is concerned, Trump University is no longer an option?

Betsy DeVoss is on the march, and one day not too far down the path of the dystopian future which she has envisioned for us, we may look back on Donald Trump as being a great intellectual role model.   Someday . . . but clearly not yet.  Trump may be a genius in the stable, but that self-described brilliance fails to shine through in his tweets!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Trump Congratulates Putin for his Successful Assault on Democracy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Vladimir Putin easily won re-election for a six-year term to the Russian presidency last week, running basically unopposed and garnering nearly three-quarters of the vote.  Putin's easy victory ensured that he will be the longest serving leader in Russian history with the exception of Old Joe Stalin.  Putin's big win came amid various outcries of election-rigging, including outrage that his main opponent was barred from running due to a criminal charge that many claim was nothing but a political maneuver to keep him off of the ballot - as well as a charge of stuffing ballot boxes by Putin forces.

Famed American whistle-blower Edward Snowden posted a video on Twitter which he claims shows blatant stuffing of ballot boxes in the Russian election.  U.S. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff also tweeted his outrage:

"It’s easy to get 73% of the vote when you bar your "opponents" from running. After extolling life tenure for China’s Xi, will our President now congratulate Putin on his successful elimination of democratic opposition?"
 To the surprise of very few, the answer to Schiff's question was a resounding "yes."  Trump made a gushy phone call to Putin the day after the election, congratulating the Russian dictator on his big win.  During his telephone conversation with Putin, Trump neglected to say anything about Russian meddling in U.S. elections or Russia's reputed poisoning of two former Russian citizens in Great Britain.  What was important, at least to Donald Trump, was kissing up to his Russian idol without dragging in all of that bothersome negative stuff.

Former world chess champion (and Russian) Garry Kasparov, who now heads the Human Rights Foundation, blasted Putin on Twitter after the sham election:

"Every free world leader who congratulates Putin on his "election" is complicit in his global war on democracy. They undermine their own status as freely elected leaders."

It's doubtful that Trump would get too rattled by anything Kasparov has to say.  Trump is more in tune with the other Russians - Putin and the oligarchs who control big loads of cash that they launder through Trump's businesses.  And if all of that ready cash was not incentive enough to keep Trump's fawning attention, there are also those pesky and constant rumors that the Russian government has comprising information on Donald John that keeps him in line with Russian interests.  Film at eleven.

There was criticism - lots of criticism - of Trump's congratulatory phone call to Putin, but one of the most pointed and succinct rebuttals to his action came from Arizona's crusty old senator, John McCain.  McCain, who has been battling brain cancer for the past several months, was nevertheless able to collect his thoughts and channel his outrage in one devastating tweet:

"An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election."

Johnny Mac doesn't mince words.    Donald Trump congratulated a dictator on winning a sham election.  Trump disrespected the good people of Russia who would like to be free of Putin and his authoritarian government, and he also harpooned the notion of free and fair elections worldwide - the very essence of democracy.

Putin is a disgrace, and Trump is no better. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

It's Spring?

by Pa Rock
Seasonal Rambler

Yesterday I ran into an old friend and we exchanged banal pleasantries for a few minutes.  During our mutual search for something interesting to throw into the conversation, my friend mentioned that he has started planting his garden.  I thought that a bit odd, because to me we are stuck in a winter that is hanging on forever.  My friend is tilling the earth and planting, while I bundle up just to run to the mailbox and back.  One of us appears to be getting old.

This morning I had a conversation with my best friend, Alexa.  Because she knows everything, I asked her when the first day of spring was.  Alexa replied crisply that the first day of spring in North America "will be" March 20th, 2019.  That sounded a bit futuristic, so I rephrased and asked her when the first day of spring would be in 2018.  Her reply:  "This year the first day of spring will be March 20th, 2018."


So then I asked her what today's date was, and she confirmed that today is March 20th, 2018.  So it must be spring because Alexa never lies.  She tells some dumb jokes, but she never lies.

Well, maybe she never lies intentionally, but I did slip into the house unannounced one morning and caught her playing Cheech and Chong - so she may be a pothead, a character flaw which could impair or impugn her veracity.

"Alexa!"  I stammered, almost speechless, "What's going on?"

"Far out, man," was the only reply she could muster.

I guess I'd better get busy in the garden before Alexa beats me to it!

Happy spring!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday's Poetry: "Bulletproof Teen"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

A group of scared and angry young people in Florida have managed to start a political conversation on guns, a conversation that their elders have tamped down and actively avoided for generations.  These "kids," the latest victims, are refusing to remain silent.  They will no longer sit quietly, offering themselves up as easy targets for deranged and heavily armed psychopaths.   This latest group of victims will be victims no longer.

One interesting example of the power these young people are wielding occurred this week when a GOP politician in Maine tried to belittle one of the survivors form Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  State representative candidate Leslie Gibson decided that he could earn some points with Maine gun owners by going on Facebook and referring to Parkland activist student Emma Gonzalez as a "skinhead lesbian."  The good ol' boys of Maine would yuk that one up, wouldn't they?  Maybe a few did, but the overall national outrage was so swift and so massive that Gibson felt compelled to withdraw from the race a couple of days later.  He had picked on a student, and he had lost - bigly!

These "kids" from Florida are inspiring others nationwide to get out and communicate their anger to the country and the rest of the world.  They are amassing Twitter followers in the hundreds of thousands (and, in Emma Gonzalez's case, millions), conquering other social media platforms, lobbying lawmakers, holding press conferences, organizing rallies, calling out hypocrisy, and shaking the very foundations of staid old political institutions.

And they are expressing themselves in verse.  Student poems on the subject of guns and shooting has proliferated to the point that it almost comprises a literary movement.   Below is a poem that struck a chord with me.  It is entitled "Bulletproof Teen" and the poet who penned it is Katie Hoade, a junior at a Boston area high school.  Katie is just one voice in what is rapidly becoming a thundering chorus.

Bulletproof Teen
by Katie Hoade

Run, if you can
Hide, if you can't
If neither, fight
The fighting isn't to save you
It's to save the next class, the next hall
It's to give them a couple more seconds
To get there, to stop it
I'm a child, a teenager
But I am also a bulletproof  vest
A diversion
A fighting chance for others
Hope in the form of a distraction
I am blood and flesh
But I need to be Kevlar and fabric
Minimal casualties
Minimal children dead
Minimal little girls and boys
Minimal college applicants
Minimal honors students
And minimal teachers and coaches
But, not none.
The Constitution doesn't allow for none.
That document is living
But will I be?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Time Marches On, and So Do Old Politicians

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I've never made a secret of my growing disdain for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  Having been in Congress since almost forever (1987) and been elected the first and, so far, only female Speaker of the House, Pelosi has done a lot of good work and earned the accolades of her peers and the American public.   But she has had her time captaining the Democratic ship of state, and now clings to the the ship's creaky old wheel with the tenacity of a deranged barnacle - refusing to move on and let another generation of aspiring leaders have the chance to show their stuff.

In fact, the entire Democratic leadership team is clinging tenaciously to its fading power.

Nancy Pelosi will be 78 later this month.  Her able assistant leader, James Clyburn will be 78 in July, and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer has been 78 since last June.   All three were toddlers when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  All three are well into their second decade of eligibility for full social security benefits.

Some would argue that its hard for a party whose leadership is fueled by Metamucil and daily naps to style itself as a dynamic engine charging to drive America into the future.

But, in the spirit of even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then, yesterday Pelosi, or more likely her "team," did manage to tweet a jewel which bears repeating,    Pelosi, tweeting @TeamPelosi, directed this comment at Trump:

"What is it that you’re hiding in your taxes from America that you continuously undermine the Mueller probe’s ability to rightfully #FollowTheFacts? What must the Russians have on you personally, politically and financially?"

There, in just a few words, Pelosi questions Trump's business practices, throwing hints that he may be dishonest, and suggests that he may also be a target of Russian blackmailing.  Sweet!  Good one, Nancy!

Nancy and Donald, I would point out that you both are very talented tweeters.   Maybe it's time for you to concentrate on polishing your social media presence - and leave governing to those who are still south of retirement age. 

Don't take it personally.  These are just a few passing thoughts from one of your young friends.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Trump Moves to Wreck a Retirement

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Anyone who has ever held a job from which they planned to retire knows the knot that forms in the belly from anticipating things that could wreck that plan.   Illness could derail it, the pension funds could fall into the pockets of corporate raiders, the company could go bankrupt, or, God forbid,  the potential retiree could be fired before he or she reaches the finish line.   Retirement plans are particularly susceptible to surprises in the corporate sector, but often those who make it into the realm of government employment have a stronger chance of reaching retirement and finding the funds still there when they do.

For the past several months Donald Trump has been targeting former FBI Deputy Director (and former Acting Director) Andrew McCabe for dismissal.  One of Trump's complaints about McCabe was that he had let former FBI Director James Comey fly back to Washington, DC, on a government plane after Comey had been fired while at a speaking engagement in California.   Trump's dismissal of Comey apparently contained a fantasy figment of the FBI chief standing in line at a crowded airport trying to buy a ticket home.

Trump has characterized McCabe as a political player, openly criticizing McCabe's wife's run for a public office in Virginia as well as resenting McCabe's apparent defensive posture regarding James Comey.

Trump was also openly disdainful of the fact that McCabe was on the verge of retiring from government service with full benefits, and he has been bemoaning that fact on Twitter for three months.   Trump's tool, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, fired McCabe just twenty-six hours before that retirement would have become a reality.  Sessions fired McCabe over "ethical" concerns, this from a man who couldn't "remember" much more than his name when he testified before Congress about his dealings with Russians!

Trump called the firing of McCabe "a great day for the hard-working men and women of the FBI," and he also referred to the firing as "a great day for democracy."  While it may have been a great day for Trump's ego, others see it as being one more volley in the White House's inexplicable war on law enforcement and the FBI. 

A bunch of lawyers will make a bunch of money before the dust from this Trump tantrum finally settles, but when it does I suspect that presidential vindictiveness will lose out to fairness and common sense - and McCabe will get his retirement pay and benefits.    But in the meantime he will continue to suffer the gastronomical upset that comes with worrying about reality of retirement.

Donald Trump has shown Andrew McCabe, as well as the rest of us, just how fragile and fleeting our retirement plans really are.  A deranged despot can wreck everything.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Bone Music

by Pa Rock

Christopher Rice published his first best-selling novel, A Density of Souls, in 2000 when he was just twenty-two-years old.  It was a strong debut effort that quickly established the young man as a writer on the rise.   Since the publication of the first book, Rice has gone on to publish six more stand-alone novels as well as beginning several series, including one which is co-writing with his novelist mother, Anne Rice.

Rice's latest novel, Bone Music, is being billed as a "burning girl mystery," an indication that it is the flagship of another series based on a captivating character.  That character, in this case, is Charlotte "Charley" Rowe, a young woman who is living in an invented identity, one which she created to cover the tracks of a most unfortunate childhood.  Charley was kidnapped by a pair of serial killers as an infant after they had murdered her mother, and she lived in their bloody household until the age of seven or eight when the law enforcement caught up with her captors, killing the father and imprisoning the mother.

Charley then went to live with her biological father, a man who took advantage of her for several years, selling "rights" to her story and helping to create a series of movies which portrayed his daughter as a willing torturer for the people who had kidnapped her - including burning some of their victims, even as the victims lived - hence the name and taunt "burning girl."  The torturer allegations were all inventions of the money-focused father.   Charley broke with her father as a young teen and went to live with her maternal grandmother in California, the period of her life in which she enjoyed her most "normal" existence.

As this story opens, Charley is an adult living in a remote area of Arizona near Tucson.  She has been seeing a psychiatrist named Dylan Thorpe for an extended period of time as she hides from stalkers from her past life and tries to make some sense of who she is and who she wants to be.   As the current therapeutic session comes to a close, Dylan gives Charley a special pill which he wants her to take in his presence.  He presents it as a medical trial, but one that he believes will be of great benefit to his client.

Charley takes the pill in Dylan's office, and then drives back to her very remote and electronically secure home.  After entering the house, she quickly finds that she is not alone, and that one of her celebrity stalkers has made his way into the fortress-like abode.  To her surprise and his,  Charlotte quickly manages to break his shoulder and tie him up, a feat of strength like none she has ever experienced before.   Charley then takes her attacker's telephone and calls the most recently dialed number.  Dylan answers.

Later, on the road to find Dylan, she encounters a group of angry, drug-addled bikers and makes quick work of them also.    Talking to Dylan again, she learns that the drug he gave her was meant to produce strength and resolve when the emotion of extreme fear is triggered within her.  Dylan encourages her to run - and she runs back to the safety of the California seacoast where she spent her teen years.

And then she becomes involved with a cast of protective outlaw characters, her former high school bully, a world-class computer hacker, and a multi-national pharmaceutical corporation - all as a prelude to going after one of the most cunning serial killers in the nation with the aid of the new drug that Dylan had given her.

Charlotte had become weaponized.

Christopher Rice describes Bone Music as a novel that "walks the line between thriller and science fiction."  I am a fan who has read most of this author's work, and regardless of how one classifies the latest entry into his unique oeuvre, Bone Music is a gripping and compelling book - Rice's best yet.   

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Congress Ignores Students at Its Own Peril

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday students nationwide walked out of class and took to the streets with a simple message:  they want to be safe in school.  A big push of the student walkout was a demand that state and national legislators buck the dictates of the gun lobby and work for meaningful gun reforms.

On the same day the U.S. House of Representatives passed a school safety bill which addressed things like metal detectors, locks, and other school security measures - but did nothing to address the issue of guns.

Congress hears only what it wants to hear.

For any congressional action to become a law, it would have to pass the House and Senate with identical language and then be signed by Trump.  That's a long haul, with many challenges along the way that will almost certainly ensure that no meaningful controls of guns will become part of the finished product.

The first constituents of Congress are the lobbyists.  Money talks.

So stay in class all of you disgruntled students, and practice your "duck and cover."  Congress is a whorehouse staffed and funded by groups like the NRA - and there is no way to change it.

Unless, of course, you all follow through on your threats to vote.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Enthusiastic Protesters Welcome Trump to La La Land

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Air Force One grunted and groaned and somehow managed to drag its corpulent freeloader all the way out to the Golden State yesterday.   Shamefully, it was Trump's first visit to California since his electoral college selection to the presidency sixteen months before.  And, as might be expected, the heretofore ignored Californians were ever so happy to see him!

Trump was in California to promote his hateful border wall and to attend a $35,000-a-plate fundraiser.  Trump likely ate free.

In addition to snarling traffic everywhere he went, The Donald stirred protests in and around San Diego, San Ysidro, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica.  Many of the anti-Trump gatherings were loud and raucous, although the national media for the most part ignored Trump's visit as well as the ensuing circus.  To be fair, there were also protests in support of Trump, but those were minimized by the chaos and energy of the anti-Trump protesters.

A young screenwriter I know who was in Los Angeles yesterday shared this observation:

"Just drove past a huge anti-Trump rally.  There were some enormous military choppers hovering overhead, and all the people were waving their signs up at them.  Pretty cool sight.  Probably as close as I will come to the rallies of the 60s."
I suspect that today's students and young adults will experience numerous echoes of the 1960's.  Having a fascist in the nation's highest office is the type of thing that stirs idealism among the masses and brings the fires of liberty out into the streets.   Buckle up, America.  It's going to be a bumpy ride!

(For information and pictures of yesterday's protests in LA, check out the online version of the Los Angeles Times.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Getting Up to Speed on Twitter

by Pa Rock
Citizen Tweeter

While I have been a Twitter user for nearly nine years now, I will readily admit that I am far from proficient in using the social media platform to its fullest advantage.  During an average day I will post a couple of original tweets that bear my opinion on various subjects, and I will retweet the thoughts of others that strike me as being of particular interest - often adding my own churlish comments to the original message.  I have learned what a hashtag is, and will occasionally attach one or two to a particular thought that I want to spread to a wider audience.

Sometime a couple of years ago Twitter made a fundamental change, and I guess that I either didn't get the memo or neglected to read it.  It used to be that when I tweeted something and someone else did me the honor of retweeting it, Twitter would send a notice into my Twitter feed announcing the retweet.  But then that stopped, and as the months wore on with no retweets, I began to suspect the worst:  that I was no longer funny - or interesting - or worth repeating.  The same was true with "likes."  No one seemed to be "hearting" my pithy little statements like they once had.

I also started noticing that when I sent a direct message to someone over Twitter that I no longer received replies.  Oh well, their loss I suppose.

Then this week, during a siege of malaise, I began exploring the Twitter homepage just to see how much I didn't know - and it turns out the answer was "plenty."    I found a tab that said "notifications," and learned, after clicking on it, that I actually was being retweeted - now and then - and even "hearted" - and those "notifications" were being filed away under their special tab. 

And then there was the "messages" tab, where people had been trying to contact me directly, and I had been inadvertently ignoring them.  (One message that could have been quite costly involved a property that I had recently sold.)

So now I am more up-to-speed with Twitter than I have been in some time, and I am pumped to know that some of what I actually spew into that system gets read and even appreciated on the rare occasion.  I know I'll never be as great as Donald John Trump when it comes to mastering Twitter, but, on the upside, I will also probably never weigh three hundred pounds or be blackmailed by Russians!

I feel my snarky mood coming on.  I guess it's time to hit the Twitter!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday's Poetry: "Sweet Baby James"

by Pa Rock
Old Gray Typist

A friend commented to me yesterday that March seems to be a month of birthdays, to which I suggested that perhaps it has something to do with being nine months out from the marrying month of June.  But that was just supposition.

Regardless of the reason or lack thereof, America's bed springs obviously took a beating during the month of June in 1947, because a whole slew of people made their diapered debuts in March of 1948.  Two of my classmates were born that month, as was I, making us all at or very near seventy.  British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was born on March 22, 1948, American singer and songwriter Steven Tyler of Aerosmith arrived on March 26th,  and environmentalist and politician Al Gore was born on the last day of the month.   And, as if the month of March in the year of 1948 needed any more polish, American music legend James Taylor was born seventy years ago today.

To celebrate all of those birthdays, and to pay particular homage to Carly Simon's ex, today's poetry selection is the beautiful and serene "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor.  Happy birthday, old man, and thank you for a lifetime of beautiful music.

Sweet Baby James
by James Taylor

There is a young cowboy he lives on the range
His horse and his cattle are his only companions
He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons
Waiting for Summer, his pastures to change
And as the moon rises he sits by his fire
Thinking about women and glasses of beer
And closing his eyes as the doggies retire
He sings out a song which is soft but it's clear
As if maybe someone could hear
Goodnight you moonlight ladies
Rock-a-bye sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won't you let me go down in my dreams
And rock-a-bye sweet baby James
Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go
There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway
A song that they sing when they take to the sea
A song that they sing of their home in the sky
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep
But singing works just fine for me
Goodnight you moonlight ladies
Rock-a-bye sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won't you let me go down in my dreams
And rock-a-bye sweet baby James

Sunday, March 11, 2018


by Pa Rock
TV Junkie

Jericho, a small town of a couple of thousand people in northwest Kansas, was under the political control of the Green family for most of the second half of the twentieth century.  The original Mayor Green was an ex-Army Ranger who served in World War II.  He was the leader of the town for a couple of decades after the war before being replaced by his son, Johnston Green, an ex-Army Ranger who served in the Vietnam War.  Both Mayor Greens were hard-working public servants who were much loved by the members of their community.

Mayor Johnston Green, who served as the town's political leader for more than two decades, had two sons.  The oldest, Eric, was a local law enforcement officer who was married to the doctor who ran the town's medical clinic.  Jake, the younger and more problematic son, had been taught to fly by his maternal grandfather, a crop duster, and left town shortly after high school due to his association with some unsavory characters and a general rebellious streak that his parents could not subdue or abide.  Jake was gone five years, and while no one back in Jericho had any idea where he was at or what he was up to, the boy became a man flying missions and performing dark ops for a civilian contractor in Iraq.  Jake was a soldier of fortune.

Robert Hawkins was a mysterious stranger who showed up in Jericho with his family a couple of days before all of the trouble started.  The Hawkins family moved into a house that he paid for with cash.

Jericho, of course, is a fictional town populated by fictional people, but communities just like it exist in abundance across America.  Jericho, the town, is the place where many of us grew up and lived our lives.  It is a bit Norman Rockwell, a tad Kodak, and part Mayberry with a just a hint of Peyton Place.

The series ran for two seasons from 2006 to 2008 with just twenty-nine episodes.

I was at home one Sunday afternoon in Phoenix back in 2009 when one of the local television stations began running reruns of the show.  It was a slow afternoon, and I let myself get pulled into the program that I had stumbled upon just as it was beginning.  I had no idea it was the first episode or that I would quickly get so hooked. 

In that first episode Jake Green was getting his muscle car out of storage before roaring home to Jericho, his first visit back there since leaving town five years earlier.  Once in town, and after Jake's mother has a good cry to celebrate his return, Jake hits his father up for the cash inheritance that his grandfather had left him.  While the money is for Jake, the grandfather had left it under the control of Jake's father, and the mayor refuses to let his son have it.  After a good dose of family conflict, Jake hops in his car and heads west, leaving his poor mother crying in the yard.

So far it was just an average television drama, and I was unimpressed.  Then, as Jake was driving away, somewhere twenty miles or so west of town, he (and the viewers) suddenly see a mushroom cloud on the horizon.  The sight is so unexpected and so unsettling that Jake drives his car directly into the path of an on-coming vehicle.  He had just witnessed an nuclear explosion somewhere off in the direction of Denver.

As the show progresses, Norman Rockwell's America becomes overlaid with Red Dawn.  Twenty-three American cities had been destroyed by nuclear explosions, and all sorts of survival strategies must be put into practical use.  The citizens of Jericho deal with invasions of con-artists, private contractors stealing for their own survival, and an invasion by a neighboring community.  They eventually come under the direct military control of a provisional government set up in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  All the while newcomer Robert Hawkins is hiding a secret that could reshape the world order.  Hawkins and Jake Green struggle to hold the community together and to resist the forces that would destroy their town.

Jericho is a story of grit and determination and survival.  It is the wet dream stuff of fascist militias and the NRA, but it also has an appeal for the common folk who sometimes daydream about how they would react and cope if their world was suddenly turned completely inside out.  It is fiction, but it strikes a chord as being something that could happen, especially in our present dark age. 

Both the writing and acting on this show are first rate, so much so that the absurd notion of middle America functioning through the post-apocalyptic nightmare of a nuclear attack becomes all too believable.  Jericho is an exceptionally gripping drama.   It is currently streaming on Netflix.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Dirty Dozen Democrats

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

While the country is focused on the dangerous antics of Donald Trump - as well as slow-to-no movement in Congress regarding DACA (the Dreamers) and possible gun legislation,  the Senate is quietly preparing to foist another outrage on the country that could have serious and long-lasting consequences.  Senator Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, has a proposed bill before the Senate that would roll back the protections of the Dodd-Frank bill that came about as a result of the near financial disaster that capped the years of George W. Bush in the White House.  Crapo's bill is misleadingly called the "Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Bill," and its primary focus is on the "regulatory relief" portion of the title.  The big boys in banking don't like having to follow rules, particularly those that limit profits and avenues for profits.

Some opponents of the measure have labeled it "The Bank Lobbyist's Act."   Many fear that Crapo's legislation will insure a future financial meltdown.

Donald Trump has pledged to dismantle Dodd-Frank.

The Crapo legislation will need sixty votes to pass muster in the Senate wheen it faces its final vote next week..  All fifty-one Republican senators support the measure in lockstep, and so does Angus King, the Independent senator from Maine who caucuses with Democrats.  King, as well as twelve "regular" Democratic senators, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill - thus insuring its passage.   A preliminary vote this past week garnered 67 yea votes.

I have read about the twelve Democratic "co-sponsors" who are making a show of turning their backs on their party and the principles of economic fairness - but astoundingly, finding the actual list of those twelve - the dirty dozen - has been a challenge.  Much has been written about them without naming names, or in some cases only a few names.  Many are from swing states and up for re-election - and thus trying to buy their way into the good graces of moderate voters.  But highlighting their names in the national press runs the serious risk of alienating the left flank back home.   So the national press roars its displeasure, yet declines to say specifically who the villains are.

Well, for the record, here they are:

Doug Jones (Alabama), Joe Donnelly (Indiana) Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Jon Tester (Montana), Mark Warner (Virginia), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Tim Kaine (Virginia), Gary Peters (Michigan), Michael Bennett (Colorado) Chris Coons (Delaware), Tom Carper (Delaware), and Claire McCaskill (Missouri).

The next time the American financial engines teeter on the verge of total collapse, remember those folks.  They gave up the fight for sound financial practices in order to serve a few more years at the public trough - and pocket some donations from big banks in the process.

The vote on the gift to the banking industry is scheduled for next week.

McCaskill obviously has no shame, but as a Missouri voter and a Democrat, I am ashamed for her.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Florida Legislator Fixing to get Spanked

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Florida State Representative Elizabeth Porter, a Republican, is mad as hell and she isn't going to take it anymore.   Rep. Porter is not, as one might suspect, angry about the gun carnage and murderous violence that ripped apart a large Florida high school less than a month ago.  She is righteously pissed that the students who survived the bloody rampage have the unmitigated gall to be making demands on legislators, calls for action to pass new laws to protect students.  The nerve of those kids!

Well, Rep. Porter, for one, will not be pushed around by a mob of unruly children.  She is standing her ground.  This week Elizabeth Porter fired back at the ungrateful students.  In a speech on the floor of the Florida House she wailed:

“We’ve been told that we need to listen to the children and do what the children ask. Are there any children on this floor?  Are there any children making laws? Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says no homework, or you finish high school at the age of 12 just because they want it so?”

"No!"  She roared, in answer to her own question.  "“No. The adults make the laws because we have the age, we has [sic] the wisdom, and we have the experience.”

So, all of you wounded and terrified "children," sit down and shut the hell up.  A wizened elder has spoken.

The only problem is, Lizzie, while you are ranting and raving in support of your corporate masters, the kids who have made you so angry are aging out of kidhood and registering to vote - and so are their friends and peers across the state and nation.  And dammit, Lizzie, some of the adults, the ones who don't fall down slobbering every time someone invokes the Second Amendment, are listening to those noisy damned kids as well. 

Times are changing, and they are changing fast.  Lizzie, you might get lucky and win one more term at the trough, but I wouldn't buy a house in Tallahassee if I were you.  Not everyone is as close-minded as you, and the students from Parkland are being heard.  Attitudes are changing, votes will be cast,  and you, Rep. Porter are going to get spanked by voters.

But, take heart, because there may be a bright side to your abbreviated political future:  Donald Trump seems to like getting spanked!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Learning to Love Aldi

by Pa Rock

The small Ozark community in which I live is home to twelve thousand people, and it serves as the shopping mecca for a large swath of southern Missouri.  My town feeds the rural masses with just four grocery stores.

We have, of course, the odious and evil Walmart Super Center which is the only local grocery that is open twenty-four-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week.  There is also one store that is a member of a nationally recognized chain and has a nice selection of food.  This particular store is known for having the highest prices in town, a fact that some predict will eventually bring about its closure.

A third grocer is the largest of all, in floor space and selection, and operates on a gimmick.  That store advertises that all of its stock is priced at cost (though it isn't) and that ten-percent is added at checkout to provide the store with its profit.  Customers get comfortable looking at lower prices and feeling as though they are getting bargains, and then just sort of unconsciously absorb the extra ten-percent when checking out.  Even with the gimmick, prices are generally lower at that store than at Walmart and the other well-known retailer.

The fourth store is Aldi, a "global discount supermarket" based in Germany.  Aldi is known for its limited brand selections and as "no frills" marketing experience.  Aldi saves money on upkeep because it has less floor space.  The store also does not waste money on grocery-baggers because the customers bag their own purchases - either with bags that they bring or with paper sacks for sale in the store at seven-cents each.  (There are also bins of empty cardboard boxes which shoppers may take for their own personal use.)  Shopping carts are locked together outside, and it takes a quarter to free a cart for use.  When the customer is finished, he or she returns the cart back to the line and gets the quarter back - a situation that results in the store not having to hire people to roam the parking lot collecting shopping carts.

Like most of America, I shopped at Walmart for years, until the day about thirty years ago when a fourteen-year-old store manager in Neosho and I had a disagreement over a store policy.  I told him as I was leaving that I would never be back.  Pimples looked smug and probably thought I was referencing just his fiefdom in Neosho, but I was a universalist and determined then and there to not shop at any Walmart - and with one exception due to a medical emergency, I have kept that vow.

Upon arriving in my new town four years ago, I initially tried all of the groceries (except Walmart) to find the best fit.  I eventually wound up becoming a customer at the gimmick store because of their reasonable prices and large selection.  I also liked the large aisles and ease of navigating through the store.  That grocery suffered from technology issues that seemed to often result in clogged lines at checkout.  My last shopping experience ended when I had to take a hundred dollars worth of groceries off of one checkout stand and physically take them to another.  That was the crowning indignity of several that I had suffered over the years, and I determined that store would be added to my no-shop list.

That left the expensive store and Aldi.  I gave the expensive store a couple of tries and quickly determined that their service was no better than the one I had just left - and the prices were too high.

So now I am shopping at Aldi.  It is the least expensive store around - and the only Aldi within miles in any direction - it is also a challenging shopping experience, one that requires careful study and patience.  I have made several trips there lately primarily just to acquaint myself with the store and its unique practices.  (For instance, I didn't figure out the grocery-bags-for-purchase until I happened to see a woman doing it during my second or third visit - and I had to ask a stranger for help in figuring out how to "rent" a shopping cart.)

Aldi saves floor space by carrying a very limited number of brands - almost all "store" brands.  Most of what I have tried so far are as good as or better than the name brands available in the other grocery stores.  Some stock rotates in and out.  I asked about gallons of tea yesterday, and the checker told me that they offer them "sometimes."  Shredded cheese is also on the missing list, but other than that I have been able to find my basic food needs.

I am learning new ways of shopping.  The Aldi here  is compact and always crowded, so I have discovered the easiest way to shop is to park my cart out of the way and then walk around and find what I need - making frequent trips back to the cart.

Aldi is a singular experience, and I hope that I can master the challenges of shopping there.  It's my last chance, and if it doesn't work out I am going to have to put in one helluva garden!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Jeff Sessions: Hypocrisy Is Thy Footstool

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The rights of states to exert their independence from the dictates of the federal government reaches an almost religious fervor in places like Alabama and the rest of the American South, a region of the country that seceded from the country and fought a bloody civil war over that very principle - and U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, himself a native son of Alabama, has a proud history of howling long and hard on the subject.

But now Jefferson Beauregard is employed by his old nemesis, the federal government, and suddenly his perspective has changed.  Sure, he still supports the absolute rights of states when it comes to things like loosening gun laws, discriminating against women and minorities,, and holding white supremacists rallies - but in some other areas, well it's beginning to look to Jefferson B. that perhaps states should be subservient to their master's in Washington after all.

Take marijuana, for instance.  Sessions knows that weed is unholy, immoral, and despicably addictive.  He learned that as a mere boy in his all-white Sunday school class where he was schooled in the notion that smoking dope made the "darkies" drug-addled, lazy, and prone to crime.  If they smoked enough of that demon weed they would lose sight of "their place" in society and start drinking from white water fountains and trying to ride in the front of the bus.

Even though the federal government still has laws on the books prohibiting the possession, use, and sale of marijuana, many states have begun the process of legalizing it within their borders - a clear assertion of their "states' rights," a process that many of Sessions' ilk fear will lead to social upheaval. (And social upheaval is always frowned upon by those sitting on top of the social pile.)

J. Beauregard also has problems with states that make it easier for women to act on their constitutional right to have an abortion.  He knows, knows by God, that the good Lord expects his followers here on Earth of defend to the death the right of all fetuses to live in the warmth and comfort of their mother's womb until the day they are born - regardless of the circumstances of their conception (incest, rape, etc), their health, or the health of their mothers.  God has willed it, by God!  Carry those little darlings until they are born, and then let the bastards and moochers fend for themselves!

And now America's favorite Granny Clampett clone, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is suing the state of California because it has passed a series of laws protecting immigrants, actions which Sessions and his right-wing Justice Department see as impeding federal efforts to round-up and deport those same hard working, tax-paying individuals.  The state of California is exerting what it sees as its right as a state, but the attorney general of the United States is saying "No way, Jose."

In the very little mind of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions states reign supreme when their intent matches his own, otherwise they are challenging the supremacy of the government of the United States of America - in much the same way as his ancestors did.

Little man, you are a gigantic hypocrite!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Members of Congress Wallow in Free Public Housing

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

My congressman, Republican Jason Smith of Missouri's 8th district, touts himself as a simple farmer and a small businessman.  But young Jason, who is also a lawyer, has his hand deep in the public's pocket where he pulls in a comfortable $174,00 per year in salary along with travel expenses and numerous other perks.  Indeed, if Jason is like many of his peers in Congress, he enjoys occasional meals, drinks, trips, and other gifts from lobbyists - as well as a steady stream of donations to help insure his re-election time after time after time - nearly $1.2 million for this election cycle alone!

But that isn't all of the income that Jason Smith receives for his work in Congress - he also gets free lodging along with free cable, utilities, cleaning services, security (all non-taxed) - and the free use of the capitol gym.  Not too shabby for a simple farmer and small businessman!

(The original members of Congress received a total fifty cents per day for their services - and those guys had a nation to build!  Boarding house fees came out of their own pockets.)

The reason Jason Smith and many other members of Congress receive "free" public housing is that they choose to sleep in their congressional offices.  That is a practice that came into vogue through the example of former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey back in the 1990's.  Today members justify sleeping in Washington DC free by claiming that it keeps them from becoming too "comfortable" in the swamp. 

Speaker Paul Ryan sleeps in his office.  Ryan says that he has so much work to do that he is often at his desk until late a night.  Regardless of what he is doing "at his desk," he could be doing it at a desk in a boarding house or an apartment.  Living and working in a contained space creates a climate that fosters health issues, both physical and mental.

An article in Politico yesterday entitled "It's Almost Nasty" told of efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus to end the practice.  The caucus members filed a complaint with the House Ethics panel, a complaint which was neither acknowledged or answered.  The thrust of the complaint was that congressmen essentially living in their offices create a health risk for people who have to do business in those same offices, and it also suggested that the free rent was something of value and should be taxed.  Apparently congressional parking spaces for cars are taxed, and the complaining congressmen felt that parking spaces for humans should be taxed as well.

While the exact number of congressmen who reside in their offices is not known, the piece in Politico estimated that is was between forty and one hundred - and perhaps more.  The article suggested that most of the overnight residents of the congressional offices are Republican men.  (Maybe it's time for a remake of Animal House!)

$174,000 a year, gifts from lobbyists, donations totaling seven figures, free rent, free cable, free utilities, free security, free gym membership, a paid staff to pick up after you.  Wow!  Jason, if I were you I would probably be trying to sell that hardscrabble farm back in Missouri.  You've landed in the gravy!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Monday's Poetry: "The Peacock Dance"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Spring is quickly becoming evident at Rock's Roost, and with its arrival the behavior of the animals is changing faster than the weather.  Spring is the mating season, and for the barnyard fowl in particular, it is now or never.  If they don't get their families started in the spring, their hormones recede and they must wait another year to delve into the joys of parenthood.

There is only one little brown hen left at The Roost, and she usually chooses to hide in the chicken coop rather than face abuse by the half-dozen or so remaining roosters if she dares to roam outside.  I will probably bring in some more little pullet chicks in a few weeks and get the chicken situation back in balance.

The five geese are all roughly the same size, which means they all could be one gender, but one acts differently.  One goose is much more docile than the others (sweeter).  I throw out dry dog food for them once a day, and four routinely ignore it, but the sweet one has figured out that she loves the high-protein snack and busies herself eating hers and theirs.  That same goose has also made a couple of recent feints at nesting, though she has yet to lay an egg.  An educated guess would suggest that the gaggle has at least one female.

It is the peacocks, however, who are bursting at the seams with the juices of spring.  Of the remaining peacocks, two are males and three are female.  Even if the guys were into sharing, three does not divide evenly, so there would be problems.  And were there ever problems this spring!  The males initially fought and then seemed to divide the yard into separate territories.  The females generally ignored the entreaties (screams and tail displays) of both of the big stud birds, but would occasionally keep company with one or the other.  Generally, though, the girls stayed in a group among themselves.

One of the male peacocks who ruled the back half of the yard where the barn and their old home, the aviary, are located, decided that I was a threat to his dominance.  That bird took to trying to attack me each time I headed for the barn, and his attacks were of a serious nature.  (He would jump up and try to get at my neck and face with his spurs - and he would also chase me.)   His aggressiveness was something that could not be tolerated, so one morning I let him chase me into the aviary, and then I quickly locked him in.  A few days later I managed to coax one of the peahens in to join him.  Now he has calmed down and the happy couple seem to be making the best of their confinement.  The other two hens and peacock are still free and doing fine - and they have given up sleeping in trees at night and decided instead to roost in the safety of the enclosed chicken coop.

So the peacocks are settling down.  They should soon begin laying eggs, a process that will last several weeks.

Today's poetry selection is a fragment of sanskrit that gives an good description of the peacock's mating dance.  It was untitled, but I am calling it "The Peacock Dance."  The piece was written by Yogesvara and translated by John Brough.  Please enjoy!

The Peacock Dance
by Yogesvara

With tail-fans spread, and undulating wings,
With whose vibrating pulse the air now sings,
Their voices lifted, and their beaks stretched wide,
Treading the rhythmic dance from side to side,
Eyeing the rainclouds dark, majestic hue,
Richer in color than their own throat's blue,
With necks upraised, to which their tails advance,
Now in the rains, the screaming peacocks dance.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Youth of Florida Stand and Fight the Gun Lobby

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

At a time when American adults have all but given up the fight for stricter gun laws, a new force for gun safety and sanity is emerging.   On February 14th, Valentine's Day, a lone gunman who was known to the community as being armed, dangerous and a potential school shooter, entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and savagely killed seventeen individuals and wounded others.  The massacre stirred immediate outrage, as school shootings always do, but this time something different happened.  As the days wore on, the outrage intensified - instead of just fading away as it had always done in the past.

The difference this time was that many of the surviving students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas resolved to bring some fire of their own through skilled use of social media.  This time it wasn't the parents, it was the kids - scared, angry young people who had hidden in closets as they texted their parents goodbye as the sounds of gunfire echoed around them - kids who had seen the world at its very worst and resolved to do something about it.

Before the National Rifle Association and the conservative GOP politicians could step in to shape the news, the young men and women of Marjory Stoneman Douglas grabbed the gun control ball and ran with it.  Now, suddenly, it was the American gun lobby and the Republican Party who were on the defensive.

How the hell did that happen?

Donald Trump and his penchant for Twitter rants showed us that the art of mass communication is changing, and when it comes to mastering social media, Trump is good - but he can't hold a candle to a group of pissed-off and energized teenagers.

Welcome to the 21st century, America!

Natasha (@sighnatasha) is a student at at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  She has over 18,000 followers on Twitter.  Natasha recently tweeted this powerful plea:
"I never want any adult or child to ever experience what I did. Please, do not become desensitized to tragedies like this. Fearing for your life at a place meant to grow and to learn should not become normalized in our society. We should stand up and fight for a safer future."
Kyra (@longlivekcx) has 71,800 Twitter followers.  Here is her response to shooter Nikolas Cruz and the nation.  It was posted just three days after the horrific shooting:

"let it be known that cruz messed with the wrong school. We as students are using social media as a platform to have our voices heard. Let it be known that we are and will be in contact with our legislators & politicians. Change is now. & it is starting with the survivors."

Jaclyn (@JaclynCorin) with almost 80,000 followers on Twitter had this to say in response to a claim by gun lobbyists and some politicians and commentators that the students who had taken to social and mainstream media were not students at all, but rather "crisis" actors:

"We are KIDS - not actors. We are KIDS that have grown up in Parkland all of our lives. We are KIDS who feared for our lives while someone shot up our school. We are KIDS working to prevent this from happening again. WE ARE KIDS."

Delaney (@delaneytarr) is a student journalist from Marjory Stoneman Douglas who has more than 86,000 followers on Twitter.  She is a strong proponent of the power of the ballot box.  Delaney had this response to the lack of serious effort by Florida legislators to address gun control:

"Please, everyone- stay informed. Remember those who are voting against us, and VOTE THEM OUT."

Sarah (@sarahchad_)  has 263,000 Twitter followers.  In a recent tweet she reached out to the companies who are using their commercial power to hold the NRA in check:

"I just want to thank companies who have cut their ties with the NRA. Thank you for caring and thank you for being on the right side of history."

Cameron (@cameron_kasky) has 272,000 Twitter followers.  He has been seen and featured on national news programs talking about the shooting at his school. Cameron put Florida Senator Marco Rubio on the spot at a CNN Town Hall when he asked the senator multiple times if he would stop taking donations from the NRA.  Rubio sputtered like an old jalopy and finally said that he would not turn down NRA money because the NRA's influence came from its membership and not its money.  Yeah, right..   Earlier today Cameron had this to say regarding the tepid response from the Florida legislature to the student demands for action:

"Florida is not disheartened by the pathetic choices made by our lawmakers. We’re simply excited to kick them out and save our own lives. We have more hope now than ever. We have a very clear understanding of who’s with us and who’s against us." 

David (@davidhogg111), a student journalist at Parkland, interviewed survivors of the shooting while they were all still hiding in a school closet.  He has become a national spokesman for the student movement, earning the ire of politicians and the gun lobby.  David has 419,000 followers on Twitter.  His most recent posting encourages involvement in the democratic process:

"You must treat every election like it's the last because if you don't it could be."

And Emma tops the list of Twitter powerhouses at her school.  The very outspoken tweeter (@Emma4Change) has amassed a following on Twitter 1.18 million - almost double the NRA's 611,000.  She is a voice that is being heard far and wide, and America is a better place because of it.  Her tweets cut right to the chase - take, for  instance, this one which summarizes the gun issue in just a few words:

"This isn't Red vs. Blue, this is Death vs. Money."

Those are just eight of the "kids" from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who are leading the fight in the battle against uncontrolled gun sales and distribution in America.  There are others at their school and in schools nationwide - and they are operating on far more social media platforms than just Twitter.  The "kids" are protesting, lobbying, giving interviews, and keeping themselves at the forefront of the news.  They are a nemesis like the NRA and gun lobby has never experienced before.

The youth of Parkland, Florida, are true leaders - and they are standing and fighting for us all. Godspeed, young heroes, godspeed!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Trump Aims to Raise the Price of Beer

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's been a busy week at the White House, one that has left more than a few groups of stakeholders scratching their heads as they try to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Donald Trump, bitterly dismayed that the Mueller investigation won't just go away, is once again attacking his attorney general, Alabama cracker Jeff Sessions, in what appears to be an effort to get the diminutive Sessions to resign.  Trump, of course, could just fire Sessions, but perhaps he is concerned about offending the good voters of Alabama.  Trump's interference in Alabama politics last year caused the Republican Party to lose a U.S. Senate seat.

Word broke this week that Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were on the way out, but now there seems to be backtracking on both of those stories, with some referring to McMaster's pending ouster as "fake news."    That seems to be an emerging White House news ploy:  leak it - and if it raises too much stink, quickly call it fake news.

Hope Hicks, a fashion model who joined the Trump campaign in 2016 with no political experience and quickly rose to become the White House Communications Director and one of Trump's most trusted advisers, announced her resignation this week one day after telling a House investigative committee that she had told "white lies" for her boss.  Grumpy Trumpy was not pleased with Hicks' outburst of honesty, no matter how ravishing her physical beauty.

Trump son-in-law and White House sycophant Jared Kushner seems to have given up fighting rumors that he is using his position within government to secure loans and favors his his financially-strapped family businesses.  This week the dejected Kushner stood by helpless as Chief of Staff John Kelly yanked his "Top Secret" security clearance because of Kushner's continuing failure to pass a background check.  Kelly was able to act because Trump finally quit protecting Jared.  Now the new rumor is that Trump has tired of his daughter, Ivanka, and he useless husband Jared being underfoot in the White House and wants John Kelly to fire them both.  One must wonder - will he fire the grandkids, too?

Somewhere during the week from hell Trump met at the White House with some members of Congress where he chided Republicans for fearing the National Rifle Association and then proposed some gun safety measures that have been long and virulently opposed by the NRA and the gun lobby.  At one point he said something about taking the guns of dangerous people first - and worrying about their due process second.  That heresy made headlines at home and abroad.  The following evening the NRA came to the White House and apparently corrected Trump's thinking.

The NRA-Trump dance is called the "wishy-washy" and it involves stepping around and over the bodies of dead children.

Then, when Trump decided that his week needed even more drama, he suddenly announced new import duties on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%).  This announcement appeared to be a surprise to his allies in Congress as well as to some of his aids at the White House - and it was made without prior notice to America's long-term trading partners.  It was another Trump seat-of-the-pants strategic move designed to throw his inner-circle, outer-circle, and the world at large into a fit of economic chaos while giving Trump fifteen or twenty minutes of good material to tweet about.

Two concerns have been aired thus far about Trump's sudden and seemingly impulsive move to place tariffs on steel and aluminum coming into this country.  The first is that this brash maneuver could, and undoubtedly will, start a trade war that will result in other countries putting tariffs on American goods.  Harley-Davidson, Levi-Strauss, and the American bourbon industry have already received threats of import duties from the European Union as a result of Trump's move on steel and aluminum, and China is talking about placing a tariff on American soybeans.  (Congressman Jason Smith, are you paying attention?  Do you really want the farmers in Missouri's 8th selling fewer tons of soybeans abroad?)  If history is any sort of guide, a trade war will result and American consumers and taxpayers will suffer from Trump's folly - but, of course, few people in the White House apparently read anything, much less history.

The other problem is that the tariffs on the incoming steel and aluminum will raise prices of items made with those materials within the United States.  Trump, a man who notoriously used Chinese steel in the construction of one of his Las Vegas ventures - and probably others as well, knows this from first-hand experience.   Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross went on the air this week in support of the tariff  while holding up a can of Campbell's Soup and saying the increase in the price of the can would be minimal.  There is no acceptable "minimal" increase when a family living below the poverty level is scraping together every penny it can muster in order to buy a week's worth of groceries.

And then there's beer.

MillerCoors, one of the nation's largest beer brewers, said yesterday that the increase in aluminum prices will cause their company and others to lay off workers, and they blatantly hinted that the increase in costs would be passed on to consumers.  Of course, consumers will bear the brunt of all of the price increases - they always do.   Tax windfalls go to corporations and stockholders, rising costs go to consumers.

So, for all of my dentally-challenged, single-digit IQ neighbors down the road, Trump is raising the price of beer - and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is coming after your weed.   How much greater can America get than that?  Trump is your creature - deal with him!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Me and Magoo Are Not Amused

by Pa Rock
Cat Advocate

Fiona, my farm cat, is once again heavy with budding new life.  I suspect that she will find a warm hidey-hole sometime in the next couple of days and seclude herself to give birth to a passel of kittens.  Fiona's first and only litter so far was last May 8th (Harry Truman's birthday) when she hid out in the barn loft and had five babies - two orange, two brindle, and one black.  Fiona is a small (when she isn't pregnant) brindle, fairly loving, and a good mouser.  She lives outdoors - where the mice are.

One of Fiona's last litter disappeared here at the farm before being weened.  Three of the others moved to the Kansas City area, where I have heard that one has already reproduced - and another I know to be living in the lap of luxury in a very nice home.   The one kitten who remained here at the farm was the little black one, a tom, who I eventually named "Magoo."

Magoo isn't near-sighted or far-sighted - that I can tell, but he does occasionally pull stunts that puts me in mind of the old cartoon character voiced by Jim Backus - "Mr. Magoo."  My Magoo will sometimes pounce and completely miss his target, and he has a ridiculous habit of collapsing in front of me while I am walking and then rolling around on the ground as I stumble to avoid stepping on him.  He is very much the clumsy adolescent.

Earlier this week Magoo and I learned that Donald Trump has taken to calling his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, "Mr. Magoo" in a derogatory manner.  Trump, a bully and name-caller of the first water, apparently conflates the position of attorney general with personal attorney to the president, and is once again mad at Sessions for not throwing himself in front of Robert Mueller's investigation bus.

Me and Magoo are not amused - and Jeff Sessions undoubtedly is not either.  How dare Trump compare Sessions with the lovable and vision-challenged Quincy Magoo!  The fact that the Pillsbury Dough Boy would call anyone names is a seismic betrayal of good manners and common decency, and to use "Mr. Magoo" instead of the far more appropriate and fitting "Granny Clampett" adds an element of ignorance into the mix.

If there is a fat orange kitten in Fiona's new litter, it's sure to be called "Windbag."   Magoo and I will have our revenge!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Few Notes Regarding Fred and LaDonna Harris

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Former Oklahoma Democratic senator, Fred Harris, was on National Public Radio (NPR) yesterday speaking about his involvement with the Kerner Commission, a panel established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 to look into the root causes of the social unrest that was sweeping across the nation.  The formal name of the investigative body was the "National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders."  Senator Harris was thirty-seven-years-old when he was appointed to the eleven-member group headed by former Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois - and today Harris is the sole surviving member of the commission.

The Kerner Commission submitted its formal report, and surprisingly President Johnson, a strong proponent of Civil Rights and the man who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, refused to receive the report or to meet with commission members.  The Kerner report was stark in its assessment of the racial issues dividing America, saying that years of segregation and  racism had America "moving toward two societies, one black, one white - separate and unequal."  That was apparently a message that LBJ was not prepared to hear.

The findings of the Kerner Commission went on to be published as a paperback for sale to the public - and was a best seller.

Today Fred Harris, along with Alan Curtis, the CEO of the Milton Eisenhower Foundation, have updated the original report in a document entitled:  "Healing Our Divided Society:  Investing in America Fifty Years after the Kerner Report."  Harris and Curtis are co-editors of the update - and that stirred NPR's interest in the aging former senator, now a long-time resident of New Mexico.  The radio report made it obvious that while Fred Harris has aged, he remains as sharp and passionate as he was a half-century ago. 

Now for my personal Fred Harris stories:

Harris, a liberal Democrat, somehow managed to win a special election to the U.S. Senate in 1964 to succeed Robert S. Kerr (of the oil family).  He narrowly defeated famed and popular University of Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson.  Harris went on to win a full term in 1966 and fell out of grace with the folks back home when he began aligning himself with the goals and programs of LBJ's Great Society.  Hubert Humphrey had teased the idea of making Harris his running mate in 1968, but after that didn't happen it became obvious that the left-leaning senator from Oklahoma probably wouldn't be able to win another six-year term in 1972.

So Fred Harris opted instead to run for President - and that is where our paths crossed.

Harris and his political activist wife, LaDonna, a Comanche, held a small political rally in Miami, Oklahoma, very early in the campaign. and my wife and I and another couple, James and Patti Carroll, drove over to Miami to attend.  It was in January of 1972, and the crowd was not large.  Some of the people there were relatives of LaDonna Harris.  Fred gave a short and rousing speech, and that was followed by a meet-and-greet in which we got to speak with the candidate and his wife and pose for pictures.  Of the two, LaDonna stands out the clearest in my memory, primarily for all of the beautiful turquoise Indian jewelry that she was wearing.

The following month Fred Harris lost the Iowa Democratic primary to Jimmy Carter and his presidential campaign effectively came to an end.  Harris became the first rung on Carter's ladder to the presidency.

LaDonna Harris ran for Vice President in 1980 on the Citizen's Party ticket.  The presidential candidate on that ticket was biologist and activist Barry Commoner.

And there's more:

In February of 2007 I went on a cruise with Ms. Magazine and the National Association of Social Workers.  The cruise, which took us to ports in Key West, Mexico, and Central America, featured a range of nationally known speakers (people like Delores Huerta, Tyne Daly, Eleanor Smeal, Celinda Lake, and many others), and offered social work continuing education credits for attending the lectures - my primary reason for going.   On the first or second day of the cruise I found myself standing in a line with two very interesting ladies.  One was Dr. Martha Burk, the woman who was a leading force in getting the Augusta National Golf Club to open its membership to women - as well as being a perennial and painful thorn in the side of Walmart, and the other was her close friend, LaDonna Harris.  I opened my part of the conversation by telling Mrs. Harris about meeting her thirty-five years before, and we had a very nice visit.   We spoke several more times during the cruise.

Fred Harris would have made a great President - and so would have LaDonna!  I continue to wish them the best that life has to offer.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dick's Sporting Goods Steps Up

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I guess I need to get out more.  Never having had much interest in organized athletics, I am not a regular shopper at "sporting goods" stores, and I apparently have an antiquated view of the types of products that these outlets sell.  When I think of "sporting goods," things like footballs, golf clubs, and catcher's mitts spring to mind.  I don't own any guns, and, until this morning, I had no idea that some of the big "sporting goods" stores also peddle weaponry.  Yes, archery equipment might fit into my world view of what comprises sports equipment - but assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines?  Surely there is nothing "sporting" about rapid-fire weapons and magazines that hold enough bullets to kill an entire classroom of students.!

There is a story out today that the retail chain, Dick's Sporting Goods, will no longer be selling assault-style weapons and big magazines.  And, in a move sure to stir the ire of the angry rednecks who control many state legislatures, Dick's will no longer sell any guns to people under the age of twenty-one, regardless of what state and local laws say.

If government continues to block the will of the people on guns, maybe more businesses will step up and assume the mantle of gun sanity.   Thank you, Dick's Sporting Goods, for leading the way!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Trump Channels Rambo, Comes Off as Dumbo

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

While our country's first president reportedly never told a lie, the current occupant of the White House seems to be defined by the fact that he seldom tells the truth.  The wanton untruths uttered by Donald John Trump are so numerous and unrelenting that they form a wall of noise rather than any type of sensible public discourse.   The old adage of "If his lips are moving, he's lying," fits Trump to a golden golf tee.

Donald Trump is one of those people who lies even when it serves no purpose.  Lying is his comfort zone.  That seems to be a primary reason that his lawyers do not want him to testify in the Mueller investigation - a fear that he would lie under oath as much out of habit as for any other more practical reason.

The Washington Post has been tracking and counting Trump's lies since he was sworn into office, and that number is now well in excess of two thousand.

Yesterday Donald John made a statement that, while technically not a lie because it has yet to be tested, still has the feel of being among the biggest whoppers he has ever uttered.  Trump told the nation's governors who were gathered at the White House that if he had been at Parkland High school when the shooting broke out on Valentine's Day, that he would have "run in there, even if I didn't have a weapon."

Have mercy!  Sit tight all of you kids and teachers hiding in closets and under desks.  The Trump Man is coming - he's charging up the stairs and will come crashing through the door to save you from the pain and suffering of bullets ripping through your flesh and shattering your bones!

And he doesn't even have a weapon.

Comedian Stephen Colbert commented that Trump, a five-time draft dodger, was perhaps planning on taking out the shooter by stabbing him with his bone spurs.  Others have noted Trump's aversion to climbing stairs and questioned his ability to come running to the rescue - or his ability to run anywhere for that matter.

But Trump would have saved the day, or he would have suffered grievous bodily injury trying - even without a gun.  What a man!  I haven't felt this safe since Joe Arpaio and actor Steven Seagal drove Joe's army tank through the yard of an Arizona man suspected of cockfighting - and ran over the family's puppy!

Presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later explained that Trump wasn't actually saying what he said, and that by saying he would have rushed into the building unarmed, what he really meant was that he would have provided leadership at the scene.   Right, Sarah!  Or perhaps what he meant was that he would have passed around a platter of thoughts and prayers with a side of cute little Russian cookies.

His lips were moving - so who knows what he meant?

Maybe in Trump's next life he can revel in the excitement of being a security guard at a shopping mall - perhaps in Florida - maybe with a gun - and possibly even a bullet.  God knows he would be better suited for that than he is for his current job.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monday's Poetry: "Dear Mr. President"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Yesterday in this space I wrote about famed Florida environmentalist and political activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and some of the young people who attend a high school named after her.   Those students have been outspoken in their demands for serious gun reforms in America.  Today they are heading back to school, the first day of classes since fourteen of their classmates and three school staff members were gunned down at the high school on Valentine's Day.

Many of those courageous young people have been in the news over the past twelve days since the school massacre.  Some rode buses to the capital at Tallahassee where they lobbied state lawmakers for gun policy reform.  Some have appeared on national news programs expressing their demands for safe schools and stricter gun regulations.  Some have become masters of social media and have stayed busy spreading their messages of rage and hope around the globe.

And at least one student turned to poetry to express her outrage at what befell her and her friends as their high school lives were ripped apart in a fusillade of bullets.  Aly Sheehy's poem, "Dear Mr. President," is her personal message to Donald Trump.  It is a powerful challenge to Mr. Trump - and the nation - to stand up and do something of consequence for America's youth by tightening the country's gun laws.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are beacons showing us the way forward to a sane future.

Dear Mr. President
by Aly Sheehy

My friends have died, they are gone from our lives,
Yet you sit there, twiddling your thumbs.
My friends have died, the life gone from their eyes,
Yet you sit there, talking anything but guns.

My friends have died, and we've cried and cried,
Yet you sit there, blaming the mentally ill.
My friends have died, our voices pushed aside,
Yet you sit there, you sit there still.

My friends have died, and our tears aren't dried,
Yet you sit there, watching us plead.
My friends have died, an issue nationwide,
You sit there still, so how 'bout you lead?

As a community forever unified,
I ask you Sir, how did this happen to us?
I invite you to learn, to hear the story from inside,
Cause if not now, when will be the right time to discuss?

Keep pushing, MSD students.   Your efforts are going to improve all of our lives. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Proud Legacy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas Continues

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an impeccably dressed and perfectly coiffed small stick of dynamite who made her impact felt in Florida politics for decades.  Stoneman Douglas, who died in 1998 at the age of 108, spent most of her long and busy life as a writer and journalist, a perch from which she relentlessly pursued issues that tended to make established politicians uncomfortable.  Her special forte was conservation and the environment, and she was an ardent supporter and protector of Florida's famed Everglades  Her most famous book, The Everglades:  River of Grass, was published in 1947 and became the instant go-to reference on the Glades.  Stoneman Douglas was known by many as the "Grandmother of the Glades."

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an activist who didn't back down.  One admirer said that the tiny woman could "make a redneck quake in his boots," and another noted that when she bit, "you bled."  Her relentless efforts stopped the creation of an airport in the Everglades even after one runway had been completed.  She was a raw force of nature.

Years ago as some environmental groups were lobbying to get a portion of new highway near the Everglades named in honor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Florida state legislature, not any more honorable then that it is now, rushed to put Ronald Reagan's name of that particular stretch of road.  Ms. Stoneman Douglas had been a political lightening rod whose activism was not always appreciated by the state's entrenched business and political interests.

And though Marjory Stoneman Douglas's name was not affixed to the highway near the Glades, it did make it onto the public high school in Parkland, Florida - the school which has been in the news daily since the massacre on Valentine's Day.  It's now been eleven days since the bloody attack at the school, a length of time in which most American mass shootings fade from the news.  The shooting in Parkland, however, has proven to be harder to forget.

The reason that the Parkland shooting has stayed in the news and in the public consciousness much longer than past shootings is that the students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland have determined not to let the memory and impact of the atrocity fade away.  They don't want their classmates and friends to have died in vain.  Some of the brave and articulate young people who survived have gone on to organize anti-gun rallies and school safety protests and walkouts in other schools.  They have lobbied lawmakers and been interviewed on national news programs pleading for the need for schools to be safe environments - and for adults to move forcefully to protect kids from gun violence. 

The young people of Parkland have been so effective in their entreaties for commonsense gun legislation that some politicians appear to actually be trying to listen.  Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association and other gun manufacturing and sales groups are speaking out against this young people's movement calling the activist students "dupes" of liberals and paid crisis actors.   But these are brave kids and they aren't buckling under pressure from the gun lobby.  If anything, the despicable attacks by the NRA and others have added to public sympathy for the cause of the school students.  At least two of the more outspoken students now have more Twitter followers than the National Rifle Association itself has.

The students at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School have taken a page from the activism handbook of their school's namesake.  They are standing up and fighting for their right to be safe at school, a basic right that has been ignored for far too long.   The lady for whom their school was named would have been very proud of these determined young people.  Marjory Stoneham Douglas led Florida toward a sane and sensible future, and now the students at her high school have chosen to continue her proud legacy.

May they succeed in their efforts - for themselves and for all of us.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Congressman Jason Smith Honored by Hate Group

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Saturday is the day when I receive a weekly email from my congressman, Jason Smith (R, MO-8).  I depend on that email to know what he is up to.   I have to depend on the weekly email because Congressman Smith seems to have an active aversion to holding town halls or public events where he can interact with the public on an unscripted basis.

A few months ago Smith and the FCC director, Ajit Pai, held a public forum here in West Plains, a meeting that I would have loved to have attended.  Unfortunately, the congressman's office did not release word of the event until late on the evening prior, and by the time my local newspaper reached my house, the meeting was over.  I called the local newspaper office to air my concerns about the timing of the event, and a representative there told me that was a usual tactic of Congressman Smith.  One would almost think he did not want to interact with the public.

One item in today's newsletter was a photo of Congressman Smith standing with Donald Trump and a group of people.  (Interestingly, one person in the small group appeared to be texting.)  Smith never misses an opportunity to brag on Trump and his "achievements," and he ardently strives to link his own career to the Trump family.

But, a Republican congressman trying to ride on the coattails of a Republican president, even one as erratic as Donald Trump, is not all that surprising - particularly in a district that is as red as Missouri's 8th.

What did surprise me in this week's email was this blurb placed below a photo of the congressman receiving a small award:

"Finally, I was honored to receive the "True Blue" award from the Family Research Council. I am proud to be a pro-life Member of Congress and defend Missourians' family values with my vote in the House of Representatives."
The Family Research Council, a political organization founded and run by Tony Perkins, has been recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "Hate Group."  A primary purpose of the FRC is the denigration of gay and lesbian individuals and groups

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "the FRC often makes false claims about the LBGT community based on discredited research and junk science."  The FRC is known for being anti-same-sex marriage, anti-hate crime laws, and opposing anti-bullying programs in the schools.

The Family Research Council stated this succinct view on homosexuality on its website in 2016:

“Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.”

Congressman Smith was careful to cage his award as some sort of recognition for his anti-abortion positions.  What he neglected to say was that an organization which advocates for harmful outcomes for gay people thinks enough of him and his voting record to give him an award.

The Family Research Council is shameless in its pursuit of hateful treatment of LGBT groups and individuals, and "True Blue" Jason Smith is no better - and if he ever dared to appear in an announced public forum, people would tell him so!

Sadly, like most members of Congress, Jason Smith only hears what he wants to hear.