Friday, November 30, 2007

Rain, Glorious Rain!

It’s raining! It’s been raining for four hours, and the forecast is that it may rain all night and into tomorrow. The desert is soaked!

Rain is a big deal in the Phoenix area. The radio and television stations have been giving this event coverage similar to what the midwestern news outlets broadcast in anticipation of tornadoes. It’s not just rain, it’s news.

The Phoenix area is a large desert floor surrounded by mountains. It is sometimes referred to as the Valley of the Sun, a carefully crafted understatement that gives a whiff of suntan lotion and volleyball, when a more apt translation would be eggs frying on sun-baked adobe. Last summer the valley had nineteen days of temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. But today it’s raining!

The city of Phoenix has a couple of weeks each year that natives call “the monsoon” when evening rains will occur. I live out in the western portion of the valley where even the monsoon fears to tread. The monsoon ended months ago, so today’s rain is a true treat. I had forgotten how good rain smells, and the sound of it rattling down on my roof is absolutely mesmerizing!

And, of course, there are traffic alerts all over the area due to accidents. What would my neighbors do if it snowed in the valley? I may find out because this wonderful rain tells me that anything is possible!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some Religious Bias

(Warning: The following piece is somewhat critical of the Catholic Church. If you are a strident Catholic, easily offended, or dream in Latin, you might want to skip today’s blog and go have a beer – or three! --Pa Rock)

I have worn the mantle of several religions during my lifetime, but none have been as ponderous and burdensome as Catholicism. I became a Catholic during the 1960's at a time when the religion boasted a certain degree of coolness. It was a period of history when elements of the Church, primarily activist priests and nuns – and the occasional monk, were confronting segregation, the war, and social inequity. They were organizing and leading peace protests, boycotts, and campaigns to help the poor. They were ministering to those in need, and generally doing God’s work on Earth. The Catholic Church was also seen as a counter balance to the burgeoning right wing idiocy of the Christian fundamentalist movement.

The Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, come to mind when I think of the Catholic Church in the 1960’s. They were both Roman Catholic priests and civil rights activists who gained fame for leading peace protests and occasionally destroying government property. Their artful lawlessness earned each brother a place on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

The Catholic Church suffers from the same ailment that keeps the United States Supreme Court from being a positive force for change – seniority to the point of senility. Occasionally both institutions can be surprisingly progressive, but, far more often, they accede to the worldview of the elderly. The Catholic Church had two new Popes during the 1970’s. John Paul I held power for only a few weeks until his sudden death. His successor, John Paul II, assumed the Papacy at the very young age of fifty-eight and held tight to the throne of Saint Peter for over a quarter of a century. While John Paul II was not elderly when he became Pope, he aged fast and took the Church with him.

Robert Drinan, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, was elected to the United States Congress from Massachusetts in 1970. He quickly established himself as an activist liberal Congressman and thorn in Richard Nixon’s side. Drinan was also noted for his pro-abortion stance, a position not in sync with the geriatrics who were running Vatican City. In 1980 Pope John Paul II tried to silence Drinan and others whom he regarded as malcontents by issuing a worldwide directive that barred priests from holding public office. The Pope seemed to be saying that governance should best be left to those from outside of the Church. Father Drinan gave up his seat in Congress, but, to his credit, he never did let his Church completely silence him.

During the 1970’s there was a fairly young Catholic Bishop running the Diocese of Springfield and Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri. I had the opportunity to meet this man of God on several occasions. His name was Bernard Law. Bishop Law flew to Rome to meet John Paul I and John Paul II. He was well attuned to the intrigues and politics of the Catholic Church, and was determined to move up in the Church hierarchy. Bishop Law was appointed Archbishop of Boston in 1984, and the following year elevated to the College of Cardinals.

Cardinal Law was a man of immense ambition. Although he was careful not to say so, many believed that he envisioned himself as the first American Pope. Like many notorious politicians, however, his ambition became his bane. Cardinal Law “solved” the problem of pedophile priests by moving them from one congregation to another, sweeping them under the Church’s carpet until finally their sickness had needlessly contaminated thousands of innocent children. Cardinal Law was not the only one who turned a blind eye to the problem, to be sure, but he was clearly a significant player in the epidemic that almost destroyed the Church.

Today’s Pope was once a member of the Hitler Youth. He recently incited the Muslim world by quoting some arcane text that said Islam was spread by the sword. Whether that assessment was true or not, it is significant that the Pope thought it needed to be said while undoubtedly knowing that saying it would set off a worldwide religious and political firestorm. Why did he conveniently forget about the fine examples set by the Catholic Church with the Spanish Inquisition, the Rape of the Americas, and the Church’s collaboration with the Nazi’s during World War II? Oh, wait, he was a Nazi!

Yes, the Catholic Church did turn its back on its children. Yes, the Catholic Church has made bold moves to stifle dissent within its ranks. And yes, its leaders are still mired way back in the previous century – or the one before that. But the Church has had some bright points during this headlong rush into triviality. Mother Teresa walked the streets of Calcutta bringing comfort to the lowest of the low. Three nuns and an Archbishop were martyred while striving to aid the poor and forgotten in El Salvador. And every day priests and nuns and other frontline Catholics work hard to make life better for their parishoners. The flame is not out. The Church can once again become a major force for good in the world if it will stop behaving like a tyrannical government and get back to the basics of ministering to the needs of its people. And the Catholic Church must – MUST – protect its children from pedophile priests!

Now, don't even get me started on the concept of papal infallability!

Tomorrow night I am taking my daughter, Molly, to see the Phoenix Theatre’s production of Altar Boys and I felt like I needed to do some venting on this topic before we go to the play. If I have angered anyone, you are certainly free to pray for me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More Wild and Crazy

Before leaving the subject of Steve Martin, I would like to make a comment or two about his extensive career in the movies. His films, while usually comedic in nature, also show depth and range far beyond what one would expect of a stand-up comic. My favorite Steve Martin movies are these: Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, Little Shop of Horrors, and Leap of Faith.

In Trains, Planes, and Automobiles Martin teams up with John Candy in a road trip from hell. As Martin tries to get home to his family for the Thanskgiving holiday, he is knocked about by the weather and ends up travelling, catch-as-catch-can, with Candy. The film is a laugh-til-you-puke comedy, but it culminates with some fairly serious drama on the parts of both stars.

Little Shop of Horrors features Martin as a sadistic dentist who also happens to be an abusive boyfriend. The movie showcases Martin’s comedy and singing ability right up to the climatic moment when he gets eaten by a plant.

And as good as those two movies are, my favorite Steve Martin film by far is Leap of Faith. In it he plays a travelling tent revival minister and faith healer whose caravan gets stalled in a small, drought-stricken Kansas town when one of its buses breaks down. Martin’s character, Reverend Jonas Nightingale, decides to make a few dollars by holding a revival while waiting on the bus to be fixed. The movie is a mighty send-up of stage-managed religion and the chicanery of faith healers. Martin, flanked by an array of glitzy gospel singers and talented con men, is the consummate showman – much the same as he is in real life. If he had taken a different path many years ago, Steve Martin could have become one hell of a religious charlatan!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Wild and Crazy Guy!

Steve Martin has been featured on several television and radio programs this week promoting his new autobiographical book, Born Standing Up. I’ve not read it yet, but the promos indicate that the book talks of his entry into show business as a boy working in the magic shop at Disneyland and later as a young actor at Knox Berry Farm in southern California. As the title suggests, the book also deals with Martin's career as a stand-up comedian. Steve Martin quit doing stand-up in 1981 as his fame and talent were leading him into other directions, primarily acting in films and becoming a very well known television personality.

I was privileged to see Steve Martin in person in a very small venue right as his star was beginning to rise. It was the fall of 1976, and Martin had just completed the summer working as the regular comedian on the one-season television variety show, “Johnny Cash and Friends.” Later that year he would make his debut as a fairly regular host of “Saturday Night Live.”

I had graduated from college, served four years in the Army, and was enrolled at Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, MO, working on a teaching credential. Living fifty miles from the campus and being the working parent of a toddler, it wasn’t often that I was able to take in an evening or weekend event at the college, but when the announcement was made that John Hartford, a very original singer and banjo player, would be performing at an evening concert, I felt compelled to attend. He was sharing the stage with a guy named Steve Martin, a relative unknown.

The auditorium at Missouri Southern State College is small (probably less than 250 seats), but, hey, it’s a small school. The Hartford / Martin show sold out despite the fact that a superstar, Bob Hope, was just seventy miles away that night opening the new Hammonds Center at Southwest Missouri State University (my other alma mater) in Springfield, MO. The audience in Joplin was an eclectic crowd, composed of many students and young people, but there was also a significant contingent of a more stately nature. I assumed this older and nicer dressed group was probably college administrators and their spouses, along with some of the better-healed individuals in the community.

John Hartford took the stage and did a set of songs and banjo music, many of which were his own compositions. He was well received and the evening was off to a good start. When Hartford finished, Steve Martin, the little-known comic, exploded onto the stage and never slowed down. Within seconds the whole place knew that we were in for a crazy evening. Martin told jokes and stories and did impersonations. He blew up balloons on stage and told rapid-fire jokes while twisting and tying the balloons into odd shapes that he identified as various social diseases. Then he jumped from the stage and ran up and down the aisles yelling obscenities and absurdities that had the whole place roaring with laughter and gasping for breath. The only people who were not consumed by his insanity was the well-dressed group, and many of them looked like they didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or run for the exits. The evening ended with banjo and singing duets by Hartford and Martin. It had been a world class evening!

Within a few months, Steve Martin made his debut as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live,” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nearly twenty years later I was visiting with a young administrator at Missouri Southern. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned having attended the Hartford / Martin concert. The administrator, who hadn’t been around at the time of the event, looked at me and said, “You know, that concert has become a legend at this college.” And I agreed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Charity

by Pa Rock
Someone Who Shares

Tonight I heard the Salvation Army bell ringers for the first time this holiday season, and my thoughts turned to the freedom and ability that we have in this country to be charitable and openly care about the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves. Even though I disagree with some of the political views of the Salvation Army, I always drop a dollar in their kettles because they do good work among the poor and needy.

Doctors Without Borders is an organization for which I have immense respect. I began making regular monthly donations to this group of selfless, dedicated doctors as a result of their work in the Asian tsunami of 2004. These physicians go to some of the most remote regions of the world to address humanitarian and medical needs. Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. (www.doctorswithoutborders.org)

I also donate several times a year to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. As the name indicates, this group focuses on AIDS research and the treatment of children suffering from HIV and AIDS. Ms. Glaser, a co-founder of the organization, was the wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser (of TV’s “Starsky and Hutch”). She contracted the HIV virus through a blood transfusion during the birth of her oldest child. That child, a girl, became HIV Positive through breast feeding. Her next child, a son, got the virus in utero. Mother and daughter have since died of the disease. (www.pedaids.org)

The third group that I actively support is the Ronald McDonald House Charities. This organization is known primarily for the guest houses that they set up near hospitals so that families of patients have a convenient and inexpensive place to stay. I have had several clients stay in Ronald McDonald Houses, and their reports are always glowing. Giving to Ronald McDonald House Charities couldn’t be easier – just drop your change in the box at the drive-through or at the counter. (www.rmhc.org)

There are many ways to reach out and help others, from donating money, to giving time and energy to a charitable cause. The important thing is that we all do what we can as individuals and as a society to offer a helping hand to those in need - for their benefit as well as for our own. Good works are their own reward.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jesus to the Rescue

I heard this story on the local news last night after spending the better part of the day driving across the Sonoran Desert. It was one of those rare incidents that brought together the best and worst of mankind into one brief bit of journalism.

Christopher Buztheitner is a nine-year-old boy from Rimrock, Arizona. His father died two months ago. Christopher’s mother, Dawn Alice Tomko, took the lad camping in a remote area of southern Arizona this past week. On Thanksgiving Day as they were heading home, Ms. Tomko misjudged a curve and rolled her van 300 feet down into a canyon. She was pinned in the vehicle, but Christopher managed to climb out and begin walking in an effort to find help.

A complete tragedy was averted when Christopher was discovered and aided by a Good Samaritan. His rescuer was Jesus Manuel Cordova, 26, of Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. Cordova took Christopher back to the wreck and tried unsuccessfully to free his mother. She died later, still pinned in the van. Cordova gave the boy his jacket, built a bonfire, and settled in for a long night in the cold desert. When morning came, he was able to flag down some hunters and Christopher’s safe rescue was completed.

Unfortunately, the story does not have a happy ending for Jesus Cordova. He happened to be in the right place at the right time for young Christopher because he was walking across the Sonoran Desert in an effort to gain illegal entry into the United States. Christopher became a temporary ward of the state of Arizona until out-of-state relatives could arrive to claim him. Jesus was turned over to the Border Patrol and promptly returned to Mexico.

Jesus Manuel Cordova did so much more than rescue a scared youngster in the desert. His humanitarian efforts also served to remind us that we are all members of the brotherhood of man, a unique place where compassion should trump hate, where commonsense should defeat fear, and where we all should be bound together by love – not kept apart by borders.

Gracias, Jesus! May your example inspire us all!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nogales

I made myself a promise when I moved to Arizona in late September, a vow that I would get out and explore my new home. Today I took a road trip in my quest to learn more about the southwest. I drove from Phoenix, through Tucson, and on down to Nogales, Arizona. I left my car behind the McDonald’s, four dollars for the entire day, and walked through the international border into Nogales, Mexico.

Nogales, Mexico, was much as I expected it to be: crowded streets with many shops and vendors vying for attention. I was clad in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and the day was much cooler than I had anticipated, so the first shopkeeper who accosted me managed to unload a woolen parka and a blanket. He literally saw me coming! After that I spent a couple of hours roaming through the narrow streets and alleyways looking at merchandise and watching the easy flow of multi-culturalism.

Having been in southern Mexico a couple of times, I was expecting to see the multitude of little shops with their blankets, pottery, silver jewelry, leather goods, and whatnots. Something that I hadn’t expected to encounter was the abundance of pharmacies and dental clinics, several of each on almost every block. Clearly the gringos must be crossing the border en masse to buy prescription drugs and have their dental work done.

Another surprise was the relative ease with which I was able to get into and out of Mexico. Going in involved navigating through a turnstile, no identification check, no sign-in, nada. Coming out I presented my passport to a US Customs agent who didn’t look at it. He asked what I had bought, and when I told him and started to pull the blanket out of its bag, he waved me on through. Mexican nationals crossing into the United States, and they were by far the majority as I was going through, presented an identification card to the bored agent, and he swiped it through a card reader. On the way home I encountered a Border Patrol checkpoint about 20 miles north of Nogales where I was waved through without being carded or questioned. (Lou Dobbs would have been appalled!)

All in all, it was a nice way to spend a beautiful Saturday.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Black Friday Blues

Today is Black Friday, the day that American retailers offer deep cuts on their “come-on” items in an effort to pack their stores with rabid shoppers. It’s a day that I refuse to shop, preferring instead to view the mayhem on television in the comfort of my apartment.

I have friends who act normally the other three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year, but happily throw sensibility to the winds on Black Friday. They map out strategies much as a football coach diagrams plays, to identify the order of the stores that they will attack along with the priorities for goods-grabbing inside of each store. Many arrive at their primary target well before daylight, and stand in cold lines thinking of the money they are destined to save if they can just get to their items first. Once the doors are open, the melee hardly even qualifies as shopping; it is more like a competition to see who can capture what while suffering the least personal injury. If shoppers can enrage others as they grapple for goods, well, that’s just gravy!

Two ladies I know work in a tag-team armed with cell phones and a list of what both are seeking. One might hit the mega toy store and shop for all of their children, while the other does the same at a sports store. When questions arise, they call each other for clarification. Later in the evening they meet to divvy up the booty and settle accounts.

I could never wade into the Black Friday madness, even if I had a partner-in-crime and a foolproof plan. It’s a question of the value of sanity, and I place the preservation of mine well above any possible savings on a flat-screen television or a steam powered chainsaw.

Years ago I had to stop at the Fayetteville, AR, mall for some urgent item. It wasn’t Black Friday, but it was a Saturday afternoon during the holiday shopping season. I managed to pry into the crowd, only to realize that I was totally at its mercy. Like a longhorn on a cattle drive, I could only go where the herd went. When I did manage to get into the store that I sought, it was so crowded that I couldn’t get to the counter, much less get served. I managed to pry my way back into the herd and move along mindlessly until it veered close enough to an exit for me to make an escape. All along the way I kept thinking, “What if I fall down? Will anyone even notice? When they clean up tonight will I be nothing more that an unexplained stain on the floor?” The answer to all of those questions was a probable “yes.”

I don’t like noise, or being jostled, pushed, or cursed by idiots. I won’t do Black Fridays, and I won’t shop at Wal-Mart.

Shopping for bargains, however, does not have to involve the loss of one’s dignity or sanity. Retailers have reached into cyberspace and now offer “unbeatable” deals over the internet. This Monday will be “Cyber Monday”, the on-line equivalent of Black Friday. On Cyber Monday consumers can visit any on-line store, carefully read the product specifications over a lazy cup of coffee, compare similar items from any number of other stores, and make intelligent purchases without the threat of bodily harm. Most on-line stores offer free shipping, and many will even gift wrap. Cyber Monday may lack the excitement of Black Friday, but it offers an easier, smarter, and safer way to shop.

If I wanted to risk being trampled, I'd rather fly to Pamplona and take my chances with the bulls!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Death of Innocence

Thanksgiving Day, 2007. A day for festive food and football, family and friends, and that perennial favorite, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It is the one day each year when people are most likely to spell my last name correctly. It’s not Macey, Masey, Massey, or even Mason, but just a simple four-letter-word: Macy.

But this post isn’t going to focus on family history, it is going to examine an intersection between personal and national history. I want to ramble about one of those highly significant days that was so cataclysmic and historic that anyone who lived through it, and was old enough, can remember exactly what they were doing at the time. The date: November 22, 1963, forty-four years ago today. The event: the murder of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

I was a sophomore in high school in the resort town of Noel, Missouri, that November. Our class was small, twenty some young people in a school population, 1st grade through 12th grade, of probably less than 300 students. Our school was four blocks off of Main Street, in a quiet part of a quiet town. Many of the students walked home for lunch every day, and some even walked down to Main Street and ate at the local drug store. We had an hour for lunch, and the concept of a closed campus was unheard of.

I had eaten lunch at school that day and was sitting in the study hall room talking to friends when the news first started to come in. Melvin, a senior who had just returned from having lunch at home, began spreading the word that he had seen on television that President Kennedy had been shot. Ten minutes or so later when the bell rang to go back to class, the word had filtered throughout the school.

My memory of the rest of the day is that everybody was too stunned to focus on school. Some kids were openly sobbing, and most of the others had a bewildered look that seemed to say, “What do we do now?” The school had no televisions to wheel into the classrooms in 1963, so we were left knowing something terrible was occurring, but unable to follow events. Some kids did go home to watch the story unfold on television, but most of us stayed in class and tried to concentrate on school.

Sometime that afternoon our superintendent, Mr. Bill Spears, held and all-school assembly and we all marched into the bleachers in the gymnasium. There he told us that President Kennedy had died. The crying spread through much of the student body as he tried to continued by letting us know that school would dismiss at the regular time that day. My dad was on the school board, and I learned later that Mr. Spears had contacted all of the board members and asked if he should let school out early. Somehow they had come to the conclusion to keep school in session in the pursuit of normalcy.

Years later I was principal of that same little school, by then a K-8 facility. Our music teacher was Coradell Alexander. She had been teaching music at Noel for decades by the time I came back to lead the school. Mrs. Alexander and I were visiting one day about the assassination, and she told me that Mr. Spears had been bewildered and had told staff that he had no idea what to do that day. No one had ever been through a presidential assassination before.

Two days after the President was killed I was quail hunting with my dad and a family friend when we heard the news that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot. I had been stunned by the death of the President, but the shooting of Oswald made me feel that the world was suddenly very out of control. (Somehow I think that feeling has persisted from that day to this.)

Mr. Spears cancelled school on the day of President Kennedy’s funeral. It was a nationally televised event and I was glued to the set. I remember scenes of Charles DeGaulle, Prince Phillip, Haile Selassie, and scores of other world leaders marching in somber cadence behind the catafalque that was carrying the President. I also remember a television image of Lady Bird Johnson sitting in the White House, sipping a drink, and laughing with a group of dignitaries. It looked very uncaring, and my first thought was how did they get Jackie and the kids moved out so quickly. (I went on to become a great fan of Lady Bird’s, but I always thought that she looked a little to eager that day to be the Queen Bee.)

And life went on after that. Everyone, even high school kids in the Ozarks, seemed to know that our country had changed in irreversible ways. We had crossed a drawbridge and were stepping into a very different place, and in the background we could hear the bridge being raised. It was severing us from our innocence.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Night's Tale

by Rocky Macy

Momma has a new boyfriend,
His name is Uncle Matt.
He’s really not my uncle,
He just makes me call him that.

I know my momma likes him
Because he’s sleeping in her bed.
It’s good to see her happy,
But I wish she slept with me instead.

My momma works at night
While Matt stays home with me.
He’s usually in his underwear
Watching our TV.

Matt’s videos are nasty,
But he makes me watch them, too.
And when he puts his hands on me,
I don’t know what to do.

Matt’s tells me to keep secrets,
And that what we do is good.
But I want to tell my momma,
I know I really should.

He says that if I tell her,
She’ll know that I’m to blame.
She won’t want me any more
Because I played his game.

I want to tell my momma,
But I’ve got too much to lose.
If she knew what we were doing,
Who would momma choose?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

7F2

I was listening to Michael Feldman’s “What Do You Know” program on National Public Radio last Saturday when the host made a statement to the effect that high school kids today have never known a time without cell phones. That simple remark set me spinning on the subject of how fast things are changing. Just on the topic of telephones alone, I have lived through an amazing array of technology.

The first telephone experience that I remember happened before I even started to elementary school. We were living in an old house in Goodman, MO., that was equipped with a crank phone hanging on the wall. My mom asked me to call my dad for some reason, perhaps to see if he was coming home for lunch. I pushed a chair up to the wall so that I could reach the telephone, cranked the handle, and put the ear piece to my ear. Violet, the operator, came on and tried to connect me, but it was just starting to storm and a loud noise came through the line. Violet came back on the line when the noise subsided and asked in a surprised voice, ‘Rocky, are you still there?” We tried again, but the connection couldn’t be made. I hung up the earpiece and had barely moved away from the telephone when a bolt of lightening came through the earpiece and left a black scorch mark on the wall. Timing was everything!

A year or so later we moved to a new house in Goodman and had a very modern black, rotary telephone that probably weighed in at close to ten pounds. The early years of elementary school brought occasional telephone conversations with friends, but the phone was in the living room and privacy was not an option. It was the only telephone in the household, and everyone recognized the need to limit the length of calls.

We moved to Riverview Court when I was ten. The court got its mail on a Noel, MO, rural route, and telephone service was from the perpetually sleepy village of Lanagan. Lanagan had crank telephones, but I knew how to handle those. Lanagan also had a telephonic concept that was new to me: party lines. A party line meant that several customers shared a telephone line. A half dozen or so households were on our party line, so making a call often meant having to wait until the neighbor was done sharing the gossip. If an emergency came up, the person needing the phone had to interrupt the on-going conversation. And it did need to be an emergency, because the person who was interrupted would invariably get back on the line and listen in. Each person on the party line had a unique ring code to let them know if the incoming call was for them. Ours was two long rings. A neighbor’s ring might have been two shorts and a long, or perhaps three shorts, or some other unique combination of shorts and longs. If you were calling someone else on your party line, you had to carefully crank out their ring code. Our telephone number was 7F2, and to this day I have no idea what that signified.

When I was sixteen we moved to the town of Noel. There we were blessed with rotary telephones again, but they were getting lighter and easier to move around. Our house had a rotary phone in the living room, and a rotary phone mounted on the wall in the utility room. The wall phone was an extension, so we were still limited to one person using the telephone at a time.

Push button phones began to make an appearance in the early 1980’s. The first time that I remember becoming aware of the enormity of that cultural change was around 1990 when I was a junior high school principal. A student came to the office to use the phone to call his mother. I directed him to an old rotary phone that was at an empty desk. He stared at it for awhile, and finally asked in a bewildered voice, “How do you start it up?”

In the mid to late 1990’s I worked in Child Protection for the state of Missouri. That job occasionally led me into remote areas where dangerous situations could arise. My agency began signing out “bag phones” to take along on remote visits. Of course, my county was so rural that most of the places we went were unable to get reception. Fortunately, county deputies often accompanied us with their radio-equipped patrol cars.

I entered the modern era in 2000 when I got my first cell phone. Since that time it has become a fixture in my life, and the necessity of having a land line at home has lessened to the point that I practically never use the one I have. But, in defense of my old fashioned values, my cell phone does not play music or games, compute, transmit television shows and movies, or take pictures. At least I don’t think that it does!

One more significant cultural change that has occurred over the years is the virtual disappearance of telephone booths. My first realization of this trend was in the movie “Superman” where Clark Kent (aka Christopher Reeve) prepared to jump into a phone booth to change into his crime fighting gear, only to realize that pay phones were no longer encased in booths! A few years later I was in London and heard that their famous red phone boxes were slowly being removed due to the public’s growing reliance on cell phones. Dr. Who did all of his time and space traveling in a British red phone box.

What’s to become of us mere mortals if Superman is reduced to changing clothes in an alley and Dr. Who has to take the bus?

Telephones have definitely evolved over the fifty plus years that I have been using them, but I have nagging doubts as to whether all of this evolution represents true progress. Are cell phones, the latest link in the evolutionary chain, great liberators that enable people to communicate anywhere at any time? Or are they virtual leashes that tie us to home, and office, and school, and the never-ending roar of civilization? Some days I yearn for the simpler time of crank phones and solitude – and the lightening be damned!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kiss, Kiss - Bang, Bang!

Last week a group of peaceful protesters set up a “No Borders Camp” at the fence that separates Calexico, California, from Mexicali, Mexico. Things went along fine for a few days until the group did something so outrageous that the Border Patrol couldn’t resist lurching into action. No, it wasn’t brick-throwing or even taunts and name-calling. Protestors began kissing their counterparts through the fence!

Some joyful soul came up with the idea of posting a sign on the wire mesh fence that said, “Kissing Booth,” and people quickly lined up on both sides of the border to partake in a little international smooching. Not to be outflanked by this obvious act of disrespect for authority, the Border Patrol responded by shooting pepper spray into the crowd. Several of the happy revelers were injured in the ensuing rush to get away from the spray.

If kissing brought on pepper spray, one can only wonder what would have been the result if some adventurous couple had tried to conceive a baby through the fence. Tactical nukes?

Memo to la Migra: If you can't pucker up, at least try to lighten up! Or, as we used to say in the sixties, "Make love, not war!"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dog Sees God

Last night I went to dinner and a play with some of my new Air Force friends. The play, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, was performed at the Stray Cat Theatre in downtown Phoenix. Always quick to judge a book by its cover, I assumed from the title that we were going to be subjected to some sort of Charlie Brown Revue. But I wanted to get out of the apartment and socialize with these young people, so I set my trepidations aside and joined the group for a night out.

Dog Sees God was far from anything that I expected. It was a fictionalized account of Charlie Brown’s life in high school following the death of Snoopy. Instead of being a light-hearted romp suitable for the Sunday funnies, this play was a dark tour of teen angst laced with sex, drugs, rage, and death. It was line after line of shocking language, interspersed with a rolling montage of shocking scenes. Beneath all of that in-your-face theatre, however, was a haunting look at the cruelty of high school. The play examined the viciousness of the bully, the hopelessness of the victim, and the blindness of those just going to school to be seen at the right lunchroom table or invited to the coolest parties.

The high school that Charlie Brown and his friends attended was a mean place, not the type of school where any of us would want to send our children. Yet, this imaginary place with its fictional students had the gritty feel of authenticity. I came away from the experience with a clearer perspective on why teens kill themselves, or why they bring guns to school and shoot down their classmates.

If you get the chance to see this play, do it. Just don’t expect to leave the theatre laughing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Riverview Court

Two relative constants in my parents’ lives were these: they seldom worked for wages, preferring instead to own and operate their own businesses, and it was a rare day indeed when they paid rent. One of my Dad’s favorite tirades to this day is on the wastefulness of paying rent, or as he puts it, “just throwing your money down a rat hole.” Those two principles came together nicely in the summer of 1958 when they bought a tourist cabin court four miles north of Noel, Missouri, on the beautiful Elk River. Not only would being innkeepers make a nice, seasonal income, the court also boasted living quarters for the owners.

I was ten-years-old and my sister, Gail, was closing in on eight when we were uprooted from our home and friends in Goodman, MO, and moved to Riverview Court. I was excited to be living so close to the river and suspected that it would be a life-changing event, but daily swimming and fishing aside, I had no idea how much of an impact that this unique experience would have on my formative years. We were there six years, a time that proved to be as much of a transition for me personally as it was for the country.

Riverview had eight units, with five of those being kitchenettes that would suit families looking to spend a week or two playing on the river. One night in a sleeping-only cabin ran six dollars, and the kitchenettes ranged from eight to twelve dollars per night depending on the number of beds required. The two largest units were triples, with three double beds each. There were special rates for three-day stays as well as those that lasted a week or more.

It was at Riverview where I learned to work and follow routines. Every morning I had to empty trash from the cabins, dump and clean the garbage cans, and help my mom and Gail clean cabins. We washed sheets and towels in the afternoons, using an old ringer washer with two rinse tubs. I then helped to hang the laundry outside to dry, and brought it back into the laundry room later where my mom would iron the sheets on a “mangle.” I usually mowed one afternoon a week, a process that took several hours. When all of that was done, Gail and I were free to swim or play with kids who were staying at the court. For a couple of years I also managed the soda machines and learned to be a successful merchant in my own right. My dad owned and operated a DX gas station (remember DX?) in Noel during those years, leaving much of the cabin business to the rest of us.

We had two sets of seasonal neighbors who had summer cabins next to the court. Bill and Olive Bledsoe from Tulsa and her sister, Mabel Rainey, from Fayetteville, AR, were there most summer weekends, as were Charlie and Maureen Legg and their daughter, Jonne Sue, from Webb City, MO. Gail and I spent lots of time with them and always hated to see the summer end and the neighborhood become quiet again. Jonne Sue taught us to play pinochle, an activity that I carried on into my college and army years. Her fat Chihuahua, Tinkerbelle, would roam around our feet looking for scraps of food while we played endless hours of cards.

Our neighbors, primarily Olive and Mabel, also managed to get us hooked on the soap opera, “As the World Turns”, which aired weekdays at 12:30 p.m., usually after the cabins were cleaned, but before time to do the laundry. I would make grilled cheese sandwiches, and then Mom and Gail and I would settle back with our meal to wallow in the fictional lives of the Hughes family. Gail and I were at school that fall day in 1963 when Mom’s show was interrupted by Walter Cronkite with the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

Riverview was on the side of a hill with a trail and steps leading down to the river. We were on the muddy side of the river, but my dad built a small dock where three or four aluminum flat-bottomed boats were kept for customers so they could paddle across to the nice gravel bar on the opposite shore. It was also relatively easy to jump off of the dock and swim to the other shore, or float across on inner-tubes. Gail and I both learned to swim while we lived there. I spent many happy hours catching sun perch, letting them go, and often hooking the same ones again. I also liked to quietly sneak up on turtles sunning on logs, and then jump out of the boat and try to catch them as they frantically swam to safety. Water moccasins were plentiful too, but I usually make enough commotion stomping through the water that they gave me a wide berth.

A friend gave me four Muscovy ducks while we lived on the river, two drakes and two hens. That fall they were joined by three mallard hens who cottoned to the idea of just waddling up and enjoying the corn chops that I left on the bank each morning and evening. After a year or so, all of the ducks disappeared except for one of the mallard hens. She stayed on a couple of more years, and even laid two nests of eggs. The first nest was washed away in a flood. The second time Mama Duck nested farther up the hill behind the cabins, but a snake or some other critter managed to destroy that effort. She eventually became tame enough to walk the long hill to our yard where she would quack for her supper. After eating, often out of my hand, she would take flight and go back to the river. To this day I find that animals are often more comforting to be around than people. (Someday soon I will post about my little farm in the Ozarks, Rock’s Roost.)

My best memories of those years at Riverview involve sitting outside on the warm summer evenings and visiting and playing with the kids who would stay there while on vacation. We always looked forward to Nancy and Jimmy Hurn and their parents from Henrietta, Texas, arriving each August for one or two weeks. Their vacation often felt as though it was also our own vacation as well. (Kids who worked all summer in the tourist industry never got to go on vacation, so our best bet was to glom onto someone else’s!) The Hurn’s cousin, Danny, from Wichita Falls, Texas, was a regular as well – and there were many others who were important to Gail and me, but too many summers have passed for me to come up with their names.

Living on the river and having the opportunity to interact with people from a variety of areas and backgrounds was a wonderful experience. Yes, it was hard work, but it was also fun, and exciting, and educational – and I am a better person today for having grown up there.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ramone - The Honest Mechanic

There is a young mechanic in Glendale, Arizona, by the name of Ramone who is getting truly tired of my ubiquitous presence in his shop. I can tell that he would be much happier if I would follow the example of the rest of society and trade in my old heap on something that I couldn’t afford. (I’m not poor, necessarily, but the idea of car payments is an anathema to me. I would rather pay the occasional repair bill than to lay out six hundred or so every month on something that will be essentially worn out by the time I get it paid off.)

Ramone is a nice guy, and honest, which of course is a double handicap in the world of business. Most mechanics love to see somebody like me pull a dilapidated jalopy into their shop. They see me as a continuing source of income, someone who will be instrumental in getting their children and grandchildren through college. Ramone may have even sized me up as Christmas-come-early, but he soon learned that my car came from the mind of Stephen King on bad acid.

Ramone has a two-bay shop attached to a small auto parts store. He employs three or four individuals in his start-up business. He takes pride in his operation, does good work, and guarantees his work. Since my arrival in Arizona less than two months ago, Ramone has fixed a faulty tail light on my car that the best minds in Kentucky (Larry, Darrell, and Darrell) had given up on long ago, and he replaced a switch on the passenger side electric window. Both repairs were successful and they were reasonable.

Then things began to change. Less than a day after Ramone fixed the passenger window, the motor on the driver’s side window went out. Ramone fixed it for me later in the week, and again tapped me for a reasonable fee. We both had a good laugh about the timing of the window motor’s demise, and then shook hands expecting not to see each other again for a good, long while.

A few days later the same window quit working again. I took it back to Ramone expecting to be told that a short in the wiring had fried the motor. I also expected the warranty would be no good due to the problem being the wiring and not the motor. After more work, Ramone announced that the new motor had been defective (stuff happens), and he sent me on my way with a new one. He didn’t charge for his labor or the motor replacement. Two miles down the road I smelled this second new motor burning.

Today Ramone put in a third new window motor on the driver's side. This time he used a different brand. Again, there was no charge for labor or parts. I did try to pay him for his labor, I really did, but he insisted that his parts and labor were guaranteed. This new motor appears to be working – knock wood!

But if this window motor quits, Ramone will never know. I just wouldn’t have the heart to tell him. And besides, this is the Arizona desert, and Ramone told me during one of our many chats that the last rain that he can remember here was when he was seven – and that one didn’t amount to much. So, who needs a car with windows anyway?

Ramone may have lost money on me, but he and I both know that as long as I drive an old clunker up and down the palm-lined streets of the Phoenix Valley, he will have a loyal customer. Ramone has earned my business, whether he really wants it or not!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ode on a Pet Rock

by Rocky Macy

Palsied mind that wrought so profound a frame
Exact with count and the structure of rhyme
Tortured mind of thoughts contorting for time,
Reason and rhyme – fix your discipline game.
A flaw is present which you may not claim,
Reaching deep, as to the heart of a crime,
Clipped ever precise is half of your climb,
Half, though, is ragged and mortally lame.

Go rework your scheme from the beginning,
Open each line with an important clue,
Only by doing this type of penning,
Fair thoughts made more pregnant will you imbue.
Embolden each verse with empowered meaning,
Demand your pen add dimension to you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wal-Mart Comes to Campus

There was a time in the not too foggy past when I was perilously under-employed and so broke that the neighborhood dogs had taken to avoiding my yard as if responding to some primal alarm of self-preservation. It was during those darkest of days when my self-respect totally bottomed-out and I found myself interviewing for a position with America’s largest employer: Wal-Mart. Or, more accurately, anxiously sucking up to a store manager who was younger than some of my children and possessed the grating habit of constantly addressing me as “sir”. Things were going along swimmingly, though, until the subject of insurance came up. “Yes,” the kid manager said in answer to my most critical inquiry, “Wal-Mart does have an excellent insurance program, sir. Unfortunately, that benefit is only available to our full-time employees.” I responded by saying that a full-time position would fit quite nicely into my then-current situation. “Sir, I’m afraid you don’t understand. We only have three full-time positions in this entire store, and there is a long waiting list for each of them.”

That was a true story. Here is another:

Having passed on the stellar opportunity to man an oar on a Wal-Mart slave galley, I redirected my job search into more “professional” channels. A university placement center alerted me to the fact that a local community college was seeking adjunct instructors to fill in gaps in its fall schedule. The term “adjunct” had a nice, professional ring about it, even if I didn’t have a clue as to its meaning. But what the heck…bring on them adjuncts, I’d learn ‘em!

And I did. My “career” as a “rent-a-prof” lasted nearly a decade, well into a time of life in which I had become so over-employed that some commitments needed to be jettisoned. My classes, often determined within days or even hours of the beginning of the semester, ranged from various types of history, to geography, psychology, sociology, economics, and that perennial favorite – freshman composition. I taught the young kids who coughed up sentence fragments when paragraphs were the expectation. I taught their grandparents who came for self-betterment, the academic challenge, or simply something to do on Tuesday nights. The learning was a reciprocal process. I struggled to keep up with the older students who routinely stayed chapters ahead of the lectures, and I endeavored with similar enterprise to counsel and cajole their genetic residue into comprehending the importance and necessity of coming to class with textbook, paper, and pen. It was with a surprising degree of reluctance that I finally gave up the privilege of being economically swindled by academia in order to devote full attention to a career that did a better job of paying the bills – daily as well as medical - and provided for an eventual retirement.

Adjunct instructors on America’s college campuses are about as common as condoms at a frat house. They scurry through the halls of community colleges and major universities, rushing from class to class, building to building, often without the benefit of an office, a locker for storing their teaching supplies, and sometimes, in the most egregious of cases, even a mailbox. And while some undoubtedly are better supplied than others, most adjuncts lack the ample measure of esteem that is accorded to their full-time colleagues – if not by their students or peers, almost certainly by the college administration.

A skilled administrator can spew forth reasons for the use of adjunct instructors faster than a committee can turn a statement made in jest into a twelve-pound policy manual. Obviously, being able to hire teachers for one or two courses gives flexibility to scheduling, both in ensuring that plenty of sections of grunge classes can be scheduled (Can you say “freshman comp?”), as well as specialized courses for which no permanent instructors are available. Closely allied to that tangent of need are the “real life” experiences that can come from the world beyond academia. A truly skilled administrator might even be so bold as to suggest (with the obligatory straight face) that adjunct faculty are indeed blessed because they are not bogged down with committee work and the endless hassle of research and publishing. Add to that the fact that some wags (this writer among them) contend that the teaching performance of adjunct instructors is often equal to, or even surpasses, that of their esteem-laden, generously benefited, and better paid colleagues, and justification for their use becomes embarrassingly easy.

The administrative perspective on this matter may clang and clatter with platitudinous locomotion, but the primary reason for the use of adjunct instructors often remains unstated, at least by the administration. Part-time instructors are hired because they are cheap, unprotected, and far more likely to be compliant to the whims and vagaries of administrators than are tenured and/or unionized full-time faculty members. In fact, hiring part-timers can be as much about power and control as it is about cost savings. Not only are adjunct faculty themselves in a weakened position, but their employment also serves to wobble the stance of the regular faculty. From the perspective of full-time instructors, their part-time counterparts depress salaries and diminish opportunities for more tenure-track positions.

The perceived negative impact that the employment of adjunct instructors has on full-time teachers, however, is minimal compared to the negative situations in which adjuncts often find themselves. The two big pluses for administrators, low wages and few-to-no benefits, are, of course, major minuses to those on the other side of the hiring desk. The advantage usually noted for regular instructors, that of having a herd of hungry have-nots ready to swoop in and manage survey courses and the more mundane or monotonous classes, translates into hard knocks for the adjuncts who must shepherd their charges through the academic equivalent of adolescence. (This writer once found himself in the awkward position of having to telephone a college freshman’s mother to inform her that her son seldom attended his Saturday morning class. Mom, of course, soon remedied that situation, much to the chagrin of her errant son who felt that he was suddenly back in junior high school, a perception shared by the instructor who sensed that he was adrift in a sea of thirteen-year-olds!)

The negatives for adjunct instructors, unfortunately, don’t end there. Low wages and few-to-no benefits feed into a sinking abyss of morale and a perception of exploitation. Some of the part-timers probably do fit nicely into the “bored housewife” archetype of a person who needs the diversion of an out-of-home experience more than the money. Many others, however, are motivated by a calling to teach, or, at the very least, a calling to eat. In larger communities, these individuals may adjunct themselves at multiple schools as they struggle to survive - while keeping their names and faces afloat in the event that a crack will suddenly appear in the floor of heaven and allow the ascension of another robed god.

The scariest negative associated with a heavy reliance on adjunct instructors, however, centers on the educational experiences that they deliver. As stated earlier on, most adjuncts do a fine job of teaching. They have to. These part-timers sit out on a precariously shaky limb with no protections. If an adjunct teacher doesn’t pony up his one-hundred-and-ten percent, he can simply not be rehired for the next semester - and replaced by the next hungry and not-too-proud smutz who slides an application under the dean’s door. The problem, of course, is that an adjunct who teaches too well can also be easily removed. If a tenured professor makes a brutally honest statement that offends the sensibilities or portfolios of wealthy alumnae, he can expect to avail himself of certain protections that are built into the system before being hung out to dry. Not so with the adjunct instructor. An off-the-cuff remark or a well-reasoned statement that challenges the status quo can be a quick ticket back to flipping burgers. Bold ideas, it would seem, are best left to the purview of management – those good folks who mindlessly cheered on the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, spying by the FBI and CIA, criminal penalties for smoking pot, and community-destroying super centers.

In retrospect, the heavy use of adjunct instructors may not be such a bad move after all. If one views education not as some ethereal garden where scholars congregate to luxuriate in the scents and pleasantries of grandiose philosophies, but rather as a weeding yard for the employment marketplace, the use of a powerless class of instructors to mold a mindless proletariat makes uncommonly good sense. The day draws nigh, one assumes, when the national motto will shift from “E Pluribus Unum” to a more readily recognizable “Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Don't Talk That Way in Tulsa

by Rocky Macy

Today I found a naughty word,
I picked it up at school.
And when I said it to my friends,
They all thought I was cool!

After recess my teacher asked me
To describe a certain bird.
But when I opened my mouth to do it,
Out fell that naughty word!

My teacher gasped and stammered
As she said for all to hear,
“We don’t talk that way in Tulsa.
You must go see Missus Fear!”

Missus Fear, the principal, asked what I had done.
Had I been a bully, or did I throw a rock?
When I opened my mouth to tell her,
We both got quite a shock!

The principal huffed and powder-puffed
And proclaimed that I’d gone wild.
“We don’t talk that way in Tulsa.
You’ve become a problem child!”

Missus Fear called my mother
Who left work to come to school.
And when my mother heard my word,
She wasn’t very cool!

“We don’t talk that way in Tulsa!”
My mother yelled at me.
“And if you think we do,
Well …well…well…”

And there it was, another naughty word,
Alive and kicking, loud and clear!
Maybe they don’t talk that way in Tulsa,
But that’s not exactly what I hear!

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Evening with June Carter

Being a small town youth and new to college in the now infamous 1960's, I was generally able to find a party or some activity to keep me from the books on the weekends. It was in the deadest part of winter of my freshman year, probably January or February of 1967, that my friend Mike (another small town kid) and I couldn't come up with a plan for Saturday night, and, at the last minute, decided to each invest the amazing sum of $5.00 to see Johnny Cash at the Shrine Mosque. (Five dollars was a significant amount of money when you consider that a semester's tuition at our school, Southwest Missouri State College, now Missouri State University, was just ninety-five dollars at that time!)

It was dark, and snow and rain were competing for dominance as we slogged through a mile or more of slush to reach the reach the famous Springfield landmark where The Man in Black was to perform. We had gotten seated and just started to shake off the wet cold when a man walked out on stage and announced that Johnny's plane couldn't land in Springfield due to the snow. He stood there through the groaning of the audience, and then continued saying that anyone who wanted a refund could collect their money at the door, but anyone who stayed would not be disappointed. Mike didn't have to think it over. He jumped up and entreated me to join him in leaving. Maybe it was the thought of facing that rotten weather again so soon, or the fact that I would still have nothing to do on a Saturday night if I left, but the decision seemed simple to me. While Mike and three-quarters of the audience hit the doors, I moved up to a better seat and settled in for the show.

June Carter, one of the stars of Johnny's traveling show, took that stage in much that same manner as Grant had taken Richmond in the previous century, full-throttle and never giving any quarter. She sang, and danced, and joked and told stories, and played music. Others shared the stage that night including June's sister, Anita, their mother, Maybelle Carter, and a relatively new singing act by the name of the Statler Brothers. But the show was June's from the first joyous note to the final curtain call.

One of the comedy highlights that night was June giving her impressions of ladies she said that she had seen navigating the slush puddles outside of the Mosque earlier in the evening. She did a stately take on a lady from St. Louis crossing a puddle, and a little less dainty version of a lady from Kansas City attempting the same crossing. She tried to close the skit with a hillbillyesque performance of a "gal from Neosho" hiking up her skirts and tromping through the mess. Just as her skirts raised above her knees, someone in the audience snapped a flash picture. June froze in mid-step and glared at the offender, while the rest of us sat in stunned silence waiting to see what would happen next. Finally June pulled her skirts above her head revealing a long, fetching pair of bloomers. When she dropped the skirts she once again glared at the offender and said, "You didn't get a thing with your Brownie Hawkeye, so there!" The timing and physicality were flawless, and the delivery cracked like lightening.

June Carter never left the stage that night. She introduced acts, laced her routines and musical numbers throughout the show, and joined in performances with her family. She even held the held court during the show's only intermission, sitting on the edge of the stage and signing programs, with the sweat literally rolling off of her throughout the break. It was as though she was personally thanking everyone who had stayed for the show and making sure that it was a night all would remember.

And I have always remembered that night, surprisingly well. But the memory became much more poignant a couple of years ago after I saw the film, "Walk the Line." The live show at the Shrine took place one year before Johnny and June were married, roughly the same time period that was reflected in the film. As I watched Reese Witherspoon on the screen, I was seeing the very same June Carter that had given me such a wonderful Saturday night those many years before. Reese rocked - and so did June!
"You didn't get a thing with your Brownie Hawkeye, so there!" --June Carter

Sunday, November 11, 2007

God Doesn't Even Hate Fred Phelps

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and earlier this month Her choice of a modus operandi was the United States Federal Court System. Acting through the distraught father of a Marine who was killed in Iraq, God smote America's best known hate-monger, the Reverend (sic) Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church / Cult of Topeka, Kansas.

Do you know about Fred?

Fred Phelps was born in Mississippi during the Great Depression, did a stint at Bob Jones University without graduating, and eventually became a Kansas Attorney specializing in Civil Rights cases. And while he did assist in bringing an end to some of the Jim Crow legislation that was still on the books in Kansas, his gears soon began to slip and he was ultimately disbarred for bizarre behavior in Court. Fred's other accomplishments of note include fathering thirteen children, nine of whom still claim him, and founding a church - of sorts. That church, the Westboro Baptist, has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to Wikipedia, "60 of its 71 confirmed members are related to Phelps through blood or marriage or both." Both?

Phelps and his church/cult became famous and a national embarrassment primarily on one issue: their rabid stand against homosexuality. Their premier website, for those not overly faint of heart, is: godhatesfags.com. (Are you getting the picture?) It was the Phelps crew from Westboro who protested and heckled the Matthew Sheppard funeral. For awhile the group was content with just being cruel to the families of AIDS and hate crime victims. Somehow though, they have since conflated their homosexuality issues with the US Military, and are now protesting at military funerals on the premise that the United States has enabled homosexuality, and our dead soldiers are God's revenge for that transgression. The group also has up websites detailing their hatred of Canada, Ireland, and Sweden.

Though Phelps and his minions are openly hostile to the American government (and Fred himself has spoken glowingly of Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein because of their stands against gays), they are not too proud to avail themselves of the protections offered by the United States Constitution. Whenever anyone has summoned the courage to attack these bullies in Court, they wrap themselves tightly in the First Amendment and proclaim the sancity of their freedom of speech.

But maybe the lights are finally about to go out at the Westboro circus.

The Federal Court in Baltimore looked at more that just freedom of speech. Those judges also considered a family's right to privacy and the emotional distress that comes with having the funeral of a loved one disrupted with plackards and heckling. And when those good judges viewed the whole picture of what these homophobic crazies had hurled upon people who just wanted to bury their Marine son in quiet and dignified repose, they took a big step to righting a festering wrong. The Court awarded the family of the deceased Marine 10.9 million dollars to be paid by Fred, two of his children, and the Westboro Baptist Church.


May the verdict hold through appeals, may the government seize and sell the Westboro Compound to pay the damages, and may the whole place be bulldozed and salted by a team of gay construction workers so that nothing ever grows there again! And then may God bless us each and every one, especially Fred.

Amen

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Horsemen!

by Rocky Macy

Murderous Horsemen are storming the wall,
Surrounding the town, there is no escape.
Horsemen! More Horsemen! The gate will soon fall
And horsemen will plunder, butcher, and rape!
Slaughtering pigs and serfs without battle
Horsemen will drink the pale blood of this clan.
Flee to the fields and stay with the cattle,
Or take to your hovels, hide while you can!

And as the carousel slows down, slows down
Each handsome young rider calmly goes round.
Up and down, round and round, they take the town
And rope their steeds to the carnival ground.
The little Horsemen have ravaged their share,
Each must go home and await the next fair.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Heaven and Hell

by Pa Rock
Philosopher

Do you ever wonder about what happens when we die? Aside from a handful of psychics and spoonbenders, and those who are religious to a fault, the rest of us may occasionally ponder that outcome. There is a lot of support for the concept of an immortality, whether that involves sitting on a cloud and strumming a harp, or roaming the Earth in some nebulous dimension and haunting the family estate or those troublesome descendants forever and ever.

Heaven and Hell may be very real places that grab our spirits and hold on tight as we pass on. Heaven and Hell might also be very real places that are in this plane of existence and not the next.

Stay with me here.

Suppose we each make our own Heaven and Hell, right here, right now. Those who do good works and genuinely show love for their fellow Man are safely anchored in a Heaven that they have created. On the other hand, those have never worked for anyone's benefit but their own are in a Hell of their own making. You can generally tell the former from the latter by attending their funerals, counting the mourners, and making an estimate of how many were truly saddened by the passing of the deceased.

If a person has lived a life of doing good works and being true to his values, he has been in Heaven. Greedheads and those who spend their lives promoting hate missed the boat - and now they're gone. There is no afterlife and they have blown their one opportunity to experience the bliss that is Heaven. Ebeneezer Scrooge finally caught on and managed to spend his last days happy.

Okay. What if I'm wrong. Suppose that I'm as full of it as the only porta-potty at a Fourth of July picnic. What then? Will our immortal souls fuel the fiery pits of hell because we strayed from dogma and spent all of that time doing good. I'm doubting it. Good works are their own reward, and if there is a Heaven in the afterlife, I believe that the good will be invited in, regardless of how many television preachers they failed to support during their days as mortals. And likewise, if there is a Hell, I'm betting that the gatekeeper will be far more concerned with how people lived their lives than if they tried to buy their way in by supporting "the one true church," or by erecting statues and buildings and schools to themselves and their enduring egos.

It's a win-win. Those who live right will experience Heaven in this life, and if there is a Heaven in the afterlife, they will experience that one as well. And their soul mates in that afterlife will be truly good spirits, the kind with whom they wouldn't mind sharing a big ole fluffy cloud.
"It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens." --Woody Allen

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Decrescendo

by Rocky Macy

The characters in my story are going now,
Quietly, and in somber cadence,
Stepping off the brittle pages,
Drifting through the evening shadows
And landing softly in wilted piles
Among the dime store relics and old clippings
That are mere whispers of my fading life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Student Activism Thrives in Tucson

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist


Late last week a freshman showed up stoned at Catalina High School in Tucson. When school officials noticed the young man's incoherent behavior, they searched his backpack and found a substance that resembled marijuana. In accordance with the school's policy, the police were called.

So far, so good. But when the police arrived, things began to get dicey. The police called the boy's parents who, concerned about the welfare of their son, rushed to the school as most good parents would. Then, for reasons known only to them (but racial profiling leaps to mind), the police asked to see the parents' driver's licenses, whereupon they learned that the family had been residing illegally in the United States for the past six years. The police promptly notified the Border Patrol, and the father was deported the following day. This left the mother, the student, and his younger brother little choice but to follow along.

The following morning one hundred students from Catalina High got together and marched five miles to downtown Tucson in a peaceful protest of the treatment received by their classmate and his family. Their action bore results later that day when Tucson Police announced a new policy stating that they would no longer call the Border Patrol to schools or churches.

Kudos to the kids for marching those five hot miles, and kudos to the Tucson Police for respecting the big voice of those young people. Schools and churches are sanctuaries, places of support and comfort for the whole spectrum of society. When those sanctuaries are violated, a basic trust is broken and we are all diminished.

"The most efficient way to solve the immigration issue would be to build a wall around Lou Dobbs." --Pa Rock

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ballad of the Middle Ages

by Rocky Macy
Sonneteer


“And what of me? Should I dare to ask it?
Where is my due for the mortar and sweat
That I gave from the heart, without regret,
To house our marriage? A house? A casket!
Our marriage is dead, I’ve tried to mask it
With public embraces, a false face set
To show love that has flown, love to forget!
Am I to blame? Should I dare to ask it?”

“Bitter old woman inflamed with such spite,
Your shackles of hate no longer bind me
To our stagnant union, that loveless blight!
As the dusk settles she and I will flee
Through the village gates to some star-strewn site
Hidden among the dunes of Arabie.”

"The really frightening thing about middle age is that you know you'll grow out of it." -- Doris Day

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pompoms and the Decline of American Education

by Pa Rock
Educator


Christian Lund Ducheylard was born in Santiago, Chile, in the mid-1960's. The son of moderately successful parents, he was a bright boy who was popular with his peers, had a good academic record, and loved his futbol (soccer, to the uninitiated). He came to North America in the early 1980's to live with my family and to do his senior year at a rural Missouri high school. One of Christian's first observations upon beginning classes was his amazement at how easy academics were in the United States. He said that he had nine subjects to study each year in Chile, and that daily class schedules were devoted entirely to academics. "Pompoms," his catch-all term for athletics, cheer-leading, and other high school distractions, were scheduled on Saturday in his country - and they were truly "extra-curricular."

While few would argue that the overall academic achievement in the United States has seen a steady decline over the last three to four decades, the opinions as to why that has occurred are as varied and numerous as fleas on a country hound. Teachers, of course, form the easiest target. They are charged with teaching, and if the kids aren't learning, well then, the problem must be the teachers. Radio talk show hosts, television preachers, and other demagogues love to rail on teachers. Teachers, in turn, often point at parents and say if they would just provide some support such as checking to see that homework is completed, ensuring that kids get enough sleep and proper nutrition, or, God forbid, instilling some respect for authority in their spawn, then the result would be better students. School administrators focus on budgets and test scores in an effort to quantify education and boil it down to something that can be manipulated like a pocket calculator, and school board members listen to their loudest and most contentious neighbors in order to craft school policy that reflects the will of the well-connected. Everybody has an axe to grind or a finger to point, and education just keeps on sliding into the crapper.

When all of the studies have been completed, all of the test scores analyzed, all of the innovative teachers fired and replaced by people who don't even believe in Darwin, will things be any better? When teachers are paid what they believe they are worth, will kids learn more? Will test scores rise? Will futures be brighter when all of the "problem" kids are forced out of school and onto the streets in the name of discipline, or safety, or national security? Will our kids be smarter when the halls are devoid of all but those born in the best zip codes and a small contingent of babysitters with teaching certificates? Don't bet the farm on it!

Christian had it right. In a world of Friday Night Lights and Beverly Hills 90210, we have let schools evolve into little more than host bodies for athletic teams and a coiffed cadre of class-conscious princesses. School is no longer a sanctuary for learning. It has morphed into the place where kids come to hook-up socially and be admired for their clothes and cars and gizmos rather than for academic achievement.

But football is important, isn't it? And basketball? And baseball, and track, and maybe even volleyball, skeeball, and croquet? Don't team sports build character, teach teamwork, and separate the real men from the pansies? Does a game on Friday night really take away from academics? Maybe not much if the school only has one coach per sport and that person also has an academic load. But if the school has a squad of coaches and assistant coaches for each sport and their salaries are fluffed with extra titles to the financial detriment of the classroom teachers and the student body, then the athletic program definitely takes a toll on the educational potential of the school. Sadly, though, athletic programs are often seen as sacred cows that are immune from budget scrutiny or criticism.

Aside from the funds that athletics siphon away from academics, there are also the issues of time and elitism. The "game" may be on Friday night, but practice occurs daily, taking time that could be dedicated to study. And it's more than just Friday nights and weekday practice sessions. When do junior varsity and junior high teams play? Not on Friday nights because that time is reserved for the real jocks and the entertainment spectacle that sports provide to the community. Those "junior" teams are on buses late into the week nights going to hell-and-back and who-knows-where in order to learn the skills and pay the dues that may one day earn them their ticket to the Friday night show.

And which students benefit from the athletics program. Clearly the biggest beneficiaries are the ones who participate. If sports have merit for one student, then every student should have the opportunity to participate. If cheer-leading has value for one, then it should be made available to all. But that is not the way things work in most of our schools. The emphasis is on winning, and winning is not congruent with spreading the resources of time, instruction, and money throughout the entire student body. Unfortunately, the elitist, extra-curricular programs that exist in American schools today shortchange most students in all of those areas.

Why not save pompoms for Saturdays? Maybe then we could get back to the very real issue of education and make every hour spent at school a time for learning.

"God made the idiot for practice, and then he made the school board." -- Mark Twain

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Obama '08

by Pa Rock
Opinionator


First, let me clear the air on the question of my political leanings: I am a Democrat, a proud, totally-tilted-left, and, not ashamed to wear the label, liberal Democrat! I wasn't born into the party. My mother and father were Republicans, and I suspect that all of their forebears were also, probably as far back as Lincoln. My eighty-three-year-old father still likes to rail on unions as being "the ruination of America," and any positive mention of FDR will also send him into a sputtering tirade.

So, with this fine conservative background, where did I begin to stray? Easy answer: Nixon. Yes, Richard Nixon made me a Democrat. (Opening China to the West, lowering the national speed limit to fifty-five, and causing Rocky Macy to make a sharp left turn in his political life were undoubtedly Tricky Dick's top three achievements - meeting Elvis and giving Okinawa back to Japan were numbers four and five.) Okay, it wasn't only Nixon. Attending college in the sixties had a major impact on my political thinking as well, whether I admit to inhaling or not!

While I am very comfortable identifying with the Democratic Party, I will split my ticket on those rare occasions when I know that the other party has the better candidate. Thankfully, those situations are rare. All things being equal, I stand comfortably with the Party that historically, at least since FDR, has been focused on those in society who haven't been invited to the table for their slice of the American pie.

So why am I supporting Obama when Hillary clearly seems to stampeding the Party? Is my reluctance to tumble into the landslide some "anti-woman" thing? I really don't think of myself as being sexist, though my age and gender might lead some to speculate otherwise. I was one of the participants in this year's third annual MS Magazine Cruise, and I made if from Tampa to Belize to Guatemala to Mexico and back to Tampa without being thrown overboard or being forced to walk the plank, and I managed to take in most of their workshops along the way. America could definitely benefit from a leader whose perspective and values are something other than those of a morally stymied, white, male frat boy.

No, it isn't that Hillary is a woman, she is just not the woman to lead our nation out of the Bush morass. She very likely could win the Presidency, but she is such a lightening rod that every greed head and fundamentalist goober in the country would turn out to vote, and a lot of good Democratic congressional candidates would be defeated - in a year that should see a massive Democratic majority in both national houses and many state legislatures. What a shame to let the country submit itself to eight more years of gridlock, when it is clearly time to pull ourselves out of the muck and move on.

The true picture of Hillary developed at last week's debate in Philadelphia when she was asked about releasing her correspondence with Bill while she was First Lady. Instead of a definitive "yes" or "no," she equivocated grandly, trying to serve up some mishmash that said it couldn't be done because the National Archives works too slowly. Never mind that Bill had written a letter to them asking that those records not be released until 2012. George, Bill, Bill, Shrub, Shrub, and now Hillary, Hillary. What goes around comes around - and it just keeps coming! (Is anyone naive enough to rule out Jeb, Jeb, Chelsea, Chelsea, and then maybe Jenna, Jenna?) I am so tired of the Bush's and the Clinton's and their endless drama! And don't even get me started on Hillary's shameless milking of the health care lobby! It's long past time for national health care. Hillary can be most effective in bringing that about by getting out of the way!

So why Obama? He talks about ideas, as outlined chapter and verse in THE AUDACITY OF HOPE. He recognizes problems and puts forth challenges, rather than the feel-good pabulum that has been our national staple for years. He is new enough to the political scene that his soul is still his own, and not the personal property the lobbyists and corporate scumbags who regard government as their personal property and operate unchecked and unencumbered by conscience or the will of the people. Barack Obama is not only a fresh face, he is also a new voice with the potential to make bold moves and actually lead instead of being led. He is an eloquent visionary whose coattails will bring congressional majorities large enough to actually govern. Obama is the leader who truly has the potential to take us beyond the self-serving politics that have been the norm since Reagan.

Most importantly, Barack Obama is the only top tier candidate in either party who is younger than me - and I know that I am too damned old to be President!

"Vote early and vote often." -- Al Capone