Friday, October 31, 2008

Arizona Votes

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I telephoned the Elections Office in Maricopa County today to ask if there was a way that I could determine if my mail-in ballot had been received and tallied. After ten minutes of listening to recordings and pressing numbers, I finally reached a human. I told the young man that I had mailed in my ballot three weeks ago. Would there be, I asked, a list of voters who had actually voted posted somewhere after the election so that I could ensure that my ballot had been received? "What is your name, sir?" he asked politely. After I told him, there was a pause for a few minutes, and then he came back on the line and told me that my ballot had been received and counted. Mail-in voting is so easy and so convenient!

Estimates are that one-third of the national electorate may have already voted by election day. Thirty states have some sort of early voting process, and I suspect that they will have fewer problems on election day than those states that cram all of their voters into one twelve-hour period. There certainly should be less waiting and hassle in places where citizens have been allowed to vote early. Who knows, election day might be one of the two or three days a year that we have rain in Arizona!

The Obama campaign began doing television advertising in Arizona today, after most polls moved the race from "solid McBush" to "lean McBush." John McBush has homes in several states, and some of the locals feel that he is more transfixed on life in Washington DC than he is on life in Arizona. Some wags refer to Arizona's Senator Kyl as our "workhorse" and McBush as our "showhorse." So long-story-short, McBush is losing ground in his home state and Obama is going to give him a run for Arizona's ten electoral votes. It's about damned time!

MSNBC reported tonight that McBush has a one-point lead in the polls in Arizona, and that Obama is twelve points ahead of McBush in the state's early voting. My call to Maricopa County today ensures that I am part of that twelve-point lead.

John McBush is up for re-election to the US Senate in two years. If he chooses to run again, Arizona's most popular politician, Governor Janet Napolitano, will send him to Sun City for a long-overdue retirement!

I am hoping for a surprise Obama visit to Arizona over the weekend. It's a shame that he doesn't have time to visit Alaska as well!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More Soaking of the Poor

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A regular reader wrote in today to mention another way that some banks stick it to the poor. It is a process called a minimum balance fee - a special charge that is imposed on your account if you fail to maintain a certain amount of money in your account. So the poor, who are often lucky to have any balance at all, get dinged with an extra fee if they can't maintain the necessary amount.

The particular bank that he was talking about was Bank of America, a money-grubbing monster that charges a monthly "maintenance fee" of $20 on any checking account that fails to maintain a $2,000 balance. An average family that struggles from paycheck to paycheck can just about plan on donating $240 to the gargantuan Bank of America every year. That makes for a very lucrative income stream that doesn't pose any burden on the bank's wealthier customers.

It sounds to me like Bank of America is redistributing the wealth - sending it from the poor to the rich!

And here's another example of wealth redistribution, straight from today's headlines. Exxon-Mobile reported its best quarterly profits ever - $14.5 billion! The poor use just as much gas as the rich to drive to work every day, and often more considering that their raggedy-assed vehicles seldom operate at maximum fuel efficiency. Why can't a good portion of that obscene profit be used to lower prices at the pump? Or why can't fuel taxes be reduced and replaced with a stiff and meaningful tax on the corporate profits of the oil companies? Why must the public pay taxes to support the Oil War when it is companies like Exxon-Mobile who will ultimately benefit from the fiasco in Iraq with new pipeline routes and easy access to Iraq's oil fields?

Are you poor and living in America? Take a number and bend over - someone will be on you shortly!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Soaking the Poor

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

John McBush continues to rant and roar over the Obama plan to "re-distribute" the wealth, referring to his opponent as the "re-distributor" in chief. McBush is worried, and rightly so, that Obama will increase taxes on the rich - people like himself and Mrs. McBush. Their income is conservatively estimated at over a third of a billion dollars a year. So what did Sweet Cindy do to earn that monster income? Why, absolutely nothing! She inherited it.

So, step one, let's set aside the conservative whine about the unfairness of taxing those who worked so very hard to accumulate their fortune. That happens, of course, but more often that not wealth is acquired from the previous generation. Republicans in particular want to protect wealth that is passed down. We used to have taxes in this country on estates, and most people really didn't have a problem with the concept of an estate or inheritance tax - because the people receiving the inheritance had done nothing to earn it. But then a group of legislators came up with the idea of re-branding inheritance taxes as "death taxes" and suddenly started belching about how the government was even going to follow you into the grave to get their greedy paws on your hard-earned money. Never mind that the dearly departed would have no use for the money other than to maintain a state of privilege for his or her heirs.

And conservatives traditionally hate the concept of progressive income tax. In the early 1900's people with a very little money paid a very low rate of income tax. That has since risen dramatically. Why? Well, it's because in the early 1900's people who made more money paid a higher rate of taxes on their income. The percentage paid on taxes was graduated and rose with the amount of income. The ultra rich were hit with a 90% tax rate. And the conservatives whined that this, too, was unfair. If a person made more, they should be able to keep it. They presented it as a matter of fairness. Their goal was a flat tax, where everyone pays the same percentage.

There has always been a strong push, again from conservative quarters, to eliminate income tax altogether and impose instead a national use tax - a sales tax. Governor Huckabee rode that horse this year, and we will continue to see it trotted out in future elections as long as society dares to keep itself in good repair by taxing either property or income.

Sales tax is a very bad joke on a very vulnerable segment of the population. I have heard educated people blather on about how it is the fairest tax because everyone pays - and those poor people don't skate by just because they own no property or have a miserably low income. But sales tax is regressive, the opposite of progressive. The poor pay a much bigger percentage of their income on sales taxes than the rich. Whereas the poor often have to put all of their income into ordinary living expenses such as food, medicine, and gas, the very wealthy spend a much smaller portion of their income on things that are taxable. They never have to put it all on the line just to get by.

Remember Cindy McBush. Her monthly credit card bill recently was $150,000, and a good portion of that probably was subject to sales tax. But Sweet Cindy makes a third of a billion a year. So much of her income will not be exposed to sales tax, no matter how crazy she gets with her shopping.

The banks also conspire to fleece the poor. Most people have a checking account to conduct their business, but often the poor have no money left for savings. They spend it all just to survive. When the overdraft fee charged by banks is at a national average of over $29.00 per check, as it is today, the poor get clobbered coming and going. (My father was once a director in a small rural bank. He said the most lucrative income that particular bank had going for it was overdraft fees. And now that bank has ATM cards - another cash cow. When a person has to use some other bank's ATM, both banks get to collect a fee of up to three dollars or more.) The rich have plenty of cash and don't have to subsidize the banks with overdraft fees or ATM fees. My bank provides overdraft insurance, but you have to qualify in order to get it. In other words, if the wealthy do write a hot check, it is automatically covered at no fee. Nice, huh?

We all know that society needs funds to operate, but the wealthy feel that they should be immune from financial squeeze that plagues the poor. One class pays the bills and another class enjoys the benefits. Maybe it isn't the wealth that needs to be re-distributed, but it would certainly be nice if the responsbility for funding society could be shared by those sitting on its wealth!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Racism's Last Hurrah

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

One week from tonight America will experience a watershed event: the election of a black man as the forty-fourth President of the United States. Some worry that the election of Barack Obama will loose a torrent of of racial attacks spurred on by white racists with low IQ's and poor self-concepts. (Indeed, a couple of drunken hillbillies were busted in Tennessee this week for planning to terrorize a predominantly black high school and murder one-hundred-and-two black students before assassinating Obama. These bozos did have a flare for the dramatic - they were going to commit their horrendous crimes wearing white tuxedos and top hats!) Others worry that if the election is derailed at the last minute by some rogue state officials such as the Secretary of State in Florida (2000) or the Secretary of State in Ohio (2004), angry blacks will pour into the streets seeking revenge.

And I confess to being very concerned that something bad could happen either before the election or afterwards. Some of Sarah Palin's speeches have been little more than thinly veiled incitements to riot, and McBush has given up on talking about himself, electing instead to constantly hammer away at the awful things that he thinks his opponent has planned for America.

But I have begun to feel better about the prospects of a fair election and a smooth transition of power. The Obama numbers are up in almost every demographic. He leads among old people, young people, women, and now even among white men. Polls show that he leads among veterans of Bush's Oil War and among service people currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. People are deciding across the board that he is the candidate best able to fix the economy, end the war, and restore America's image as a world leader. It's a tall order, but they recognize that Obama is the candidate with the best chance of bringing about the changes that our country so desperately needs.

National Public Radio has a correspondent on the road talking to people in swing states. Today she was in St. Louis, MO, and interviewed several people who were planning to vote for Obama. Some were older individuals who had never voted before because they felt that their votes wouldn't be counted or make a difference. Now they are all planning to vote, they are all sensing some ownership in America.

One black man who was featured said something very poignant about the long struggle for equality in this country. It follows:

"Rosa sat so Martin could walk;

Martin walked so Obama could run;

And Obama ran so our children could fly!"

Amen, brother. Amen

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hogs at the Trough

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The average salary in the United States is $45,000 per year, and there are millions of people in this country who work for even less than that. We all like to think that we are in the economic middle class, but, in reality, the middle class is quietly disappearing and we are quickly becoming a nation of ultra rich and miserably poor. The rich are doing fine, thank you, and they would like the government to keep it's hand off of their money. They say that they are the economic engines of our country, and when they make money some of it will trickle down. The poor, meanwhile, scurry around looking for the trickle.

Sometimes the government tries to help correct the situation by providing some assistance to the poor. When that happens, the rich scream "socialism" and wail about the unfairness of having to pay taxes. At other times the government provides assistance to the rich through tariffs, use of national resources, and bailouts. The rich justify their welfare as being necessary for the health of the economy.

So welfare for the poor is a bad thing, and welfare for the rich is a good thing. Progressive income taxes - where the wealthy pay a greater percentage of their incomes in taxes - is a bad thing, while sales taxes - where the poor pay a greater percentage of their incomes in taxes - is a good thing.

Everything is backward! No wonder we are in such an economic mess!

Tonight I heard on the news that all of the big Wall Street firms, including those feeding at the bailout trough, are still planning on giving enormous bonuses to their employees at the end of the year. Yep. Big bonuses for poor performance - and they're using our money to do it!

Our Senators and Congressmen make six-figure salaries, three and four times the national average salary. A person can live on that salary, even in Washington D.C. Yet today, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska was convicted on seven counts of not reporting gifts from lobbyists - gifts worth at least a quarter-of-a-million dollars! An oil supply company called Veco remodeled his house at little or no cost. I could use that service. What about me, Veco?

And then there is straight-talking John McBush. His ranch in pricey Sedona,, Arizona, didn't get good cell phone service, so AT&T and Verizon rushed up and put up two cell towers just for him and his family - for free! I am from a little town in the Ozarks that gets darned little cell phone service. Hey, Verizon, I send you money every month. How about putting a cell tower up on my little farm?

Where is my bailout, and where the hell is that damned trickle?

Sunday, October 26, 2008


by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

Appaloosa is a new film by, for, and about Ed Harris. It is a western, my father's favorite movie genre, but it is far from the type that he was weaned on.

When my father was a young man, westerns starred people like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Randolph Scott. The good buys wore white hats, the bad guys wore black hats, and somebody usually had a guitar. There were saloon girls with no hint that they did anything other than serve beer or flirt with dusty cowboys. And there were also pretty maidens who were the virtuous daughters of wealthy ranchers or bankers, or were the school marms. There were even western series on television: Saturday nights were reserved for a hired gun named Paladin (Richard Boone), and the adventures of Marshall Dillion (James Arness) and his saloon gal pal, Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), in Gunsmoke. There was also Wagon Train, Big Valley, Wanted Dead or Alive (with a very young Steve McQueen), and Rawhide (with a very young Clint Eastwood).

A more realistic type of western emerged from Italy in the 1960s - a place where they could be made more cheaply and away from the dictates of the large American movie studio system. These new cowboy dramas were referred to as "spaghetti westerns" out of respect to their country of origin. Clint Eastwood exposed the United States to these rough and realistic movies with three classics: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966).

Appaloosa was written by Ed Harris and others, produced by Ed Harris and others, directed by Ed Harris, and starred Ed Harris. It is rough and gritty in the Clint Eastwood tradition. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are a pair of vagabond lawmen who hire their services out to communities in need of law and order. When the marshall of Appaloosa, a small town in the territory of New Mexico, and two of his deputies disappear while trying to arrest a couple of thugs who are in the employ of local crime boss, Jeremy Irons, the town of Appaloosa contracts for the services of Harris, who becomes the marshall, and Mortensen, who becomes his deputy.

Harris and Mortensen have been partners for years and present almost like an old married couple. That relationship becomes imperiled when Renee Zellweger arrives in town as a pleasant widow who only has one dollar to her name. Harris, ever the charmer, asks her matter-of-factly if she is a whore. She assures him that she is not, and a day or two later they are having a house built. Ms. Zellweger, not satisfied with having the marshall, also makes a move on his deputy. The deputy, to his credit, pushes her away with the cautionary note that they both belong to the marshall.

The duo of tough lawmen manage to arrest Jeremy Irons, who is then found guilty of the murder of the missing marshall and his two deputies, and sentenced to hang. Zellweger is kidnapped to be traded for Irons, and is soon found playing naked in the creek with one of her abductors. Jeremy Irons is pardoned by the President of the United States and becomes a successful businessman in Appaloosa. And then it starts to get interesting.

Marshall Dillion never asked Miss Kitty if she was a whore, but a saloon girl in Dodge City probably knew her way around the upstairs rooms at the Longbranch Saloon. What used to be quietly understood is now spelled out. What used to require a bit of imagination now only requires good hearing and passable eyesight. The romance has faded, the guitars are gone, hat color no longer means anything, and today's audience is awash in the realities of life in the Old West - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I liked this movie, but I miss the miss the ones that I used to watch so many years ago with my Dad. The old west of Clint Eastwood and Ed Harris is undoubtedly more historically accurate, but it's not a place that I can take my grandsons for several years to come.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Update on Boone

by Pa Rock

Last night I received photos from my grandson, Boone Macy of West Plains, MO. They were of him and his mother at a pumpkin farm, and a couple of pictures of Boone with his new French bulldog, Sly. Boone's mother raises French bulldogs and ships them all over the United States.

Today I talked to Boone over the telephone for awhile. He just finished the first quarter of 4th grade and made all A's on his report card. Way to go, Boone! When I asked him what he has been reading, he said that yesterday he completed A Wrinkle in Time. I love that book, but I was at least in junior high school when I read it, and probably high school! I suspect that Boone's love of reading is one reason that he does so well at the spelling bee each year.

Boone and his Dad and I went to the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2007 and had a good time. This past summer we all went to San Diego where we got to play in the ocean and go to the zoo. I hope that we are able to do something fun next summer. I always enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of my grandson!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Goldwaters of Arizona

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

My daughter, Molly, lived in Arizona for a decade before I moved here. A couple of years ago while she was working in hospice care, Molly asked me if I had ever heard of some guy who ran for President named Barry Goldwater. Molly had learned this antiquarian name while working with an older lady who had been one of the good Senator's last caretakers.

Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate for President in 1964. He was solidly trounced by the incumbent President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. I remember him well. I was sixteen that summer, and I was a Goldwater supporter. That's right. Liberal old Rock was once an enthusiastic partisan for Barry Goldwater, a.k.a. "Mr. Conservative." I even gave a speech in his behalf at a high school mock political rally. (I'm actually not ashamed of that. Another Goldwater supporter that year was a 17-year-old girl in Chicago by the name of Hillary Rodham.)

Goldwater was a political freak, so outside the mainstream of American politics at the time that those who supported him were routinely were laughed at and ridiculed. A week before the election he was given a modicum of respectability through a thirty-minute television speech by an unemployed actor named Ronald Reagan. Goldwater wound up winning his home state of Arizona and five states in the cracker belt of the American south. Two years later Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, and went on to an even better job in January of 1981. Barry Goldwater went on to serve a couple of more decades in the United States Senate before returning to Arizona for his final days.

The Goldwater family has been in the news this week talking about politics, and from their public pronouncements, they seem to be divided along generational lines similar to those that affected the Macys and the Rodhams and many other families in 1964. Senator Goldwater's niece, C.C. Goldwater, declared yesterday that she and her siblings, and most of her cousins, were supporting the candidacy of Barack Obama. She said clearly:

"Our generation of Goldwaters expects government to provide for constitutional protections. We reject the constant intrusion into our personal lives, along with other crucial policy issues of the McCain/Palin ticket."

She added:

"My grandfather (Paka) would never suggest denying a woman's right to choose. My grandmother co-founded Planned Parenthood in Arizona in the 1930's, a cause my grandfather supported."

C.C. Goldwater also said, in discussing the current campaign, that

..."the Republican brand has been tarnished in a shameless effort to gain votes and appeal to the lowest emotion, fear."

But no good deed goes unpunished, and today Barry Goldwater's son, Barry M. Goldwater, Jr., took issue with his niece, saying that she should work within the Republican party to promote the values that her grandfather stood for. He went on to declare that he supports McCain.

I'll cast my lot with C.C. Something tells me that the man who authored Conscience of a Conservative would not be pleased with the massive debt incurred by the Bush administration. I doubt that Senator Goldwater would be impressed with our Dear Leader abdicating his duty as Commander in Chief and allowing "yes" men in uniform complete latitude in conducting the abysmal war. And I don't really believe that a man whose central philosophy was that the government should intrude in people's lives as little as possible would give two damns about what people did in the privacy of their own bedrooms!

Barry Goldwater was a giant of the times. Bush, Cheney, McCain and Palin all claim to be conservatives, but they are just bungling dwarfs not fit to stand in his shadow. It is time that they all piled into their clown car and drove off into the sunset - because a new day is fixing to dawn in America!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Feminist Cruise: Conclusion
Guatemala and Mexico

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The port at Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, was more like a military compound than a tourist trap. Immediately at dockside was a large expanse of warehouses and barracks sitting before a background of lush green mountains topped with a morning fog. A platoon of soldiers was marching in formation as our group was preparing to disembark.

There were no tourist shops or facilities visible from where our ship was docked. People who wanted to visit the city had to walk through the warehouse area and out the gate into the community. Those who signed up for tours, however, were met at the dock by buses.

I took two tours in Guatemala. The morning outing was a visit to two hotels. The first had been one of the swankiest in the country a century earlier. It was a large rambling affair, constructed entirely of wood, with very small guest rooms that contained only a small bed and a dresser. The facilities were “down the hall.” The old hotel was an interesting bit of history, showing where the wealthy capitalists had once stayed and played while dividing up the wealth of this small nation.

The second hotel on our tour was a shiny and new playground for today’s tourists. The focus was on bars, beaches, and recreation. People were busy swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, playing volleyball, and drinking. It had everything that yuppie tourists could ask for, and the obligatory Mayan ruins were only a short bus ride away.

I selected something with more of a social work feel for my afternoon excursion: a tour of the Del Monte banana plantation. Our bus ride into the Guatemalan countryside was nearly two hours in length over curvy, mountainous roads. The terrain, coupled with the dilapidated state of the roads, created a situation that was ripe for accidents. Not only did we see several wrecks along the way, there were numerous times when crazy motorists would go flying around our bus on blind corners, leaving me with the a nervous foreboding that I would draw my last breath in Guatemala!

We were cautioned that there were only selected areas at the banana plantation where we would be able to take pictures. We had just barely gotten off of the bus when the reason for the prohibition on photography became apparent. A rusty old pickup truck rushed by as we were strolling toward the area where the bananas were being boxed for shipment. The three farm laborers riding in the back of the truck each appeared to be around eleven-years-old!

We were shown two aspects of the plantation operation. The first was a large, wall-less room where people were busy inspecting and boxing green bananas for shipment. There were seventy-five or so people involved in the process. The boxed bananas were put on trucks ready for immediate movement to the ports.

We were also taken into the fields to view the crops. The growing process was explained in family terms. Each banana tree was the mother. Each mother produced one bunch of bananas and a baby tree. Then the mother died and the baby tree grew to take her place. There were mothers and babies and bunches of bananas as far as the eye could see!

The ride back to Santo Tomas de Castilla was just as harrowing, but fortunately was without incident. We did stop at one very nice rural café for a restroom and refreshment break. Their postcard rack contained a wide selection of Guatemalan art at postcard prices, many of which wound up in my growing collection of art-on-a-budget.

Our stop in Mexico was at a relatively new port in Costa Maya. As the name implied (Mayan Coast), there was a Mayan archaeological site nearby. It was more developed than the one that I had visited in Belize, as well as more expansive. I climbed several pyramids and mounds and enjoyed taking photographs of the unusual flora that the site offered. At one point in my excursion I came upon two young Mexican boys who had a couple of tropical snakes. They posed for pictures and then gave a modest nod toward their tip jar.

During the afternoon in southern Mexico I walked along the seashore, and made a pass through the souvenir shops at the port. Two memorable purchases were a handmade leather belt that has served me well during the intervening year-and-a-half, and a very large, free-standing pink flamingo made of papier-mâché that I had to transport home as carry-on baggage. The flamingo is in charge of my apartment whenever I’m not there!

And then we sailed back to Tampa, with many workshops along the way. The highlight of the trip eastward across the Caribbean was a poetry-reading in the ship’s theatre one night by Tyne Daly and a young lady poet from Tampa whose name I have since forgotten. Both women had a true love of poetry and were able to convey that feeling through their beautiful readings.

It was still winter when I got back to Kentucky.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Feminist Cruise: Part Four

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Our first stop in Central America was Belize, a small, impoverished nation that was known as British Honduras in colonial times. The port was relatively shallow and did not have berths for large ships, so the big cruise ships had to anchor at sea and run “tenders” back and forth to the waterfront. Each trip in these small, high-speed boats took about fifteen minutes.

The port in Belize City was awash in tourist shops and cafes. It was clean and safe, though very small, and very similar to what was to be found in most Caribbean ports. I signed up for an excursion into the countryside to see some Mayan ruins. As soon as our bus left the port area, it became obvious that we were in a third-world country.

Belize City was crowded and busy, but had the look of a small town that had recently exploded into an urban center with poverty in evidence at every turn. As our bus drove through a residential neighborhood, the guide pointed to one house among several located along the street that we were traversing. “That,” he announced proudly, “is the home of our President.” It was a nice home, by Belize standards, on a nice street, but certainly nothing exceptional. It looked completely accessible, as though anyone could walk up and knock on the door.

The Mayan ruins were in a recently cleared patch of jungle. Two days later as I was exploring another set of ruins not far from our southern Mexican port, I began to figure out the dynamic. The Mayans had been quite ubiquitous in southern Mexico and Central America. Whenever a new port was opened and tourists began to pour in, developers would march off into the jungle, find an appropriate set of ruins, and clear out the extraneous vegetation and snakes. Then the area could be promoted for its beautiful beaches, local color, and archaeological significance! The ruins were a necessary element in the complete tourist package.

The Belize ruins had several small pyramids, but none nearly as awesome as the one that I had seen at Chichen Itza while on a tour out of Cancun several years earlier. Instead of being given a walking tour, visitors were basically just turned loose to view the site on their own at their own pace. The thing that I remember best about the ruins in Belize was an extremely long column of large marching ants that were crossing a sandy, shaded area. Their organization and dedication to duty would have made any platoon sergeant proud!

I boarded a waiting tender late that afternoon for a ride back to our ship. I got on late, and the good seats under the canopy were already taken, so I pushed my way through to the back of the vessel which was deserted. I sat my packages down and closed my eyes for a power nap.

When the tender’s engines started, I opened my eyes, planning to take a few snapshots during our brief trip back to the ship. I wasn’t surprised to find that another passenger had pushed her way through all of those damned tourists and was sitting across from me, but I was surprised to see that she was Tyne Daly. She was staring out to sea as we set off, and I managed to get a good candid shot of her as well as pictures of the receding port and the awaiting cruise ship. Although I took the picture of Tyne in a very surreptitious manner, I suspect that celebrities can sense when a camera is pointed in their direction. The resulting photo was great – I have it framed!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Feminist Cruise: Part Three
Shipboard Classes

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Our cruise across the Caribbean included two full days at sea, one heading toward Central America and the other as we were returning to Florida. We had three sets of workshops during those days, each permitting cruisers to choose between two or three options. On most other days we would have one or two workshop sessions.

I attended a couple of workshops that dealt with the subject of immigration, of which the most memorable was hosted by a professor from the University of Texas at El Paso. Her topic was on the "feminicidios" (femicides) or "las muertas de Juárez" (the dead women of Juarez). The professor talked about how American companies were building factories in Mexican border cities, like Juarez, as a result of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) - where they could take advantage of low wages and no worker protections. Immigrants from across Mexico and Central America came north to work in these factories, and many of those workers were young women. Juarez was witnessing a large number of these women being raped (often by groups of men) and murdered, and the authorities weren't actively engaged in investigating the murders or even admitting that there was a problem. The lesson was that economic necessity can bring people into dangerous situations, and that neither the Mexican government nor the American employers could not be relied upon to guarantee safety to the poor.

I listened to Delores Huerta talk from the floor about immigrant struggles, and her experiences in helping to found the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez. Ms. Huerta is truly an American legend. She is older now (with eleven grown children) but still very active and very vocal. She also talked about the plight of female prisoners in America, many of whom are serving longer sentences than men convicted of the same crimes. I was able to have a private conversation with Delores about an elderly lady that I know who is confined to a wheelchair and living in a California prison. She is totally harmless, but prisons in America aren't about public safety, they are about vengeance.

Another memorable workshop involved the showing of a new film on the history of the women's suffrage movement in the United States. I don't remember the name of the film, but Alice Paul was the central focus, and it was very engrossing. One older lady at the showing had an expensive coffee table book on the suffrage movement, and she passed her book around asking each of us to sign it.

Eleanor Smeal, Kim Gandy (President of the National Organization of Women), and others had a panel discussion one evening on current political issues. Ms. Smeal spoke about the inherent power of controlling committees in Congress. At that time the Democrats had a one-vote majority in the U.S. Senate, only because independent Joe Lieberman was caucusing with the Democrats. I heard a guest on the Chris Matthews Show say that he predicted that Lieberman would join the Republican Party soon and thus relieve the Democrats of all of their Committee Chairmanships. It took awhile to get the floor, but when I finally was able to ask about that prediction, Ms. Smeal made her own prediction - that it wouldn't happen. And it hasn't!

Eleanor Smeal spoke in a unique manner. She would begin every statement speaking slowly and deliberately, but would then begin to ramp it up before she completed her thought - almost always with an edge of anger in her voice. One was left to suspect that intensity had been a necessary component of her highly successful life.

The evening meals on the ship were also designed to be educational experiences. Through a scheduling design that nothing short of amazing, we were all moved around each evening so that we were sitting with different cruisers. The celebrities were also shuffled so that each passenger got to be at a table with each celebrity during the course of the week. One night we had been provided with wine in order to do some toasting. I'm not much of a wine fan, so I just sipped at mine during the toast, and had almost a full glass left after the activity. Kim Gandy, the NOW President was sitting next to me that evening and noticed my leftover wine. "Are you going to drink that?" I told her that I was not, and she reached over, picked it up, and downed it! When you are elbow-to-elbow with someone, they can suddenly become very real!

Another evening as we were waiting on our meal, each person at the table introduced themselves to their fellow diners. The lady preceding me was about my age, and she was travelling with her daughter-in-law-to-be. She discussed her husband who had just retired as a CEO of a large company. She discussed her son, who had just graduated from an Ivy League College, and was going into the Army as an officer. She said that while she and her husband both supported the War in Iraq initially, now that her son would be serving there, her opinion had changed. She blamed her husband for pushing their son into serving a stint as an officer in the Army. When she finally finished her "poor me" diatribe, it was my turn to talk. After informing the group that I was a social worker with the United States Army, she sputtered out, "You're kidding!" I caught a bit of a grin from the bride-to-be!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Eloquence of Colin Powell

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

General Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama's candidacy for President yesterday. I wasn't surprised that a thinking man like General Powell would make his decision in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. His endorsement was detailed and damned eloquent. I was most impressed, however, by his remarks on the tendency of some in our country to vilify American citizens who happen to be Muslim:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in you can see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he could go serve his country and he gave his life."

There are those in this country, some in very influential positions, who believe that we are fighting a holy war in the Middle East with a goal of removing Islam from the face of the Earth. The Crusades are over. Let's not revisit the Dark Ages!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad

by Pa Rock

My father, Garland Eugene Macy, was born eighty-four years ago today in rural Newton County, Missouri. He was the second son of Charles Eugene and Hazel Josephine (Nutt)Macy. His older brother, Wayne Hearcel Macy, died in San Diego, CA, in 1956, his younger brother, Tommy Dean Macy passed away in Newton County, MO, in 2002. His youngest sibling, Betty (Macy) Lankford, lives in Seneca, MO.

My Dad and his siblings grew up in poor circumstances during the Great Depression. His parents raised chickens, a few milk cows, and tried to grow most of their groceries. They worked out to bring in extra money. My grandmother cleaned houses for people in Neosho, and my grandfather, "Chock," worked as a farm laborer. The family never owned a car.

The experience of living through the Depression had a lasting impact on my Dad, influencing him to become focused on gathering wealth and never throwing anything away. Today he lives by himself in the largest house in Noel, MO, and has it literally filled to the rafters with junk. One of his unflinching axioms is "never give your stuff away" - and he hasn't!

My Dad and his siblings attended school at Westview, a small rural school approximately halfway between Seneca and Neosho. He did well and lost some friends when his teachers had him skip a grade in elementary school. Westview only went through grade ten, so when he completed his sophomore year Dad moved to Neosho to live with relatives where he was able to complete high school. He graduated in 1942 and then joined the army.

Dad and his brother Wayne both served in Europe during World War II. Several of Dad's cousins were also in the War. My dad was in the newly formed Army Air Corps, which later became the United States Air Force. He worked keeping machine guns operational on airplanes. Dad advanced to the rank of staff sergeant, the only one of the Newton County Macy's to achieve that rank. Some of his cousins called him "Sarge" for years.

My Dad caught a missile in the arm during a training exercise in France, and wound up spending the last several months of his enlistment at a hospital in Springfield, MO. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the thanks of a proud nation.

After the War, Dad turned his focus to making money and starting a family. He met my mother, Ruby "Florine" Sreaves while he and his cousin, Dalton Macy, were driving a taxi in Neosho, MO. They were married on March 31, 1948, in Columbus, KS. (Ironically, Dalton Macy went on to marry my Mom's sister, Betty Lou Sreaves!) I was born in Neosho on March 23, 1948, and my sister, Gail, was born in the same town on October 10, 1950.

As my parents were getting established, my dad worked at Pet Milk in Neosho. He didn't like working for a salary, figuring that the real money was to be made working for himself, and he hated the union at Pet. Several years ago I talked him into penning a simple biography, and one line I remember was his rant on unions as being "the ruination of America!" He remains conservative to a fault. My parents prided themselves on rarely working for a salary, and usually owning the home they lived in. I believe that Mother told me they only rented once.

My parents joined with Mom's sister and brother-in-law, Christine and Bob Dobbs, to build a truck stop on Highway 71 in Goodman, MO, in the 1950s. It was called "Macy and Dobbs' LaBella View Cafe and Station." The Macy's were bought out by the Dobbs' in 1958, and our family moved south to Noel where my folks bought a tourist court called Riverview on the Elk River. My mother, sister, and I did most of the running of the 8-unit court while Dad ran a DX service station in Noel. Riverview provided a good income in the summers, but the gas station was necessary to tide us over in the winter. They sold the court in 1964, shortly after my dad had opened an appliance store in Noel. In later years he sold real estate and my Mother managed the office.

My Mother was diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors in early 1983 and suffered for nearly four years before finally passing away on December 8, 1986. During the time of Mom's illness, Dad surprised us by taking care of Mom (with hired assistants during the days, and by himself during nights), and working so hard at her care as to place his own health at risk. He was adamant that she would not wind up in a nursing home.

Through smart investing in things like rental homes, the stock market, and church bonds, my Dad has managed to acquire considerable wealth, much of it since my mother passed away. He is getting too old to take care of his rentals, and has begun to divest himself of them. And this year has been especially rough on his stock portfolio. But he remains financially comfortable despite the economic downturn. Growing up in the Great Depression had a life-long impact on his values, and he continues to see wealth as the one true gage of success. And, of course, by that marker, he has been very successful.

His children measure success by other markers, but we love our Dad regardless.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Feminist Cruise: Part Two
Key West

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Key West is a Caribbean anomaly, closer to Havana than it is to Miami, while being easily accessible from the U.S. mainland by car. The last two times that I had been to Key West, in fact, I had driven there along beautiful U.S. 1 (the Overseas Highway) that crosses numerous small islands with familiar names like Key Largo, Islamadora, Marathon Key, Fiesta Key, and even tiny Missouri Key. One of the bridges that connect these islands is an amazing seven miles long! While there aren’t many decent swimming beaches in the Keys, the never-ending vistas of blue-green Caribbean Sea dotted with sailboats are breathtaking, easily justifying the gas and three hours necessary to drive to Key West from Miami.

We entered the waters surrounding Key West, Florida, on Monday just after lunch. As the big ship glided past a few smaller islands, coast guard cutters with mounted machine guns showed up on either side of our vessel to escort us into the berth at the south end of the popular tourist destination. Arrival by ship, I quickly discovered, was far handier than driving because we were dumped right in the heart of the tourist sector.

Duval Street is the main thoroughfare of Old Key West, and most of the town’s famous tourist Mecca’s can be found either on Duval or very close by. It is a colorful blend of art galleries, bars, cafes, tourist shops, and street musicians. In many ways it is what New Orleans probably was fifty years ago. It is also one of the gayest towns in America, with same-sex handholding and kissing on the streets being part of the local ambience. As if to complement all of the standard color and noise, on that particular day there was a very large blue and gold parrot sitting out on a second story balcony whistling and yelling at the tourists as they strolled along Duval with their drinks and bags of tee shirts.

Our first conference activity (after the previous night’s reception) was a panel discussion on voting patterns held at the far end of Duval Street in a funky art gallery. The lady who owned the gallery was thrilled to have all of the feminist celebrities in her establishment. She and her young daughter both sat in rapt attention as the panel made its presentation. Panel members included Eleanor Smeal, Katherine Spillar (the Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine), and Celinda Lake, a prominent Democratic pollster from Washington DC. (Ms. Lake had been unable to arrange time to take the cruise, so she flew into Key West that day for the panel discussion.) Ms. Lake talked about changing demographics and the opportunities for Democrats in 2008. Ms. Smeal reiterated that importance of letting reporters know that we were for Hillary and Obama. I noticed with some regret that Tyne Daly had not hiked down Duval for this event. I did see her later shopping on Duval Street.

Leaving the gallery with a couple of hours left to explore Key West, I headed back up Duval toward the port. Along the way I stopped at Margaritaville (the original) for a couple of tee shirts and a Cheeseburger in Paradise. Further along I stopped and exchanged a few ripe comments with the parrot. (The things those awful tourists have taught that poor bird!) My final stop before reaching the port was Sloppy Joe’s, a large open-air bar and restaurant that opens onto two streets. Sloppy Joe’s was made famous by its best known aficionado, a macho writer by the name of Papa Hemingway who was once a regular at that particular watering hole.

Several cruise ships were preparing to sail out of Key West that evening, resulting in huge throngs of tourists milling about the port area. There were vendors and several musicians and jugglers working the crowds trying to relieve them of their remaining currency before the ships carried them off to other ports. I spent thirty minutes or so watching a pair of young gymnastic jugglers. A highlight of their act included one doing a headstand upon the head of the other while juggling knives between the two. It was an amazing show and a brilliant end to a beautiful day!

As the sun set over Old Key West, our ship was tugged slowly out of port and pointed across the Caribbean toward Central America. The next day would be taken up with workshops at sea.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Feminist Cruise: Part One
Sorting Through the Celebrities

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

On Sunday, February 18th, 2007, I boarded a Holland America cruise ship in Tampa, Florida, and embarked on one of the best learning experiences of my life. It was the third (I think) annual Ms. Magazine and National Association of Social Workers (NASW) cruise, a week-long educational endeavor designed to bring out the better feminist and social worker in all of us. For the next six days me and two-hundred others participated in floating conferences on women’s issues, as well as doing on-the-ground research (and shopping) in Key West, Belize, Guatemala, and the southern Caribbean coast of Mexico. At one point I counted a total of six male participants, and at least one of those was married to a presenter.

Our first activity was an evening cheese and booze reception as our cruise ship slid southward along the western edge of Florida. Although I typically feel uncomfortable in social settings like that, especially when attending alone, I made myself go because I did not want to miss any aspect of the trip and the experience.

There was a piano bar area next to the space where our reception was being held, and a group of well dressed drunks were gathered around the piano singing Billy Joel and Elton John songs, and doing it quite well. I gathered up a plate of veggies and cheese, and a drink, and made myself comfortable on a couch that was backed up against the area from which the music was emanating. From that vantage point I was able to sip and nibble in a leisurely manner while watching the interactions that were occurring at the reception.

My comfort proved to be short-lived however as a slender lady with silvering hair pried herself out of the group and made a beeline for the male loner ensconced on the couch. Her hand was out before she reached me, and I was barely able to set my provisions aside in time to stand and receive her greeting. “I’m Ellie Smeal,” she stated, pumping my hand. I told her my name, and suffering in the ensuing silence that indicated that she wanted to know more, I hurriedly coughed up that I was a social worker with the Army. That held her interest for a few minutes, and then Eleanor Smeal, the President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the organization that publishes Ms. Magazine, wandered back into the crowd to shake more hands.

Somewhere during the reception Ms. Smeal got the crowd's attention and made a welcoming speech. One point I remember was that she brought greetings from uber-feminist Gloria Steinem, and related that Steinem wanted the cruisers to know that if reporters asked them whether they supported Hillary or Obama, the correct answer was "yes"!

I had another celebrity encounter as the reception was ending, but this one I initiated. While I was leaving the bar I looked over to my left and noticed Tyne Daly of Cagney and Lacey and Judging Amy fame standing alone by the wall. I stepped over and shook her hand, being too star-struck to say little more than my name. She asked me where I was from and what I did for a living. She was an extremely nice lady who was very skilled at making me feel at ease.

A third celebrity encounter occurred soon after that as I was leaving the main decks and walking toward my room. I joined in conversation with two of our group members from New Mexico. I did that intentionally because I thought that I might have had a brief history with one of them. After listening to the chat about the cruise or the conference or some other topic that we could all comment on, I inquired of the one, “Excuse me, but are you Mrs. Harris?”

The lady responded, with a certain amount of surprise, that she was indeed LaDonna Harris. I then told her about meeting her over thirty years earlier while her husband, Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, was running for President in the Democratic Primary. (A week or two after our brief encounter in January of 1976 at a Harris event in Miami, OK, Fred’s political career was cut short in the Iowa Presidential Primary by a political outsider named Jimmy Carter.) We exchanged a few remarks about that campaign, and I remember making a mention of all of the turquoise that she had been wearing that wintry night three decades earlier. LaDonna Harris, a full-blood Comanche Indian, is a political force in her own right, once running for Vice President on a third party ticket.

The other lady from New Mexico turned out to be Dr. Martha Burk, the Money Editor for Ms. Magazine. While serving as the chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations in 2002, Dr. Burk turned the golfing world upside down by leading a protest against the Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters Tournament, regarding the club’s refusal to admit women. After she determined that many of America’s male corporate leaders were members of Augusta, she began publishing their names and demanding “gender equity audits” to determine the number of layoffs and new hires by gender of each of their corporations. Eventually Augusta caved, and the country’s best known old boys’ club opened its doors to female members.

I was fortunate to have several more encounters with LaDonna and Martha during the cruise. At one point they told me, rather quietly, that they weren’t supporting Hillary because they were committed to their world-renowned governor, Bill Richardson.

Martha Burk also told the amusing story of her most recent struggle to tilt a windmill. She had attended the previous year’s Wal-Mart stockholders' meeting in northwest Arkansas. Her mother had left her some Wal-Mart stock, and she used that stock as a ticket into the meeting. She had gone through proper channels to get on the agenda to make a brief comment at the meeting, and had used those precious minutes to do some railing against Wal-Mart’s corporate greed and its neglect of workers’ rights. She said that the company had been forced to let her talk, but tried to keep reporters away from her. She added that eventually a reporter from the New York Times fought his way through the barricade of corporate flunkies and managed to take down her story. Martha has vowed to never sell her Wal-Mart stock in order to ensure her ability to keep attending their annual meetings!

I explained to Martha that my little farm was less than twenty-five miles from Bentonville, and invited her to stay at The Roost any time she wanted to raise a ruckus at a Wal-Mart stockholders' meeting. So far she hasn’t taken me up on my invitation, but it’s still there for the taking!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sex and Genealogy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I have two blogs, this one and one that focuses on Ozark genealogy ( The Rootbound column is a collection of 242 newspaper genealogy columns that I wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's focus is on the family history of persons whose ancestors lived in, or travelled through, the Ozarks. It would be of no interest or benefit to anyone who is not a family researcher.

Imagine my surprise when I received an email today wanting me to give an "unbiased review" of a product on the Rootbound blog. In return for this "unbiased" service I would be paid in cash or product. The email had my interest - maybe I was about to snarf up a free genealogy or history book for plugging it in a column that darned few people read anyway,

But then I read on...

The product was a "penis enhancer," a magnetic ring with elements of tourmaline and geranium, that would enhance blood flow to a guy's best friend! A penis enhancer - in a genealogy column? Geranium? That's as inappropriate as it is ridiculous!

Now if they make me the same offer for this website, then we might do business! (I wonder if I got ten - one for each finger and thumb - would I be able to play killer piano, swim faster, or catch a basketball in one hand? Or, if I wore one on each toe, would I be able to sleep hanging from a limb by my feet?) This opens up so many research possibilities!

Here is another possibility: maybe this company could create some products that would be appropriate for a genealogy column. Inflatable ancestors, anyone?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Over!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The last Presidential debate is over. Hallelujah! Listening to McBush rattle on these past couple of months has convinced me that I never want to wind up in a rest home. Old people can be so damned maddening!

McBush kept talking about "Joe the Plumber." I don't personally know Joe, but McBush probably wishes by now that he would have put him on the ticket instead of Golly-gee-whiz-youbetcha Palin.

A couple of things about this debate stuck in my craw. First, McBush blamed his campaign's bad behavior on the fact that Obama wouldn't do a bunch of town hall meetings with him. Really, John? Obama won't march to your tune which is why your idiot followers threaten to kill him. Then McBush said that he was very proud of his followers - the people who come to his and Sarah's rallies. God help us all if one of these crazies responding to the McBush campaign's crap gets pushed over the edge! If that happens, John and Sarah need to be held accountable.

But the most outrageous comment of the evening was when McBush belittled the health of the mother as being a justification for an abortion. He seemed to be saying that the health of the mother was just a political excuse to allow an abortion. Start waving, John, the women's vote has just left the building!

The election is over. After tonight the result is no longer in doubt.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Arabs and Muslims and Crackers

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

We are in dangerous times, an era when the frustrated, under-educated, poor of America are being incited to violence by manipulative and devious politicians. I'm talking about the hate rallies featuring John McBush and Sarah Palin where the crowds are whipped into a frenzy by baseless comments indicating that Barack Obama has a history with terrorists. Palin's diatribe has been especially egregious, often stirring members of her crowds to yell things about killing Obama or lopping off his head. And what does Governor Doofus do when people yell those things? She stands there and grins. Youbetcha she does!

All McBush has left are the Crackers, and he and Ms. Palin seem to be doing everything within their power to fire up these beer-guzzling, gun-totting morons short of handing out ammo.

The McBush campaign has sunk so low that once reliably conservative journalists now hold their collective noses when discussing his rolling circus. George Will, a respected columnist and David Brooks, a semi-respected columnist who usually tows the party line - regardless of what it may be attached to, have both spoken out against McBush's degenerating campaign efforts and his ridiculous choice of a running mate who is not ready or fit to serve. Today, Christopher Buckley,another big name among conservatives, openly jumped ship. Buckley, the son of the late right-wing icon and intellectual (no, it's not an oxymoron - but close!) William F. Buckley, announced that he was supporting Obama.

But maybe there is hope that McBush has finally succeeded in shaming himself with his campaign of personal smears. I watched a news clip today where an elderly lady was talking to McBush at a rally, and asked him if it was true that Obama was an Arab. To his credit, the senior senator from Arizona looked truly ashamed, and then said, "No, no he's not. He's a family man. I just don't agree with him on some issues."

Know this: Arab refers to a race, a type of people who originated in Saudi Arabia and now inhabit much of the Middle East. Senator Obama is known by all to be half Black and half Caucasian (Kenyan father and Kansan mother). The woman probably meant to ask if he was a Muslim. A Muslim is a person who is a member of the religion called Islam. Many Arabs are Muslims, many are Christians, and some are even Jews. Many Black and White Americans happen to be Muslims, and many Black and White Americans also happen to be Christians, and and many Americans of various races also happen to be Jews. Most are "family" people, dedicated to making the world a better and more accepting place for their children. Barack Obama had a Muslim father and a Christian mother. He chose his religion as an adult - he is a Christian.

It would be nice if we all had some education in world religions and their histories, instead of relying on demagogue preachers and politicians to make us feel justified in our innate fear of anyone who is different from us. Yes, Virginia, there are good Muslims in this world, millions of them, and millions of good Arabs, and good Christians, and good Jews, and good Black people, and even good White people. Open up your heart and let them in!

And when somebody tries to scare you into voting for a particular candidate, be afraid, be very afraid. But vote with your head and your heart, not with your trigger finger!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another Hero

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I have had the opportunity to write about a couple of young men over the past year whom I regard as heroes. Jesus Manuel Cordova slipped across the border illegally and was walking through the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona last year over the Thanksgiving weekend when he came across a frightened young boy who had escaped a horrible car wreck in which his mother died. Cordova spent the night protecting the lad and turned him over to some hunters the next morning. He got deported for his heroism.

Daniel Millis was also the hero in an immigration story. The young Spanish teacher from the Tucson area had been carrying water jugs into the Sonoran Desert as humanitarian assistance to the refugees who come into the United States across the hot and dangerous land. Millis was arrested and refused to cooperate by paying a fine for littering, forcing the government to take this dangerous "litterer" into Federal Court. The irony was that he had actually been picking up litter while distributing the life-saving water. Millis was later found guilty by a federal judge, but no punishment was imposed.

Recently I have heard about another hero who also deserves to be recognized. Tom Dart is the Sheriff of Cook County (Chicago), Illinois. As the sheriff of the second largest urban area in America, one of Dart's duties was to assist in the eviction of individuals whose mortgage payments are in arrears. That wouldn't be a pleasant job under any circumstances, but in this awful economy it is even more despicable.

Sheriff Dart and his deputies began to notice that often when they showed up for evictions, the homes were occupied by renters who were current of their rent and had no idea that the homes were about to be foreclosed upon. Eventually the unfairness became too much for the good sheriff to bear, and he responded by declaring that his department would no longer assist in bank foreclosures and evictions.

Say what? A duly elected public official refusing to enforce the law? That's right! Sheriff Tom Dart, taking a page directly from Henry David Thoreau, refused to enforce a law that he felt was unfair. When is the last time something like that happened in America?

The sheriff blames the banks for the current state of housing chaos in his county. Illinois law says that people have to be notified well ahead of time when they are going to be evicted. The banks are supposed to contact these people, find out who lives in the homes, and do their due diligence. Sheriff Dart says that the banks aren't doing their part. The banks, those stellar beacons of civilization, are trying to have the sheriff held in contempt by the courts.

A couple of thoughts on the matter: 1. The law basically protects two interests, people of privilege and property, and property itself. The poor always get the hindquarters, and generally nobody notices or cares. And, 2. If the banks want these individuals evicted, why don't they gather up some cardboard boxes and go do it? Why should public officials (people paid through taxes collected from all of us) be at the beck-and-call of behemoth banks who suck their income from the rents and mortgages of the working class? They need to be doing their own dirty work!

Sheriff Tom Dart, you are a good man - and my hero!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Nation's Shame Ten Years On

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Matthew Shepard had just barely reached adulthood when he was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a wooden fence, and left to die in the lonely, cold Wyoming night a decade ago this week. When a bicyclist found him the next morning his first thought was that he had stumbled upon a scarecrow. Somehow young Matthew had managed to live through the night. He was removed to Ft. Collins, Colorado, where he died on October 12, 1998, without ever regaining consciousness.

Matthew Shepard was a gay man, slight-of-build and mild-of-manner, who was attending the University of Wyoming at Laramie, a backwater community steeped in cowboy tradition and homophobic pride. He undoubtedly had an awareness of the dangers of being openly gay in the middle of a shit-stomping cowboy culture, but on the night of October 6th he got careless. Matthew went to a local tavern for a drink. There he met two other young men, rough, cowboy types, who convinced him that they were also gay and lured him into a pickup truck.

The men, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, told Matthew to give them his money. He resisted, and they began to beat him as McKinney drove his pickup out of town, past the Wal-Mart, and into the crisp and clear prairie night. Evidence presented months later in court showed that they struck him in the head at least twenty times with enough force to fracture his skull in six places. As their night of savagery came to an end, they stretched Matthew's arms and tied him to a wooden fence, leaving an image eerily reminiscent of a crucifixion.

Henderson and McKinney initially tried to use a "gay panic" defense, claiming that they feared their young victim was going to make sexual advances toward them and perhaps even commit rape on their larger and tougher bodies. When the futility of that defense started to become apparent, they changed their tactic to stating that the torture and murder was the result of a robbery gone bad. The two had stolen Shepard's wallet containing a twenty dollar bill and his size seven patent leather shoes. Eventually both young men were found guilty and sentenced to two life terms each with no possibility of parole.

Sadly for Matthew's family and friends, the outrages committed against him did not end with his death. The "Reverend" Fred Phelps and his loyal band of Christian fascists from Topeka showed up at Matthew's funeral shouting homophobic epithets and holding signs that said "Got Hates Fags" and "Matthew Shepard is Burning in Hell!" The Phelps circus also came back to town for the trials of their heroes, Henderson and McKinney.

The United States government passed some limited hate crimes legislation in 1994, but the act never addressed crimes related to gender, sexual orientation, or disability discrimination. After the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard new, more comprehensive federal legislation was proposed. It didn't get to the President's desk during the Clinton administration, and Bush has stated an intent to veto the bill if he receives it. McCain has previously voted against the bill, and Obama said that he supports it. One can hope that the Matthew Shepard National Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be a priority during President Obama's first term.

The dark days of the Bush administration have witnessed states taking the lead in social legislation when the feds would not act. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of hate crimes legislation. Sadly, Wyoming remains one of five that have not. The others are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and South Carolina.

It has been ten years since the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. Some have chosen to learn and grow from the awful circumstances of his death, while others have determined not to let their homophobia and bigotry and rabid "Christianity" be tarnished by the light of reason. If this young man's brief life is to have a lasting meaning, our citizenry needs to recognize the awfulness of hate crimes and resolve to eradicate hate from our lives. That alone might be just recompense for the crucifixion that happened on that cold Wyoming prairie ten years ago this week.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Body of Lies

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Saturday evening at the movies - a nice conclusion to a beautiful Arizona day!

Body of Lies is a contemporary war thriller that chased terrorists, ours and theirs, in and out of several middle eastern countries. Leonardo DiCarpio starred as an on-the-ground CIA operative whose operations were continually screwed up by his stateside handler, Russel Crowe, a suburban Washington D.C. father of young children who telephoned in mayhem while standing on the sidelines of his daughter's soccer game.

DiCaprio, one of the finest actors of his generation, was amazing as he bounced around the sands of the Middle East like a scorpion on speed. He was tough, relentless, and very, very deadly. Yet, despite his necessary brutalities, he was able to deftly demonstrate that cooperation and a sense of culture could be employed much more effectively in the war on terrorism than any amount of testosterone-soaked American machismo.

Crowe, himself an especially talented actor, never managed to animate his character with much believability or passion. His performance was so mediocre that a second-year drama student would have probably fared better. For some reason the Aussie actor was either instructed or chose to put on a lot of weight for this film, although the reason for portraying his character as an overstuffed suburbanite was never made clear. Perhaps it was to show CIA bureaucrats, and Americans in general, as slovenly consumers of the world's wealth. Whatever the logic, Crowe's excess lard was as disconcerting as his lame acting.

This movie spoke to the need to view conflict from a human perspective. The clash of ideologies was seen as an ebb-and-flo phenomenon with the human pawns left to secure their own survival. The story clung to Leonardo DiCaprio as a garment of America's potential for redemption, and he wore it with grace and honor.

Brave New World

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The old saying goes that if you give typewriters to a room full of monkeys, eventually they will write a great novel. It isn't too much of a stretch beyond that to imagine that if you give a room full of politicians some time to themselves, eventually they will come up with a good idea. In fact, that may have just happened in the state of Indiana.

There are three candidates running for Congress in Indiana's 9th Congressional District: Baron Hill, the incumbent Democrat, Mike Sodrel, the Republican challenger who used to hold the seat, and Eric Schansberg, the Libertarian. As the campaign heads into the final weeks, an idea has suddenly been put forth by the district's Republican party chairman that all of the candidates be hooked up to lie detectors during an upcoming debate. His justification is that "while this format may unusual, I feel strongly that voters need to be able to make a clear decision without all the usual spin."

The Republican and Libertarian candidates have agreed, and the Democrat is thinking it over. The university sponsoring the debate is resisting this interference with their program, apparently seeing this last minute disruption of plans as being political in nature. Yes, it undoubtedly is political in nature, but that doesn't prevent it from being a good idea.

This political tactic out of Indiana represents a great use of technology! Maybe we should look at filtering the comments of every politician in America through a lie detector. When the President decides to have a news conference, hook that sucker up! When the crap starts flying at a city council meeting, check the lie detector needles and find out who is being honest and who isn't. Talk about truth in advertising! Citizens would be able to make truly informed decisions based on access to the real facts. There is no telling where a society armed with the truth might take our nation!

This truth thing might become so popular that it would spread beyond politics. How about car salesmen being hooked to lie detectors? Wouldn't it be so much easier to buy a car knowing what it was actually worth and not having to play the game in order to make the purchase? And how about television evangelists? Lie detectors would probably put those begging maggots out of business in a matter of weeks!

And then there is always Bill O'Reilly, but we may have to wait on the next generation of lie detectors to tackle a liar of that magnitude!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Helen of Tempe

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I'm just back from an evening out with friends. We have been to a play in Tempe, an intense production by the Stray Cat Theatre Company entitled Everything Will Be Different: A Brief History of Helen of Troy. The playwright was Mark Schultz and his work was directed by Ron May.

This was a gem of a play, tight and smartly written with a cast that stirred it to brilliance. Charlotte, the central character, was a high school girl struggling with acne, adolescence, and the death of her mother. She needed love and searched for it in the wrong places, spreading chaos as she drove her teen angst through other people's lives. She was needy, aggressive, pitiful, and repulsive - but most of all, she was hurting.

This play belonged to a very talented young actress named Willa Darian who starred in the role of Charlotte. She was on stage throughout the entire performance, gliding seamlessly through an array of situations, emotions, and challenging dialogue. Two other standouts were Cale Epps who played Charlotte's father (who was also struggling over the death of her mother), and Aaron Wester, a male acquaintance from high school whose principles and privacy fell victim to Charlotte's unleashed fantasies.

This was one hell of a fine play! I have now seen two Stray Cat productions and have the highest regard for their work.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

More on the Mighty Saguaros

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Old friend and young grandfather, Michael Box, from the state of Kansas, posted a reply to my article yesterday regarding the growing theft of the giant Saguaro cacti from the deserts of Arizona. What this former resident of the Valley of Hell had to say explains why this criminal enterprise is so lucrative. According to Michael:

Illegal saguaro's sell for up to $50 a foot plus an additional $100 per arm. The prized crested plants can go for $15,000 or more.

Stealing these plants violate both Arizona and Federal law. The Arizona law appears to be regulatory in nature. The Federal Lacey Act is not. There you get felony convictions and big fines.

The saguaro can live 150 to 175 years, weigh up to 7 tons, and be taken in as little as 15 minutes.

So, let's do the math: gas for two trucks (-$20), wages for four undocumented workers for a couple of hours each (-$100), and a quick sale of four of these desert guardians (+$20,000 or more) - yep, that beats holding down a real job!

Michael did include this note of caution:

Only a fool will wander into the Sonoran Desert at night when the rattlers rule. But the risk of a fatal snake bite is out-weighed by the lure of profit.

This is one instance when I'm rooting for the snakes!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Selling Earth's Treasures

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There are many ways to make a living, the art of collecting enough wealth to live on. Most of us have jobs, and most of those jobs center on manufacturing products for sale, or providing a service for sale. Another approach to making a living is crime, the act of taking something that doesn't belong to you for purposes of making money. The criminal activity might focus on stealing an object, an idea, or wealth itself. One additional way of generating wealth, often in much greater excess than what it takes for a comfortable existence, is to commandeer the Earth's treasures and natural resources and market them to the public.

I'm not saying that taking the world's oil, for instance, is necessarily a criminal activity, though it is becoming easier and easier to make that argument! There is work that goes into that activity that justifies some of the price - drilling, refining, distributing, etc. But an activity that generates that much profit (billions of dollars each quarter) is necessarily fraught with shady practices - oil lobbyists buying politicians or remodeling the home of a certain powerful Alaskan Senator, for example - or spending tons of money to make sure that alternative energy strategies don't make it to market in a meaningful way - or encouraging immoral wars to enable better pipeline routes across the middle east.

There are other groups equally concerned with selling off the planet's resources. Enterprises such as lumber companies and the fishing industry profit greatly by cutting and netting as much of their "product" as quickly as possible without any sensible plan for meeting the needs of future generations.

Today I heard of an outrageous case of the systematic theft of our natural heritage. The giant saguaro cacti of Arizona, often twenty feet or more in height, are being uprooted in the desert and wholesaled to landscapers. The expense of this operation is almost nil because it is based on theft, but the rewards are significant. Giant saguaros aren't like pretty desert bushes that can be grown en masse in greenhouses. They take many decades to grow to a decent size, and the most practical way to acquire one is to drive into the desert as night and steal it.

Recently seventeen giant saguaros were uprooted one night near Phoenix. At that rate, it won't take many years before these kings of the Arizona desert are all concealed behind the fences of suburban home owners.

The state of Arizona has come up with a plan to at least slow this criminal activity, and hopefully stop it. The idea is to insert computer chips in the cacti that are still in the desert. Then when a cactus disappears, they will be able to track its movement through the thieves, landscapers, and receiving homes.

Maybe when this system goes into operation, landscapers and homeowners will begin to ask questions about where their giant saguaros originated, and a lucrative market will dry up. The threat of jail, after all, can be a powerful motivator to behave in an honorable manner!

Man needs to move decisively to protect the planet from his evil twin. Earth's bounty belongs to us all.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Town Hall Presidential Debate

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McBush just ended. I missed the first one because I was television-challenged at the time, so this event was a special treat for me.

The question that captured my attention and most clearly delineated the philosophical differences between the candidates was posed by the moderator, Tom Brokow, when he asked if health care in America was a privilege, a right, or a responsibility. McBush spoke first, stating definitively that it was a responsibility. Yes, Senator, but how can you fault our fellow citizens for not taking care of their own health care in this sucking economy? Not all of us own seven or eight homes and a fleet of cars - some of us can't stretch our budget past the weekly groceries, if that far. Barack Obama spoke for me and millions of others when he said that health care, in one of the richest nations in the world, was a right. Damned right, it is! The fact that people are suffering without access to medical care in the United States of America in the twenty-first century is a national disgrace! If we can afford to pound Iraq back into the stone age, then, by God, we cannot afford to sit on our hands while our fellow citizens die of medical neglect!

This particular format, the town hall, where the candidates got to move around while they answered questions, was reportedly McBush's favorite venue, but, oh my, it certainly highlighted his age. Two words, John: Preparation H! I felt for you as you squeezed you butt cheeks together and scooted around that stage like an ancient, wind-up penguin!

Barack Obama on the other hand was suave and debonair with a smile that radiated confidence and limitless hope. One had only to listen to his well reasoned answers to have an expectation that our long national nightmare is nearly at an end.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Viva Keith!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Okay, I gave up on living without television and had my cable reconnected on Saturday. I immediately experienced a problem, and it only took me thirty-five minutes to get a human being on the telephone at Cox Cable. Some things never change!

Tonight I managed to get my Countdown jones sated! Keith did a "Special Comment" on Sarah Palin, and he was brutal! He was breathing so much fire I was afraid that my sprinklers would go off! I laughed until I hurt!

After Olbermann waxed Palin, I stayed on MSNBC and watched Rachel Maddow kick Pat Buchanan around the studio like he was an over-inflated beach ball.

Gosh, it's good to have my friends back. You betcha it is!

Obama Leads in Arizona!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Barack Obama has a solid lead in Arizona. I know this because I cast my early ballot for him today - hence, by my count of the votes that I can personally account for, he leads John McBush one to nothing. At least that's how I see it!

I love early voting! My ballot came in the mail on Saturday, along with a stamped, self-addressed return envelope, and I voted this afternoon, dropped it in the mailbox, and slapped the "I voted" sticker on my forehead!

We talked about the positives and negatives of early voting at work today. A co-worker told me that she was opposed to it because things might change between today and election day. Okay, I understand that. Another possibility is that I might die in a car wreck in the next couple of weeks and lose the opportunity of casting a vote, but now my vote is cast and Obama has it - whether I am breathing on election day or not! Another friend said that she receives a ballot in the mail, but will deliver it to the polling place on election day because she is afraid it will be lost if she mails it in. Yes, that's a possibility, but what guarantees do we ever have that our vote is counted - regardless of how or when we cast it?

By voting early, I save gas and time by not having to drive around Goodyear trying to find the right polling place, I don't have to stand in lines or shuffle through my wallet looking for good identification, and I can be home popping popcorn and watching the election results while others are still trying to do their patriotic duty.

Oh, and BTW, gay marriage is also leading one to nothing!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Year in the Desert

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last week marked the completion of my first year in Arizona, and although I bitch about the heat, my landlords, and the blankety-blank cable company, it has been a memorable and eventful twelve months.

I expected one of the best things about relocating here from the Midwest would be my proximity to my little grandson, Sebastian, and that would have been the case had he not moved off to Oregon with his parents in February. I did get in some quality time as one of his very first babysitters, allowing Molly and Scott some brief respite from their 24/7 responsibility.

My job has also been a huge plus. I have been fortunate throughout my working life to almost always land in a good work environment, and the Family Advocacy Program at Luke Air Force Base has been all that and then some. I work with wonderful people. Recently I was offered a chance to relocate to Georgia, but turned it down at the last minute primarily because I would have felt awful bailing on my co-workers here in Arizona.

I have been to a couple of plays out here, and have another one booked. I am also going to attend a Coyotes hockey game. I have discovered some great places to eat, and I am starting to become more involved in the community. One of my more memorable outings was to see Barack Obama, Governor Napolitano, and Caroline Kennedy rock the house at a February campaign event in Phoenix. That was an evening that I will never forget.

The Phoenix Airport (Sky Harbor) has only racked up one incident of homicide by staff during the last year, and with that little transgression aside, it is a remarkably easy airport to navigate with direct flights everywhere that I need to go. This past year training has taken me to San Antonio and Washington, DC, and I have made two trips back to the Ozarks by air.

I have also put some travel miles on my little car. I made a trip to Nogales, Mexico, last February, and in August I drove to Tombstone. I also did two road trips to San Diego, with a third planned for November for Molly and Scott's wedding. San Diego is a little over five hours from Goodyear, but there is a lot to see and do along the way - including the famous date shakes at Dateland, and a wonderful souvenir emporium in Gila Bend.

Today my apartment air-conditioning isn't working - again, and my jerk-wad landlords (Palm Valley Luxury Rentals) have retaliated on my refusal to sign another contract by raising my rent - but hey, every cactus rose is surrounded by a few pricks! It's just part of life in the desert.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Addie Polk and Fannie Mae

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Addie Polk and Fannie Mae sound like two sweet little old ladies. Right? Well, one is, and one isn't - or at least wasn't until recently.

Addie Polk is ninety-years-old and has lived in the same two-story house in Akron, OH, for the past thirty-six years. In 2004 she took out a $45,620 mortgage with the now infamous Countrywide Home Loan Company along with a line of credit for an additional $11,380. Over the next couple of years she began missing payments on her home. The mortgage was eventually sold to Fannie Mae who sent the local sheriff out on several occasions to evict her. Last Wednesday as the sheriff was pounding on the front door, Addie laid out her car keys, pocketbook, and life insurance policy where they could easily be found. She then laid down on her bed and shot herself twice in the upper body. A neighbor heard the shots and put a ladder up next to the house to gain entry to her second-story bedroom where he found her soaked in blood and barely conscious.

Amazingly Addie Polk lived and quickly became a poster girl for the severity of the housing and home loan crisis. Her case was discussed on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. After her story became emblematic for the nation's fiscal crisis, Fannie Mae, the mortgage holder, became a bit of a sweet little old lady herself and cancelled Addie's debt.

Score one for the little people, but don't expect loan forgiveness to become a habit of Fannie Mae or any banking or lending institution. People should borrow responsibly, and banks and loan companies should lend responsibility. If people bought only what they truly could afford, and if lenders didn't try to entice people to borrow or refinance with with questionable methods and blatant dishonesty, then America would be a much more solvent place today.

Buy gold and bury it!

Oh, McBush! Wherefore Art Thou?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Arizona has been surprisingly devoid of McBush campaign paraphernalia, especially considering that it is the old fart's home state. Indeed, until a week ago the only bumper stickers that I had seen out and about in this wretched desert were those supporting Obama. Now I can at least report that I have seen three McBush bumper stickers in the Valley of Hell, and all, of course, were on large expensive vehicles.

Last night I went to downtown Phoenix to enjoy First Friday - a street fair held on the first Friday of every month - with my friends, Bobby and Odessa Benson their housemate Jeremy. We handed out Obama bumper stickers and buttons to the hundreds of people who were wandering the streets and enjoying the fair. There were many Obama supporters there, some holding signs for passing drivers to see, some handing out cards for voters to request ballots by mail, and many just talking to people about the candidate.

The most significant thing about last night, though, wasn't about what all of the Obama people were doing, it was the total lack of any McBush workers or activities at the event. There were no bumper stickers, signs, or political activity in support of Arizona's first Presidental candidate in a generation. Zip, nada, nothing! There was no McBush buzz in the middle of America's fourth largest metropolitan area - the city that he calls home! (Well, one of his homes, anyway!) I was almost embarrassed for him - but not quite!

I read this week that McBush has pulled the plug on his operation in Michigan. Has he thrown in the towel in Arizona, too?

Change is coming, and I think it may just be in the form of a landslide!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Banned Books Week: Day Seven
Adult Sexual Fiction

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

This series has focused on books that have been banned because they present ideas that small-minded people want to keep the general public from accessing. Generally those books revolve around behaviors that are abhorrent to some particular group, such as alternative lifestyles, teen pregnancies, abortions, interracial dating, and pacifism. These topics find their way into teen novels, and even occasionally into books for young children. For instance, Heather has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman and Diane Souza, and Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoit introduce young readers to the concept of alternative lifestyles and non-traditional families.

Another category of books that often runs afoul of censors are books whose primary content is sexual in nature. Often these volumes have small publishing runs and are sold in adult bookstores solely for titillation and entertainment. They have little or no literary merit, and are quickly read, tossed, and forgotten. There have been several books focusing on adult sexual content, however, that have become classics in the field and have remained in print and circulation for generations.

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland was penned in the middle of the eighteenth century and can be purchased in any mainline bookstore today. It is a raunchy (but well written) tale of a young lady who accidentally loses her virginity in a whorehouse and spends the next several hundred pages having sexual adventures while waiting on her true love to return from an overseas posting.

A writer named Terry Southern wrote a lusty little novel in the late 1950's that went on to be passed around every high school in America. The book was called Candy, and the eighteen-year-old central character, Candy Christian, had her erotic adventures described by Playboy Magazine as "picaresque travels, a kind of sexual pinball machine that lights up academia, gardeners, the medical profession, mystics, and bohemians." A movie version was released in the late 1960s that boasted a star-studded cast including Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, and Ringo Starr.

Books such as Fanny Hill and Candy originally felt the censor's wrath due to their sexual nature and tendency to excite. Today some feminist groups have begun to highlight links between erotic literature (and pornography) to sexual crimes against women - leading to a pondersome question: should things that pose a danger to the public - such as cigarettes, liquor, drugs, guns, and adult sexual literature - be banned from public consumption? And with regard to the written word, who decides when it has crossed a line that could make it dangerous - and how is that line determined?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I fear that opening the door to censorship, even a crack, will result in society being overrun by hyenas. It feels to me as though we should all be responsible for our own consumptions and behaviors until such time as those personal choices adversely effect someone else. When that happens, we have crossed a line and society is called forth to mete out punishment for our misbehaviors and crimes.

Read responsibily, but don't let me or anyone else tell you what you can and cannot read.

Thanks for sharing this important week with me!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Banned Books Week: Day Six
Disturbing the Universe

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

I first read John Knowles novel of adolescent guilt and redemption, A Separate Peace, in the early 1960's shortly after it was published. At that time I was about the age of the two main characters, Gene and Phineas (Finny), who were students at a private boys high school in New Hampshire during World War II. The boys and their lives felt real, and while their circumstances were considerably better than my own, it was still easy to identify with their actions and the challenges they faced.

Gene and Finny met in the fall at their private school when they were assigned to room together. Gene was the quiet one, but he was gradually pulled from his shell by the popular and outgoing Finny. Finny was also the more athletic of the two. One afternoon as they were enjoying their ritual activity of jumping into the river from a high tree limb, Gene bent his legs suddenly as his friend was preparing to jump, causing Finny to fall from the tree and onto the riverbank. Finny's legs were shattered, along with many of his dreams. Months later after the guilt became too great, Gene told Finny that he intentionally caused him to fall. Finny, the loyal friend, refused to acknowledge the confession.

As the story progressed, Finny began to live the athletic aspects of his life through Gene, challenging him to do the things that he (Finny) could no longer accomplish. The war became more of a factor in life at the school, with some of the young men enlisting. As each of their lives achieved a more relevant focus to life in the real world, Finny became more marginalized. When others decided that his accident was intentionally caused by Gene, Finny fatefully stood by his friend. As Finny's body was subsumed by injury and pain, his bond with Gene served as his final grasp on life.

A Separate Peace is, in essence, a love story between two young men, a story where the needs of each was met by the abilities and determination of the other. It was this unusual bond that made many people nervous and resulted on the book being banned from high schools and some libraries.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier is also about life in a private boys' high school. Love is not a factor in this widely banned book. Its focus is on rebellion against authority, another topic that is not overly valued in a society that prides itself on order and discipline.

Jerry Renault, the central figure in this story, was a freshman at the religious school. A group of boys called the Vigils harassed freshmen by giving them "assignments". One of Jerry's friends, "the Goober," got an assignment to loosen all of the screws in the furniture in a classroom one night, causing pandemonium when students poured into class the next morning. Jerry got an assignment of refusing to sell in the school's annual chocolate sale.

The chocolate sale was the big event at the school each year, earning a major portion of the school's revenue. Brother Leo ran the sale, and he managed it with a religious fervor and an iron hand. He was angry when he learned that Jerry wasn't supporting the sale, but settled back down when he found out that Jerry's refusal was a Vigil's assignment. When the assignment came to an end and Jerry still refused to sell the chocolates, a major battle of wills ensued between Brother Leo, the Vigils (who were his enforcers), and Jerry. It became one man against the system, and if that young man was allowed to prevail, the system would be irretrievably broken.

Jerry's motivation in standing up to Brother Leo and the Vigils was a poster in his locker that stated simply, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" His decision to act on that inspirational message set up the action of this novel and ensured its due recognition of becoming a "banned book."

Books get banned when they challenge someones comfort level, when they dare to disturb the universe of complacency with new ideas and threats to the status quo. But can we ever grow if we are always "protected" from new ideas and things that are different?

Read...and grow!