Sunday, November 30, 2008

Support Your Local Food Bank

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I love our governor! Janet Napolitano is one of the smartest, hardest working, and most caring of individuals serving in American politics today. She is the epitome of what a politician should be. Governor Napolitano will be sorely missed in Arizona when she moves off to Washington, DC, to become the Secretary of Homeland Security. But our loss will be America's gain.

Last week, shortly before Thanksgiving, Governor Napolitano sent out a gentle email reminder about those in our state who are having trouble putting food on the table. Arizona has a good food bank system, and the governor was nudging her supporters to donate money to ensure the system's continued effectiveness. She also put out the challenge for citizens to begin food drives to help stock the shelves of the food banks.

We tend to forget that the poor are among us, and when we do remember those less fortunate, it is sometime with scorn. For most of a generation now we have suffered political leaders who demonized the poor for their own political advancement. Many churches even heaped on ridicule, suggesting that anyone who worked, regardless of the menial nature of the job, would magically become healthy, wealthy, wise. Welfare for the poor was to be cut or eliminated at every opportunity, while tax breaks, tariffs, business deregulation, and other protections for the privileged were viewed as necessary for a healthy economy. The game was welfare for those who didn't need it, and nothing for those who did.

But now that the economy has tumbled into the crapper, we may all get a taste of what it is like to be poor-of-pocket and poor-of-spirit. Hopefully we won't be forced to experience the depths of hell that is the daily life of many of the less-fortunates who live among us.

Did you know that last year, 2007, before this economic "downturn" came upon us, that over 700,000 American children went hungry at some point? The Department of Agriculture said that figure represented a 50% increase over 2006. The number of children going hungry during the economic craziness of 2008 must be staggering!

I'll do my part by donating cans and cash. I don't need a plasma TV, but I do need the peace of mind of knowing that some child is not going hungry while my cupboards are full.

Thank you, Governor Napolitano, for reminding us that we all can be doing more.

Happy holidays - to all!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday Freak Show Turns Deadly

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday was Black Friday, a national day of consumerism-gone-wild in which merchants try to get all of their accounts into the black through massive sales and hoopla. The intent is to get consumers pumped to a fever pitch so that they spend, spend, spend! The stores open at dawn, or earlier, and the waiting customers, some of whom have been standing in the cold for hours, come pushing and elbowing their way into the stores to grab up the bargains.

It is not surprising that these "sales" sometimes get physical as customers race for the limited amounts of drastically marked-down merchandise. This year, however, things went well beyond physical, and actually became deadly in a couple of well-known national outlets.

The Wal-Mart Store at Valley Stream, NY, was the scene of a death committed through mass hysteria, the snuffing out of a life that happened at the confluence of poor planning and classic American greed.

Wal-Mart was having a Black Friday sale - a dandy of sale! Shoppers who made it into the store when it opened at 5 a.m. could score a Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissell Compact Upright Vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69, and DVDs for as low as nine dollars each!

So many people had gathered outside of that Wal-Mart by 3 a.m. that the growing crush of early birds caused the store windows to begin buckling inward. Some accounts say that the police were called but never responded. By 5 a.m. when the store was due to open, over two thousand people were packed against the doors ready to erupt into the store and begin lunging for bargains.

The store door was opened promptly at 5 a.m. by Jdimytai Damour, a maintenance worker who was technically an employee of a temporary agency working for Wal-Mart. As the doors opened, their frames were pulled from the walls by the stampeding shoppers, and the unfortunate temporary employee was trampled to death by the rampaging horde.

That's right! A man was trampled to death by two thousand people desperate to get their hands on a twenty-eight dollar Bissell! Several other employees saw what was happening and tried to rescue their co-worker. They were kicked, shoved, and stepped on as they tried to get to him.

The police arrived and were trying to revive poor Mr. Damour - and shoppers continued rushing by the emergency scene in order to get to the bargains! Police eventually ordered the store closed, and were met by angry jeers like, "I've been in line since yesterday morning!" as the Wal-Mart shoppers continued grabbing merchandise.

Today police are going over the store's videotapes trying to identify the persons who actually stomped Mr. Damour into the floor. That will probably be a thankless task, because when one is packed into a herd he is at the mercy of everyone else. Certainly no single person intended to stomp a fellow human to death, but the herd ended the life of a minimum wage worker who was only doing his job.

Wal-Mart is also complicit in the death of their "temporary" employee. Anyone who has shopped at this monster-retailer knows that they routinely understaff their stores. They also weaken the effectiveness of their store staff by using part-time employees (to avoid paying benefits) and by using the employees of temporary agencies to provide an extra layer of protection to store management. (Then when the INS comes in late at night and arrests the illegal aliens who are cleaning their stores, management points to the agency that they have contracted for the services and says, in effect, we didn't hire the illegals - they did.)

Instead of trying to pin the slaughter of Mr. Damour on individual shoppers who were being propelled into the store by momentum of the rampaging herd, perhaps blame could be better assigned by interviewing company management in Bentonville to determine who made decisions to use an inadequate security and sales force to handle a risky situation created by company sales strategies.

What can be said about something like that? Have we finally seen the true fruition of American consumerism? Have we become such a nation of greed-heads that the death of a fellow human being is diminished to nothing more than a shopping obstacle? Do we measure our love for one another with sales receipts? Has a plasma TV become this generation's golden calf? Must we celebrate the birth of Jesus at the altar of the check-out counter?

Two additional deaths occurred at a Toys 'R Us in California. Two women began brawling in the store. As the fight escalated, their men pulled out pistols and killed one another. It was unclear today as to whether this deadly disagreement was due to a conflict over a bargain toy or the result of some personal matter that was carried in from the street. Be sure of this though, in a country as focused on personal weaponry and the "right" to pack heat as the United States, this California shootout is undoubtedly a harbinger of things to come.

Maybe next year on Black Friday retailers will offer drastic mark-downs on bulletproof vests!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Finally Friday!

by Pa Rock
Weary Traveler

The wedding is history now, and Nick boarded the plane home this morning - so my life is becoming my own again. I didn't want to let this week end without memorializing a couple of other things that happened during the week of Molly and Scott's wedding.

The only descendant of mine who wasn't in San Diego was my grandson, Boone. He stayed in West Plains, MO, and had a big Thanksgiving dinner at his Grandmother Margaret's house. I did talk to Boone a couple of times on the phone during the week. He is into heavy-duty reading - things like the novels of Stephen King. That is fairly amazing for a nine-year-old fourth grader! I will see Boone next weekend when we all meet in Noel to watch my Dad serve as Grand Marshall of the Christmas Parade.

Molly and Scott's wedding was on a very public beach, and, not surprisingly, life on the beach kept right on happening even with the solemn event occurring at the center of the maelstrom. One notable competing event was a game of beach paddle ball that worked its way right up to the edge of our little group. I guess that we didn't bother them because they never quit playing! Then a company-sized unit of young military men ran by in formation heading north along the beach. They were wearing shorts, t-shirts, and military footwear. Ten minutes after that a similar group ran by headed south. It was hard to tell if they were the same unit or not, but if it was, they had lost their shirts. My guess is that they were marines, and running on the sand was preparation for Iraq. But whoever and whatever, they are now a part of the history of Molly and Scott's wedding!

My Dad's older brother, Wayne Macy, died of leukemia in San Diego in 1956 at the age of thirty-five. He is buried in a military cemetery on a beautiful piece of land that juts out into the Pacific just north of Coronado, a place that we could see clearly from the beach. His widow and daughter were at the wedding. So Wayne Macy was a part of the wedding also.

My Dad is too old to travel - or at least he thinks he is, so he stayed in Missouri and did not attend. I called him from the reception and he was able to visit with the happy bride, her brothers, and my Aunt Mary and Cousin Janet. So he, too, was a minor character in the wedding.

After the reception I wanted to make sure that my kids had the opportunity to visit among themselves and to talk with other people there who are important in their lives. To get out of the way, I drove to Imperial Beach, ostensibly to see the new sixteen-foot statue of a surfer that was unveiled on the beach this week.

I got to the beach community shortly before the sun set. I drove down the same streets that I had walked last May, taking note of the yard full of roses that had resulted in my making a new friend during my last visit. I stopped at several different beach access points, but never did find the statue. I did sit on the rocks until well after dark watching some surfers riding the waves. A storm was blowing in off the ocean, probably making their waves better, and definitely bringing a welcoming calm to my life. I guess that I had forgotten just how wonderful the solitude of the ocean could be.

Peace is the ocean soothing a beach in the moonlight - and if lightening is dancing across the dark horizon, that's all the better!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanskgiving Thursday

by Pa Rock
Parade Float

The Macy's had two Thanksgiving Parades today - the traditional one in New York City, and a west coast affair that stretched from San Diego to the center of Arizona. I paraded out to the airport this morning in a heavy rain to get Tim and Erin to their plane, then Nick and I paraded over to Coronado to return Scott's jacket that he had left in my car, and to say good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Files and little Sebastian. Nick and I completed the day by parading back to Goodyear, with the rain following us most of the way. It was so nice to see rain falling across the Sonoran Desert! There was a rainbow over San Diego as we left, and a rainbow over Phoenix as we got back. With omens that good, I had to buy some lottery tickets!

A fellow at a gas station in San Diego told me that he has lived there since 1973, and last night's rain was the heaviest that he has seen in all of that time. There were even tornado warnings for Coronado Island last night. Who knew they had tornado's on the seacoast?

Tonight Nick and I paraded around Goodyear looking for pizza, but to no avail. Even the local grocery store was closed. We finally stumbled across an Arby's that was open and were able to procure sandwiches for our Thanksgiving meal!

Nick will fly out of Sky Harbor early tomorrow, and my life will start to get back to some degree of normality. Tomorrow night I am going to a Phoenix Suns basketball game. They are playing the Miami Heat. I may also go by work for a couple of hours and clear off whatever has piled up on my desk this week - if the shredder is working!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wedding Wednesday

by Pa Rock
Father of the Bride

Molly and Scott were married on the beach at Coronado this afternoon. It was a beautiful day; last night's rain took a break and let the sun shine through! A very nice reception followed at the El Cordova Hotel where the happy couple were headquartered.

It was a very small group. Scott's mom and dad were there along with his brother, all very nice people. Molly's brothers and Tim's fiancee were with us, and so were my Aunt Mary and Cousin Janet who live in San Diego. I called my Dad during the reception so that he could visit with all of our people, and he said that he really liked getting to do that.

We saw Scott briefly at dinner tonight, but Molly was worn out and stayed in their room. She has spent so much time working and worrying over the wedding, wanting to make sure that everything went right - and it did! I hope that she gets rested and is able to enjoy their honeymoon cruise to Mexico.

The best part of the wedding experience was seeing my kids work so well together. They are getting to the age where their lives will start to be complicated with their own family demands, so I know to appreciate the times when they can all enjoy each other's company.

Molly and Scott, I love you both, and wish you every joy and happiness. May you be together always!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Coronado Tuesday

by Pa Rock
Sentimental Tourist

Tim, Erin, Nick, and I were out on Coronado too early this morning so that Molly and Scott could borrow my car to go get their marriage license. We had breakfast at a 50's Diner on Orange Street (Coronado's main drag). When breakfast was over we headed out toward the beach where we ran into Scott's dad, Alvin Files. We walked along the beach, and Tim took his shoes of and waded into the surf. Our next stop was the beautiful Del Coronado Hotel where we walked through the lobby (adorned for Christmas), the shops area, and the gardens.

Coronado is in full bloom. The sidewalks are bordered with flower beds and flowering shrubbery. There is a type of canna common here that I have not seen other places. It is called "bird of paradise," and the blooms look exactly like the profile of a crane. We also noticed poinsettias planted in the flower beds with their red holiday leaves stunningly out of place in the warm Pacific sunshine.

We rode the Coronado ferry over to the San Diego Harbor for a few hours in the afternoon. En route we passed the USS Ronald Reagan (aircraft carrier) that just returned to port today after several months at sea serving in the Middle East and the Philippines. There was film on television tonight of its arrival - crying families, wives with babies that had been born since the ship sailed, banners and signs - much like the reunions that I witnessed in the aircraft hangars back at Ft. Campbell.

Our main activity at the harbor was just to walk along looking at the large art displays that line the waterfront. Alvin and Susan Files showed us how to get to the ferry. Molly and Scott were able to join our group for that outing. Susan Files is a teacher, and she and I had a discussion about education - with her catching me up of some of the changes that have happened since I left that profession. Alvin is an attorney. They live in Ada, Oklahoma.

The forecast is for heavy rain later tonight. It will supposedly be the heaviest rain since January. Molly and Scott have a Plan B for an indoor wedding, but they had their hearts set on getting married on the beach. Maybe the sun will come shining through!

This evening we went back to Coronado for dinner with Scott and Molly. Little Sebastian arrived this afternoon and was quite the center of attention. We ate at an Irish Pub and were entertained by an older male vocalist (somewhere around my age!) with an acoustic guitar who sang the songs of my youth - the Beatles, Jimmy Buffett, Simon and Garfunkle, James Brown, Janis Joplin, and Arlo Guthrie - to name but a few. It was a very nice evening!

Tomorrow is the wedding day, rain though it may.

We are having a grand time in San Diego!

Monday, November 24, 2008

San Diego Monday

by Pa Rock

Nick and I spent a couple of hours today touring the USS Midway, an Aircraft Carrier that is pulling retirement duty as a museum in the San Diego Harbor. The Midway has numerous aircraft that saw service from the Korean War through Desert Storm. The Carnival Cruise Ship Elation was anchored in the neighboring berth. That is the ship that Molly and Scott will take on their honeymoon.

Molly and Scott arrived this afternoon, and Nick and I got to Coronado in time to help them take their luggage to their room. Then we hustled over to the airport and picked up Tim and Erin. So hail, hail, the gang's all here!

Two interesting things happened at the airport. We were in McDonald's waiting on them to butcher a cow and make our sandwiches, when a distinguished looking gentleman wearing a suit and carrying an expensive briefcase walked up to the counter and ordered a hamburger. "Just a hamburger." He told the crew kids. The girl at the counter told him that would be two dollars and four cents. The interesting thing about that encounter is that I can remember when a McDonald's hamburger was fifteen cents! And from the look on the customer's face, he could too!

The other incident of note happened when we accompanied Tim and Erin to the luggage carousel. I saw what appeared to be some litter on the floor. As I looked it over, the litter came into focus as a crumpled up twenty dollar bill. I quickly bent over and snatched it up. After a careful scan of the environs, I determined that no one was stumbling around looking for their money, and, more importantly, there did not appear to be some film crew doing a "candid camera" piece - or a psychology professor doing honesty research. The three alternatives as I saw it were to give the twenty dollar bill to TSA (aka Public Enemy #1), wave it around in the air yelling "Hey, did anyone lose a twenty?", or avoid the public melee by putting it in my pocket. I chose door number three.

Goodnight from San Diego.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Report from the Road

by Pa Rock
Over-the-Road Journalist

Nick and I arrived in San Diego in the early afternoon. It was a good drive. I took the wheel from Goodyear to Yuma, and he brought us the rest of the way.

There still are not many trucks on the road, even with the lower gas prices. We did see several trains carrying truck cargo containers stacked two-high. Putting several hundred containers on a train is undoubtedly much cheaper that putting several hundred trucks on the road. So, long-story-short, the trucking industry may have suffered a permanent blow from the last national gas-gouging.

The trucks may still be scarce on the interstate highways, but the RV's and Fifth Wheels are back clogging the roads and sucking up that cheap gas. Those old farts better enjoy it while they can because the age of affordable gas is almost history!

We drove by numerous snowbird villages, RV parks in some of the most God-awful desert settings. Senior citizens inhabit these sad outposts every winter as they seek refuge from the Midwestern winters. Today we could see them sitting out in their lawn chairs, half-hidden in the mesquite and sage brush, forty miles from the nearest shopping, and looking utterly forlorn. We did see one old fellow walking his dog out along the edge of the highway, and I don't know who appeared to be sadder, the man or his best friend tugging at the end of the leash. The weather was beautiful, but if it were me, I would rather be home in Missouri shovelling snow than trying to relax in the desert while being constantly on the lookout for scorpions, Gila monsters, and rattlesnakes.

Speaking of varmints, a shiny white Lexus passed us today bearing a "Palin" bumper sticker! That's pretty scary - you betcha it is!

Our room at the Navy Lodge is wonderful, lots of space and even has a small kitchen. Nick commented tonight about how polite the gate guards are. I asked one of the ladies at the desk tonight about the best way to visit Tiajuana some evening. Her pained facial expression said it all. "We shouldn't go in the evening?" I surmised. "Oh, please don't!" she said. She advised being very careful even if we went in the daytime. Then she added that passports were now required. I forgot mine, and Nick doesn't have one, so maybe we can make it south of the border on our next trip out here.

And speaking of forgetting things, I forgot the new camera that I bought for Molly's wedding. That's kind of a tradition with me - I always manage to forget something. I guess it's an age thing! I even left the battery for the new camera plugged in at my apartment, and had to call the manager and have her go unplug it. I am going to New York in January with a wonderful lady - the camera will make its traveling debut then! But for now, a couple of disposables will have to do.

Goodnight from San Diego!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Heading West

by Pa Rock
Busy Dad

My oldest son, Nick Macy, arrived in Phoenix this afternoon, and tomorrow morning he and I are heading out to San Diego, a drive across the desert of slightly more than five hours. I am looking forward to getting out of Phoenix for a few days. We made the same trip in August, and it was really nice because Nick did all of the driving.

We are going to San Diego for my daughter's wedding. Molly and Scott Files are tying the knot on the beach at Coronado next Wednesday. It will be one of those rare times when all of my kids are together. We are all hoping that the weather will cooperate. but I bought a couple of golf umbrellas today - just in case. I received some strange looks from the check-out lady in Target, probably because it never rains in Arizona.

My youngest son, Tim, is flying into San Diego on Monday with his fiancee, Erin Pater. Tim and Erin and Nick and I will all be staying at the Guest Lodge at the Naval Base - one of the benefits of working for the military. The lodge is convenient to all of the places where we will be going, and the price is nice, too.

This will be my third trip to San Diego this year. I am getting way too accustomed to the drive. It is a beautiful city with a wonderful Mediterranean climate. Maybe I need to think seriously about moving there!

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Next Car

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There's a new car making a debut on the world's roads. It's a snazzy little roadster that goes from zero to sixty in four seconds and can run at a hundred-and-twenty miles per hour. The cost of operating this little gem is an amazing two-cents per mile.

The roadster is made by a new company called Tesla. It operates off of an electric battery and uses absolutely no gasoline or oil. The current battery has a range of 200 miles before having to be recharged. The cost is still prohibitive to most of us - in excess of $100,000 - but the limited number currently being manufactured have people lined up waiting to purchase. The company is preparing to roll out a sedan model at approximately half the price of the roadster.

So, if all of that is true (and it is), why are the Big Three American automakers still dragging their feet on going ahead with their own versions of the Tesla? Is it that they are comfortable doing things the old way and not eager to make drastic changes to the way they do business? Yes. Is it that they think they know what America wants in spite of massive data to the contrary? Yes. Is it that they have grown complacent and are organizationally resistant to change? Yes, of course it is.

America watched in horror this week as the CEOs of the Big Three flew from Detroit to Washington, DC, in their three individual corporate jets so that they could beg money off of Congress with vague promises to change the way they do business - but without any definitive plans on how that was to be accomplished. We're here and you need to give us money, or we'll go out of business and take our nation's economy down the drain with us. Corporate blackmail. We're too dumb to follow the basic tenants of capitalism and give the country what it wants - so give us some public money to reward our incompetence.

Yeah, right!

Those Tesla's are expensive. But I remember when pocket calculators first came out - they sold for two or three hundred dollars each. My first computer set-up was nearly five thousand dollars. My first digital camera was over two thousand. My first laptop computer was used, weighed a ton, and cost me a little over two grand. The point is that things always start out expensive, but if they fill a public need, they get better and cheaper quickly. Tesla cars will be priced so that everyone can afford one in just a few short years.

If our government is going to hand out money to the auto industry, why does it need to be to the dinosaurs like Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. Their high-flying executives have spent years making bad decisions, and now they should have to pay the ultimate price. Let them go bankrupt, and give the cash to the innovators. Maybe Tesla could take over the GM factories and hire their laid-off workers to make the cars of the future. With some big government backing it could happen relatively soon, and we could all be driving around in pollution-free vehicles for two-cents a mile. What's wrong with that idea?

(And maybe the Saudis could switch from an oil economy to bagging sand and selling it to Lowe's and Home Depot!)

I drive an old car, a 1999 Chevy Cavalier rag top. I am going to keep driving my old car for the foreseeable future. If the transmission goes out, I will have it replaced. If the engine goes out, I will replace that also. Both of those purchases will be cheaper and smarter than making payments on some American monstrosity that will be completely out-of-date and out-of-fashion before I could get it paid off.

Someday I will buy a new car. I hope that it will be an American product made by unionized American workers. But regardless of where it comes from or who makes it, my next car will be a Tesla or something very much like a Tesla.

I'm ready to drive into the future!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You Go Girl!

Dear Governor Napolitano,

The news programs have been trumpeting your selection as the next Secretary of Homeland Security all day. I guess congratulations are in order. It’s a great day for the country, but a sad day for Arizona.

The rest of the nation will soon learn what we have known for years – that you are a fierce and determined public servant who is not afraid to wade into the issues and get things straightened out. Right now much of the nation’s security focus seems to be on guarding the border – the southern border – an issue which you, as the governor of one of the four states that border Mexico, understand well. But it will be your common sense and ability to engage your political opponents in positive change that will serve you and our country the most.

And those talents and abilities are the things that the people of Arizona will miss the most. Your tact, laser focus, and popularity have combined to bring progressive changes to this state in spite of having to constantly dance with a Republican legislature. Losing you will be like a ship losing its rudder.

This is an exciting time for the country. My children’s and grandchildren’s future is in the hands of President Obama and the highly creative and capable people that he is bringing to Washington, DC. I know that you will make us very proud!

With Best Wishes for Every Success,

Pa Rock
Goodyear, AZ

P.S. If you can’t get that hateful wall torn down, at least try to get the construction stopped. Maybe the part that is already up could be used as an art project by school children to celebrate international peace and understanding. I’ll donate some paint and brushes. We need to be building bridges, not walls!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Amazing Joan, How Sweet the Sound!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It was a cold night in October of 2005. I was sitting front-row-center in the balcony of Liberty Hall, a small and ornate theatre in Lawrence, Kansas, that has been a landmark on Massachusetts Avenue since just after the Civil War. The place was packed – every-seat-full – with old codgers like me, and the doorways were crowded with the young people who worked in the theatre and stood waiting to catch a glimpse of the angelic soprano – a woman who had been an entertainment and political force in America for nearly half a century. The lights dimmed, the audience buzz quickly subsided, and the curtain went up.

And there was Joan Baez, looking much younger than her sixty-four years and resplendent in her buckskin jacket, tee shirt, and jeans. From the tip of my nose to the tip of hers could not have been over twenty-five feet. I had an unobstructed view from one of the best seats in the house! Joan was bookended by two male musicians, one probably half her age, and the other younger still. But while being simply dressed and standing in the center of a minimalist musical trio, the lady dazzled! Her pristine voice rang clear to every corner and crevice of that landmark theatre – and there actually were no bad seats!

As the curtain came up, Joan was strumming her guitar and broke into singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” one of her few songs that achieved substantial popular appeal. Within seconds the audience was singing along.

Joan Baez is emblematic of the 1960’s. She was a featured vocalist at Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous March on Washington in 1963 when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and before the decade ended she was on stage at the Woodstock Festival. Joan had been an angry and outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. At one point she was so controversial that the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization of fascist biddies, denied her permission to perform in Constitution Hall. Joan’s husband, David Harris, was arrested for evading the draft and spent much of their brief marriage in jail.

There were two ladies from rural Kansas sitting next to me. One said that when she had been a student at a major university in the south in the early 1960s she had bought a ticket for a Joan Baez concert that was being hosted by her school. She was seated in the audience when it was announced that the show was cancelled. Joan had learned just before she was to walk on the stage that the community’s African Americans citizens had been denied access to the show, so she refused to go on. The lady said that she had been waiting over forty years to attend a Joan Baez concert.

I had been extremely fortunate in getting a good seat. I emailed a request a few weeks earlier at the exact moment tickets went on sale. Apparently there was a long line standing in the rain in Lawrence who snapped up most of the downstairs seating, and many others were trying to get tickets on line at the same time as me. The show sold out very quickly. My son, Tim, was attending graduate school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence at that time, and I had wanted to take him to the show so that he could get some sense of what the sixties had been about. But Tim, a promising playwright, had a play in rehearsal and couldn’t get away. Perhaps buying a “single” had been key to my getting the great seat.

During August of 2005 anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and a group of war protesters had been camped out at Crawford, Texas, on the road leading to George Bush’s play ranch. The group busied themselves raising hell and attracting national media attention while the President vacationed a few miles away. Joan Baez was a regular visitor at the month-long encampment. She talked about that protest during her concert in Lawrence, sharing anecdotes about the hardships of camping out in a rustic Texas in August. She said that she had asked Cindy Sheehan about her favorite folksong, and Cindy had replied that it was “Joe Hill.” At that point, Joan began to sing the famous labor ballad to her Lawrence audience, and again, many sang along.

Joan sang hard for two hours, and then it was over. Some fans rushed forward and placed a bouquet of roses on the stage, and she graciously picked them up, thanked everyone, and said her good-nights. It had been a wonderful evening, a connection to my youth with a vibrancy that will echo in my memory for years to come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out-of-Focus Family Values

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Focus on the Family, a national Christian group with the purported aim of strengthening families, announced this week that it is laying off forty-six people, the group’s third major layoff in the past four years. Focus is, in fact, more clearly “focused” on promoting a fundamentalist Christian agenda than it is on strengthening families.

The founder of Focus on the Family, James Dobson, is a media-savvy evangelist who consistently finds it difficult to recognize and stand clear of the line separating church and state. Through Dobson’s leadership the organization recently spent over half-a-million dollars in support of California’s infamous piece of hate legislation – Proposition 8. In fact, Focus on the Family was the seventh largest donor to the Hate campaign.

So, good job, Dobson. How many of your forty-six soon-to-be-fired employees could have kept their jobs with that huge wad of cash that you shipped off to California? You got the glory and they got the boot! You’ve protected family values by denying basic civil rights to the gays and lesbians of California, but what have you done to those families who were part of the “Focus Family”? Have those families been strengthened by your capricious squandering of your beggar’s booty?

Yes, you have glorified yourself with your little foray into California politics, but at what price? While you are stuffing your face this holiday season, wallowing in greed and opulence, please take a few minutes to remember your forty-six employees who lost their jobs just before Thanksgiving. Their holidays probably won’t be as merry and bright as yours, but at least they will have the comfort of knowing that they are no longer dependent on a hypocrite for their daily bread.

And while you’re at it, also take a moment to remember the loving couples of California (and the rest of the world) whose lifestyles you abhor. May their holidays be a joyous affirmation of their love and their hopes for a better future, a future in which they will be recognized in the same manner as any other couple – with a state marriage license.

Judge not, Dobson, lest ye be judged. And when you have a little spare time on your hands, why not ponder the meaning of the Golden Rule?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Si Se Puede

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It has been less than two weeks since the world saw a hundred thousand people in Chicago’s Grant Park cheering the next First Family with chants of “Yes We Can!” and “Yes We Did!” It was an electrifying night, made wondrous by the victory, the beautiful weather, the celebrities mixed in with the regular folks, and the crowd’s incessant chanting. Barack Obama had co-opted the phrase “Yes We Can!” from the old United Farm Workers’ organizing slogan, “Si Se Puede,” early in the campaign and made it into his rallying cry.

This morning while listening to National Public Radio (NPR) I learned the rest of the story on how the phrase originated. It occurred in 1972 while Cesar Chavez was holding a hunger strike in Phoenix in an effort to influence the repeal of some Arizona anti-farm workers legislation. Delores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, arrived in Phoenix to assist with the operation and wound up coining the powerful phrase while speaking to a group of supporters in Phoenix. Earlier this year Candidate Obama asked Ms. Huerta for permission to freely use the slogan that she created, and the perennial activist happily consented.

This story caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, I live in the Phoenix metropolitan area and am beginning to feel some ownership in this hellhole. Second, I like the phrase. It is short, easy to say, and sizzles with raw energy. And third, I know and like Delores Huerta. She was one of our fellow travelers on the Feminist Cruise across the Caribbean in early 2007. During that cruise I listened to her enlighten and inspire several workshops that focused on such diverse topics as women in the workplace, and women in prison. I had a brief discussion with her regarding an elderly female friend of mine who is rotting in her wheelchair in a California prison, and Ms. Huerta showed an honest concern for the lady and her miserable situation. Having once served on the state parole board, she was able to give me some honest insight into how the California penal system works – poorly, unfairly, and with the odds stacked against those without means or influence.

But back to the topic of inspiration…

“Yes We Can!” is much more than a catchy phrase. It is an attitude, an entire belief system encapsulated into three little words. It is truly power to the people. “Yes We Can!” or the original “Si Se Puede!” is small and mighty – very much like Delores Huerta!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

British Sperm Donations Drying Up

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

New government regulations are pushing British sperm banks to the verge of collapse. Great Britain has recently reversed confidentiality laws, with the result that children who are conceived with donated sperm will now be able to learn the identity of their donor fathers. Needless to say, prospective donors are worried that they may one day be hit up for child support.

New laws have also been enacted that will limit the number of women who can use the sperm of one donor. Britain currently allows one donor's sperm to inseminate no more that ten women, while the Netherlands will permit twenty-five women to use the sperm of one donor. (Twenty-five children conceived through the same donor father - or even just ten - sounds like a Greek tragedy just waiting to develop!) The United States has no cap on the number of women who can be impregnated by one donor!

The combination of less anonymity for the donors coupled with fewer women being allowed to use the sperm of the same donor has resulted a drastic reduction in supply. Britain has an estimated need of 500 donors per year. They were barely reaching that goal when the new laws went into effect in 2005. A year later they were down to 300 donors, and now the number is down in the double digits.

France has retained anonymity and even pays expenses for sperm donors (magazines, maybe?), but they are also suffering from a shortage of donors. The only countries that appear to not be experiencing a shortage of deposits into their sperm banks are those that retain anonymity and pay for donations - such as Spain and the United States.

So, long-story-short, capitalism does work!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thoughts on Terrorism

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When we think of brazen acts of terrorism, September 11th is usually the first thing to come to mind. Middle easterners with dark skin hijacked four passenger planes and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. It was unimaginable that these madmen could get away with such an outrage inside the borders of the world's mightiest country!

In point of fact, however, September 11th was not the first attack by terrorists on the United States of America, nor was it the first to occur within our borders. As noted earlier in this blog, lynchings were still happening in this country fifty years ago. Some find it hard to let go of those "good old days." Earlier this week the Secret Service was investigating a sign that was posted on a tree in Vay, Idaho, with Barack Obama's name on it and the offer of a "free public hanging."

Idaho has a long history of being infested with terrorists. A white supremacist group headquartered near Coeur d'Alene called the Aryan Nations achieved notoriety a few years back when some drunken guards at their main compound opened fire on a car that had backfired. The inebriated fascists captured the lady and her son who had been in the car and held them at gunpoint while terrorizing them into near insensibility. The Southern Poverty Law Center and their founder, Morris Dees, sued that Aryan Nations on behalf of the two victims and won a $6.3 million settlement - which resulted in all of the group's property and assets being seized and turned over to the plaintiffs.

Today the Southern Poverty Law Center was in the news again. This time they brought suit against America's premier terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan. Those stupid Klan bastards beat the hell out of a Panamanian/Native American youth (who was also an American citizen) named Jordan Gruver because they thought he was an illegal Latino immigrant. The incident occurred at a Kentucky county fair where the Klan was recruiting. They knocked the 16-year-old Gruver to the ground and proceeded to give him a severe kicking and beating that resulted in the boy having a broken jaw, broken arm, two cracked ribs, and assorted cuts and bruises. The SPLC and Mr. Dees won a judgement against the Imperial Klans of America and two of its leaders in the amount of $2.5 million. Kick that, morons!

Who says that Courts can't serve up justice?

These home grown terrorist groups conflate their idiot-ologies with religion, usually that of the angry Christian stripe. Take for instance, the case of Eric Robert Rudolph who roamed the American South bombing family planning clinics and also set off a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics.

But the king of all American terrorists has to be Timothy McVeigh - the man who brought down the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. His act of madness killed 168 people, including children who were in a daycare center on the premises, and wounded eight hundred others. McVeigh was one of the Posse Comitatus creatures who don't recognize any government above the county level. His anti-government beliefs were his undoing because he was picked up shortly after the bombing for driving his vehicle down the highway without license plates.

Our government went crazy after September 11th, quickly going to war in two countries, one of which had nothing to do with the attacks, but completely ignoring the home of most of the terrorists - Saudi Arabia. Nothing like that happened after McVeigh's attack on the Federal Building. There was no rounding up of crackpot militia members, no weapons seizures, no exhaustive investigations, no all-out war declared on Idaho or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was all laid on the backs of two men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and the case was closed.

What a shame that we didn't just go get Osama bin Laden after September 11th, bring him to trial, and close that sad chapter of our history. If we had targeted the man responsible instead of turning our wrath (or our greed) on the whole Middle East, our treasury would still be relatively full, our prestige around the world would be intact, our military would be strong, and thousands of lives would have been spared.

Our country has not seen the last of terrorism, from home or abroad. When the next awful act happens we need to react with a calm and measured response. If it can be handled as a law enforcement issue, it should be. And if it is an act sponsored by a foreign nation that requires a military response, that response should be quick, targeted, and to the point. We literally cannot afford another quagmire like Iraq. When we march into quicksand and can't get out, it is the terrorists who have won.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reddest of the Red, Bluest of the Blue

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Howard Dean, the out-going Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, came to his position four years ago with a desire to get away from the national slugfest over just two states, Florida and Ohio. Dean envisioned a fifty-state strategy in which the Democratic Party would be politically aggressive in every state of the union. Though many in both of the major national parties blithely smirked at Dean’s naiveté, he proved to be right on the mark. Dr. Dean realized that the voting population is getting younger and they are better educated - two demographics just aching to be courted by the Democrats.

Barack Obama also recognized the value of a national campaign. His smart Internet organization gave him an enormous money edge that allowed him to expand his campaign into states that have been traditionally Republican. This aggressive posture in Red states forced the McCain campaign to spend money and energy in states that they could have ignored in more ordinary circumstances.

The fifty-state strategy was effective. Team Obama won in places where Kerry and even Clinton had not been successful. Virginia turned blue for the first time in forty years. North Carolina also surprised many by finding its way into the Democratic column. Florida and Ohio, the two states that had placed and kept George Bush in the White House, went to Obama, as did normally Republican Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. Obama even took one electoral vote from Republican Nebraska.

By and large, the United States is much more purple today than it is blue or red, lending credence to President-elect Obama’s sage observation that “we are not a red America or a blue America, but the United States of America.”

There are, however, still some parts of the country that are resistant to turning purple. The presidential election results of 2008 would indicate that Hawaii (the birthplace of Obama) and much of New England are unabashedly blue. In fact, Obama won all of the counties in Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont, with little Vermont giving him his highest percentage of votes of any of the states – a whopping sixty-eight percent!

And which state was the reddest of the red? Oklahoma won that title hands-down! Oklahoma was the only state in the Union in which McCain won every county. (Even the Mormon bastions of Utah and Idaho gave up some counties to Obama!) Oklahoma also gave McCain his largest statewide win with sixty-six percent of the votes.

Those liberals seeking communities rich in kindred spirits might do well to consider relocating (if they are not already there) to Hawaii or the northeastern United States. And if your thing is gun ownership, controlling what other people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, and Christian zealotry, Oklahoma might just be your ideal comfort zone.

The rest of us may just have to hold our tongues as we slowly turn purple!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Paranoids With Guns

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Paranoia is the exaggerated or unfounded fear that others are trying to hurt you. In its worst case, it is a mental illness that requires treatment, but, milder forms of paranoia are relatively common throughout the population.

Recent studies have shown that the incidence and severity of paranoia are on the increase. A psychologist at the University of Texas has found that the percentage of his students with paranoid thoughts has tripled over the past few years from 5 percent to 15 percent.

Another professor of psychology, this one from the University of North Carolina, noted that “People walk around with odd thoughts all the time. The question is if it translates into real behavior.” In other words, we are free to think what we want, but when our thoughts work their way into action they will likely have impacts on society – and those impacts are not always positive.

Sometimes our paranoid sense can be heightened by things that occur in our environment. September 11th, for instance, caused many people to become more careful and alert to their surroundings. The events of that awful day also stirred some prejudices toward people who were Arab or identified as Muslims. The prejudices were probably already within us to a lesser degree, but the destruction of the Twin Towers gave us an internal permission to be more open regarding our dislike of the groups that we held responsible.

Last week’s election of a Black man, Barack Obama, has also stirred and inflated the prejudices of a large segment of American society. One way that this prejudice can be quantified is in gun sales. The National Rifle Association, an organization largely funded by gun manufacturers, has been working overtime trying to convince the public that Obama intends to ban semi-automatic weapons and that he is very anti-gun. As a result of this industry manipulation, gun sales have risen dramatically since the election. The sale of assault rifles (usually priced above $1,000 each) has gone through the roof in the more conservative areas of the United States.

So people are becoming more paranoid and they are stockpiling arms. What a great combination! I hope that in the midst of this “worst financial crisis since the 1930’s” that the guys buying the thousand dollar assault weapons are caught up on their house payments and have already done their Christmas shopping. Kids deserve a chance at a normal life, even if their parents have already given up on living in reality.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Name Game

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I can remember a time when it was a popular concept to name babies after prominent Americans, particularly historical figures. Thomas Jefferson Jones, Benjamin Franklin Brown, and George Washington Smith were all common occurrences. I went to school with a Dwight, and even knew a Lyndon. But, for the most part, babies today are more apt to be named after athletes, movie stars, and soap opera characters.

It now looks as though there is a boomlet emerging for naming babies after our new President-elect, especially in Africa. The day after the election last week, six of ten baby boys born in Sierra Leone's main maternity hospital were named Barack Obama. From election day until this past Saturday, forty-three children born at the Nyanza Provincial Hospital in Kisumu, Kenya, were named after the Obamas: the twenty-three boys were named Barack Obama, and the twenty girls are now known as Michelle Obama. Another news report stated that in the past few days Barack, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and Obama have become very popular first and middle names for babies across the United States.

Everyone seems to be anxious to hang an Obama tag on their babies. Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of 8,000 Bedouin tribesmen in the Galilee section of northern Israel, has disclosed that he believes his entire tribe is loosely related to our next President. He said that Africans came to work in Palestine during the early part of this century, and that one of those men was a relative of Obama's grandmother who left some of his genetics behind. The Shiekh says that several men in his tribe look remarkably like Obama. Two baby boys born to the tribe this week have been named Barack Obama.

So there are legions of babies around the world being named after the Obamas. That's a good thing. It's a tribute to our next President and to the good people of America. We have elected a leader who is seen as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world, a man of peace who isn't afraid to take a world view of the future. May he be worthy of all of those children who will bear his name.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gay Rights Are Civil Rights!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This morning my daughter forwarded a link to me on the special comment that Keith Olbermann did on Countdown last night. His topic was gay rights and the electoral travesty that took place at the polls in California on that topic last week. Normally I catch Keith's special comments as they happen, but last night I was engaged in some other activities, so I was pleased and surprised that my daughter not only saw the comment, but she was affected by Keith's words enough to pass them along to her email list.

Keith was railing (he always rails - and he does it so well!) on the passage of California's Proposition 8, a measure that constitutionally removed the rights of gay couples to marry in California. (Generally constitutions have functioned to give people rights, not take them away!) Seventy million dollars were spent on that one ballot measure, making it the most expensive election item in the U.S except for the Presidential race.

Keith argued, quite eloquently (as always), that gay marriage does nothing to pose a threat to anyone else's right to marry. He said that all gays want are the same privileges that are afforded to straight people. He noted that up until the second half of the twentieth century nineteen states had laws forbidding people of different races to marry - laws that would have prevented the marriage of the parents of the next President of the United States.

Most of the millions that were pumped into California were spent on support of the measure to ban gay marriages, and most of that money came from the Mormon Church.

Gay activist and journalist Andrew Sullivan had this to say regarding the Mormon energy and gold that went into the passage of Prop 8:

"This was not typical church activism. The Mormon Prophet commanded that every California member give time and money to pass Prop 8. Each member was then contacted by a church authority to make sure the orders from Salt Lake City were obeyed. Mormons were organized into groups to canvas neighborhoods, knock on doors, distribute yard signs, and otherwise organize against gay marriage rights.

"Sounds like standard civic participation, right? But remember, Mormons are not allowed to dissent.

"Those who openly speak disagreement with the church's orthodoxy are routinely excommunicated..."

(Andrew Sullivan's complete comments can be found on the website of The Atlantic.)

It's ironic that the Mormon Church, an institution that was born in bigamy, would deign to tell others how to marry. (Some fundamentalist branches and off-shoots of the Mormon Church are still openly and defiantly pro-bigamy.)

Mormon's prefer to hear their church referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with emphasis on the Jesus Christ part. They want other fundamentalist Christians in America to give them their proper due as also being Christians, something that did not universally occur during Mitt Romney's brief run for the Presidency. Some say that was why they so eagerly poured their monies and energies into California's homophobic ballot measure.

When it comes to the subject of homosexuality, the Mormon church gets plumb stupid. For a good sense of their institutionalized homophobia, check out the 2003 movie, Latter Days. It is the tale of a promiscuous young gay man living in West Hollywood who makes a bet that he can seduce one of the three young Mormon missionaries who have recently moved into his apartment complex. The tale gets dicey when he falls in love with his intended target, and more complications follow when the Mormon Church itself weighs in on the romance.

There has also been a recent controversy playing out in the news that focuses on the Mormon Church's uptight stance regarding sex. A young Mormon man named Chad Hardy came up with the idea of creating a calendar with pictures of shirtless Mormon missionaries. The beefcake product was titled "Men on a Mission," and it sold about a bazillion copies. The Church, however, was not amused. Mr. Hardy was promptly excommunicated, and Brigham Young University, a school completely owned by the Mormon Church, just as promptly withdrew his diploma. Fortunately for Mr. Hardy, the Church's draconian response has sent sales of his calendar through the roof. A sequel is very likely!

Boycott Utah!

But back to the subject at hand...

Anti-gay marriage amendments were on the ballot in three states last Tuesday. California's passed by 52%, older and more conservative Arizona passed it by 56%, and the ancients of Florida rejected gay marriage with a whopping majority of 62 percent. That sounds bad, but the nation's homophobia is gradually lessening as younger, and more worldly (and educated) people, begin to make their mark at the polls. (As an example, similar legislation passed by 61% in California in the year 2000 - so the bigotry has subsided by 9% in just eight years!)

The times, as Mr. Dylan tells us, they are a changin'!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Renegade and Renaissance Visit the White House

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Barack Obama took his daughters to school in Chicago this morning, mugged briefly for the cameras, and then hopped on a plane with his beautiful wife and headed to Washington DC. The Obamas paid a call on the Bushs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation's capital.

There were some great photos of the out-going and in-coming White House residents on the Internet and television news today. The Presidents, current and future, along with their wives, standing in front of one of the many entrances to the Executive Mansion, Bush and Obama sitting in the Oval Office having a private chat, and both men walking along the White House portico. The two men could hardly be more different (in their backgrounds, intelligence levels, abilities, and, of course, skin tones), but they appeared very relaxed and engaged in visiting with one another. President Bush, to his credit, has been very outspoken about wanting a smooth transition - while most of the country would be thrilled if it could just be a speedy transition!

Today the Secret Service released its code names for the Obama family. (I guess they aren't supposed to be secret, so I wonder why they even assign code names to Presidential families.) Barack Obama in Secret Service speak will be referred to as "Renegade." The three ladies in his life have also been assigned code names beginning with the letter "R." Michelle is "Renaissance," Malia is "Radiance," and little Sasha is "Rosebud."

The Secret Service seems to have developed a habit of naming White House families with the same first letter. Richard Nixon was "Searchlight," and his wife, Pat, was "Starlight." Bill Clinton was (probably still is) "Eagle," Hillary was "Evergreen," and Chelsea was "Energy." Jimmy Carter was "Deacon" and sometimes "Dasher," Rosalyn was "Dancer," and daughter Amy was known as "Dynamo."

And even the Vice-Presidential families have code names. Joe Biden is now referred to by the Secret Service as "Celtic," and Jill Biden is "Capri." Dick Cheney is "Angler," though many Americans have more colorful names for him!

Prior to today, the only Presidental code name of which I was ever aware was the one given to JFK: "Lancer." His press secretary, Pierre Salinger, was on a plane heading overseas on the awful day in November of 1963 when he got a message telling him to return home. The voice on the radio told Salinger simply, "Lancer is dead."

If you would like to know more about Secret Service code names (for people, places, agencies, and other things) check out this web site:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Death by Gun

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I heard a statistic on the radio this evening: thirty-two people are killed with guns every day in the United States. That's it. Thirty-two. It's only a number, and not a very big one, unless, of course, one of those thirty-two is you or someone you love. Thirty-two people's lives come to a sudden end in America each day as bullets rip through their bodies. But generally they are other people's bullets and other people's bodies, and those shootings basically don't register on our collective consciousness.

So let's make it somewhat more personal. I want to talk about two murders by gun that occurred in a small town in Arizona last Wednesday evening. It was in the community of St. Johns, AZ, and the murdered men were Vincent Romero, 29, and his friend, Timothy Romans, 39. I don't know much about these guys, only what has been in the news. I know that Romero was a divorced man who had custody of his eight-year-old son. I also suspect that he probably wasn't a very good parent.

You see, Romero and Romans were murdered by the eight-year-old Romero boy, apparently with malice aforethought. Mr. Romero had a gun in the house, either unsecured or poorly secured, and the young boy, who possessed knowledge of how to fire it, took that gun and deliberately killed his father and his father's friend.

Before I get to speculating too freely, you need to understand something about Arizona. This state is gun crazy. The citizens of Arizona have been gun crazy since the days when the Clantons and the Earps went at it in Tombstone. These people love their firearms. They flaunt them, they conceal them, and they use them as props in their lovemaking and masturbatory rituals.

I'm not a fan of guns - never owned one and never will. As far as I'm concerned, the lack of guns in my home makes me somewhat safer than those who maintain personal arsenals. If someone breaks into my house, they had better be after books. Chances are when those guys break in, we'll all sit down and have a literary discussion. A house full of guns, on the other hand, attracts criminals. If some old codger of a homeowner pulls a gun on home intruders, he needs to be ready and capable of using it. More often than not, that isn't the case.

The elderly and guns are a bad combination, and an even worse pairing is kids and guns. I write to several people in prison. One of my correspondents gained notoriety as a "school shooter" more than a decade ago. This young man was fourteen when he went to school one morning and killed several of his fellow high school students. He is now in his mid-twenties and has lived in a cage every day since his awful crime. He is a man rotting in prison over a crime committed by a boy. He had easy access to guns in his upper-middle class home, and he made a fateful decision that ruined the lives of several families, including his own, and made an emotional imprint on hundreds of his friends and classmates that will be with them for life.

The little Romero boy is currently in jail. He probably won't face a life in prison, but his crime will be with him for the remainder of his life. Even with sustained therapy, it will have a significant impact who he becomes and how he lives. His crime will be with him to some degree until the day of his death. A crime committed by an eight-year-old will cast a shadow across his lifetime and the lifetimes of those who knew and loved his victims.

We will learn more over the next few months about the things that drove this little boy to kill his father and another man. He was troubled, of that we can be certain. Kids aren't born troubled, they become that way through their experiences in life - and some of his experiences were obviously very bad ones.

Bad experiences and easy access to guns can be a recipe for death, regardless of age. And yes, you Arizona macaroons, guns do kill people!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Out and About in Arizona

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I live on the western edge of the Valley of Hell in an area commonly known as Palm Valley, aptly named for all of the forty-foot tall palm trees that line the main thoroughfares. The beautiful palms are evenly spaced and obviously didn't just spring up that way. Ever since I've lived here there has been one tall palm tree that was missing its fronds - just a tall, headless trunk taking up a space on an avenue of tropical giants.

This morning I was driving to the Air Force Base to catch up on a few things when I saw a crane looming over the sidewalk. The headless palm had been pulled up, and the large crane was setting another in its place. So, now I know how full-grown palm trees are transplanted. It's not a job for amateurs!

Bob was waiting for me as I pulled into the parking lot at work. Bob is a sleek black grackle who recognizes my car and swoops into the lot every morning when he sees me arrive. It doesn't make any difference where I park - Bob is always close behind. I toss crumbs from my breakfast sandwich out the window, and we both enjoy a good meal before I amble in to work. Occasionally a chickadee will rush out from under my car and challenge Bob for a particularly good morsel. The chickadee's name is also Bob. Small world! Sometimes Bob (the grackle) joins me at the Sonic a few blocks away for lunch. My friends at work have noticed Bob hanging around my car during the workday, and he also holds court in one of the mesquite trees outside of our building - and whistles every time I walk by. It's good to have friends!

After leaving the office I drove to the old town section of Glendale and walked through several of their fancy junk stores. They are called "antique" stores, and a few are, but most are high-toned flea markets. Many were already playing Christmas music trying to entice holiday buying, and one had a delicious pastry and cookie buffet set out for their shoppers. I did six or eight stores before getting bored and moving on down the road.

Since I was already halfway across town, I angled right and headed for El Pollo Loco to stock up on some crazy chicken. They currently have an eleven-piece dark meat special that is truly mouth-watering! Somehow I made it home without getting my fingers greasy!

Feed a bird - eat a bird! How's that as a metaphor for life?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Piss Off, Joe!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Senator Joseph Lieberman, a once prominent Democrat who rose to the heights of being Al Gore's running mate in 2000, has been on a downward spiral since he became a cheerleader for the Oil War in Iraq way back in 2003. His ardent support of that ill-conceived and misguided military misadventure resulted in him losing the Democratic primary election in Connecticut in 2006.

In order to save his Senate seat, Lieberman ran as an independent and managed to defeat the Democratic and Republican candidates. He came back to an evenly split Senate as an independent and caucused with the Democrats, allowing them to keep the chairmanship of all of the Senate committees, and in return allowing Lieberman to remain chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. It was a classic marriage of convenience: the Democrats needed Lieberman to stay in control, and Lieberman needed the Democrats to remain relevant.

But then came the 2008 Presidential election. For months Joe Lieberman has served as John McCain's right hand man, joining him in public appearances, coaching him on Middle East fine points - like the differences between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims, and probably checking the water temperature in the bathtub before McCain got in.

Not only was Joe not supporting the Democratic ticket, he was actively campaigning against them! That should be it - marriage over! But for some inexplicable reason, Harry Reid seems to be hesitating about taking Lieberman's Homeland Security chairmanship away from him. The Democrats have a solid majority now and no longer have to pander to two-faced Joe. The man who should have been elected Vice President as a Democrat in 2000, has now turned his back on all of those who worked so hard to get him elected. It's time to return the favor!

Harry Reid needs to call the clown into his office and fire his butt, and if he doesn't do it, the Democratic caucus in the Senate needs to do it for him. Let the old fart roam off into the wilderness and live with the Republicans. Even that is better than he deserves!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Wasilla Hillbillies

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Normally I would cut a washed-up, political has-been some slack, but recent vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is already making noises about running for President in 2012 - so she is still in the public domain.

I actually was sort of kind to her during the election (check the record), realizing from the start that she was in way over her head. I didn't for instance, write anything about "Troopergate" or her outrageous shopping spree with funds that had been donated to the Republican National Committee for legitimate election expenses. I do remember writing about Bristol's pregnancy and her family's rush to get her married off to her "fuckin' redneck," beer-swilling, hockey-playing, immature boyfriend. I also took some easy shots at her desire to censor books in the local library, and her Christian fundamentalist nonsense that dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same time - a few thousand years ago. But basically, I left poor Sarah to her own self-destructive instincts.

But, that was then and this is now.

Now the political operatives in the Palin camp and those in the McCain camp are busy taking pot shots at one another. (Who knew that they each had their own camps?) Yesterday, a highly placed - but anonymous McCain aid - referred to Governor Palin and the First Dude as "Hillbillies from Wasilla who raided Nieman-Marcus stores from coast to coast." Other McCain aides are now apparently saying that Governor Palin spent considerably more than the $150,000 that was initially reported on her fancy pants and dresses. One report said that over $40,000 was spent on outfitting the First Dude. And they also bought clothes for the kids.

Today it was reported that a lawyer from the Republican National Committee has been dispatched to Alaska to try and retrieve the royal wardrobes. What will they do with all of those clothes? Will they go to charity as Governor Palin has suggested? I want to see the look on the poor woman's face who thumbs through the racks at the Good Will Store and comes away with a $14,000 outfit that was worn only once!

I have serious doubts that Republicans will overcome their DNA and suddenly become charitable. Those desiring a piece of wearable election history might do well to start monitoring Ebay!

And as for Sweet Sarah's political future, she needs to get out of Alaska and head to Washington D.C. That's where the real money is!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Our Bond With Kenya

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last night I commented on some of the scenes that were playing out on television immediately after Barack Obama was declared winner of our presidential election. One of the most moving scenes was of Kisumu, Kenya, where Obama's African relatives and their neighbors were joyously dancing and celebrating their American cousin's political success. It was morning in Kenya, and most had been partying around the town's only television since the previous day.

President-elect Obama's paternal step-grandmother had been at the celebration earlier and lead the group in prayer. Sarah Obama, a spry eighty-six-year-old farmer, didn't stay up dancing all night. She probably had to get home and start packing for the inauguration!

Today I heard that a neighboring village has offered up ten bulls for a feast to celebrate the good fortune of the Obama family. And there was also a story about locals decorating the grave of Barack Obama's father and chanting (in Swahili), "Obama, you have sired a King!"

The election of Barack Obama is a very big deal in the United States. It must be truly enormous in rural Kenya where his grandfather was herding goats just a few years ago. The new leader of the free world belongs to us all. May he deliver our hopes and dreams, and may he be worthy of those ten bulls in rural Kenya!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

America is Transformed!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Barack Obama was declared President-Elect of the United States at 9:00 p.m. Arizona time tonight. Powerful scenes have played out all over America since that announcement was made less than an hour ago: a sea of people awaiting Obama at the victory party in Chicago's Grant Park - including a tearful Jesse Jackson, college students crying with relief and happiness at Spellman College in Atlanta, happy crowds in Harlem, and, my personal favorite, thousands yelling and cheering outside of the White House fence! George Bush can literally hear the future through his bedroom window.

Happy days are here again! May they last a long, long time!

Election Day in Kansas City!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

My youngest son, Tim, and his lady, Erin, live in downtown Kansas City, MO, in a gentrified area called Quality Hill. Tim sent me the following account of their early morning voting experience:

Erin and I made ourselves go to bed early last night so that we would be less likely to "not hear" the alarm clock this morning when it started reminding us to go vote this morning at 5AM. We each rolled out of bed at 5:15AM, took little care in our appearances and hoofed it beneath the stars just less than half a block to a retirement home that was to be our polling place. When we arrived at 5:30 we were surprised to see only 20 voters ahead of us. The locals news had warned of more. To be sure, within fifteen minutes there were another 100 voters behind us. There was much laughter and a little shivering in the chilly wind but, being November 4th, it could have been considerably colder and/or wetter.

At 6AM the doors opened and the line carried us into the heart of this retirement home where many elderly folks greeted us with a smile. 6AM is their time of the day like 11PM is my time of the day. Several women drove scooters in circles through the tables setting out sharp pencils. A variety of men and women ran the table, signing us all in and giving us the option of using a paper ballot or waiting in line for the one electronic ballot. We chose paper. To my surprise, privacy did not play any part in the voting process. Some cardboard boxes had been cut out in the shape of a tiny wall but the majority of us sat and voted in plain sight of all the passersby. I tried not to look as I carried my paper ballot to a far table.

Yesterday, Erin and I both made an attempt to educate ourselves on the lesser known ballot initiatives so it wouldn't be a guessing situation. A lightrail, gambling loss limits, sewage water treatment, the "correct" language to be spoken at all official public meetings... relatively easy choices (the gambling loss limit one could have gone either direction... being a former blackjack dealer--having watched middle-aged men and women cry at the table and tell me that they couldn't go home until they won some of their money back... I had to go with my heart on that one). The difficult part was the list of judges. Most of the names of the 15 or so judges were unfamiliar to me. Next time... I will better prep myself in that area.

The excitement of finally seeing Obama/Biden on the ticket made the morning worth the long and sleepy day that will surely follow. The printed names were the culmination of a long, difficult campaign season... the beginning of which is filed in my memory alongside beginnings such as the first cell phone I ever saw or the first time I emailed someone... it happened, but I don't remember when or the exact circumstances.

As we walked out the line held steady at around 200 people. The wind died down and the sun shone strong overhead. Missouri law mandates that employees be given three hours to vote with prior notice to their employers and the voters all knew it. I overheard one man tell the older woman next to him that he hadn't voted in twenty years. She said "shame on you and good for you" all in one breath.

Tonight Erin and I will watch the results coming in with our friends in Lawrence at a dinner party. Tomorrow we'll sleep later and better knowing that our eight-year nightmare has been successfully exercised (that feels like the appropriate verb) from our anxiety-riddled lives through the time-tested process of democracy. What will root in its place remains to be seen but the cleansing motion will at least get us back within arm's reach of that temporarily misplaced feeling of hope that we all require.

Lastly, with my "I voted" sticker I'm entitled to a variety of free services and products in the KC Metro area. The best of which are clearly a Krispy Kreme donut, a large coffee from Starbucks, free ice cream at Ben and Jerry's, a Chick-Fil-A sandwich and a free body piercing. Should be an interesting day.

And Carla, a special friend of mine from our college days in the 1960's, voted early in Independence, MO, Harry Truman's hometown. Carla sent these comments about her voting experience in the Kansas City area:

Just returned from voting at my tiny polling place which normally has four machines. Today they had eight machines. I arrived at 5:50 AM and the parking lot at the church was filled. I parked in an empty field. I waited in line 45 minutes to vote. While waiting in line, I thought I'd call Daughter No. 1 in St. Louis and warn her about the lines - she was already in line at 6 AM and was still waiting to get in to vote when I called Daughter No. 2 to prod her along at 6:50. At least they learned some things from me.

In my adult life I do not remember waiting in line that long ever to vote for anything! (Of course, I don't remember what I did for lunch yesterday!) Keep your fingers crossed and say a prayer. I was just reminded that the Democratic Watch Party in Chicago tonight is in the same park where demonstrators were beaten in 1968.

And now I am planted in front of my television set waiting to see how the rest of Missouri voted. From what Tim and Carla reported, the numbers will be huge!


Pa Rock's Ramble at One Year

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This little journalistic endeavor began one year ago tonight as an exercise to relieve some boredom in my life. No one could be more surprised than me to find that I am still at it. What follows is the first piece that I ever wrote for The Ramble, a short rant on a presidential election that comes to fruition tonight. The title is Obama '08. (Can I pick 'em or what!)

Obama '08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours from the front porch swing,

Pa Rock

Monday, November 3, 2008

Democracy for All

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Black males were given the right to vote in this country via a Constitutional Amendment at the close of the Civil War. For the next several years many actually did get to vote, thanks in large part to the presence of Federal troops in the South during the period of time called Reconstruction. After Reconstruction ended in 1877 and Federal troops were removed from the Old Confederacy, the White southerners quickly moved to disenfranchise the former slaves.

The most common method used was intimidation. The Ku Klux Klan and other militant organizations worked to scare Blacks from voting, and, if they still persisted in their "uppity" ways, a more permanent solution was put into place, such as lynching.

Lynchings continued in some places into the mid-twentieth century, but much of the nation began to reject overt violence by the time some Blacks were fighting for their country during the First World War. Black units were fighting in some of the worst hellholes imaginable during the Second World War, yet after serving their country fiercely and proudly, they came home to find that they were still not welcome at the polls.

When violence began to wane as an acceptable way to keep Blacks in their place, emphasis was put on using more cunning measures. One of those was the "literacy test", which had actually been around for awhile. Persons presenting at the polls to vote were given an oral exam to determine their fitness to vote. Blacks were given difficult questions and quickly culled. Whites, more often that not, were given simple questions and passed the exam regardless of their answers.

Another strategy to keep Blacks from casting votes was a "poll tax." That was a fee, or tax, assessed at the polls that persons had to pay in order to vote. It discriminated against the poor, Blacks and Whites alike, and ensured that only the elitist segment of society got to participate in elections. The US Supreme Court outlawed poll taxes more than fifty years ago, and Blacks slowly worked their way into the mechanism of our democracy.

And now a Black man is hours away from being elected President of the United States. Record numbers of people have already voted, and this election promises to bring more total voters to the polls in this country than ever before. Old voters turnouts will not only be surpassed, they will be shattered!

But, we still have a problem.

Rachel Maddow, MSNBC's rising star and host of the new Rachel Maddow Show had an on-air editorial last night where she compared the crazy long lines that have been prevalent in early voting this year with the poll tax. She said, rightly I believe, that some people cannot afford to stand in line for five or more hours in order to cast a vote. They have job or family obligations that can't be ignored. Hence, a certain segment of the population, primarily the working poor, are still being denied the vote by not having the necessary amount of time to complete the process.

We used to charge money, now we charge time. Both limit access to the polls. Both interfere with a person's constitutional right to participate in our democracy.

Voter enthusiasm and turnout have been phenomenal this election cycle. Day after day TV reporters interview people standing in line who are gushing about how excited they are to be part of history, some saying they would stand in line all day if necessary. Many are older individuals who have never voted before because they felt that they would have no impact. Also, there are multitudes of young people eager to cast their first ballot in the most exciting election in modern memory.

Up to an amazing forty-percent of the electorate may have already voted, so the lines in early voting states may be manageable tomorrow. But what about the states that don't have early voting? What will their day be like tomorrow? I have three relatives who will be voting in one of those states tomorrow - Missouri - and I am anticipating that each will have some form of horror story to share tomorrow evening.

So, as America grows, and as America becomes more invested in democracy, what can be done to ensure that everyone gets to vote in a simple and expedient manner? Early voting helps, and one can hope that more states will adopt this process. Technology may also provide an answer. Instead of worrying about butterfly ballots and hanging chads - and standing in long lines for hours at a time, maybe we can soon get to the point where we can vote electronically from home, or the local library, or the neighborhood school via the Internet.

It is not only possible, it is within reach for every American to have quick and easy access to the voting process. True universal suffrage is a goal that can be reached. Hopefully President Obama will make that a priority!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Arizona Sizzle Starts to Fizzle

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The heat, the unbearable essence that is Arizona, has finally started to waver in its intensity. Oh, daily highs are still in the nineties, but it has only been a few weeks ago that 110 degrees was the norm. Now, especially at night, the air is carefully edging toward what I would call "delightful."

Last night I had to drive across Phoenix. My windows were down, the radio was playing some very good jazz, and life was a breeze. I had business at the beautiful Arizona Grand Hotel, a place that caters to high-end business travelers and the moneyed scions of Arizona. I marched into the lobby wearing my Obama tee-shirt with the self-assurance of one who couldn't be intimidated by blue-haired crustaceans with money. But there were no raised eyebrows. Everyone was just chilling and enjoying the fine Arizona night.

Today I barbecued. Cooking for one is usually a waste, but when I barbecue my rule is to overdo it and then make my meals around the bounty for the rest of the week. Again, the weather was beautiful. I set out in our covered outdoor patio with built-in grills, cooked for most of the afternoon, and read from one of my many good books. The weather, once again, was wonderful!

If everyday in Arizona could be like today, I would unpack and plan on staying awhile!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dear Liddy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I sent the following email to the office of North Carolina's senior US Senator, Elizabeth Dole, earlier today. I am not expecting a response, but I do feel better for having communicated my concern regarding her Rovian campaign for re-election.

Senator Dole,

As a resident of Arizona and the Missouri Ozarks, I would normally have no interest in North Carolina politics. However, after listening to the disgusting "godless" commercial that your re-election campaign put out, I suddenly feel the need to help the good people of North Carolina eject you from the Senate. I am today sending a donation to help Kay Hagan win that crucial election.

Senator, your commercial suggesting that Methodist Sunday School teacher Hagan is a godless atheist, was the most vile election advertisement that I have witnessed in fifty years of tracking politics. You should be very ashamed! In fact, I am ashamed for you!

America is better than that.

Rocky Macy
Goodyear, AZ

Liddy Dole will be defeated in North Carolina because this is not a good year for "low road" politics. The Senate and the country will both be better off without her!