Saturday, January 31, 2009

Welcome Little Miss Brie!

by Pa Rock
Proud Grand Uncle

My newest grand-niece, Brieanna Macy Burke, was born yesterday morning in snow and ice-covered northwest Arkansas. Little Miss Brie is tiny, checking in at only five pounds and thirteen ounces, but I understand that she is healthy and has a great set of lungs!

My beautiful niece Tiffany is the proud new mother, and my sister, Gail, is Grammy. I understand that Grammy planted herself in the middle of the delivery room and witnessed the entire birthing process. (God help any doctor who tried to get in her way!)

Welcome to the party, Brie! We are so happy and proud to have you among us!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Give 'Em Hell, Claire!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Claire McCaskill, the current occupant of Harry Truman's Senate seat, is quickly proving herself to be to be as gutsy as the Man from Independence - the man who threatened to drop an atomic bomb down Emperor Hirohito's stovepipe and fired General MacArthur. Right now she is kicking Wall Street's butt and taking names - and making me awfully proud of my Missouri heritage!

But let's back up a minute and get a sense of what it means to be a politician from the "Show Me" state.

McCaskill, a former homecoming queen at Hickman High School in Columbia, MO, (the alma mater of "Kenny Boy" Lay and Sam Walton), served as member of the Missouri House of Representatives before being elected to two terms as the first female prosecutor of Jackson County, MO (the Kansas City metro area). In 1998 she was elected to the office of Missouri State Auditor where she terrorized state, county, and city governments, and even school districts, with her thorough and sophisticated audits of their books. (When I was around twelve-years-old I met one of her predecessors in the auditor's office. At that time the job was more or less functionless and the auditor spent his days roaming around the captitol building handing out pens and emory boards with his name on them.) That was not the way McCaskill chose to handle her responsibilities. She was a lioness, and each dollar that belonged to the citizens of Missouri was one of her cubs.

John Ashcroft, a former two-term Republican governor of Missouri - and an evangelical Christian known for his piety and ability to speak in tongues - was running for his second term in the U.S. Senate in 2000. Ashcroft's opponent was Missouri's popular Democratic two-term governor, Mel Carnahan, who had served as lieutenant governor during the years that Ashcroft was governor. The blood between them was so bad that Ashcroft was afraid to leave the state while he was governor for fear that Carnahan would act in his place while he was gone, no matter how briefly.

The Senate campaign was tight and fierce. Unfortunately for the citizens of Missouri and the nation, Governor Carnahan was killed in a plane crash less than two weeks before the critical vote - too late for his name to be struck from the ballot. In a stunning upset that will be referenced in history books for generations to come, Missouri voters defeated Senator Ashcroft by electing their dead governor to replace him. Newly elected President Bush helped Ashcroft save face, at least temporarily, by appointing him Attorney General of the United States - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mel Carnahan's widow, Jean, was appointed by interim governor, Roger Wilson, to fill the Senate vacancy that her dead husband won. Unfortunately for Missouri, she was defeated for the remainder of the term two years later by a former Congressman (and Bush mouthpiece) Jim Talent. Talent finished the term, but was himself defeated by Claire McCaskill in 2006.

Just over a year after making it to the Senate, McCaskill broke with many of her female colleagues in the world's most exclusive club by openly supporting Barack Obama in his primary bid against Hillary Clinton. Her instincts were good, and she is today a close confidante of the President.

Which brings us up to the present.

This afternoon Senator McCaskill caught everyone off guard, including the Washington press, her colleagues in the Senate, and apparently the Obama administration as well, when she submitted a bill that calls for executives of companies that have been bailed out (subsidized) by the government to have their salaries capped at $400,000 per year - the same salary that the nation's Chief Executive, President Obama, receives. She had deftly out-maneuvered the Republican apologists for the failings of big business, and staked out a prime piece of populist high ground.

In a beautiful piece of Missouri-speak, McCaskill roared that "These people are idiots! You can't use taxpayer money to pay out $18 billion in bonuses. What planet are these people on?" What planet, indeed?

McCaskill said that she had been mad for some time, watching "these guys" run their companies into the ground while holding onto their jobs and making claims for executive compensation. She said that "it just seemed unreal to me."

And the bellowing from Wall Street will be deafening. We can't cut the pay of our most talented executives. They will quit and take their skills elsewhere.

Skills? Aren't these the guys who drove the wagons over the cliff in the first place? Let them quit. Give those jobs to some state university business school graduates who would be thrilled to work for $400,000 a year. Surely they could not be as inept as the bozos that they would be replacing!

Claire, I could not be prouder of you for wading into this mess in such a decisive manner. I will send handwritten letters to your colleagues urging passage of this bill - and volunteer for any other grunt work that will help in fixing this mess. Thank you for watching out for us and our money.

Now, after you get these greedy Wall Street whores whipped into shape, maybe you could give some thought to capping the salaries of ball players who play in stadiums that were funded by taxpayers. Just a thought...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Tale of the Antichrist

by Pa Rock
Religious Muckraker

Late last night I fell onto my comfortable sofa, picked up the remote, and began channel surfing. Soon I came across something on History International that looked promising, a special on the Antichrist. Well, I thought, this should be good for a few grins.

The grins quickly turned into guffaws and belly laughs when the program, obviously several years old, turned to a fundamentalist religious leader for commentary. Their expert on the Antichrist was the Colorado holy man who founded the New Life Mega Church and related businesses, Reverend Ted Haggard. Yup, former meth user and "cured" homosexual Ted Haggard. Who better to speak on the insidious nature of sin and the threat that it poses to God's Chosen?

Brother Ted lost his luster and his flock when a male prostitute outed him in 2006, reporting that the mischievous minister had paid him for man-on-man sex on numerous occasions. Not only did the hooker blow (poor choice of verbs) the whistle on God's gift to Colorado Springs, he also let the world know that the fundamentalist icon who preached the importance of males heading households, had himself taken the position of the woman in their sexcapades. (Brother Ted was a bottom - who'd a thunk it?) The prostitute, who was far more honorable than his client, further admitted that he had been purchasing meth for the fast-talking preacher.

Brother Ted has begged God's forgiveness, fixed things with his wife, given up meth, and been "cured" of his homosexuality. He has recently started on a rehabilitation tour in an effort to reclaim some of his fan base. But wouldn't you know it - just as the big tour bus started to roll, up popped another pesky accuser.

Grant Haas wasn't a prostitute, rather he was a troubled young man who turned to his pastor, Reverend Haggard, for counseling related to his gay tendencies. Ted didn't have to go cruising for sex, the vulnerable young man just walked right into his office. It didn't take the cunning minister long to ensnare the youth in his sexual web. "You know Grant," the solicitous and salivating older man told him, "you can become a man of God and you can have a little bit of fun on the side." Then the lad's spiritual advisor led him to bed.

Grant Haas reported the situation to the leaders of the New Life Church as the other scandal was breaking. Their response was to pay him $179,000 in hush money, also referred to as college expenses. When Mr. Haas recently became aware that Ted Haggard's star was beginning to rise again, he went public with his allegations. He didn't want others to go through the hell that has been his life for the past couple of years.

What impact did Haggard's deplorable actions have on the youth who had turned to him for help? Mr. Haas told CNN that he has attempted suicide four times, is drinking heavily, and is seeing a psychiatrist. Nice work, Brother Ted!

Ted Haggard is a gay man who is deeply troubled by his sexual passions. He has spent most of his life being openly critical and hostile toward people who are able to live their lives honestly. His religion has conflicted his life and made him a moral cripple. Yes, he is a sleazoid who used his money and position of authority for "a little bit of fun on the side." Ted Haggard is also a sad and deplorable character, one more reason to be cautious of those who feel they speak for God. Their "God" may be lying in wait to ready to spring forward at the dropping of their pious pants.

Brother Ted, thou art shameless!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dear Ken

by Pa Rock

Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Bank of America Corporation
100 North Tryon St., 18th Floor
Charlotte, NC 28255

Dear Ken,

As one of the taxpayers who funded the corporate bailout that allowed your bank to purchase Merrill Lynch, I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts with you regarding the operation of Bank of America.

I noticed that just three days after receiving $25 billion in government largess, you allowed Bank of America to host a conference call with a group of sordid conservatives (people such as Bernie Marcus of Home Depot) to plot against pro-labor legislation - the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) - that will soon be taken up by the Congress. I can only assume from that misadventure that while Bank of America feeds off of the poor (excessive credit card finance rates, exorbitant overdraft fees, etc), your corporation feels a strong investment in ensuring that the poor remain poor. Shame on you and the corporate jet that you flew in on!

How many people did Bank of America lay off last month as it was absorbing Merrill Lynch - just before the holidays? I read one estimate that it was 35,000 - at a minimum. Merry Christmas, y'all - and the happiest of New Year's! How was your Christmas, Ken?

I haven't had the pleasure of reading your CV, but I'm guessing that you have an MBA from Harvard Business or some other Ivy League institution. How did someone as smart as you manage to let the price of your company's stock slip from a high of $45.00 a share less than a year ago to $6.50 at yesterday's close? Was the purchase of Countrywide, the mortgage lender that led the charge into the hole where we currently find ourselves, really necessary - or even smart? And Merrill Lynch - how dumb was that? The way it works at my house, Ken, is that I only buy things that I need and can afford. I don't even borrow to buy a car - pull up my file, Big Brother, and check it out.

Which brings me to the point of this letter. (Yes, I really do have a point!) Yesterday I received a letter from Bank of America offering to provide me with a loan of up to $30,000 to cover any credit card debt that I might have, or fund any nice-to-have things that I would like to buy. My rate on this friendly loan would be a minimum of 8.99 percent. (Not a bad rate when you consider that the Fed is currently loaning Bank of America money at almost zero percent!) Please note that I am going to pass on your amazing offer.

I just can't figure why I should help your rat-bastard bank when it is so anti-labor. You see, Ken, I am a wage earner - a laborer - and I could use any bone that Congress chooses to throw my way. I would certainly welcome the opportunity to join a union and be on a more solid footing with my employer. What I don't need is to be helping fund a financial octopus that is intent on keeping me relegated to the lower rungs of the social ladder.

It is my understanding that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions for public sector workers, has started a "fire Ken Lewis" campaign. I wish them Godspeed in their effort.

Enjoy your bailout billions, Ken. Me and many of your three hundred million other bosses will be zealously exercising our oversight role until you pay us back.

Most Sincerely.

Pa Rock
Goodyear, AZ

P.S. In the event that I plan a trip back to the Ozarks this spring, how are the chances of hitching a ride on one of our corporate jets?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Payback: It's a Bitch!

by Pa Rock
Chagrined Taxpayer

One good thing to come out of the government bailout of the banks is that suddenly there is some small degree of public accountability. A case in point is the $50 million swank corporate jet that Citigroup planned to purchase. The new acquisition by bailed-out Citigroup first came to the public’s attention yesterday, and the working stiffs of America were not amused! Not only was it seen as an extravagant and unnecessary elitist indulgence, the new jet was a product of France. France! The thieving hogs weren’t even supporting the ailing American economy!

In a bold move, the likes of which has not been seen in the White House in more than a decade (or two), the Obama administration made a simple telephone call to the Gods at Citigroup and told them that a change of plans was in order. Soon thereafter the chastised banking giant grudgingly announced that they would not be taking delivery of the luxury aircraft after all. Now that’s change that I can believe in!

Bank of America, which recently acquired Merrill Lynch thanks in large part to an influx of bailout billions, is also suffering some comeuppance as a result of accepting public money. John Thain, the now disgraced former head of Merrill Lynch, moved up the payments of executive bonuses when he realized that his company was on the verge of going under or being taken over. He and his executives got theirs while the getting was good! He also spent part of last year redecorating his office, all the while cutting thousands of jobs. The cost of that redecorating, which included such necessities as a $1,400 trashcan, eventually totaled 1.22 million dollars!

There has been no word yet as to whether the recently fired Mr. Thain received a call from the Obama administration or not, but he announced today that he will reimburse Merrill Lynch / Bank of America for the renovations to his office. And what about those early bonuses? New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, said that he will be investigating that matter. (It’s our money, and I, for one, would like to have it back!)

Yo, John, your subpoena is in the mail!

Greedheads beware! The time for payback draws nigh – and it’s gonna be a bitch!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Notes on a Bad Economy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There are different ways of judging the health (or lack thereof) of the economy. My father, who is invested in real estate and the stock market, tends to see the Dow Jones as the basic barometer of our nation's health. Coming at it from a social work perspective, I give more credence to tangibles like housing foreclosures and joblessness. The past two years have seen all of these indicators head toward the toilet, so my dad and I can both agree that things are bad regardless of our unique perspectives.

Today was a terrible day for the American economy. All day long news kept coming of big layoffs. Caterpillar is doing away with 20,000 jobs, Sprint Nextel is losing 8,000, and Pfizer Pharmaceutical is buying up Wyeth Pharmaceutical (funded partially by banks that received bailout money), and the new organization will cut over 8,000 jobs. (The bailout is helping to fund an 8,000 job loss!) Home Depot is cutting 7,000 people from their payroll, and General Motors announced that they are trimming 2,000 more employees. One estimate that I saw late in the day said that 68,000 layoffs had been announced today alone, and the total for January, which is not over yet, is in excess of 200,000!

But get this - the nation's three basic market measures - the Dow, the S&P, and the NASDAQ - all went up today, albeit modestly. Apparently cutting jobs is a good thing to stock traders - just as long as it isn't their jobs that are being cut - or those of their spouses, children, or parents! It's all relative.

What does the loss of 200,000 jobs matter in the overall scheme of things? It means that mortgage payments won't get paid, new cars won't be purchased, schooling will be put off, vacations will be scaled back or not taken, and medical treatment will be postponed or completely ignored. It means the economy will keep shrinking, fewer goods will be purchased, fewer services required, and more layoffs will be implemented. It also means that crime will necessarily increase.

The government has already kicked in a huge wad of cash to try and end the vicious downward economic spiral, but at last reading the banks and financial institutions that received our tax money were focused on not telling us how it was being spent. So far it appears that most of the money is being hoarded and not pumped back into the economy as originally intended.

That may, however, be changing. Some of the bailout loot was apparently loaned to Pfizer today so that they could eat up Wyeth - and cut a butt load of jobs! It was also announced today that Citigroup, which received $43 billion in government money, will soon take possession of a new $50 million corporate jet - a very sleek affair that seats twelve people comfortably!

Perhaps the time has come to nationalize the bastards!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Mystery of the Deathbed Signature

by Rocky G. Macy

(First published in Heritage Quest Magazine, Issue #45, May/June 1993.)

The query didn't seem unusual at the time. There was, in fact, very little to distinguish it from the dozens of other genealogical questions which arrived each month for my newspaper column, Rootbound in the Hills.

Darrel and June Cole, a husband and wife school teaching team from Tussy, Oklahoma, were trying to learn more about Darrel's great-grandfather, Dr. John Cole, who had been practicing medicine at Vian, Indian Territory, at the time of his death in 1899.

Dr. Cole and his son, Charles Alexander Cole, had each been married in McDonald County, Missouri. The doctor wed Caroline Raridon on 8 May 1879, with the marriage license indicating that he was fifty-four years of age and the bride was fourteen. Charlie Cole, under the age of twenty-one, had married Lizzie Holloway, under the age of eighteen, on 27 February 1892. Lizzie was the daughter of G.H. Holloway.

The query ran in the summer of 1989. There was no response. A few weeks later I ran a reminder about the Cole query. Still no response.

A year passed before Dr. Cole again surfaced in Rootbound's mail. A good friend who is a professional genealogist in northwest Arkansas forwarded a copy of a magazine article along with a note of apology for not sending it sooner. The article, he explained, dealt with a doctor who had been discussed in my column previously. After quickly studying the enclosure, I knew that there was much more to the story of Dr. John Cole that his great-grandson had shared in the query.

The article, The Mystery of Dr. John Hunt Cole, was written by Mike Grissom and had been featured in the September 1988 issue of The United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine. What a story it told!

Dr. Cole, it seems, made a deathbed confession to his family that he was actually John Hunt Morgan...Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, one of Dixie's better known commanders who was famous for his ingenuity and daring. General Morgan was supposedly killed on 4 September 1864 during a surprise nighttime attack on a house in which he and some of his men were quartered. Dr. Cole, in explaining how he survived, told of changing coats with an aide to confuse the enemy in the event of his capture or death.

Although wounded in the attack, General Morgan, according to the Cole family, was able to flee and eventually made his way to Illinois where he located and married an old friend, Maggie Critzer. It was at that time that he assumed the surname "Cole."

Within a few months of settling in Illinois, the story goes, John Hunt Cole was recognized as General Morgan, a revelation which led to gunplay and the deaths of several men. Cole and his in-laws, the Critzers, then decided that a change of scenery might be advantageous to their health and well-being.

The two families settled on the plains of Kansas where Maggie Cole gave birth to five children. But bearing five children on the harsh prairie proved to be more than Maggie could endure. In an effort to slow his wife's deteriorating health, John Hunt Cole moved her and the children to Southwest City, Missouri, in 1879. It was in that community that he used his extensive education to assume the title and practice of medical doctor.

Maggie passed away shortly after the move, leaving Dr. Cole in need of a mother for his children. He married Caroline Raridon later that same year. John and Caroline had four sons.

During Dr. Cole's lifetime he kept his past a virtual secret, choosing only to confide in his wife and oldest son, John Morgan Cole. But after contracting pneumonia in November of 1899 and realizing that his demise was imminent, the old physician summoned his family to his bedside. There, amidst his last few moments on earth, Dr. Cole wrote the signature "John Hunt Morgan" on a slip of paper and told the stunned assembly, "This is who I really am."

Not long after details of this mystery were published in Rootbound it was linked to an equally peculiar occurrence from the Civil War. An Arkansas reader wrote in to suggest that Dr. John Hunt Cole might possibly have been Captain Charles Cole, a convicted traitor who confessed to his crime, signed an amnesty oath, and was released "never to be seen again."

Citing material published in Confederate Agent, a book by James D. Horan, the lady from Arkansas described Captain Charles Cole as a Confederate officer who had served with both General Morgan and General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Captain Cole had volunteered his services to Captain Thomas Hines (who had also served under General Morgan) in September of 1864 while Hines was plotting to capture the USS Michigan as it patrolled on Lake Erie. Captian Hines seems to have been planning the release of Johnson Island Confederate prisoners who could then be marched to Sandusky, Ohio, to assist with the capture of that city's federal arsenal. The newly freed prisoners might then form the nucleus of an army which could be used for greater things.

Captain Cole moved to Sandusky and pretended to be a wealthy Philadelphia banker. He met the captain of the USS Michigan, and he also became friendly with the commander of the Johnson Island Camp and visited that facility. Captain Cole set up contact with the local Copperheads in Sandusky. They were supposed to storm the prison from the outside while the prisoners attacked from within. Unfortunately for the Confederate cause in general and Captain Charles Cole in particular, the plot was uncovered resulting in Captain Cole's arrest, conviction, and subsequent self-banishment.

Darrel and June Cole responded to the correspondent relating that they, too, were familiar with the "Northwest Conspiracy" and had read extensively on Thomas Hines and Captain Cole. For a variety of reasons, though, the contemporary Coles persisted in their belief that Dr. John Hunt Cole was actually General John Hunt Morgan rather than Captain Charles Cole.

There is a body of circumstantial evidence which points toward Dr. John Hunt Cole and General John Hunt Morgan being the same person. Similarities exist between the names of Dr. Cole's children and relatives of General Morgan. Also, General Morgan may have had an aide named Captain Cole, and it was reported that one of the general's officers had masqueraded as his leader on an earlier occasion in a maneuver which allowed the general to escape.

But Darrel and June Cole feel that the most telling evidence to support the "single person theory" is the uncanny resemblance which they see as apparent in photographs of young General Morgan and old Dr. Cole. At this stage of their investigation, Darrel and June are planning to turn a collection of photos of the two men over to an expert at aging images through the use of a computer. In that way they may be able to prove, at least to their satisfaction, that the doctor and the general were one-and-the-same.

Handwriting analysis would be a more positive proof. Copies of General Morgan's handwriting and signature exist today. Unfortunately, the signature which Dr. Cole scrawled on the scrap of paper at the time of his death has been lost during the intervening years. One of the reasons that Darrel and June Cole originally wrote to Rootbound was to see if any of the column's readers might have an old family medical record with Dr. Cole's signature or other example of his penmanship. A handwriting sample might ultimately bring that matter to resolution.

If descendants of Dr. John Hunt Cole cannot prove that their ancestor was General John Hunt Morgan, they would like to be able to establish the opposite - that he was not General John Hunt Morgan. Documentation of Dr. Cole's existence before 1864 would mean that he could not have been General Morgan or Captain Charles Cole. As of yet, the Coles have no record of the doctor prior to the end of the Civil War.

Coincidentally, there is another group that has a personal interest in this mystery. General John Hunt Morgan had a wife and children at the time of his death or disappearance. Some descendants of that family have been openly skeptical of Dr. Cole's deathbed claim, regarding it as an unwarranted blemish on the record of a good soldier who died honorably in the service of the Confederacy.

Dr. Cole unleashed a controversy at the time of his death which rages on almost a century later. His descendants, Darrel Cole and others, are trying to resolve questions of history and genealogy, things which still define their ancestor, and to some extent, themselves as well. They truly are on a heritage quest.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Whatever Happened to Spot and Puff?

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

We live in a world where cats eat gourmet meals off of fine china, and dogs let their owners dress them in style before going for a stroll in the park. Our better selves, in fact, are often realized in the way we treat our pets.

I have no pets because I live in an apartment, where they are neither practical nor allowed. (Well, actually they are allowed - for a price - but I give the cretins at this complex plenty of money each month just for a place to rest my weary head.) But just because there are currently no pets in my life does not mean that I wouldn't love to have a faithful pooch. I am a dog person.

When I was back at the farm I had a pair of beautiful Great Pyrenees, the best dogs in the world. They were majestic dogs with great names: Paladin and Paloma. They were working farm dogs and not especially pampered, although I did bring them the occasional double cheeseburger from McDonald's - a treat that either could happily swallow in one gulp. I also had a hyper-active mutt who just happened down the lane one day and decided to stay. His name was Frank - in honor of his blue eyes.

And then there was Emme Ears, the loving little long-haired chihuahua of whom I have recently written. Again, a classy dog with a unique name. Susan named Emme, and I came up with Paladin and Paloma.

Recently I came across an article on the Internet that focused on the more popular names for dogs and cats. They were tallied off of the rosters of insured pets. Yes, apparently pet insurance is one of the latest crazes among people who find meaning in their lives through the active parenting of four-legged children.

Six of the top ten names for cats are Tigger, Tiger, Smokey, Oliver, Shadow, and Charlie. Six of the top ten names for dogs are Bailey, Molly, Buddy, Maggie, Daisy, and Sophie. The remaining four top names for both dogs and cats are Max, Chloe, Lucy, and Bella.

Those are grand names, fitting for any creature who eats off of expensive china or wears designer clothing - whether they walk on two legs or four!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Se Habla Espanol?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Contrary to popular opinion, English is not the official world language. And, try as some folks might to make it so, English is not the ubiquitous language of the United States. America, long regarded as the world's melting pot, has a rich variety of languages, including several, such as Spanish and the languages of the native Americans, that pre-date the arrival of the English.

Our nation is, however, very ego-centric, and emanates an almost religious belief that anyone of value is necessarily Caucasian and speaks English as their primary language. Those who speak in another tongue, or multiple tongues, are automatically suspect.

As anyone who has ever channel-surfed past a Lou Dobbs broadcast and caught even a few seconds of his bombast knows, Hispanic immigration into the United States has increased markedly over the past two decades. While some see this as ultimately strengthening our society and culture, Dobbs and his ilk use this phenomenon to stir up fear and reactionary measures.

One way that these knuckleheads have been trying to keep the invading brown hordes in their place is through "English Only" ordinances, particularly with regard to government services. They argue that allowing people to deal with their government in a language that they can actually understand creates unnecessary expenses for the government, and that those new arrivals would be better served in the long run by learning English.

In fairness, there is something to be said for learning a second language - even English. But learning a language, especially for adults, is not an easy or quick task. It is often the children of immigrants who first learn to use English in a competent and comfortable manner. Does that mean the parents don't want to learn English? No, it means that they are struggling to support their families, often with multiple jobs, and doing those innumerable other tasks that come with any relocation.

But back to the knuckleheads: The Metropolitan Council, a local group out of Nashville, TN, had a measure put on the city ballot this week that would have required that all governmental business in the city be conducted in English only. Tennessee is not the most progressive of states (think Fred Thompson, Bill Frist, and Bob Corker), but somehow commonsense prevailed with the good citizens of Nashville - and the jingoistic measure was solidly defeated. Good work, Music City!

Several years ago I had a long talk with a school board member of a large rural school district in extreme southwest Missouri. That district had elementary schools that were fifty-percent Hispanic. I suggested, quite innocently, that it would be a wonderful opportunity to begin teaching Spanish in the very early grades - where it could be taught and learned much more easily and effectively than attempting to accomplish the same objective in high school. The board member told me succinctly that the board and the community did not want their kids learning no Mexican!

So the kids in this nameless school district will grow up being safely protected from the horrors of being able to speak more than one language. In time many will end up working on the line at their local chicken processing plant - if, indeed, they work at all. And when they are busy plucking those birds, they will quickly discover that their union reps, government inspectors, line supervisors, foremen, managers, and other assorted honchos are the Mexicans who were their classmates years before. Those children of immigrants will have the "good" jobs for one basic reason - they will be fluent in English and Spanish and can resolve issues as they arise. The young bi-linguals will also have many of the teaching and government jobs, and will be the ones most likely to succeed in every endeavor.

But for the time being the good people of southwest Missouri can rest easy, because their kids ain't learning no Mexican!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Fine Art of Buying Influence

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Recently while digging through records of political donations, I found a very interesting document at that identifies the 100 biggest political donors of the past twenty years. Most are corporations or labor organizations, and also included are a couple of special interest groups. Although the information on the list confirmed my basic belief that big business is generally pro-Republican and labor is normally pro-Democratic, it was still fascinating to see it writ large.

The number one donor over the past twenty years was AT&T. I grew up in the sixties when Ma Bell was recognized by many as Public Enemy #1. Congress broke that evil monopoly up several decades ago, but...she's coming back! I used to have my cellular service with Cingular and was pleased with that arrangement. Then Cingular was swallowed by Southwestern Bell, which in turn was swallowed by AT&T - and after all of that swallowing, service wound up in the crapper! Ma Bell has given over forty million dollars to political candidates during the past twenty years - 44% of that went to Democrats and 55% went to Republicans. Do you suppose that she wants anything in return for all of that campaign cash?

On the other side of the fence, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees - a union of government workers - gave almost the same amount of money over the same time period with 98% of it going to Democrats and 1% to Republicans.

My insurance carrier (all right, HMO!), Blue Cross-Blue Shield, has felt the need to use my premiums and those of other suckers for over $14 million in political donations over the past two decades. Thirty-eight percent of it went to Democrats and 61% was lavished on Republicans - and my rates just went up! Bastards!

Exxon Mobil, those fine folks who tried to turn Alaska into one big oil slick, and got off without paying nearly what they should have for causing an ecological disaster, donated a hefty $10 million to political candidates over the last twenty years. Eighty-six percent of that went to Republicans. Color me surprised!

Groups representing medical providers and pharmaceuticals leaned heavily Republican, as did the auto and oil industries. Groups focusing on the people who actually do the work that make the corporations rich tended to be strongly Democratic. Corporations, while basically Republican, were more likely to hedge their bets and give some of their donations to Democrats. Conversely, labor unions and groups representing workers that normally lean Democratic, tended to be more purist in their ideologies and were far less likely to share their donations with Republicans.

Surprisingly, the strongest Republican donor was Amway which donated over $8 million and gave 99% of it to the GOP!

Special interest groups split along ideological lines: Emily's list, a strongly feminist organization, gave $20 million - with 99% of it going to Democrats. The eternally angry National Rifle Association, on the other hand, gave $17 million, with 82% of that going to Republican candidates. (While the NRA collects donations and membership dues from individuals, it is funded in large part by gun manufacturers who monetarily benefit from the defeat of any gun control measures.)

Calvin Coolidge, the man who was at the helm while America sailed at top speed toward the Great Depression, prophetically declared that "The business of America is business." Apparently the business of business and labor is politics!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Macy Politics

by Pa Rock
Campaign Contributor

I read somewhere that Macy is a fairly uncommon surname and was probably attached to less than 5,000 families in the United States. Several of those are in the Missouri Ozarks, with most, if not all, being relatives of mine. I have always been told that I was the "black sheep" because of my Democratic political leanings, but I am finally beginning to figure out that, aside from my Ozark cousins, most Macys are Democrats - at least the ones who donate to campaigns.

The first crack in the family fallacy appeared over the recent holidays when my Dad (of all people!) fessed up that his mother was a Democrat. He said that she and his father would catch a ride to the polls with the neighbors, where she would vote straight Democratic and her husband would vote straight Republican. (They must have enjoyed just getting out of the house for awhile!)

Working on the assumption that I may have grown up under a misconception, I recently checked the Federal Elections Commission stats for the name Macy. The results of that query were quite interesting - at least to me.

There were 34 political donors with the last name of Macy in 2008, and they made a total of 49 donations for a total of $37,448. Nine of the 34 donors gave to Republican candidates or committees to the tune of $6,850. Twenty-three donated a total of 29,378 to Democratic candidates or committees. Three individuals donated $1,200 to Political Action Committees (PACs).

Of the Republican donations, $200 was given to the Republican National Committee, $1,250 was given to Congressional candidates, $500 to Thompson, $1950 to Guiliani, and $2,950 to McCain.

The Democratic donations totaled $750 to the Democratic National Committee, $8,300 to Congressional candidates, $903 to Edwards, $2,300 to Richardson, $4,615 to Clinton, and $12,530 to Obama.

So not only am I within the political mainstream of Macys nationally, at least the ones who put their money where their heart is, but I was even in the winning wing of the winning party during the most recent national election. The Macy family is apparently much smarter than I was led to believe!

Suddenly I feel much less mavericky!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Hussein Obama!

by Pa Rock
Proud American

Today has been glorious! George Bush was packed up and flown out of Washington (sadly sans tar and feathers!), Dick Cheney was pushed away from the world's power center in a wheelchair, and Barack Hussein Obama placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible and a few brief words later became the leader of the free world! The symbolism was huge!

America, at long last, was able to breathe a massive sigh of relief!

Like most of America, I watched the inauguration on television. Unlike most of America, however, I viewed the ceremony from a military installation with uniformed service members sitting in the room. And even though Republicans like to behave as though our military is their own personal property, I'm here to tell you that just ain't so. Many young troops are just as excited about the promise of a President Obama as their civilian counterparts. Surveys taken before the election, in fact, revealed that a majority of troops serving in the Bush's Oil War supported the election of Barack Obama.

Will this be a pro-active government? For a quick answer to that question, check out this site: The Obama team had it completely converted to their administration within minutes of their man taking the oath of office. What a joy to have a government that cares for us and is eager to make change!

That's all! I'm so happy tonight that I can't think or type! What a glorious day this has been!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Remains of the Trip

by Pa Rock
Weary Traveler

I am safely home in Arizona, but getting here was truly a comedy of errors. Please read on...

To begin with my flight plans were a horror show, thanks primarily to my own naivete. I had airline tickets that the group bought - New York to Detroit to Kansas City - and airline tickets that I bought - Kansas City to Minneapolis to Phoenix (no direct flights!). When I boarded in New York yesterday, they would only give me boarding passes for New York and Detroit - even though all of my flights that day would be on Northwest Airlines. I did talk the clerk at Northwest in New York into checking my luggage all the way through to Phoenix.

My travels were complicated by the fact that the cold that I had been fighting for several days had settled in my head. The pressure during take-offs and landings was especially painful, and I felt like my ears were going to explode and cover my fellow passengers in industrial strength ear wax!

The day was uneventful until we tried to leave Detroit. I had a little over a two-hour window to catch my next flight out of Kansas City, but we were pulled off of the runway in Detroit to replace a compass that had gone out. While that was being accomplished, a passenger became ill, had to receive emergency medical treatment, and was removed from the plane. We had to wait on the new compass to be brought in and installed, and then we had to wait while the medical supplies that were used on the ill passenger were replaced. When we got to Kansas City, I hustled one counter over just as they began boarding for the flight to Minneapolis. Rush, rush, rush!

While I was enroute to Minneapolis, Carla called and left me a message saying that my suitcase had been off-loaded in Kansas City, and she had taken it to the Northwest baggage office and told them to get it to Phoenix pronto. When I arrived in Phoenix shortly before midnight I went to their baggage office and was told that my suitcase would be in Phoenix by noon the next day, and it would be delivered directly to me!

Great! It had been a helluva day, but life was once again beautiful. All I had to do was contact the shuttle from the Parking Spot, get my car out of hawk, and race for home where I would crash until time for my suitcase to get in.

It wasn't until the shuttle pulled up behind my car at the Parking Spot that I realized that my keys were in my suitcase - which was in Kansas City. I told the manager just to drop me at their office and I would call a cab. But a lifetime of good living suddenly paid off when the only other people on the shuttle, a young couple named Mason and Christy, asked where I lived. Goodyear, I replied sadly because nobody but me and the scorpions live that far out. Oh, they said, we live in Surprise (a community that neighbor's Goodyear), and we'll take you home. Praise Allah!

"I've always depended on the kindness of strangers." Blanche DuBois

On the way to Goodyear, another thought occurred to me. My apartment key was also in the suitcase that was vacationing in Kansas City. (Can you see what kind of day I was having?) I had Mason and Christy drop me at the apartment office so that I could get the management's evening number off of the door. There I discovered that those fine folks at Palm Valley Luxury Rentals no longer kept their phone numbers on the door - probably to eliminate those pesky after-hours calls. I found a young man in the apartment complex computer center and got him to let me into the office. He didn't know the number, but found it on-line. After three calls to the emergency number, I decided that Palm Valley probably wasn't that into emergencies, so I arranged couple of chairs on my porch and prepared to sleep outside - sitting up.

Almost an hour later one of the managers called and said that she would drive in to unlock my door. She assured me that she could be there in just forty-five minutes. But, a maintenance worker responded a few minutes later and saved her the trip.

I did get up this morning before my suitcase arrived. After fishing out my keys, I got on the Internet and finally located a phone number for a co-worker who was able to give me Benson's number. God love Odessa and Bobby - they rushed right over and drove me across the Valley of Hell to pick up my car.

So I'm home, my suitcase is home, and my little car is home! Tomorrow I will go back to work at a job that I love - and Barack Obama will start his new job. Things are getting better and better!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Greetings from Detroit City!

by Pa Rock
Airport Lurker

Yes, it's true, we are back on the road heading home. It was snowing in New York this morning as we flew out of La Guardia in a plane pointed west. I think that many in our group held their breath until we were safely across the Hudson River and climbing above the clouds. I was scoping out the horizon looking for suicidal geese!

I ran into our pilot in the Detroit airport after we deplaned and we talked about the emergency landing in the Hudson earlier this week. He said that his fellow pilot did a very fine job of executing the maneuver, but acknowledged that a whole range of variables also lined up just right. No matter how much skill a person has, luck is still a factor - but if the skill had not been there, no amount of luck could have saved all of those passengers.

Here's what I think: the airlines need to quit screwing around with the salaries of the pilots and the flight crews, and raise the price of the tickets enough to meet their expenses and hire highly skilled people. I really don't want to fly in a plane that is staffed with unhappy employees or the ones who aren't skilled enough to get a better job someplace else.

This will be a long day. Our next hop is to Kansas City, and then I trudge on to Minneapolis and ultimately Phoenix. I should get to my apartment around midnight. I feel like a flea on a mighty big dog!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Speed-the-Plow and Other Adventures

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

This morning we boarded a Grey Line Bus for a tour of lower Manhattan. Our first stop was Macy's Department Store, but they chose not to open to accommodate our early arrival. Next came the Empire State Building, and with no lines what-so-ever, we scooted right onto an elevator and, eighty-six stories later, found ourselves on the observation deck. We talked to a guide who showed us where the U.S. Airways plane went down in the Hudson River earlier this week. He said that people were able to watch the entire ordeal from the observation deck.

Our third stop was Chinatown, where the lady that I was accompanying climbed into a van with a very surreptitious Chinese lady and bought some purses. I was assigned a place to stand on the street until the deal went down - with a very serious looking Chinese man standing by to keep an eye on me. It was quite an interesting little syndicate. Everybody (and their were several) working with the operation were dressed alike, blue jeans and North Shore black jackets, and each carried a small two-way radio. While we were in Chinatown we were also approached for Rolexes, driver's licenses, and I.D. Cards. This evening another lady told me that she had bought twelve purses in a similar manner this week.

Tonight finished our Broadway run - five plays in as many nights. This evening's fare was David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, a revival of a play that originally ran for a season on Broadway twenty years ago. The three-actor cast included William H. Macy (Fargo), Elisabeth Moss (West Wing, Mad Men), and Raul Esparza (Pushing Daisies).

Mamet focuses on workplace conflicts. His Pulitzer Prize-winning earlier work, Glengarry Glenross, looks at the real estate industry from the inside, and Speed-the-Plow depicts the machinations that Hollywood producers go through in selecting scripts to make into movies. His characters are tightly wound and speak in explosive bursts. "Fuck" is definitely his favorite word, and he uses it quite comfortably as several different parts of speech! The play, like the characters, was also tightly wound, with three acts lasting barely ninety minutes.

If you like your drama down-and-dirty and painfully intense, this one will please.

Friday, January 16, 2009

August: Osage County

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

Tonight we took in our first drama on Broadway. It was a stunning piece entitled August: Osage County, and from the audience perspective it was three hours in the household of a raging, dysfunctional family. These people had it all: alcoholism, drug addiction, a pot-smoking child, light incest, broken marriages, serious sibling rivalry, and, almost as if for good measure, a child molester. Playwright Tracy Letts has penned a powerful family drama that is shocking, fast-paced, and very believable, all stitched together with a strong thread of dark humor.

An acquaintance of mine who works in the drama department of a major university categorized this genre as a "screaming mother play," and that label easily fits August: Osage County. This screaming mother, however, has three screaming daughters to help her spread the love. Everyone in the audience undoubtedly found certain things with which they could identify in this play, but God help those who identified with too much of it!

The cast were basically all standouts, but two were easily recognizable to people who watch too much television - like myself. Estelle Parsons was the screaming mother. She came to the role with a theatrical background in dysfunctional families, having played Roseanne Barr's mother on the television show, Rosanne. The other recognizable face was John Cullum, the father who disappears during the first act and sets the stage for the family reunion from hell. Cullum played the bartender, Hollis, with the young girlfriend on Northern Exposure.

August: Osage County will work your emotions, and work them hard. It is not a play for sissies!

Coldest Damned Day in Four Years!

by Pa Rock

Manhattan held a sick call this morning and I fell out for it. I knew last night that I had come down with a New York City flu bug, and by this morning I couldn't even get out of bed. So while the rest of our merry group rushed downtown to see Ground Zero, I stayed in bed.

A graduate of Baker University who lives here and works for the Port Authority, the organization that apparently controls Ground Zero, saw our group on the Today Show on Tuesday and got in touch. He arranged for a special tour this morning. I am certain that I missed a really good outing.

It is bitter cold today, supposedly the coldest day that this city has experienced in four years. When I finally did get up, I ambled across the street and had a wonderful lunch at a local greasy-spoon diner. For a good meal in the Midwest, look for the truckers - for a good meal in New York, look for the working people. It's as simple as that.

Our evening meal last night was at Tavern on the Green in Central Park. It sparkled, with stained glass, mirrors, and Christmas lights everywhere. And the food wasn't too shabby, either! But they didn't have a blue collar special!

Last night's play was Into the Heights, the winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008. It was a high energy depiction of everyday life in the Jackson Heights area of New York City. We weren't fifteen minutes into the show when I realized that what we were really watching was the grandchild of West Side Story. It was an amazing display of singing, dancing, and drama - almost as good as the Jersey Boys and head-and-shoulders above Wicked!

This afternoon we are lining up for half-price tickets for a play tonight. (That's how Broadway ensures that every seat is filled.) Most of what's playing this season looks to be really good, so I am certain that we will come up with a great evening's entertainment.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Real Deal New York Pizza

by Pa Rock
Food Editor

This morning we awoke to snow and miserably cold weather. Our first stop of the day was the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was a two-bus trip from our hotel. Carla and I managed to navigate it on our own, and we were deservedly proud of that accomplishment! The snow managed to quit while we were inside, without too much in the way of accumulation.

The Metropolitan is a class act, and much more interesting (to me at least) than the Natural History Museum. We saw displays of Egyptian art and tomb treasures, Roman art and sarcophagi, and Greek art and household items. It was all pretty amazing stuff. I'm glad to see museums preserving art and giving people a chance to experience it, but I have some negative feelings about robbing graves in the name of art.

One of my favorite paintings is A View of Toledo by the Spanish artist El Greco. I stumbled upon it almost by accident at the Metropolitan this morning. A lady and I took turns just standing in front of that masterpiece and soaking up the complexity of the work. That lady, a total stranger, assured me that the gift shop sold prints of the painting, but when I tried to buy one, the fourteen-year-old sales clerk told me that they did not have it in stock. But I was told that you do, I argued. By whom? A tourist, I replied. He gave me one of those looks that said, "I don't get paid enough for this crap!" Later I did find a postcard of the painting. It was a steal at only a buck-fifty!

The Metropolitan has a multitude of naked sculptures. I kept thinking about John Ashcroft and wondering how nuts he would make himself trying to get everything covered up! If he knew that hordes of school children walk among all of that marble nudity every day, shamelessly viewing stone breasts and penises, he would probably be outside protesting and trying to get the place shut down!

We had a snack at the museum - lemon bars for $3.50 each! When it came time for lunch we exited the building and decided to look for something better and more reasonable. We had gone only about half of a block on Madison Avenue when we came to the very small City Market Cafe. They had a great assortment of sandwiches, pizza, and baked goods - and the aromas drew us in. We both had a big slice of pizza and a diet coke - for a total of eleven dollars and change. The pizza was real deal New York, and had to be folded in order to be picked up and eaten. It was the single best meal that I have had in this city!

The City Market Cafe delivers. If you would like to call them up and punk them, their number is 212-535-2070. Or, if you are in New York, stop in as absorb some real food. The cafe is located at 1100 Madison Avenue. In addition to pizza, they also serve up grilled paninis, homemade soups, fresh fruit smoothies, tossed salads made to order, a good variety of coffees and espressos, and pastries and desserts.

This evening we are having dinner at Tavern on the Green in Central Park, and then will be seeing In the Heights, a Tony award-winning musical.

Being on vacation is rough work, but somebody has to do it!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hey Barack, Let's Pay Those U.N. Dues!

by Pa Rock
Peace Activist

This morning we rode a city bus across town for a tour of the United Nations, a sovereign entity completely within the city of New York and the nation of the United States. Our guide, a young lady from Madrid,Spain, showed us through the facility and provided information on many programs and initiatives of the United Nations. We saw displays on the amount of money that the world spends on arms compared to what is spent on life's necessities like food, shelter, and medicine - with the last three being minuscule compared to the first one! We also viewed large photos of children carrying automatic weapons, and pictorials dealing with our fragile environment, as well as disease, education, and nutrition.

We learned about the United Nations' goals for the new millennium. There are eight goals and they follow:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women.

4. Reduce child mortality.

5. Improve maternal health.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability.

8. Develop a global partnership for development.

I listed the Millennium Goals for several reasons: First of all, they make sense and they are important. Ever since the Reagans lived in the White House, Americans have been focused on "What's in it for me?" If our grandchildren and their children are going to inherit a livable world, that attitude has to change and we have to start thinking and acting globally.

Second, the United Nations is the appropriate forum for addressing global issues. When the United States tries to go it alone in creating change, we have mucked it up almost beyond repair: witness Iraq and Afghanistan, Mexico and Central America, and the whole global warming issue. The world does not belong to us alone.

And while the goals are important, extremely important in my view, and the U.N. is the correct place from which to do the work, the United States is setting a piss poor example in helping to meet these challenges. There are currently 192 member nations in the U.N. Dues are assigned to each country based on its ability to pay. Those dues are what funds the organization and gives it the ability to work on and meet its lofty goals. Without that stream of income they couldn't even maintain their facilities or keep the lights on. Only thirty-one nations are paid up on their dues, and the United States, the richest nation on earth, is not one of them. That is shameful!

Hear this: Our guide discussed the website which is a vocabulary building site that gives grains of rice to poor countries based on players' correct answers. I have hit that site before and enjoyed it, but I assumed the free rice thing was just some sort of scam. She assured us that it was legitimate and that the organization was helping to feed the world's poor. First, check out the site yourself, and then please take a few moments and promote this very good cause to your email list. It's free and it's fun - and it's educational! That's a three-fer!

We came back to the hotel at noon, and upon checking my email I found a mass communication from Valerie Jarrett, an advisor to the President-Elect, describing a new feature at in which citizens are encouraged to submit their suggestions and ideas to President Obama through The Citizen's Briefing Book. People may submit ideas, and rate or comment on the ideas of others. Those that do well in that process will be placed in a regular briefing book and given to the President. My first suggestion will be to do our share in funding the United Nations and to enthusiastically support its Millennium Goals. My second suggestion will be to implement a long range plan to provide passenger rail service to and through every city of over 50,000 in America. And then there's true universal healthcare, national service, wind power, and...

The rest of the day went like this: We went to the Museum of Natural History in the afternoon. The highlight of that jaunt was a viewing of a film, Cosmic Collision, overhead on a domed ceiling, that showed the creation of the Earth and the moon and explained graphically where we are headed. It was stunning, but my neck is still sore from all of that looking up! The dinosaur skeletons were also impressive, but the rest of the museum was a big bore. I can't get too excited about stuffed elephants and gazelles. It was like I had died and gone to Bass Pro! (And Ben Stiller wasn't even on duty!)

Carla and I left the museum and walked a couple of blocks to the Dakota, the old ornate apartment building where John Lennon was killed. I stepped past the signs on the sidewalk and was shooed away by a guard who said that the tenants did not want the shoe soles of commoners scuffing their sidewalk. He was, however, courteous enough to show me the spot on the pavement where Lennon died. Across the street from the Dakota in Central Park is Strawberry Fields and the Imagine Memorial set into a sidewalk. There was a peace sign made of flowers on the memorial. Carla said that Yoko Ono still lives on the top floor of the Dakota - but she missed her chance to see us!

This evening we saw the musical Wicked. The set was elaborate and the technical workings of the set were amazing. Some of the funnier bits of the play, though, were unplanned. In one scene a bed rolled off of its mark and required a stage hand to walk onto the set and put it back. The actress speaking at that moment looked up and ad-libbed, "Oh look. A man moving a bed." Then she waved at him and yelled, "Thank you." All without missing a beat! The audience enjoyed that off-the-cuff humor. In another scene, this one in a classroom, busy stagehands forgot to roll off the beds from the previous scene. The professor sat down with the students until the problem was corrected. Again, the cast and audience had fun with it.

The set of Wicked was much grander than that of Jersey Boys, and Wicked was far superior technically as well. But I didn't hear anyone tonight leaving the theatre humming or whistling one of the tunes from the show. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to even name one. Wicked strolled along nicely, while Jersey Boys rocked!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New York, New York!

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

It was a helluva day in New York City! We left the hotel at 6 a.m. and walked to Rockefeller Plaza (located at the famed 30 Rock address) where we lined up to watch the Today Show being put together. Then it was on to Grand Central Station where we caught the subway to Battery Park and boarded the "Miss New York" ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Our next jaunt was a taxi ride to the Ed Sullivan Theatre to stand in line to pick up our tickets to The Late Show With David Letterman. The evening was topped off the the 2006 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical of the Year - The Jersey Boys! We slogged our way back to the hotel at 10 p.m.

The Today Show was a comprehensive lesson in the technical aspects of putting on a news-interview television show. It was dark - and very cold - when we arrived and gathered around their little fence that the people hang their signs over every morning. We got there extra early to get good spots, which we learned later wasn't necessary because there were only thirty or forty people who bared the cold to come out for the show, and about half of them were with our group!

We got to watch the cameramen setting up outside of the studio, as well as visit with the fellows who were circling taking pictures of the members of the crowd for NBC - which were offered for sale on-line later in the day. One guy said that he was required to take two hundred pictures, and since there were so few of us he snapped most people several times. We all got some face time on national television because of the small crowd. Patty Marks from my office at Luke AFB in Arizona called to say that she had seen us, and my son Tim in Kansas City emailed to say that we had been on "about four times!" That should just about polish off my fifteen minutes of fame!

We were able to look in the large studio windows and watch parts of the show being filmed. Matt and Meredith were seated with their backs to the window. Ann Curry read the news standing and facing them. Early on Dan Abrams, a guest, was sitting in another area preparing to be interviewed by Matt. He fiddled with his tie - for about fifteen minutes! Can you say "prissy beyond belief?"

Matt and Meredith came outside twice to where we were, and Ann Curry joined them once. After reading their spiels, they worked the crowd shaking hands, exchanging chitchat, and mugging for the cameras. Meredith even shook my hand and posed with Carla. One of the cameramen told us that if we called the stars by their middle names, they might walk over and visit. He said that Matt Lauer's middle name is Todd, Meredith Vieira's is Louise, and Al Roker's is Lincoln. (Al was doing a remote from Detroit. We had seen him boarding a plane yesterday as we were arriving from Detroit.

Two special guests this morning were Daniel Craig (Bond, James Bond) and Brett Michaels. We did get to see Daniel Craig sitting inside being interviewed by Matt, but he didn't come out and work the crowd - at least not while we were there. Brett Michaels came on after we left. Meredith was the primo crowd-worker followed closely by Ann Curry. Matt didn't appear to like the cold and was quick to get back inside.

During the day we also made quick trips through the NBC Store (impressive) and the CBS Store (not impressive).

Grand Central Station was cavernous. It would be a good place to fly model airplanes or play football indoors. My favorite part of Battery Park was the pigeons and the squirrels. They figure in many of my photos for the day. Strange as it may seem, they were all named Bob - even the one that rode the ferry with us and helped me eat a bag of Doritos! There was also a large, badly damaged sculpture on The Battery that survived 9/11 and was removed to The Battery as a monument to the fallen.

We were screened very thoroughly before being allowed to board the ferry, "Miss New York," - much more thoroughly than those pissy TSA people at the airports do - especially the extra pissy TSA people at Kansas City International!

Our boat docked at Liberty Island where most of the passengers got off to walk around the statue. We took pictures from "Miss New York," but stayed on board to Ellis Island. (Being two of four people in the group who had Letterman tickets, we knew that our afternoon would be rushed.) At Ellis Island we visited the main visitor center where much of the immigrant in-processing occurred, and viewed several interesting displays. I also hit the bookstore and dropped some buckage there. Did you know that Bob Hope entered America through Ellis Island when he was five-years-old?

We got to Letterman early, before the line started to form, and took in a quick lunch next door at Angelo's Pizzeria. Carla had to answer a Letterman trivia question in order to get tickets. Her question was "What business in next door to the Ed Sullivan Theatre?" She answered "Hello Deli" which is correct (or we would have not gotten the tickets!), but two other neighboring businesses are Computerland and Angelo's.

The Late Show is filmed in the famous Ed Sullivan Theatre, where the legendary television host and sports writer held his weekly variety show (his "really big shoo") for a couple of decades. It is the theatre where the Beatles made their U.S. debut - on The Ed Sullivan Show.

We got up close to the front of the line after lunch, secured tickets, and received instructions on where to report when we came back an hour later. We lined up again at 3:30 p.m. in pre-determined spots and stood, very closely bunched, until 4:30 p.m. when the studio inner doors were finally opened. While waiting we were constantly "worked" by young production people, many wearing letter jackets that said "World Wide Pants, Inc." They wanted to make sure that we were pumped up and knew the importance of continuous belly-laughing. Once inside we were treated to a hysterical video of Dave working the drive-up window at a Taco Bell and harassing customers. Then a local comedian came on stage for one final warm-up.

Although we were well up in the line, we were shuffled off to the far side that had a camera blocking the view of Dave's desk. I think it was an age discrimination thing! But when The Man burst onto the stage for his pre-show warm-up, he went straight to our hidden corner first,. That was our last good view of him! The two major guests were Salma Hayak and Jimmy "J.J." Walker. Two inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame were also there to read the Top Ten.

Hear this: The best part of the Late Show is Paul Shafer and his kick-ass band. They blew the lid off of the joint during every commercial break! The CBS Band is astounding - well worth standing into line for hours listening to lame humor!

"They ask you, what was the high point?" That was a line from Jersey Boys, and of all of the wonderful things that we did today, Jersey Boys was definitely the high point! The music was, well...The Four Seasons...what more can you say about that! Actually, I can say more because, as mentioned in an earlier blog, I saw the Four Seasons in Vegas on a reunion tour in the early 1990's. They were older men then, and the young men on the stage tonight kicked their butts! Yes, it's true, faux can be better! If Jimmy Walker would have been there, I can guarantee that his assessment would have been "dyn-o-mite!"

It was killer music with a lead singer, Jarrod Spector, who hit every Frankie Valli note, and hit them hard. If you can't make it to New York, buy the sound track. I'm listening to it on an Ipod as I type this!

I'm having a great time in New York City!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bright Lights, Big City!

by Pa Rock

Our group left Kansas City early this morning, in what seems like a whole other lifetime. We had a short flight to Detroit which was blanketed in snow, beautiful snow, followed by another short flight to the Big Apple. The only snag in today's adventure was that one of the airport baggage throwers somehow managed to rip the handle off of my suitcase.

Our first (and only, so far) celebrity sighting was Mr. Al Roker of the Today Show who was boarding a flight at LaGuardia next to the gate where we arrived. Dapper Al was dressed to the nines in a black suit and top coat, and crowned with a black, wide-brimmed felt hat with a bright blue feather in the band.

After checking in at our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, our entire group walked to Ellen's Stardust Diner for a meal. The waiters were all singers, loud and aggressive singers with dreams of making it on Broadway - which was very close by. They sang songs of the fifties and sixties, and served and waited tables between numbers. One of them said that every musical currently playing on Broadway has at least one former waiter from Ellen's in the cast.

After supper we walked a few blocks to Rockefeller Plaza and watched the ice skaters. Carla and I separated from the group after that and strolled over to Fifth Avenue. Soon we were on Broadway right at Times Square - which isn't square at all. The enormous billboards and lights were amazing. All of the shows that we will be seeing this week were right there - and it is just a couple of blocks from our hotel!

Carla asked me if I would like to live here, and I think that I would. Of course, for that to happen I would have to have many layers of clothing and come up with a grocery cart!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City:
They've Gone About as Fer as They Can Go!

by Pa Rock

It's been a busy day in Kansas City. Tim and Erin and I had brunch at Tom Foolerie's on the Plaza with Carla and her daughter, Jennie. It was a get-acquainted session so the kids could meet the parents - great food and conversation.

I tagged along with Tim and Erin after brunch to a visit to the Kansas City Farmers' Market which covers a nice piece of real estate in the center of town. The market had a wide array of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, along with some very interesting places to eat. We followed that up with a trip to a large flea market - where I behaved and didn't drag anything back to their apartment!

Erin had a family obligation this afternoon, so Tim and I went exploring on our own. We had great pizza at a place by the name of Minsky's, and followed that with a trip to really fancy grocery store. Cosentino's, the grocery, had several deli and speciality shops, and a wide array of groceries ranging from staple foods to gourmet items. I observed a little girl begging her parents for a small bottle of "root beer milk," so I had to have one as well! (It was that type of shopping trip!) Before leaving, we had samples of gelato and wound up buying cups of that as well. My flavors were caramel and coconut cream pie - um, um, good!

Cosentino's had shiny black grocery carts that navigated beautifully as long as they were inside of the store. As soon as a cart left the premisis, it's wheels would lock up! This country boy was amazed - everything really is up to date in Kansas City! (My inner social worker is very concerned about the future of homeless people if these new-fangled carts catch on!)

Tomorrow morning Carla and I are headed to New York City!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ann Coulter and the Quest for the Larry Craig Memorial Bathroom Stall

by Pa Rock

It has been a long, hard day on the road. I woke up at my apartment in Goodyear fifteen hours ago, drove to Phoenix, caught a flight to Minneapolis,and flew from there to Kansas City. Carla met me at the airport in Kansas City and gave me a tour of the places here that are important in her life. As we talked and got reacquainted, forty years of our divergent lives slipped quietly away. We capped off the evening at a restaurant called the Peachtree that specializes in soul food and soulful jazz. Carla's good friend, Millie Edwards, was singing there along with a very talented keyboard player and bassist. I could have listened to that sweet music all night long!

Today was my first visit to the great state of Minnesota, brief though it was. There was a blanket of snow on the ground that was truly beautiful from the air, especially to my old Ozark eyes that have been deprived of the sight of snow for a couple of years now. I saw lots of barren, white countryside as we were descending. It reminded me of flying over the tundra on a flight out of Sweden a few years back.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport does not appear to be too large, though I did hear a couple of overhead pages about boarding for the Tokyo flight. One of my main objectives while there was to try and locate the Larry Craig Memorial Bathroom Stall. But try as I might, I couldn't find any signs pointing to the most famous tourist attraction at the MSP Airport - or probably in the entire state of Minnesota for that matter! I'm sure there must at least be a brass marker somewhere, but I missed it. Oh well, maybe I'll break down and ask for directions during my return flight next Sunday.

I did cruise through a couple of bookstores at the airport - a weakness of mine. One of the things that I enjoy doing in small bookstores is finding books by Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly and turning them around or around and over. When I am in larger bookstores, my thing is to take Coulter and O'Reilly books and hide them. I get a kick out of hearing befuddled sales clerks telling people, "That's odd. We had two-hundred-and-fifty copies of that book just before lunch."

Ann Coulter, a bitter, right-wing opinionator who is to journalism what Nancy Grace is to law enforcement (completely useless), has a new piece of trash out entitled Guilty, which she has been shamelessly hawking on any media outlet that will put up with her. (You undoubtedly heard about her flap with the Today Show where she finally bullied her way onto the program.) One of the Minnesota bookstores today had just a few copies of Guilty, and I quickly turned them all around so that Annie's face wouldn't unduly distress the harried travellers who wandered in for a candy bar or newspaper. There was another bookstore, however, that had at least a hundred copies of her latest bound doggerel forming a ceiling-to-floor wall of fear. I debated what action to take and finally left it alone. That is another challenge that will have to wait until the return flight next Sunday!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Another Road Trip

by Pa Rock
Travelling Fool

New worlds to conquer!

Tomorrow I am off to Kansas City for a couple of nights and on Monday morning, bright and early, my friend Carla and I, and a student and faculty group from Baker University, will board a flight for New York City. I am excited about the trip. I flew over Manhattan in 1999 when the Twin Towers were still up, but I have never walked the streets of the Big Apple.

We will be there a week, see most of the normal tourist stuff, and take in some live Broadway productions. Tuesday morning we are going to be in the Today Show gallery, and Carla has scored a pair of tickets to attend Letterman on Tuesday evening.

The weather is looking dicey. Apparently it is cold in Kansas City, and New York is expecting its biggest snow of the season over the weekend. Our connecting flight is in Detroit, so worst case scenario is that La Guardia gets itself closed due to snow and we spend a week in the Detroit Airport! That would make for some fearsome blogging!

The trip will end a week from Sunday, and on that day I will bounce all over the country via Northwest Airlines. Our group will fly from New York to Detroit and on to Kansas City. There I will change planes again and fly on by myself to Minneapolis and then to Phoenix. I wish I collected air miles!

I am taking the old laptop and will be blogging daily, so you can enjoy our trip by checking in here. I'll do my best to keep it interesting.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Emme Ears
31 October 1993 - 8 January 2009

by Pa Rock

Little Emme (pronounced "Emmie"), known by all who loved her as "Emme Ears" was a beautiful long-haired chihuahua whose large pointy ears gave her an uncanny resemblance to the gremlins of movie fame. She was born in Neosho, Missouri, and passed away peacefully today in Aurora, Colorado.

I first met Emme about this time of year in 1994 when my girlfriend at the time, Susan, had me drive her out to a chihuahua breeder's house "just to look." The place was crazy. Several hundred of the little rat-like critters were running in and out of the house through doggie doors and wire chutes. They were all excited that company had shown up "just to look" at them! Emme was one of the few longhairs in the herd. She separated herself from the mayhem and walked over to introduce herself to us - and the looking was over!

Emme was the fifth born in a litter of five. She was the runt of the litter - a "teacup." The breeders had a practice of naming the dogs alphabetically by order of birth, so her original name was "Earma" in deference to her big, but cute, ears. Susan didn't like that name, and renamed her "Susan's Sweet Emme Baby" on her pedigree papers, and called her "Emme" or "Emme Ears" for short.

I was a person who didn't believe in having pets in the house, but the first time Emme decided to wash my face with her tongue, she won my heart. We were the very best of friends until her Mama married someone else and moved off to Colorado.

Susan called me this morning to tell me of Emme's passing. She was fifteen-years-old, or 105 in dog years. She had quietly slipped into little-old-ladyhood, but to me she will always my happy tail-wagging, face-licking, warm-hearted little friend. My sincerest condolences go out to Emme's Mama.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Kansas Horror Story

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Adam Herrman was born Irvin Groeninger III on June 8, 1987. He had every right to live a happy life and grow into a healthy and well-adjusted young man. But that was not to be. Adam, in fact, had a horrible childhood that probably ended just shy of his twelfth birthday. As far as the world knows, he disappeared in May of 1999 and has not been heard from since. Amazingly, his adoptive parents neglected to report him missing until an anonymous source brought the disappearance to light this past week.

Adam was taken into foster care by the state of Kansas when he was two-years-old. His biological parents were eventually prevailed upon to relinquish their parental rights, and Adam and two of his younger siblings were adopted by Doug and Valerie Herrman of Derby, Kansas. The Hermann's received a nice chunk of change for adopting the children. The adoption subsidy for Adam alone was, according to Valerie, $700 a month.

According to the Valerie Herrman, Adam was being seen by a psychiatrist who believed that he was either bi-polar, schizophrenic, or suffering from attachment disorder. She said that he acted out at school and at home, and that they finally made a decision to remove him from school and begin home-schooling the child. The adoptive mother said that they found two knives under his pillow and the sad child stated that he was going to kill her and her husband. Supposedly on the advice of his psychiatrist, they began locking him in the bathroom at night for his and their safety. He slept in the tub, but, she added, their were no chains or handcuffs involved.

One of Adam's sisters was removed from the Herrman home around 1991 or 1992 for reasons Valerie Herrman declined to disclose, but she did say that they lost their foster care license over the incident. Poor Adam, however, remained with the family that Kansas no longer wanted to use for fostering. Mrs. Herrman said that she spanked Adam with a belt in 1996 leaving bruises. A psychological counselor at school saw the bruises and called police. Adam was removed for two days and then returned to the Herrman's.

(One "benefit" of home-schooling is that those pesky teachers and counselors are no longer in a position to view, hear about, or report abuse.)

Valerie Hermann said, after the story of his disappearance came to light last week, that she spanked Adam again in May of 1999 and he promptly ran away - never being seen again. The adoptive parents continued to draw the $700 per month adoption subsidy for Adam until he would have been eighteen (something in excess of $50,000). They did demonstrate their compassion and honesty by returning a check that was inadvertently issued after his eighteenth birthday. They also listed him as a member of the family on court documents as late as 2003.

Sound suspicious? It gets worse!

All of the above information was provided by Doug and Valerie Hermann after someone blew the whistle last week. Allegations have been made by Valerie's sister and the Herrman's two biological children that the adoptive mother routinely punched and kicked Adam over the years, and that she also beat him with a belt buckle and kept him chained to the bathtub faucet in the home. It bears repeating: Valerie's grown biological children who were living in the same home, and Valerie's sister, made these claims! A local television station has indicated that the anonymous report that set off the search for Adam likely came from the Herrman's grown biological daughter and son.

Crystal Herrman, the biological daughter, said in an email to the television station: "We started this, which was hard (because it was) against our own parents as we were not adopted. But we want more than anything to find the truth, answers, and justice. We pray every day our parents will come forward, do the right thing not only for what they already put Adam through in the past, but to make it right for him now."

Valerie was managing a local trailer park in Towanda, Kansas, at the time Adam disappeared. Authorities have begun digging around that trailer park, and they are reporting that they have found an answer to one of their questions - but as of yet, no body. Valerie reportedly told her sister: "They can dig up the whole state of Kansas, (but) they'll never find a body."

Are they Herrman's criminals? Definitely. At a minimum they defrauded the state of Kansas out of over $50,000, lied on court documents, and failed to report a probable crime.

Did the state of Kansas contribute to this outrage? Of course they did. Never mind that no apparent measures were taken to remove an adoptive child from a home that had its foster license revoked, the state also failed to perform due diligence to check on the effectiveness of the $700 that was flowing from the state treasury to the Herrman's each month. Kansas should have been providing regular face-to-face contact with Adam at a minimum of once or twice a year. How many more Adams are out there? Someone needs to do an audit of the foster and adoptive children of Kansas - today!

I have worked (for many years) with biological parents who had their children removed from their care, foster children, foster parents, children adopted through the state (Missouri), and adoptive parents. There are children in every state living in horrible circumstances who need to be removed from their parents. There are parents aplenty who are evil and dangerous and need to have their children taken away. That's all true, and the state (every state) has an important and necessary function of protecting children.

There are wonderful people across this great nation who serve as foster and adoptive parents for no other reason than to make children's lives better. God bless them each and every one. Unfortunately, there are also scumbags who become foster and adoptive parents because they want to prey on children or make an easy living off of the state. Both types are in the system in every state, and it is the duty of lowly paid and overworked state social workers to sort them out and keep the system functioning in a safe and effective manner.

Kansas failed to protect Adam Herrman - repeatedly. His life was truly a nightmare.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Senate Lite

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The 111th Congress was sworn in today with some very notable vacancies and near vacancies in the Senate. The highest drama has centered around Barack Obama's old Senate seat. As we all know by now, vacant Senate seats from Illinois are filled by the governor until the next general election when the people will choose the replacement. The President-elect had the good manners to resign several weeks ago, which gave the governor plenty of time to name a replacement. But Governor Rob Blagojevich, an egomaniac who apparently was looking to sell or trade the seat for something of value, gummed up the works when the Feds overheard him wheeling and dealing over the appointment on a tapped telephone line.

An honorable person, caught with his pants that far down, would have probably resigned, but not the current governor of Illinois. He proclaimed his innocence and vowed to fight the charges. Blagojevich also chose to turn the affair into even more of a circus by going ahead and naming a successor to Obama despite the urging of most of the political world to leave it alone. Then, to help paint stubborn Senate Democrats into a corner, he chose a black man as the replacement. Refusing to seat a black nominee could be interpreted by some as racism. First the governor offered the job to black Illinois Congressman Danny Davis, but Davis declined to accept a tainted nomination. The governor then found a black candidate with an ego the size of his own, Roland Burris, who didn't care how tainted the nomination was - he wanted it! And so it goes...

But while the Burris nomination has been on the front burner, three other Senate seats are also in limbo.

Yesterday Democrat Al Franken was officially certified as the winner of the Minnesota Senate seat - by a paper-thin margin of 225 votes. His crybaby opponent, former Senator Norm Coleman, is headed to court and may keep the seat vacant for weeks or even months while he pulls every possible rabbit out of his huckster's hat. In the hopes of providing some assistance in the resolution of this sticky matter, here is my advice to Coleman: Give it up, Norm. First of all, you're an ass. And secondly, this is Paul Wellstone's seat and you should have never been allowed to sully it in the first place.

Now we come to Hillary's Senate seat from New York. She was sworn in again today, perhaps fearful that she might be turned down for Secretary of State at the last minute. But by hanging on until the last possible day, she is denying her replacement valuable seniority. And, of course, somebody needs to kick New York's governor in the butt and get him to name the replacement.

But the strangest political maneuvering of all, at least to me, involves the Senate seat belonging to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden from Delaware. Biden was also sworn in for another term today, although he is scheduled to become Vice-President in two weeks. It has been rumored that he was keeping the seat warm for his son, Beau Biden, who is currently serving in Iraq, but Beau has apparently said that he isn't going to accept it. So what gives, Joe? You, like Hillary, are costing your replacement seniority. It's time to move on, buddy.

If the Obama administration hopes to hit the ground running, all four of those Democratic Senate seats need to be filled. Somebody needs to be kicking some senatorial butt and taking names!

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Price Knowledge?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This morning while reading some lefty blog (probably Huffington Post) I came across a review of a tell-all book on the Bush family. I'm not much into gossip, especially gossip about morons, but the author of this blog post was so enthusiastic on the subject of Family of Secrets by Russ Baker that I decided to investigate further.

He talked about Baker's examination of Senator Prescott Bush's dalliance with Hitler's Nazi Party, a topic of which I already had a rudimentary knowledge, and, of course, the tragic presidency (tragic for the nation) of our current President - Prescott's grandson. But what really caught my interest was an implied link between George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. One of my life goals, you see, is to solve the mystery of the Kennedy assassination. I have a decent library on the topic, and one of these days I will get around to it.

Ten years ago I sat in Jesse Auditorium at the University of Missouri one evening listening to Oliver Stone peddling a book. When he finished his talk, he opened the floor to questions, and one of the first out of the chute was an inquiry about some derogatory remarks that the older President Bush had made about Stone regarding his film, JFK. Stone became livid at the question and went totally off-script in a rabid denunciation of the Bush family in general and Pappy Bush in particular. Okay, I thought, that's interesting. (I've seen the movie, JFK, several times and even have a copy of the script, but I never came across any reference to the Bushes. So what got to Bush Sr. about the movie, and what got to Stone about Bush Sr.?)

Because I want to serve my country by clearing up the assassination mess, and because I believe the Bush family has crippled this great nation to the point that my grandchildren will grow up buried under debt and humiliation lavished upon us by these criminal bozos, I wanted to know more about Family of Secrets.

First stop: The book was priced at $19.80, with free shipping if my order totaled $25 or more. Amazon had seven customer reviews. Each review was thorough and intelligently written, and each gave the book five stars - the highest rating. My instincts, it appeared, were good.

Second stop: The customer ratings averaged 4.5 stars. Barnes and Noble were prouder of their copies than Amazon, with a sale price of $24 each.

But I really wasn't in the mood to wait, so this evening I pulled into the Barnes and Noble that is across the street from where I live. I have their customer card which is good for 10 percent off, and I had a coupon good for an additional 15 percent. Employing my basic math skills, I realized that 25% off of $24 would be a sweet $18, even less than Amazon - and I could take it right home! Imagine my puzzlement when I picked up a copy of the book and found that it was a pricey thirty dollars! I marched right up to the counter, as old farts are prone to do, and told the man that I could get the same book from their company over the Internet for $24. Yeah, he replied, we can't compete with our Internet price.

Say what!

Then I told him that I could get the same book from Amazon for $19.80 - and he told me to have a nice day!

So I guess I will - maybe tomorrow!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tim Macy Rides Again!

by Pa Rock
Proud Father

This afternoon I watched an exceptional short film entitled The Dying Western that was based on a story written by my son, Tim, who also played a major role in turning the story into a movie script. The story was brought to the screen by a very talented group of university drama students in Ohio. Western isn't the only story of Tim's that has been made into a movie. A couple of years ago a Hollywood professional turned a story entitled The Brass Teapot into a short film of the same name. Teapot was entered into an international film competition in the United Arab Emirates.

The Dying Western is professional in every sense of the word. The university students took a very clever story idea and made it into a captivating film. The DVD of their work contains the movie itself, along with outtakes, an alternate ending, story boards, and a great deal of information about how they were able to make such a classy film on a student budget. It could actually serve as a short course on the mechanics of making a movie.

I wish I could report that this wonderful film is for sale on or Barnes and Noble, but it's not. But if you ever find yourself in Goodyear, Arizona, stop by and join me in a Tim Macy Film Festival!

Being proud is an important component of parenting. From posting kindergarten doodles on the refrigerator, to attending recitals, graduations, marriages, special recognitions, and beyond, parents have innumerable opportunities to bask in the glow of the achievements of their young. The achievements of all three of my children are a constant source of button-busting pride. I'm one lucky (and proud) dad!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Viva Cuba Libre!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's been fifty years now since Fidel Castro and his ragtag group of revolutionaries managed to drive the American backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and the American mafia (Meyer Lansky and company) out of Cuba. Castro, an ardent socialist who received some of his formal education in New York City, quickly ran afoul of American interests when he began nationalizing foreign businesses that were located on the island.

Many propertied Cubans fled, mainly to Florida, where they and their descendants have been vocally and politically active for decades promoting the isolation of Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro government. The isolation of Cuba, basically a U.S. embargo, has been laughably ineffective, and as for the overthrow of Castro...well, for the time being at least, that mouse still roars. And when El Jefe is gone, his system of government, which has benefited the island's poor with education, health care, and at least a modicum of hope, is unlikely to revert back to the way things were in the 1950's. That ship has sailed.

But things may be on the verge of changing. A recent poll of Cuban-Americans reveals that the younger generation is less rabidly anti-Castro than their parents and grandparents. Now, fifty-five percent of Cuban-Americans favor ending the U.S. embargo. American businesses and agriculture are also making noises about easing restrictions on trade so that they can have access to the Cuban markets. Add to that mix the fact that in a little over two weeks the United States will have a thoughtful and intelligent President who isn't under the thumb of the anti-Castro rabble in south Florida, and change in U.S.-Cuban relations may truly be at hand.

The United States still does not allow ordinary citizens to visit the island nation of Cuba, but thousands of Americans are going nonetheless. Cultural exchanges and visits are allowed, so ball teams and college tours can generally expect to be granted permission to travel there. Also, trade missions are becoming more frequent as businesses begin exploring the opportunities that await. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter visited a couple of years ago, sending the Bush administration into fits of apoplexy.

And ordinary Americans are also visiting Cuba, even without the blessing or permission of their government. They are, of course, breaking the law. The two most common ways of entering Cuba are to sail in on a luxury sailboat or yacht (which the rich have been doing for years), or to fly in from another country. Lee Harvey Oswald had no trouble travelling to Mexico and then buying an airline ticket to Havana. Many of today's American tourists enter by way of Canada.

Americans love to travel and shop. Anyone with a valid passport and the price of a plane ticket can walk the streets of Moscow or the Great Wall of China. Why must simple tourism continue to be criminalized when it comes to Cuba?

My hope is that the Obama administration will finally bring an end to this hoary vestige of the Cold War. It is time that these two international neighbors abandon their bellicosity and dark intrigues, and get on with the task of being good and helpful neighbors. Each would benefit from the experience.