Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dear Ken (Again)

by Pa Rock

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

Dear Ken,

It has been exactly one month since my last letter, and I was hopeful that you would have used that time to smarten up, but, as this week's news demonstrates, that was wishful thinking on my part.

You were in New York a couple of days ago to speak to the state's attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, regarding the $3.6 billion in bonuses that Merrill Lynch doled out to its executives just hours before they were taken over by Bank of America. When that story first broke you prattled on about it happening before your watch and it was all beyond your control. But then when Mr. Cuomo asked for names and amounts this week, you stonewalled. That pesky little New York lawyer could go fuck himself. You are Bank of America, and, as such, you answer to no mortal.

But not only did you stick your thumb in Cuomo's eye, you also put that colored boy in the White House in his place. Yep, you sure did! When President Obama said earlier in the week that the days of bank executives flying around in corporate jets were over, he didn't count on coming across a bank executive with cajones the size of yours. You hopped right in that $50 million corporate jet to fly off to New York to put Cuomo and Obama in their places. Yes, you did!

Ken, you are one arrogant bastard - and about as concerned with public opinion as Marie Antoinette was when she sneered that the Paris rabble could eat cake if they had no bread. That uncaring bitch sneered all the way to the guillotine. These are mean times, Ken, and heads are going to roll. A modicum of tact might might lessen the impact of your impending fall.

Andrew Cuomo is going to lay a big, fat subpoena on your butt, Ken, and he is going to find out who at Merrill Lynch got how much bonus money - and he is going to publicize that information, much to your chagrin. But see, Ken, he has to publicize all of that information that you regard as personal. The bosses have a right to know how much their employees are being paid. The bosses, Ken, have that right. The bosses have a need to know how their business is operated and how their money is being spent. I am one of the bosses, Ken, one of over 300 million taxpayers who own a big chunk of your company - and I damn sure want to know!

And you know what else, Ken? I think that it's high time we started selling off that fleet of corporate jets. You need to experience life flying coach, in a middle seat, back close to the restrooms.

As long as you are operating on taxpayers' money, you work for us. And while I can't speak for all of your other bosses, I am very unimpressed with your job performance thus far. If you can't generate some sense of humanity in your plush boardroom, it may be time for us to jettison your flabby ass - without a golden parachute!

The bosses are watching, Ken. It's time to shape up or ship out!

Pa Rock
Goodyear, AZ

Friday, February 27, 2009

An Impending Rupture of the Belly

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

Odessa Benson got a group together tonight and we all descended on Tempe to see the Stray Cat Theatre's latest offering, a tragedy entitled An Impending Rupture of the Belly. This was the third Stray Cat production that I've seen, and all have been well worth the cost of admission and the drive across Phoenix.

A tragedy is a story that is destined to end badly. This was a simple tale of a young husband, soon to be a father, whose world is slowly falling in on him. Clay struggles to control his environment through grandiose plans, but in reality he can't even keep the neighbor's dog from taking a daily dump on his yard. The dog is crapping on the yard, and life is crapping on Clay. His spiral is constant, and it is downward, and it ends very badly indeed.

Michael Peck was the actor who was totally submerged into Clay. He was on stage throughout almost the entire production, displaying a range of intensity and emotion that was remarkable. Scott C. Jeffers played Clay's supervisor who prodded and goaded him into misbehavior, while Courtney Weir was Clay's pregnant wife who kept trying to tug him back into reality. Tom Leveen portrayed Clay's brother, Ray, who was somewhat drug-addled and irresponsible, and, regardless of intention, always seemed to complicate Clay's life. Larry F. Penunuri, Jr. was the neighbor with the defecating dog. Each member of the cast was a master of their craft, but it was Peck and Penunuri who gave this play its major friction.

Ron May directed An Impending Rupture of the Belly. When this season ends in April, the very talented Mr. May will have directed three of the four productions presented by The Stray Cat. The Phoenix New Times, the Valley's ass-kicking alternative newspaper and the bane of our infamous sheriff, has recognized Ron May as "The Best Thespian to Keep an Eye On."

The Stray Cat Theatre is alternative theatre at its best. Their productions are quirky, edgy, and thought-provoking. They choose superior scripts, form casts from the best talent the Valley, and confront their audiences with extreme reality. An evening at the Stray Cat is always an engrossing and disturbing experience.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Red Desert

by Pa Rock
Cactus Correspondent

Our new President has made one cabinet appointment that is almost unforgiveable. He plucked Janet Napolitano out of the Arizona Governor's Office and carted her off to the nation's capitol where she is the new Secretary of Homeland Security. Oh, Janet was a smart choice from Obama's perspective. She is bright and gets things done. As a governor of a border state, she has some unique history dealing with the hate groups that think the rise and fall of the Republic hinges on the Mexicans who walk across the desert to wash our cars and clean our toilets.

But the country's gain is definitely Arizona's loss. For six years she has kept a Republican legislature in line with uncommonly good sense, razor sharp political skills, and a well-oiled veto pen. Unfortunately, Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor to take over when the governor vacates the office, so that honor fell to our Secretary of State, a Republican by the name of Jan Brewer. Governor Brewer, while more enlightened than the scaly desert reptiles who populate the state legislature as Republicans, is certainly more accommodating to the morons than was her predecessor.

Janet Napolitano stood firm for social services and education, never forgetting that none of us are any less deserving than the rest of us. She found ways to get the money to keep necessary programs going. But when the party in the Governor's office changes, the philosophy changes. Now suddenly we are mired in a swamp that is totally due to past spending on programs to help the needy (or so the greedheads whine), and for money to be saved, it is those specific programs that must be gutted. Suddenly the way to raise state revenue is to cut taxes (in Arizona's case, property taxes), and, for that sleight-of-hand to work, muddy the waters with an abortion bill.

Republicans are so predictable. They work for the wealthy, the privileged, the corporations, and the lobbyists - their base - and screw the rest of us. And when they need some heat and noise for a distraction, they crank out an abortion bill or a ban on gay marriages to stir up the conservative rabble. The straw men take the fire, and the rich keep their pocket change. Greed helps the greedy, no one else.

If our rich betters don't feel obliged to contribute their fair share to society through taxes, then perhaps it is time to take their share out of their carcasses. Maybe we need to give serious consideration to eating the rich. Everybody has to do their part - especially during hard times.

Order up!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Liar, Liar: Sheets on Fire!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Our new U.S. Attorney General, a black man by the name of Eric Holder, said a few days ago that when it comes to race, we are still basically a nation of cowards, afraid to confront and vanquish this national disgrace. Many took offense at his remarks, but the evidence supporting the claim remains almost ubiquitous.

There was a lot of stuff on the Internet when Barack Obama was running for President: "evidence" that he was a Muslim, a joke about the new Obama Food Stamps that featured his caricature with drawings of watermelon and fried chicken, remarks about Michelle being his "baby mama," - and who could ever forget the much-feared "terrorist fist-bump!" It wasn't humor, it was a sad commentary on America during the first years of the 21st Century.

One would assume that with the election of President Obama, this juvenile and racist foolishness would disappear - but one would be wrong. Last week The New York Post, a conservative, tabloid rag that masquerades as a newspaper, printed a cartoon of police shooting a chimpanzee with the caption: "Who will write the next stimulus bill?" And while the paper claimed no racist intent, the pairing of a comment about the President and a drawing of a small ape was too obvious for the average third-grader not to understand. Rupert Murdoch, the king of all media and owner of the Post, finally ponied up a half-hearted apology - but it is oh-so-easy to question the sincerity of the man who pays Bill O'Reilly's salary!

Today another cracker outrage surfaced. Keyanus Price, a civic activist and local businesswoman in the Orange County, CA, community of Los Alamitos, was incensed when she received an email from the mayor of her city with a picture of the White House with watermelons covering the front lawn and the caption "No Easter egg hunt this year!" Ms. Price, who is Black and expends a lot of time working for the betterment of Los Alamitos, was not amused. She told the press, "I have had plenty of my share of chicken and watermelon and all those kinds of jokes. I honestly don't even understand where he was coming from, sending this to me. As a black person receiving something like this from the city-freakin'-mayor - come on!"

The mayor, a starchy white man by the name of Dean Grose, can't understand what all of the resultant fuss is about. He confirmed to the Associated Press that he sent the offensive email to Ms. Price, but said he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelon."

Okay, Gross Dean, if you didn't understand the racial connotations, what was it about the email that grabbed you enough to get you to forward it on? Without the bigoted reading, it makes no sense whatsoever. Your claim to not have understood the racist content of the email is ludicrous - and the stuff of elongating noses!

The mayor of Los Alamitos is elected from the five-member city council by the council members. I went to their homepage, just for grins and to get a look at the other city fathers and mothers. Not surprisingly, I discovered that the council was composed of three middle-aged white males, including the mayor, and two middle-aged white women.

Orange County is one of the nation's purest conservative enclaves, but even the most right-wing of conservatives ought to have the common sense and good manners not to pass around racist drivel. The Civil War has ended, Reconstruction is over, Jim Crow is history, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have slipped quietly away, and America has a young and dynamic black President. The world has changed, and racists everywhere need to accept that fact and come to terms with it. It's time to put the sheets back on the bed and enter the world of reality.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Army Lieutenants

by Pa Rock
Former Army Lieutenant

Lt. Ehren Watada and Lt. Scott Easterling, while having very divergent views on the war in Iraq, have both elected to take controversial stands on matters of conscience, views that are likely to end the military career of each man.

Lt. Watada has been in the news since June of 2006 when he declined to deploy to Iraq with his unit. Watada, who was stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA, said that he is not a conscientious objector, but has a personal objection to the war in Iraq that is a result of research he conducted in preparation for deployment. He said that after reading several books and articles on the history of Iraq, perusing international law, reviewing the evidence used to justify the war, and speaking to returning veterans, he came to the independent conclusion the war in Iraq was wrong and that he could not in good conscience support it.

Watada volunteered to go to Afghanistan, because he could rationalize a justification for that conflict based on its direct relationship to Septbember 11th. The Army declined to let the young lieutenant choose his own assignment. Then, in an effort to avoid a buttload of controversy while still maintaining a semblance of authority over the rebellious officer, the Army offered to send Watada to Iraq and give him a desk job. The lieutenant, whose objections to the war were not based on personal cowardice, refused to take part in the Iraq War in any capacity.

Ehren Watada was court-marshaled on five counts in 2007, but that ended in a mistrial. When a new court-marshal was attempted, an appeal was made on grounds of double-jeopardy. Three of the five original charges were then thrown out, and the other two charges, relating to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, are still pending - nearly three years after the lieutenant declined to deploy with his unit.

Lt. Easterling just surfaced in the news this week when he announced via a "to whom it may concern" letter, that he was joining in a court action challenging Barack Obama's claim to the presidency. Easterling, a former civilian contractor in Iraq, said that as an officer he has to uphold the Constitution, and that the Constitution specifically states "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President."

This angry lieutenant stated (quite erroneously) that "Barack Hussein Obama....has absolutely refused to provide the American public his original birth certificate, as well as other documents which may prove or disprove his eligibility. In fact, he has fought every attempt made by concerned citizens in their effort to force him to do so." (You know it's a deep bias when they include the "Hussein!")

Just so you know: The Associated Press has reported that Obama's birth certificate was presented last year during the presidential campaign. examined the original document, raised seal and all, and reproduced an announcement of Obama's birth from a 1961 newspaper that included his parents' address in Honolulu. Just for the record, Hawaii was a state by 1961.

(That "controversy" appears to be settled far more definitively than the one about where George Bush was during 1972, or why he never used his combat pilot's skills in Vietnam!)

The "Obama is not a natural-born citizen" movement is somewhat like those crazies who run around claiming that, for reasons unknown, it was the United States government that actually knocked down the twin towers. Pure nonsense, but an opiate for the asses!

Yesterday U.S. Senator Richard Shelby from Alabama, a state not noted for its intellectual breadth or depth, stirred up the same hornet's nest with remarks to a gathering of Republicans in Cullum, AL. When the local newspaper took him to task over it and his remarks got national play, he quickly began to back-peddle. What may seem to be well-reasoned political insight to the good old boys of Cullum, comes across as just plain goofy when the audience is expanded nationwide.

This much I know: It is the company grade officers (lieutenants and captains) that have the actual hands-on control of most army personnel. These young officers are the ones who make the monkey run. Their authority rests on their ability to present as good soldiers and to motivate others to participate in the cause, whether they have philosophical disagreements with that cause or not. You can't tell the army "no" and get away with it, because if "no" becomes a viable option, the monkey may soon quit running at all.

Lt. Watada will eventually be out of the military. He will be free of the United States Army, and, just as importantly, the Army will be free of him. Lt. Easterling is also destined to leave the Army earlier than he had planned. Just as Watada can't pick and choose which orders to follow, Easterling will learn the importance and immutability of the Chain-of-Command, a chain where every link must be honored and respected. He may not approve of his Commander-in-Chief, but if he is to remain in the service and defend the flag, he will have to respect his duly elected leader. Based on his rhetoric, I suspect that Lt. Easterling will be unable and unwilling to do that.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Unequal Justice

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is a fellow named Bernie Madoff who literally stole over 50 billion dollars from countless thousands of investors worldwide (individuals, churches, businesses, and charities) in what appears to be the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. He didn't really steal it all. New money was used to pay good "dividends" to the early investors, convincing future investors that this guy really knew how to make money. The organizer of a Ponzi scheme, in this case Mr. Madoff, lives well and hides as much of the loot as he can, until he is eventually unable to pay the dividends or too many investors ask for their money back. At that point somebody usually flies off to Rio with suitcases full of cash.

Mr. Madoff lived very well off of his racket, accumulating eleven houses, including at least a couple of ocean-front properties, plus all of the assorted baubles and toys to which the ultra-rich feel entitled. Unfortunately for him, he didn't make it to Rio or some other international hideaway. He was caught and hauled before a judge who promptly palmed the Madoff passport.

But he wasn't thrown in the slammer where common criminals tend to gather. It is to our national shame and disgrace that this thieving mongrel is still living like an Arabian prince while thousands who planned to retire in comfort are heading back to work due to his criminal activity. (Mr. and Mrs. Madoff can be assured of relative comfort for the time being because she had the good sense to pull fifteen million dollars out of his investment firm just days before it collapsed.)

America has always been a land of double standards when it comes to meting out punishment. There are some fairly exclusive penitentiaries that were commonly referred to as Club Feds because they catered to white collar criminals and kept them away from the dregs of society who populate the big, mean, state prisons. Now, with the sagging economy and the resultant uptick in crime, even some of those are opening their gilded doors to everyone. The result is that America's "better" criminals are occasionally having to share the lock-up accommodations with riff-raff.

But Bernie Madoff is above and beyond all of that. He is such an exclusive criminal that a judge ordered him held under "house-arrest" (in his luxurious New York apartment) until he can be brought to trial. House-arrest sounds like something that would be imposed on a junior high student for violating a curfew. Some poor smuck who steals food for his family at a Quick Stop could expect six months in the slammer, and if he happened to be Black he could easily face five or six years behind bars.

The American legal system is twiddling its thumbs and embarrassing itself with bureaucratic lethargy, but in Florida a group of young people have decided to take action. The group stole a large bronze statue from the grounds of the Madoff Villa on Key Biscayne and returned it a week or so later with a note saying that it was not nice to steal from others. Ouch! Days later they were at it again, this time teepeeing the Florida mansion with toilet paper. Madoff's Florida maid was out early the next morning cleaning up the mess.

So, not only do Bernie and the Missus still own those eleven properties, not only are they still living well on his ill-gotten gains, not only has he yet to make any restitution, he still has domestic help to look after his properties! Bernie Madoff is truly a national embarrassment!

Bernie, in the next life you need to be the peon out picking the toilet paper off of the lawn and out of the tree limbs. You need to be the one going back to work in your seventies or eighties in order to eat and pay the utility bills. You need to be the one eating in the soup kitchens and wearing rags. And you need to be the one with a soul - because during this lifetime you have been a truly worthless, soulless bastard!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jersey Boys: A Shout-Out to the Boomers

by Pa Rock
Theatre Critic

I want to talk about Jersey Boys, the Las Vegas version, but before going there please permit me a few housekeeping (I wish!) chores: First, I am safely back in the Valley of Hell, driving six-hours and two-hundred and seventy-seven miles today pretty much nonstop, but with a brief car-exit to take pictures at Hoover Dam, and a couple of desert-pullovers to snap some shots of Joshua Trees and assorted cacti.

The highlight of yesterday's activities was getting to meet Reed's new lady friend, Miss Jamie Carey, a native of Montana who teaches second grade in Nevada. She's a sweetie, Reed!

I managed to set a couple of records in Vegas last night with regard to money. I needed cash (welcome to Las Vegas!), and Reed warned me that the ATM would hit me for a $3.00 fee. I didn't like that, but I've paid that much before in such exotic locales as Phoenix and Neosho, so I manned-up and fed the machine my ATM card. The actual fee was $4.25 - my new record! But the evening soon got better when I won $150 at a penny slot machine - and managed to walk away with $140 of it! "Penny slots" are a misnomer. Yes, you can spin the wheel for one cent, but the winnings on that are minute. There are two rows of buttons where the player can select the number of lines he wants to play - 1-9 - and the magnitude of the prize - 1 through 20. I won the $150 on a nine-line bet that payed out at a force of twenty - or a $1.80 bet. Penny, indeed! Anyway, that was my record for most profit gambling. My Sis also made $55 on the slots, so we were in a good mood to see Jersey Boys!

I was somewhat hesitant about going to see Jersey Boys in Las Vegas because I knew it couldn't live up to Broadway standards, and I didn't want to detract from the experience that I had seeing the show for the first time in New York a few short weeks ago. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about in that regard.

The production was in the sparkling new Palazzo Theatre at the Venetian. The theatre is immense, accommodating at least twice the numbers as the older theatre in New York had seated. And the acoustics were extraordinary, with every note coming through crystal clear and pure to the farthest corners of the venue.

I am troubled to admit this, but this production was at least as good as its Broadway counterpart. The young man who played Frankie Valli, in particular, was mesmerizing, both in acting ability and singing talent. As we were leaving the theatre people around us were making comparisons with other Jersey Boys productions that they had seen. One man was raving that it was so much better than the version that played recently in Chicago, and a lady was going on-and-on telling everyone within earshot that it was so much better than the Minneapolis version. Minneapolis? (I wonder if it starred Garrison Keillor?)

Listening to the audience react during the show by clapping to the music, tapping their feet, and even singing along, I realized that Jersey Boys is fast becoming the musical of the baby boomer generation. Yes, we had Hair, and Jesus Christ Superstar, and iconic concerts like Woodstock - and we had anthems like Me and Bobby McGee, Aquarius, and the Jimi Hendrix version of The Star Spangled Banner. But none of those efforts touched young America with the same intensity and pervasiveness as the Four Seasons.

There is a line in the show that I didn't write down - so this is a rough re-statement. Frankie Valli tells the audience that while the fans of the British groups were trying to "levitate the Pentagon," fans of the Four Seasons were waiting America's tables, driving her trucks, and going off to fight in Vietnam.

Those are the people who are going to see this musical - many, like me - for multiple performances. The boomers have found their voice - and its a Jersey falsetto!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Stroll Around the Mirage

by Pa Rock

Gail and I got out and determined to see Las Vegas on our own this morning. Just steps outside of our hotel, the Tropicana, we turned the wrong direction and headed away from the Strip. Not being a particularly auspicious beginning, we probably should have just returned to our rooms and napped like proper old people!

Eventually we got turned around and made our way over the Strip (there are now lots of bridges across the Strip to limit the messy slaughter of tourists) to the MGM Grand. And it was Grand - but like every other place of business in this neon infested jungle, you have to navigate a half mile or so of casino in order to get anywhere. In this case we were looking for someplace to have breakfast. We finally found a little food court and had pizza.

After breakfast we decided to find the Monorail and traverse the Strip the easy way. That was probably our smartest move of the day. A twenty-four hour pass is just thirteen dollars. The MGM Grand is on the south end of the Monorail line, and the Sahara is on the north, with six stops in between. Each Monorail "train" is four cars long, and taped humor is played between stops. For instance, the tape informed us that the Monorail got its name from mono which is Latin for one, and rail which means rail.

We got off at the Sahara, discovered that it was on the poor end of the tracks, re-boarded heading south, and rode to the Caesar's Palace stop. Caesar's is awesome. One of the attractions are the lions which are encased in glass in their own rugged environment. We found the lions quite accidentally. We then decided to visit the Forum Shops, but, again, we had to march through half-a-mile of casino in order to get there. Eventually we saw an exit and escaped. Unfortunately we were out back in a glorified alley and had no idea which way to go.

After some marching trials and errors, we ended up in view of the Mirage. We were on Frank Sinatra Boulevard which was not that impressive, and there was a four-foot wall between ourselves and the Mirage. We followed Frank Sinatra to Industrial Avenue, turned right, and again were up against that damned wall for a couple of blocks. Finally we found a drive heading to the Mirage, but it said "Authorized Vehicles Only." Not being in a vehicle, I assumed that we could rush past the guard shack and make it to the sanctuary of that big damned hotel and casino. Nope. A very genial young man with a Caribbean accent sent us on down Industrial.

Two blocks and one more turn later we came to another "Authorized Vehicles" entrance. The guard in that shack was extra-courteous, and showed us how to get to an entrance by walking diagonally across a parking lot and a couple of more blocks. We wound up at the "Limousine Entrance" just as Reed caught up with us! I feel safe in assuming that my sister and I have seen more of the outside of the Mirage than any other tourists who have ever been lost in Vegas!

My primary objective at the Mirage was to show Gail the White Tigers that had tried to eat Roy, or was it Sigfried? That used to be a free display, but now you have to pay $15 dollars to enter Sigfried and Roy's Pleasure Garden where the tigers and the dolphins play for the touristas. We passed on that deal. For not much more than that you can get in the San Diego Zoo and see the whole damned zoo!

I visited with one of the employees at the Tropicana this morning and commented that it seemed like there are fewer tourists under foot that when I was here fifteen years ago. She told me, quite dejectedly, that my observation was correct. One of the things that make Casino City seem more sedate is that the slot machines no longer payoff in coins, so the sweet clang up success is gone. Now when you cash out, you receive a ticket that goes in an ATM and your cash comes out - like a bank transaction. None of the slot machines even have coin slots. They take paper currency! It's just not the same as walking around the casino with a bucket or two of nickles trying to find a hot machine!

The Tropicana is one of the older hotels on the Strip. The rooms are circa 1950's and haven't changed that much since the days when Buddy Hackett and Connie Francis were running the halls between shows. The old hotels are disappearing (the Stardust and Desert Inn have both been knocked down and replaced since I was last here), and I suspect that the Tropicana's days are numbered. The Folies Bergere still perform here every night. Miss Susan and I came to the Tropicana and saw their show fifteen years ago - and those girls were old then! But they are professional showgirls, and I am certain that they can still do the high kicks - even if they have to hold onto their walkers to meet the challenge!

Tonight we are going to see the Vegas version of Jersey Boys. I saw it on Broadway, but it is so good that I know I will enjoy a second serving. Gail hasn't seen this wonderful musical yet, so I am anxious to gage her reaction.

I will be leaving early in the morning and heading back to Hellizona.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Desert Vistas

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

It was a beautiful day for the drive from Luke AFB to Las Vegas. I anticipated that the jaunt would take four hours, but it was closer to six. The big hangup was Hoover Dam! Damn! Damn! Highway 93 North goes right over the dam - an old two-lane roadway that had tourist traffic snarled for about ten miles, or one hour. But, we were traveling so slowly that I was able to get some great pictures from the car! I think that I may stop there and look around on my return trip Sunday.

Things that I learned on the road today include the fact that the roadside cacti between Phoenix and Wickenberg are much healthier, and of a wider variety, than those between Phoenix and Flagstaff. The Giant Saguaro, in particular, are awesome. I learned that the small theatre on the main drag of Wickenberg, AZ, aptly called "The Saguaro," is currently playing Slumdog Millionaire, indicating that Wickenberg may not be as "small town" as it lets on. And I now know what a Joshua Tree is, and even got out of my car at one point and walked among several of them.

Las Vegas has changed a great deal since I was last here fifteen years ago. Gail and I are staying at the Tropicana, one of the older hotels on the strip. Tonight we went out with her son, Reed, who lives here, and had a nice meal and saw some of the sights. We caught the volcano erupting at the Mirage, went into the Venetia and watched as the gondoliers languidly transported tourists up and down the Grand Canal, and capped the evening off with a breath-taking view of all of Las Vegas from the top of the Mandalay Bay Resort.

Las Vegas is much quieter than the last time I was here. We heard that tourism is off as much as 40 percent. Many of the slot machines looked forlorn.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pa Rock's Oscar Picks: 2009

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan(atic)

I am heading out for a drive across the desert tomorrow afternoon to meet up with my Sis, Gail, who will be visiting her son, Reed Smith, in Las Vegas. Reed has been working in Vegas for about a year now, and I am suitably ashamed that I haven't been up to see him yet.

Considering that I will be out of town for the next couple of evenings, I thought that it would be expedient if I made my oh-so-prescient Oscar predictions tonight. Who knows, I might even back them up with a few bucks while I am in Lost Wages, Nevada!

I have seen three of the five or six most talked about movies this year, and I have also done enough reading on the subject to know who the favorites are. I agree with some of those favorites, but not all.

Best Supporting Actress: The two favorites appear to be Taraji P. Henson of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Penelope Cruz of Vicki Christina Barcelona. I've not had the pleasure of seeing either of those, but I will eventually rent Vickie Christina Barcelona or watch it on cable because Woody Allen is a genius and everything that he puts together is golden. The other three nominees are Amy Adams and Viola Davis in Doubt, and Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler.

And the Oscar will go to: Viola Davis.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger seems to be everyone's favorite in this category, and the recently dead Mr. Ledger won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for this same performance. I saw The Dark Knight, and although I didn't especially care for the movie, I regarded Ledger's performance as amazing - he played a very compelling and chilling version of The Joker. Josh Brolin was also exceptional as Dan White, the killer of San Franscisco's Mayor George Moscone and gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk in the movie Milk. He played the deeply troubled White as...well...deeply troubled. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was also very formidable as the Catholic priest who had to face down Meryl Streep,in Doubt - not an easy task for anyone! I didn't see Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal of a white method actor playing a black soldier in Tropic Thunder, but I have heard raves about it from different quarters, and I have never seen him in any film that I didn't enjoy. The fifth nominee was Michael Shannon of Revolutionary Road - another film that I missed and have heard very little about.

And the Oscar will go to: Heath Ledger

Best Actress: Kate Winslet (The Reader) appears to be a strong favorite in this category, followed by Meryl Streep (Doubt), Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), and Melissa Leo (Frozen River). I haven't seen Angelina Jolie (Changeling) on anybody's list of likely winners. I have personally seen The Reader and Doubt.

And the Oscar will go to: Kate Winslet

Best Actor: This is the toughest category for me to choose from, because I have only seen one of the nominees in the role for which he was nominated: Sean Penn in Milk. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) is clearly the odds-on favorite having won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for the same role. He is being commonly referred to as the "comeback kid." Rourke's star has risen so high that he even made the national news earlier this week when his little dog, Loki, died. The other three nominees are Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), and Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

And the Oscar will go to: Sean Penn

Best Director: The favorite is Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire. He has already won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Director. The other nominees are Stephen Daldry (The Reader), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), and Gus Van Sant (Milk).

And the Oscar will go to: Danny Boyle

Best Movie: The five best movie nominees are the same as in the preceding category. Again, the favorite is Slumdog Millionaire, a tale of poverty and hope in modern India. I have seen Slumdog, The Reader, and Milk - and any of those three would be worthy of the honor of being named Best Picture of the Year at the Academy Awards.

And the Oscar will go to: The Reader

Those are my best guesses based on a limited amount of first-hand knowledge and a whole lot of personal bias. If you have some strong opinion on the subject, send in your selections as a reply to this post - and we'll compare notes and "smarts" on Monday! (That is, if I manage to make it out of Vegas with the clothes on my back and my car title!)

The Stimulatin' Blues

by Pa Rock
Political Commentator

If the hypocrisy generated by Republicans and their media mouthpieces was pure manure, it could fill the Grand Canyon and create a victory garden that would feed America! (Alright, so it is manure, but like most things produced by the GOP, it is lacking in quality.)

Today a handful of Republican Governors from the American South were gnashing their teeth and saying that maybe they wouldn't accept any of that stimulus money. Yeah, wanna bet? Try telling that one to the voters back home who are without jobs and mired in debt. Big talk emanating from big mouths - but when the cash starts rolling, they will be the first hogs at the trough!

Today the big conservative whine revolved around the unfairness the "bailout" of people having trouble with their mortgages. First of all, the "bailout" doesn't pay the mortgage, it just gives people in trouble an opportunity to take care of their debt rather than walk out on their obligation and let the banks handle the loss. Poll those same Republican noisemakers and you will learn that damn few want the banks to suffer. Second, Obama is right. The people who aren't in mortgage trouble don't really want a bunch of foreclosures in their neighborhoods. Boarded up houses with ragged lawns hurt the home values of all of the neighbors.

But my favorite hypocrite isn't a governor or a radio maggot. My favorite hypocrite is Senator Kit Bond of Missouri. Yesterday he stayed busy travelling around Missouri proudly pointing out how its citizens would benefit from certain parts of the stimulus package - never mind that he had voted against that same package when it passed in the Senate. Keith Olbermann wisely made Bond his "Worst Person in the World" on Countdown yesterday for his opportunistic buffoonery.

Rush Limbaugh put the Republican strategy into words when he said publicly that he wanted to see Obama fail. Fair enough - it's all politics. The problem is that if Obama fails, we all fail - even drug-addled radio clowns. The economy is a lemon, a big sour lemon. Do we want to sit around sucking on it and feeling sorry for ourselves, or do we want to roll up our sleeves and at least try to make lemonade? The GOP likes to squint and pucker and tell us how awful anything is that is done for the public good, but the rest of us don't have to buy into their miserable view of life.

And I, for one, choose not to!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009


by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

I grew up in the Ozarks, a rural area of America that was, and is, somewhat unique. One of my best friends in elementary school, for example, had a collection of bones that he would often bring to school. They weren't animal bones, or even fossil bones. They were the skeletal remains of Indians who had died in our county in the previous century. He had a couple of skulls, jawbones, and a few long arm and leg bones. It was fascinating to root through his collection. No one regarded Indian bones as being human bones - carrying around a box of human bones would have been perverse and disgusting!

Twenty years or so ago I began reading the Navajo detective novels of Tony Hillerman. Hillerman passed away last year after authoring a collection several books featuring fictional Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Detective Jim Chee. Although he was an Anglo, Hillerman lived among the Navajo and knew well the people and places of which he wrote. His books are amazing.

The reason that I mention Hillerman, is that the first book of his that I read, I believe it was A Thief of Time, but could be wrong about that, contained a scene regarding the relevance of bones. In that scene an Anglo lady anthropologist was going through a collection of Indian bones at a university and labelling or classifying them. As she worked she came across a box addressed to her that contained more bones. She gave them a cursory examination and then opened the letter that accompanied the box. The letter writer explained calmly that he had been out robbing graves, much like university anthropologists had been doing to his tribe's sacred burial grounds, and the bones in the box were those of the lady's grandparents!

She found those bones to be much more unsettling than the bones of the Indians.

Geronimo, the famed Apache Chief, died one century ago this year at Ft. Sill, OK, where he was being held prisoner by the U.S. Army. He was interred at Ft. Sill and that is where his remains supposedly rest today. Twenty of his descendants filed suit in US Federal Court in Washington, DC, today to free his "remains, funerary objects, and spirit from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut, and wherever else they may be found." The descendants want to have the remains returned to the western United States, the birthplace of Geronimo, for a "true Apache burial," an important component of the tribe's culture.

So, if the great Chief is buried at Ft. Sill, how did Yale University figure into the court case? That goes to a legend that has been circulating since shortly after Geronimo's death. The once oh-so-secret club for irresponsible frat boys at Yale that goes by the name of Skull and Bones has been rumored to have Geronimo's skull in it's clubhouse - a.k.a. "The Tomb" - with that treasure allegedly having been stolen from Ft. Sill by some young Army officers and Yale alumnae. Prescott Bush, a United States Senator, Nazi enabler, and father of George H.W. Bush, has long been thought to be one of those responsible for the grave robbery.

While most historians consider the Yale story to be so much frat boy horseshit, the club apparently does have some human bones in its club house. In this modern age, a DNA test could verify of vilify the legend.

It is time that the government let Geronimo's remains go free where they may receive a proper Apache burial at the head of the Gila River in New Mexico. It is also time that the spoiled rich kids at Yale abandon their morbid silliness and direct their energies into public service and making the world a better place for one and all.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

National Dialogue Refreshed

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Barack Obama has been our President for less than a month, yet in that brief time the national dialogue has changed dramatically. Suddenly we are talking about closing Gitmo, conducting research with human stem cells, getting serious with alternative energy concepts, and preserving public lands and resources for use by future generations.

NBC News this evening discussed smart grid technology, magnetic-levitation (mag-lev) trains, and the importance of childhood immunizations. A big portion of the program was dedicated to science and energy - and it was real science, without being censored by Bush flunkies - and it was an energy discussion of something other than oil!

This morning the "internets" were ablaze with a statement from Bristol Palin, Sarah's child who recently became a mother. Miss Palin said it was unrealistic to expect young people to abstain from having sex! In just a few simple spoken words, Bristol proved herself to be smarter than her mother, or at least more honest.

It's almost like we have awakened in a parallel universe. For years we have suffered under the yoke of official ignorance, listening to twaddle that even average junior high students recognized as nonsense: creationism, racism, homophobia, and all manner of hate and insult being processed and passed off as our own unique national diatribe. Now the dark ages have been rolled back and we are once again living on the cutting edge of great potential. Thinking is no longer the problem - it has become the expectation!

It is as though the 21st Century has finally arrived!

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Dog's Tail

by Pa Rock

Doxie Doggie was a bitch - just not a very good one. She harbored dreams of making puppies with some of the tops studs of Doggywood and was particularly focused on Brad Pitbull who was becoming famous for siring double litters with his puppy machine. But try as she might, Doxie could never attract the attention of anything but the mongrels who lived in her neighborhood - and most of them recognized the scent of mental issues and ran for the hills whenever she raised her tail in their direction.

Doxie blamed her social problems on her parents who had raised her as a single puppy, and she vowed that she would raise puppies by the score and they would all have wonderful lives because of all of their many siblings and their loving mommy. Doxie wasn't worried about the cost of raising all of these puppies by herself because she could live with her awful parents. A houseful of yapping little puppies would make her happy. If money became an issue, she could always turn to her Governator.

One day Doxie heard of a vet who would implant her with embryos so that she could have puppies without going through all of the drama of seducing one of the local mongrels. Over the next couple of years she had six small litters, and they all lived in her parent's two-bedroom doghouse. Doxie got some money from a Court settlement, but she kept that secret from her parents and used it for plastic surgery so that she could look more like a Doggywood starlet bitch.

Doxie had puppies everywhere, some with medical and emotional issues, and all in need of a full-time mother. But Doxie still wasn't happy. Using her doggie logic, Doxie figured that if six litters hadn't made her happy, it must be because the litters were too small. She went back to her vet and begged for more implanted embryos - as many as the poor vet could stuff into her.

The kindly vet stuffed Doxie good. Several weeks later she gave birth to the equivalent of eight litters of puppies. An entire animal hospital had to basically shut down while Doxie shot out puppies like an overworked Gatling gun. Suddenly Doxie was famous and she felt very happy. Doxie hired a publicist and set up her own web page where she could beg for donations.

Things were wonderful until stories began to surface about Doxie's other puppies and the burdens that her poor parents were under. The outraged publicist got a court order to keep Doxie's mother from talking to reporters. Suddenly other dogs started asking tacky questions like: Who's going to pay the hospital bill? How can a single, unemployed doggie mama take care of fourteen litters? Is this fair to all of those puppies? What about the sensible dogs who only have puppies that they can take care of - should they have to foot the bill for irresponsible Doxie?

Fortunately the story has a happy ending. The Governator, who was himself busy trying to solve the biggest budget deficit in the history of the state, decided that enough was enough. He ordered his Puppy Welfare Department to take the puppies into state custody. He then put them up as prizes in the state lottery and puppyless couples from around the country rushed in to buy up tickets in the hopes of winning one of Doxie's brood. The state's budget deficit was quickly erased and dozens of good dogs were given the opportunity to experience the joys of parenthood - in moderation.

Doxie's vet went to prison where has learned the joys of being the cell block bitch - but, as of yet, he has produced no puppies.

Doxie herself sleeps comfortably in a padded room dreaming of a sensuous encounter with Brad Pitbull's cold nose and the life that could have been. "It was all about me," she laments. "It was all about me."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Raisin in the Sun

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

A Dream Deferred
by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I have been fortunate to have seen some wonderful theatre in my lifetime, stretching from London's West End, to Broadway, to regional productions in places as diverse as Kansas City, Missouri, and Coronado Island, California. The stage fascinates me because it is so dependent on, and inclusive of, the audience. When a production is exceptional, the audience itself has become an integral element of the performance. A great play is comprised of a talented playwright extrapolating a basic conflict into a compelling story, a director skilled at interpretation and presentation, a cast to breathe life into the characters and the script, and an audience to react to the work of all of those others.

This afternoon I sat entranced through the Arizona Theatre Company's presentation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, a family drama set in a tenement apartment on Chicago's Southside during the 1950's. Although it can now pass as a period piece, it was an uncomfortable examination of the issues of immediate relevance to society when Ms. Hansberry authored the script over a half-century ago. And while the references are mid-twentieth century, the topics remain timely: gender roles, race, poverty, crime, parenting, integration, block-busting, evil housing associations, and abortion.

The production began with a cast member sitting on the edge of the stage and giving the audience some historical insight into what we were about to experience. He gave a biographical sketch of the playwright who died of pancreatic cancer at the tender age of thirty-four, a view of Black America in the 1950's, and a brief history of the play and the famous people who have inhabited it characters.

A Raisin in the Sun is the story of the Youngers, a cross-generational Black family sharing a two bedroom apartment on Chicago's Southside. There is a recently widowed grandmother, her grown son and his wife, their young son, and the grandmother's barely adult daughter. The conflict revolves around the arrival of a $10,000 life insurance check covering the death of the grandfather - and how best to spend it - whose dreams to honor?

I knew that this was going to be an extraordinary theatre experience early in the first act when the mother was fixing breakfast in the tiny kitchen and the smell of frying bacon began wafting through the theatre. From that point on, it just got better and better. All of the actors were believable, completely believable, eliciting a full range of emotions from the audience. At times it was hard to remain seated when it seemed so much more logical to jump up and offer advice to those whose struggles were playing out on stage.

Every player was a standout, every single one! They included Erika LaVonn, Aric Generette Floyd, David Alan Anderson, Bakesta King, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Adeoye, Kyle Haden, Patrick Thomas O'Brien, Damron Russell Armstrong, Lorin F. Akers, and David Tinsley.

I heard a review of this play on National Public Radio last week. The reviewer said that this was one of the rare times that he was part of a standing ovation that was truly deserved...and he was correct!

Unfortunately, most of the audience looked like me, old and guilty-white. The $50 to $65 ticket price and the $12 parking kept out many of those who could have been the descendants of the characters on stage. The House was less that five percent Black, and of those few, only two were children. Maybe now that we are blessed with a President who himself is Black and from the Chicago's Southside, some of that will begin to change. It's's past time.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


by Pa Rock
Proud Grampa

Molly sent this update on my 19-month-old grandson, Sebastian, a couple of days ago:

Just wanted to let everyone know ..

Sebastian was playing with my markers and counting to himself, as he often does. He counted one through six! Of course when I asked him to do it again for daddy he wouldn't. He often does things on his terms.. like when he first started walking he wouldn't do it if everyone was watching. But you look away and he had walked across the room! Makes me wonder what else he knows that he isn't ready to share yet! :)


Hey Sebastian,

I received your beautiful homemade valentine in the mail today. I loved it, especially your hand print! It will be in a place of honor on my refrigerator!

I love you!

Pa Rock

Let 'Em Bray!

by Pa Rock
Pissed-Off Populist

Every Republican member of the House of Representatives voted against the stimulus bill yesterday - for the second time. Remember that - and when we're all selling apples on street corners and living in cardboard boxes, we'll know who to thank!

One wonders just how many snakes have to bite President Obama before he realizes that the top item on the Republican agenda is his complete and total failure. These bottom feeders are only interested in tax cuts for the wealthy and meeting their own immediate needs. The rest of the country can go to hell in a hand basket!

Well, it's high time the President jettisoned these leaches and went to work for the people who elected him - the poor and the real middle class. No more Mister Nice Guy! Show the slugs what it's like to truly be on the outside looking in!

House Minority Leader John Boehner seemed to be bordering on tears as he threw the bill to the floor and wailed that there was no stimulus to it - it was all spending! Boehner's, and indeed the Republican Party's, idea of economic stimulus is that it can only be achieved by tax cuts for businesses and the "middle class," a group they see as making in excess of $200,000 a year. (Guess where that puts you and me?) That fiscal irresponsibility got us into this mess and has not worked for the past eight years, but maybe it will magically turn around the economy now. Don't hold your breath!

Mark Sanford, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, also got a little overly dramatic this week blubbering about the stimulus package putting enormous debt on our children and grandchildren. I am sympathetic to that claim. Our children and grandchildren appear doomed to pay all of our bills. But two questions, Mark: What type of lives are they likely to lead if we sit back and do nothing? And, where was your fiscal outrage when George Bush was destroying the economy with his ego-maniacal war?

Back in the Ozarks we have a word to describe these self-serving loudmouths - jackasses! The Republican motto seems to have become "Let us bray!"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jimmy and Me

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This evening is the kickoff of the President's Day weekend, and what better way to spend it than hobnobbing with one of our five living U.S. Presidents. Jimmy Carter, my absolute favorite ex-President, was at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, signing copies of his latest book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land. I ordered two copies by phone early in the week, one for each of my grandsons, and showed up at the appointed time tonight to have them signed.

I had visions of waiting in line with a hundred or so other people and being able to chat with President Carter while he leisurely signed books for Boone Macy and Sebastian Files, both personalized, of course. I fully intended to tell him how much I appreciated all that he has done for the poor, at home and abroad, and to thank him for continually showing America's better face to the rest of the world.

The reality of the evening was two lines of people packed two-and-three abreast stretching for blocks in two directions. I had to work my way, very slowly, through the left line to pick up my vouchers (book tickets), and then get in the right line where I worked my way, very slowly, to the front door of the bookstore. Once inside the store I had to show the vouchers three times as the line snaked up to the place where President Carter was indeed signing copies of his book. We were herded past the President, who looked up and smiled between books as he automatically scribbled his name. Our line was about three feet in front of Jimmy Carter. We were warned not to take pictures as we walked past, but I, of course, did anyway. Then we were handed our books from a pile that he had already signed. Those with cameras were then shunted off to the side where they could try to get a picture by shooting through the line that was walking past.

It was a book-signing factory.

The highlight of the evening was getting to see President Carter. He is eighteen days older than my father, and looks almost as frail. Rosalyn was not in evidence, which surprised me because you never see one without the other. The President was as personable as he could be, given the circumstances - smiling and making eye contact between books.

But the evening had other highlights as well, and I managed to enjoy it all. First off, I got lost on the way over to Tempe and wound up pulling into a Circle K to buy a soda and get directions. A lady panhandler hit me up for spare change as I was going in, telling me that her three children had no food. I promised her that I would catch her on the way out - and I did - giving her three bananas that I purchased inside.

Security at the event was interesting. There was a squad of local police on the other side of McClintock Drive - a busy thoroughfare. At least one policeman was on top of the bookstore and occasionally peeked over, much to the entertainment of the crowd. Several police and Secret Service were inside of the bookstore, but President Carter appeared to be fairly vulnerable despite all of the "protection." Everyone was pulling cameras out of their pockets and purses and snapping pictures. Security was nowhere nearly as tight as it is at Skyharbor Airport.

I stood in line next to a young man from England (the town where Wedgewood Pottery is made). He had come to the University of Arizona twelve years ago on a scholarship, and stayed after graduating to work in the computer industry. He hadn't pre-purchased a copy of the book, and learned, after being in line for an hour, that the bookstore had sold out of the Carter books.

There was a troupe of entertainers working the lines: a man on stilts, face-painters, and a balloon artist. A wonderful Black lady and her second grade daughter were in line behind me. The balloon artist made a sceptre of balloons for the little girl, which got me to calling her "princess." It was a liberal group, and we quickly got around to discussing Obama. I asked the lady if she had seen Obama in Phoenix last February, and she responded that she had not, but she had been to the Inauguration. Then she pulled out her Blackberry and showed everyone nearby a photo of her and her daughter with a very relaxed Obama. She had been at a hotel where he was vacationing while he was in the Senate. She had asked Michelle Obama to take the picture - and described her as being very courteous.

Another diversion was a group of war protesters holding signs and singing out next to the boulevard. One lady brought her sign up to the line and began talking to us about the war. A police woman on a bicycle came up and told her that protestors with signs had to stand out by the road. Several people were working the lines handing out pamphlets for various causes.

It was a fun evening, with more than a passing feel of the sixties!

My history with Presidents: I saw Tricky Dick Nixon and Pat in Springfield, MO, while I was in college. That was before he became President. I also saw Reagan on two occasions before he became President, as well as Obama one time prior to his election. I saw George H.W. Bush at a Fourth of July parade in Marshfield, MO, while he was President.

And...Barack Obama will be in Phoenix next Wednesday selling the stimulus, but specifics for that visit have not been announced as of yet. Watch for me on the evening news!

To cap off a nice evening, I pulled through El Pollo Loco on the way home and bought a box of the world's best chicken! All in all, it was a very good evening.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Lincoln Darwin Day!

by Pa Rock
History Major

Jim Schmidt is wishing us all a happy Lincoln Darwin Day. Jim states that he has been privately observing Lincoln Darwin Day for years, but began to publicize the idea in 2003, going so far as to make some Lincoln Darwin Day cards. His current collection may be accessed from his web page:

Not only did these two famous individuals, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, share the same birth date, February 12th, they were also born in the same year: 1809 - exactly 200 years ago today. Lincoln was born in Kentucky, and Darwin was a native of England. As Schmidt compares the significance of their lives, he notes:

"One freed the mind of ruinous and crippling superstition. The other freed the people from the ruinous and crippling institution of slavery. One slew superstition. The other slew slavery."

Abraham Lincoln, regarded by many, myself included, as America's greatest President, saw the country through its most difficult period and guided the repair of the most significant flaw in the Constitution. But slavery was quickly replaced by Jim Crow laws and lynchings as poor White America tried desperately to keep poor Black America "in its place." Only today, over a hundred and forty years after the end of the Civil War, is a post-racial American landscape finally appearing on the horizon.

When Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species in 1859, a treatise on how species evolved over time through a process of natural selection, he was immediately labeled as a heretic by the religious community, and regarded as naive by most scientists of the time. The scientists eventually came to see the sense of Darwin's ideas, but that enlightenment was much slower to follow in religious circles. Indeed, some communities in America today still angrily decry science and demand the inclusion of a Hebrew fairy tale that they call creationism in science books. Many people keep their kids out of public schools solely for the reason that they do not want them exposed to the concept of evolution.

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin ventured beyond the safety of old ideas and the status quo. They braved public scorn in order to advance the lives of those struggling to free themselves from the chains of slavery and the irrationality of religious dogma. Today we are a better people living in a better world because of these two individuals - who were born on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean two hundred years ago today.

Happy Lincoln Darwin Day! (Next year expect a card!)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stump Rules!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I have a complicated history with dogs. I’m not a fan of Pitt Bulls and breeds known for their unrestrained ferocity, particularly when it is directed toward small children and other human beings. I have a policy when I am in residence at Rock’s Roost of allowing domesticated bunnies to run free inside of my large fenced hillside, so I necessarily can’t tolerate Beagles either because they go absolutely insane when a rabbit hops by. And if you believe in the peaceful nature of dachshunds, never step between a wiener dog and a chicken. Your illusions will be broken almost as swiftly as the poor chicken’s neck.

Little yappy dogs, like little yappy kids, tend to annoy me – but I love Chihuahuas and my grandchildren. I also love Great Pyrenees and have written about those gentle giants in this space before. They were bred to herd and watch over sheep and goats, and their deep, cavernous howls will scare the hell out of any invader, two-or-four-legged. Great Pyrenees patrol all night and generally sleep all day. They also generate enough slobber to float a boat!

I don’t have room for a dog in my current apartment life, but I have convinced myself that I could shuffle enough stuff around to accommodate the needs of a Chihuahua. Last week I spoke with one of the ladies who work in the office at Palm Valley Luxury Rentals. I told the lady (who is actually very nice) that I was thinking about adopting a Chihuahua and asked her how it would affect my rent. She told me, nicely, that I would have to pay a fee of $300 plus $25 per month. Then she went on to talk about what a great idea it was, and how I needed a “little buddy” to share my life. Yeah, right. At those prices, why not get a couple!

With that background in mind, I settled down at 9:00 p.m. on Monday to watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. One of the stars of the show was Uno, last year’s best-in-show. Uno, like Miss America, had spent a large portion of his reign visiting wounded veterans, children at cancer hospitals, and doing charity appearances. He served his country and his species proudly, even if he is a Beagle.

The crown passed to a new best-in-show last night, a sexy senior citizen by the name of Stump. The 10-year-old Sussex Spaniel (that’s seventy in dog years) is the oldest champion in Westminster’s one-hundred-and-thirty-three-year history. Stump won a group title at Westminster in 2004, and then nearly succumbed to a mysterious disease. He has been a happy retiree since that time, but five days before this year’s competition, his human made a decision to enter him at Westminster one final time just so he could relive his glory days. Stump was too big to fit under the airplane seat, so he had to suffer the indignity of flying to New York as freight. His human said that the new champ will fly home first-class!

So society, be careful how you treat your seniors. That old fart gripping the steering wheel with both hands and slowing down two lanes of traffic, may just be waiting for you to make his day! Flip him off at your own peril!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Misunderestimatin' Blues

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Was George W. Bush truly misunderestimated by the American public, or was he in fact a tool of the neo-conservatives with the intellectual capacity of a geranium? That’s a question that most third-graders could answer, excluding, of course, those born and raised in the Bible Belt who are struggling with their own educational and intellectual issues.

Our former President will be primarily remembered for the Bush Doctrine (the “right” to start any war we damn well please – no provocation necessary), the dismantling of the United States Constitution (lock them up and we’ll come up with charges later, maybe) ignoring the Geneva Convention on the Rights of Prisoners (extraordinary rendition, anyone?), and his almost criminal mangling of the English language.

The Bush years were good ones for funeral directors, grave diggers, and the orphanages of Iraq. There are the thousands of American spouses, children, parents, grieving friends, and other loved ones who will forever have a hole in their hearts due to Bush's unresolved issues with his father. The Bush Presidency was also a Godsend to the companies that make a living raping the environment, building weapons, and manufacturing artificial limbs.

But through it all, most of the public was reluctant to point out that the emperor had no clothes – that George W. Bush, in fact, was an intellectual lightweight. (Intellectual lightweight is a tactful way of saying “stupid” for those of you with degrees from fundamentalist religious “universities.”) Now, however, the data are in and the truth can be told.

Mark Nicholas, a blogger with The Huffington Post, did some definitive research comparing the speaking (and thinking-on-your-feet) abilities of George W. Bush compared to those of Barack Obama. He began by retrieving transcripts of the first press conference held by each President. (Obama’s was last night, and Bush held his first press conference on February 22, 2001.) Mr. Nicholas copied each of those transcripts into separate Word documents, and then deleted their introductory (scripted) remarks and the questions asked by the reporters – leaving only the answers and off-the-cuff remarks given by each President. He then ran the remaining material of each document through Word’s readability tool.

And the results?

Bush was communicating on a seventh grade level, and Obama was speaking to us on a tenth grade level. Is anyone surprised?

The downside is, of course, that President Obama was speaking over the heads of many Americans and the entire Republican membership of Congress – a big part of his intended audience. While I personally enjoy watching Helen Thomas spar with our Commander-in-Chief, it is likely that many quickly flipped the channel and caught reruns of Monk, Law and Order, or NCIS.

In an effort to stimulate the economy and communicate more effectively with the “silent majority,” or “moral majority,” or whatever the hell the know-nothings are calling themselves nowadays, I respectfully suggest that our government employ a squad of starving artists and turn all of the President’s future pronouncements into comic books, graphic novels, cartoons, or video games so that all of America has equal access to his ideas.

Our President is an intelligent and honorable person who is trying to reach out to our better selves. He is light years ahead of his predecessor in terms of basic humanity, and at least three grade levels in speaking ability. It would be the country’s loss if we allow the Republican noise machine to limit his ability to change our national priorities and salvage the Bush shipwreck of an economy.

We did misunderestimate George W. Bush. In eight years he managed to launch two unwinnable wars in the Middle East, cause a budget surplus to evaporate and be replaced by trillions of dollars of debt, subvert the Constitution of the United States of America, destroy our reputation around the globe, and turn himself into a laughingstock. Who would have thought that somebody with the communication skills of a seventh grader could create that much havoc?

Monday, February 9, 2009

At the Movies

by Pa Rock
Popcorn Connoisseur

Last night while the rest of the world was watching the Grammy's or playing World of Warcraft, I was tuned into the annual awards show presented by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, also known as the BAFTA's. The Golden Globe Awards and the BAFTA's are two indicators of where the Oscar's may be heading later this month. My objective in watching the Brit awards was to see whether my unflinching enthusiasm for Kate Winslet's performance in The Reader was on-the-mark or not.

There was quite a bit of correlation between the Golden Globe winners and those who took home BAFTA awards. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were so ignored by both award shows that I was embarrassed for them. Heath Ledger was selected by both groups as Best Supporting Actor for his quirky portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Both groups also selected Mickey "old piece of meat" Rourke as Best Actor. Mickey looked slightly less stoned last night than he had been at the Golden Globes, and this time he was able to make it up the steps to receive the award without tripping.

Slumdog Millionaire won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Original Musical Score, Best Director, and Best Picture. It was clearly the crowd favorite at the BAFTA Awards, eliciting screaming and yelling each time that it was announced as a nominee.

And Miss Winslet? She won Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes for her role in The Reader, something that I don't fully understand because she was clearly the star. That was possibly due to the fact that she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Revolutionary Road, and the Globes did not want to put her in the tacky position of running against herself. She won both of those awards, by the way. The BAFTA's had no compunction against having Miss Winslet compete against herself (and Angelina Jolie, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Meryl Streep) for their Best Actress award - and she won - this time for The Reader.

At that point I realized that I knew just as much about good drama as a room full of stuffy Brits!

I have now seen three of the five nominees for the Oscar for Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, and The Reader. All three are outstanding. The other two are The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Frost / Nixon. I have been trying to forget about Nixon for decades, and will not be paying good money to bring back the bad old days. I also chose not to see "W" for essentially the same reason. I may try to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button if time permits, but if the Golden Globes and BAFTA's are reliable indicators, Brad and Angelina might as well stay home and play with the kids because Oscar ain't gonna go home with either of them.

I guess that's what happens when you dump on a Friend!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Family:
An Intimate Look at Snakes Fornicating

by Pa Rock
Defender of the Wall

Those who know me well understand the importance that reading plays in my life. Some people will argue that you are what you eat, but I have always subscribed to the notion that you are nothing more than the sum total of what you allow into your mind, whether that is a lifetime of sitcoms and soap operas, a laser focus on some religious manual, or the works of the world's greatest thinkers and imaginators.

I have a book by the bed (currently 2666 by Roberto Bolano), a periodical in the car for reading before work and during lunch (the current edition of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine), and often something waiting on the couch as well (right now it is the first three volumes of the Foxfire Collection by Eliot Wiggington and his students). My sons, who drag my library around each time that I move, can attest that I have enough reading matter to keep up this pace for another century or two, whether I buy any new books or not - which I tend to invariably do!

One of my favorite genres is horror. I am well steeped in H.P. Lovecraft, and have more than a passing knowledge of Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Poppy Z. Brite. Recently, however, I have finished a book that was far more sinister and frightening than anything ever imagined by those professional horror scribes. The book, The Family by Jeff Sharlet, is a well researched look at one of the most secretive and influential organizations at work in America today, a right-wing religious group whose ultimate goal is to tear down the wall that has historically separated Church and State in America, and to ensure that a fundamentalist America is preeminent on the world stage. Their adherents read like a global Who's Who of political and military leaders.

The Family was conceived by a depression era immigrant preacher in Seattle by the name of Abraham "Abram" Vereide who had an innate fear of the New Deal, the Red Menace, and unions. Abram saw America as being sorely in need leadership by men who were able to control the masses while living a life dedicated to Jesus. Abram's followers did not necessarily refer to themselves as Christians, and they were not focused on the needs of the poor. They believed that if the country was led by men whom God had obviously chosen to lead (predestination), then good itself would eventually trickle down to the masses. The early leaders of the Family were admirers of the way that Hitler had controlled Germany and Europe, and they supported murderous dictators including Suharto in Indonesia and Pinochet in Chile - for they, too, instilled order and obedience in their countries.

Abram retired in the 1960's and was replaced by a minister out of Oregon by the name of Doug Coe. Coe believed that the aims of the Family could best be accomplished if the leadership remained in the background. For years he has been one of the most powerful, yet almost unknown, political operators in America. Hillary Clinton referred to him as her religious mentor in her autobiography, and he has had complete access to the Oval Office under several Presidents. At this time Coe appears to be in the process of retiring, and his heir apparent is a Pentecostal minister named Dick Foth - who claims to have been John Ashcroft's best friend for the past 54 years. (How scary is that!)

A major tenant of the Family is referred to as "Jesus Plus Nothing," a belief in the divinity and power of Jesus without all of the New Testament social work and concern for the poor. They pray to Jesus, the man, and ask for specifically what they want, such as money, power, and influence which they can then use for the glory of God. One belief of the Family is that if a person prays to Jesus for something forty times, the prayers will be fulfilled. The group, under the direction of Doug Coe, has developed an extensive mythology of prayers that were supposedly answered and had enormous influence on the world.

The Family has traditionally operated through a system of small prayer cells that receive basic direction through the Family's leaders, but act independently of each other. (A structure eerily reminiscent of terrorist cells.) These cells are made up of Congressmen, business leaders, military officers, and others with varying degrees of influence.

The Family maintains and builds on its influence through providing connections and introductions to those in power and those who want to be players on the national and world stages. Those new to Washington, for example, quickly realize the political and economic benefits of membership in one of the Family's prayer cells. It's all about connections.

In addition to remaining staunchly anti-union over the years, the Family has also gained political power through Red-baiting and now Muslim-baiting. Members of the Family were directly responsible for Cold War political measures that mandated that the words "In God We Trust" be placed on all U.S. currency, and also maneuvered to get those words selected as the country's official national motto. Around that same time they were successful in getting the words "under God" inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. Today we are seeing a rise in General Officers who view the conflict in the Middle East as nothing less than a righteous war against Islam.

The Family started the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, and tried unsuccessfully to get Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to attend. Eisenhower reluctantly agreed to lend the prestige of the Presidency to this religious event, and every President since this time has been a participant.

Like most, if not all, right-wing fundamentalist groups, the Family sees men as being the natural leaders of families and nations. But unlike some of these fascist types of groups, they are adaptable. Favor was curried with Hillary due to her proximity to President Clinton, her position in the Senate, and the very real possibility that she could have become Commander-in-Chief. Now that she is the head of the State Department, she will be mixing with Family members and supporters both at home and abroad. And while the Family was more philosophically aligned with McCain than they were with Obama, they have already been successful in having the new President attend and speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. They realize the value in keeping every door open.

The Family has grown ridiculously wealthy over the years and today it is a big property owner in the Washington DC area. Friends of the Family, particularly friends with influence, are often given the opportunity of residing in these prime properties. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who is mentioned extensively in this book for his close connections with the Family, lives in one of their properties.

Jeff Sharlett, the author of The Family, went undercover to do some of his research, residing for awhile at Ivanwald, one of the Family's group homes for young men of promise in the D.C. area. He also spent a great deal of time going through their official archives at Wheaton College, an access that is no longer available to the general public. Sharlett uses nearly four hundred pages of text to outline Family connections, intrigues, and consequences. He backs his work up with forty pages of notes and sources, and over twenty pages of index.

Sharlett's work shines a light on an area that was intended to remain cloaked in darkness. He shows religious leaders shamelessly using politicians for their own ends, and politicians getting their needs met through liaisons with these men of God. The Family provides readers with a rare opportunity to observe snakes fornicating.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Reader

by Pa Rock
Film Critic

I am old enough to have seen some amazing movies on the big screen. Dr. Zhivago, The Graduate, and Cabaret leap to mind. Each of those delivered sucker punches to the gut that left me struggling to focus on the "real world" upon exiting the theater. This afternoon I saw The Reader, a darkly moving cinematic event under the direction of Stephen Daldry. The reviews let me know that I would enjoy (if that is the right word) The Reader a great deal, but I had no idea the extent to which I would be drawn into the experience and come away with concern and genuine feelings for the characters who lived out this tale.

The story focuses on a German lawyer who is looking back on his life and trying to understand the aloofness that he exhibits toward others, particularly his grown daughter. He thinks back to his first love, a strongly sexual affair that he had with a trolley-matron who was in her mid-thirties. He was an inexperienced lad of fifteen when they first met, but by the time she disappears from his life three months later he has become a seasoned lover. A central part of their love-making is her desire for him to read to her.

While it is often steamy, The Reader, is certainly no skin flick. It encompasses the horrors of the holocaust, the boundaries of love, and the relevance of ethics in a complicated world.

If you want more than that, go see the movie.

The ads, posters, and even the marquee credit Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes as being the stars of this movie. Perhaps, but that is with Fiennes doing so to a much lesser degree than Winslet. The film belongs to Kate Winslet: beginning, middle, and end. She is astounding in what truly is the role of a lifetime. Fiennes is good, very good, but while he necessarily plays second fiddle to Winslet, he is also seriously out-acted by newcomer David Kross who plays Finnes's character as a young man. The 18-year-old Kross and the 33-year-old Winslet drive themselves seamlessly through bouts of sexual passion, anger, despair, and renewal.

The Reader is an emotionally draining experience, but it is also very damned good!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Casualties of War

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Defense Department has announced that at least 24 members of the United States Army committed suicide during the month of January. That number exceeds the total of all U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period. When asked what gives, multiple generals have sputtered that they don't know, but they're sure gonna find out!

Which means, of course, that the problem is going to be relegated to committees, workshops, special trainings, and other mind-numbing steps that will have minimal impact on the actual problem - and kick it on down the road for a couple of years.

So just what is the actual problem?

Suicides in the military, not just the army, have been a growing phenomenon ever since our troops went to the Middle East in 2003. The military was quick to point out that only one-third of January's army suicides had formerly been in the war zones, and another one-third were there at the time of their self-demise. That leaves one-third with no connection to the war - no connection other than they were probably on deck for a combat tour sometime in the near future.

The military was also eager to note that sometimes these deaths appeared to be the result of relationship issues, leaving the impression that those are not combat-related. That statement is deceptive. Most of the suicides were young people (as reported by the military), and young people are often in young relationships, or marriages, with young families. It is a stressful time of life.

A deployment in the army is usually a minimum of twelve months, and they have recently been as long as eighteen months or more. One deployment can be a very aggresssive factor in destabilizing or ending a marriage, especially an untested one. There are long distance disagreements over money and child-rearing, issues associated with shifting roles, jealousy, distrust, and infidelity both at home and in the war zone. That's all from just one deployment - some members of the army have done three, four, and five deployments. Sometimes couples learn how to manage the pressures of deployments, and sometimes they don't.

When the deployment ends more problems emerge. The kids have learned that the parent who remained at home is the "go to" person when a decision needs to be made. The one who remained at home has assumed complete management of the family, and it is often tough to let go of that responsibility. It is not unusual for a soldier who has been sleeping alone on a small cot or bed for twelve months - being constantly on edge and listening for the sound of in-coming - to wake up panicked in the middle of the night when he or she realizes that there is someone else in the bed. The "fight or flight" instinct takes over, often with the soldier lashing out physically at the bed partner. The physical and emotional abuse of family members can be, and often is, a direct consequence of combat stress.

The American Medical Association's Archive of Internal Medicine said in March of 2007 that almost one in three veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who sought medical treatment at the VA were diagnosed with mental health problems. There are others who need mental health services but are not seeking treatment. Unfortunately, some leaders in the military perpetuate the myth that those who seek treatment for mental issues are weak, and consequently many who need those services feel pressured to "man up" and shut up.

So yes, the war is playing a significant role in the climbing suicide rates. We will officially learn that after a couple of years of research and several long-term studies. We will learn that after the war is over and the pressing need for warm bodies eases up. We will learn that after hundreds more have needlessly died.

These young people, like those shot dead in the desert, are truly casualties of war.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On Civil Disobedience

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay in 1849 entitled Resistance to Civil Government that has survived the ages and is today generally known as On Civil Disobedience. It's basic tenant is that the individual has a solemn duty to do what is right, even if that is in conflict with the law. Thoreau pointed out that while the majority may rule by virtue of their numbers, there is nothing that guarantees that a majority will automatically have the virtues of wisdom and justice. Government, regardless of how it came into being, can and does make mistakes - and it can and does work in direct opposition to what is morally and ethically right. Witness the Bush Oil War.

Thoreau felt so deeply in the absolute necessity of civil disobedience, that he went to jail for his beliefs. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, both disciples of Henry David Thoreau, also allowed their consciences to lead them to jail.

The world is becoming a rougher stage for those used to garnering respect just for having a title. A couple of days ago I mentioned two shoe throwers: the one in Iraq that launched two shoes at President Bush, and the protester at Cambridge University who threw a shoe at the Premier of China. Those guys probably lacked a background in competitive sports because both missed their targets. (Of course, if they had been student athletes they would have likely learned the fine art of obedience from their coaches.)

Enter the ladies. Yesterday a twenty-five-year old woman lobbed a shoe at Benny Dagan, the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden, as he was speaking at Stockholm University. She and a male companion had issues with what they saw as the militaristic policies of Israel. The lady managed to hit her target in the chest. (Score one for the women!) As she was being arrested, the young lady asked police to please return her red Nike! (Her male friend launched two books at the speaker, but he, alas, missed.) Both were later released without the broken bones or cigarette burns that would have been standard fare in an Iraqi prison.

But those were just simple flying objects aimed at public gas bags. No harm, no real foul - other than minor deflation of a few egos. None took aim at the most sacred of holy cows - property.

So enter Tim DeChristopher with his plan to mess with the Bush administration's rush to lease scenic lands in Utah for oil exploration before the new administration could move in and save what should continue to be our public heritage. The 27-year-old University of Utah student showed up at the auction for the leases and significantly ran up all of the bids, even though he had no money. He actually won several of the bids. The government got all red-faced and blustery, but the ballsy student was not contrite. He said he was prepared to go to jail for his actions. (Apparently many who were forced to bid more than they wanted would like to rebid, but they are afraid that if they allow their expensive properties go back on the auction block, the Obama administration will halt the sales. So, if they keep their ill-gotten gains, it will be at the inflated prices.) Poor, babies!

Way to go, Mr. DeChristopher! Thoreau, Gandhi, and King would all be proud - and that ain't bad company to be keeping! You have preserved some of America's scenic wilderness, and the oil is still there if our grandchildren truly need it. Your service to our nation is appreciated beyond measure - at least by me!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Roy Blunt!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalists

House Minority Leader John Boehner announced today that he is creating a GOP task force to study America's health care needs. As if Mr. Boehner pretending to even care about health issues isn't funny enough by itself, he outdid himself by naming Missouri's ever-snarling Congressman Roy Blunt to head the task force. As a longtime resident of Blunt's congressional district, I have serious doubts regarding his ability to focus on something that is clearly a non-issue to him. Here's one clue: Blunt's new wife and his son are both tobacco lobbyists.

Here's what I suspect is happening: Missouri's senior senator, Kit Bond, has announced that he will not run for re-election in 2010. Blunt is definitely planning to run for Bond's seat. He is of the old school which sees campaign contributions as the equivalent of votes, and he is very actively putting the arm on all of the big Republican donors in Missouri to fill his campaign war chest. With this new job, he will also be in a better position to attract the contributions of big medical donors and others with a vested interest in keeping the nation's health care system as dysfunctional and uncontrolled as possible.

Grab all that you can, Roy - Robin Carnahan is still going to eat your shorts!

Today President Obama signed the much heralded and sorely needed re-authorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The bill will provide several million children with health coverage. It was passed during the last administration but vetoed by President Bush - trillions for war but not a dime for the health needs of poor children! This time when Congress passed the bill by wide margins in both houses, an eager President Obama was standing by awaiting it's arrival at the White House, pen in hand.

The S-CHIP bill passed basically along a party-line vote. The Senate voted 66 ayes and 32 nays. (Nine Republican Senators supported the bill, and all 32 negative votes were from the GOP.) The vote in the House was also lopsided. Two-hundred-and-eighty-nine members voted for its passage, and 139 were against. Of those 139, all but 2 were Republicans.

John Boehner, the Minority Leader of the House who is so interested in health care that he rushed to form a task force on the subject, voted against giving health care to poor kids. Roy Blunt, who represents some of the nation's poorest hill folk, also voted against the measure.

Does Roy Blunt heading a health task force fool anyone?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Civil Disobedience in Size Ten

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

George Bush was making his Grand Farewell Tour of the Middle East on December 14th of the year just past, when the relevancy of his entire presidency and foreign policy was knocked into a cocked hat by a couple of flying shoes. He was in the middle of a large press conference in Iraq when an angry Iraqi journalist named Muntadir al-Zaidi loosed a barrage of hostile Iraqi verbiage that declared Mr. Bush to be a dog, and then he let fly with one of his shoes - and then the other. Our President, surprisingly agile - possibly due to his cheerleader training at Yale - managed to successfully duck the flying footwear. In an effort to recover some of his dignity, the President joked that he thought the shoes were a size ten.

The incident resulted in al-Zaidi becoming a hero throughout the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular (with shoe sales of that particular model going through the roof!), quickly disproving the CIA and Blackwater claims that we are generally seen as liberators by the people of Iraq. The famous shoe-thrower has been in jail since the incident where reports indicate that he may be recovering from broken bones and cigarette burns. A trial date is pending which could result in him being subjected to some serious punishment. Clearly Iraqi officials do not view al-Zaidi with the same adulation as do the common folk of their country!

Jump forward a couple of weeks to an orphanage in Tikrit, Iraq, the hometown of Sadam Hussein. The reason the orphanage exists is due to the abundance of war orphans. It is understandable that the city might be somewhat hostile to the country that they view as responsible for the deaths of their favorite son and the parents of the orphans.

An Iraqi sculptor by the name of Laith al-Amiri managed to raise $5,000 to build an outdoor sculpture at the orphanage. Some of the orphans even helped with the project. The result was a giant shoe sculpture on a large concrete base. The statue measured over 11 feet in height, over 8 feet in length, and was nearly 5 feet wide. The shoe itself (sitting atop the concrete base) was the size of an Iraqi sofa. It was made of fiberglass covered in copper. In a nod to the environment, not a hot George Bush priority, the giant shoe doubled as a planter for a big green bush. Iraqi government officials quickly ordered the big shoe's removal - the will of the people be damned! So much for freedom of speech - and all that jazz!

Jump across Europe and the English Channel to Great Britain. Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa was speaking at Cambridge University last week when an audience member blew a whistle and shouted: "How can the university prostitute itself with this dictator? How can you listen to him unchallenged?" Whereupon, he took aim and threw his shoe at the premier, missing his mark. He, too, was arrested and remains in jail.

So where do fair-minded people come down on this particular type of protest? Do we label it assault or attempted assault and demand a criminal penalty? Or do we go to the other extreme and declare it a harmless act of civil disobedience? Never mind Jesus - what would Henry David Thoreau do?

My thoughts on the subject are evolving, but I feel the need to give fair warning that the older I get, the meaner I get - and I wear a size ten!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Overheard on the Treadmill

by Pa Rock
Shameless Eavesdropper

Saturday, or perhaps Sunday, while I was resolutely marching to Pretoria on the treadmill at the gym, I had the pleasure of listening to two ladies who were talking at least as fast as they were walking. Well, it wasn't that pleasurable, but it did turn out to be interesting.

If I were a cop I would have typed this chatty duo as a couple of middle-aged soccer moms. Instead of talking kids or soccer, however, they were focused on politics. The first topic on the table was abortion. Arizona is a fairly conservative state, and I expected their opinions to be somewhat to the right of John McCain - and one was. The one on the left felt that it should be a woman's decision, while the other, obviously a good friend, felt that God was in charge of women's bodies - at least after conception. Their conversation was animated, but far short of the intensity level that would have arisen on MSNBC or Fox in a panel discussion on the same subject.

They found themselves agreeing on the next topic of conversation: President Obama. As soon as his name was mentioned, I was anticipating an explosion of vitriol, at least from the one who was so negative on the subject of abortion. Surprisingly, however, they both liked Obama - and for the same reason. They talked about him being a family man and how nice it was that he sat down with his family for breakfast and dinner.

Now I think that I have a sense of why the President's approval rating is above seventy percent. His occupation (politician) and his race are both seen as secondary to his warm presentation as a caring and involved husband and father. There will be many who disagree with his politics and economics, but everyone has a sense of what constitutes a good family man, and Barack Obama is meeting that standard.