Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween at the Wheezin' Geezer Trailer Park

by Pa Rock
Satanic Reveler

I love Halloween - it's my very favorite holiday! I love the little kids and their costumes, and the parents prodding them to approach and hold out their bags and say "trick or treat." I love the commotion in the streets, the neighbors visiting as the little monsters and ballerina's dart from house to house, and the happiness that the special evening brings to most people. Oh, to be completely honest, I also love the fact that the whole idea of Halloween drives many religious fundamentalists batshit crazy - but that is just gravy! Basically Halloween is a fun evening for kids of all ages.

My new home is in a gated trailer park that is populated by a preponderance of old farts. Many don't seem to like kids - or cats running lose - or people driving sporty cars with the top down - or anything more radical than Geritol. It is sort of like living in Florida. One of my goals in life is to shatter the peace of this geriatric compound.

One thing that I did last week to upset the status quo was to cast my mail-in ballot in favor of a local school tax increase. Taxes in Arizona are damned near nothing, but people piss and moan about even the pittance that they are required to fork over for their desert lifestyle. I also still have an Obama bumper sticker on my car, something that is a real teeth-grinder for the old fools in the trailer park and throughout Phoenix.

Tonight I had six little trick-or-treaters, all Hispanic, and all cute as proverbial bugs! Each of these little hobgoblins got a Snickers bar from Pa Rock - a big one! Next year, after the word has gotten out about the old gringo who hands out Snickers bars, I anticipate a hundred little visitors. My neighbors are going to love that!

Anarchy rules!

Friday, October 30, 2009

LBJ Cries in the Crapper

by Pa Rock
Conspiracy Theorist

John F. Kennedy was murdered forty-six years ago next month, but the circumstances of that crime were such that controversy reigns supreme over what actually happened to this very day, and, much like the murder of Abraham Lincoln a century earlier, it promises to be one of those events that will keep good people arguing throughout the ages.

There are all kinds of theories about what really happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963. A few simple souls think that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but a majority of Americans and many historical and crime researchers don't buy that vanilla explanation. Some believe that the murder was planned and organized by Fidel Castro as payback for America's involvement in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Others are sure that it was a mob hit, possibly as retribution for Robert Kennedy's laser focus on Jimmy Hoffa. Still others see the event as being planned and executed by agencies of our own government - say by FBI Director (and frumpy cross-dresser) J. Edgar Hoover who made little effort to keep his hatred of the Kennedy's a secret, or the CIA, or the military, or some fascist combination of elements of all of the above.

My personal theory is that it was put together by Lyndon and/or Lady Bird Johnson, a couple of slick political operators who were politically ruthless and knew how to get things done - and had much to gain. Johnson, whose chief role model was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was getting older and had a serious heart condition - and he wanted to be President in the worst way.

But, all of that is just so much conjecture. It won't be solved definitively until I retire and get time to do it myself.

Tidbits on the assassination continue to trickle out. Today there was a bit in Huffington Post by a writer named Steven M. Gillon. He was doing research on the assassination at the Kennedy Library in Boston last spring - on the exact day that a new record was opened to the public. That record was a transcript of an interview with retired Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh who was JFK's military aide on that fateful day in Dallas. McHugh gave an interview to the library in 1978 and provided information about the reaction of Lyndon Johnson to the murder. He had not shared his story with the Warren Commission during their investigation in 1964, possibly to avoid pissing off his Commander-in-Chief.

General McHugh said that Jackie Kennedy was seated aboard Air Force One wearing her bloodied pink suit and pillbox hat that had pieces of JFKs' brains stuck in the fabric. She was wanting to get the plane in the air and get away from Dallas. He notified the pilot to get it in the air, but the pilot said that he had been ordered to wait. Upon quick investigation, the General learned that LBJ was on board and not wanting to leave yet.

McHugh went to find the new President and determine what was going on. Johnson was not in the passenger section of the plane, so McHugh then went to the Presidential bedroom. When he couldn't find him there - he checked the only remaining space where the President could be - the restroom in the Presidential bedroom. General McHugh stated: "I walked in the toilet, in the powder room, and there he was hiding, with the curtain closed." He said that LBJ was sitting on the john crying and saying, "They're going to get us all. It's a plot. It's going to get us all." McHugh described LBJ as being "hysterical."

And all of that adds to my theory that one or both of the Johnson's were behind the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was a tough old bastard, and if he was sitting on the crapper bawling like a baby, he was acting. If he was doing any emotional suffering, my guess is that it was because he had to stay cooped up in the little bathroom for so long until someone finally came in to witness his distress.

Lyndon Johnson was an amazing President in many respects. He knew how to twist arms and make Congress do his bidding. He understood that a great legacy would involve creating remarkable social programs like Medicare and championing civil rights. He was a conservative southern Democrat who came to the White House and became a domestic liberal icon.

But, like his hero FDR, Johnson also thought that he could achieve greatness through being a wartime president. (George Bush, who hid from combat during LBJ's war, succumbed to that same Siren's song forty years later.) What LBJ got was the morass of Vietnam. What LBJ got was literally being driven from office by the peace movement. I guess the good news for LBJ on the international scene was that at least nobody threw shoes at him!

I have no way of proving my spurious allegations that one or both of the Johnson's were involved in the murder of John F. Kennedy. I just think it is a distinct possibility. Of this, however, I am certain: Lyndon Baines Johnson, a macho hombre who enjoyed lifting his beagles by the ears and snapping his wife's bra strap in public, was not hiding in an airplane bathroom crying out of fear or panic. If he was crying it was scripted and right on cue.

Now do you see why I call this blog The Ramble?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bigots and Morons Beware!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I will admit that there have been times since the good guys took over the White House last January when I have wished that President Obama would be more outspoken, more dynamic, and more in-your-face toward the knuckle-draggers, teabaggers, religious fundamentalists, Fox News broadcasters, and other raging pieces of excrement who continually strive to befoul society. But our President marches at his own pace, and slowly but surely he is getting things done and moving our country forward.

Yesterday was a red-letter day in the history of America. President Obama affixed his signature to The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, making it federal law - the law of the land. This monumental legislation (a law that President Bush had vowed to veto if it ever reached his desk) now offers federal protections to victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender. Now if a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or trans-gendered person is attacked because of their orientation or who they love, the federal government can take jurisdiction and try the alleged perpetrators in federal court - and then lock their sorry butts up in federal prison.

Matthew Shepard was the college student in Wyoming who was beaten senseless and then left to die on a barbed wire fence that stretched across the icy Wyoming landscape - a scene eerily reminiscent of a crucifixion. James Byrd, Jr. was a black man in Texas who was tied to the bumper of a pick-up truck and dragged to death. The perpetrators in both cases were drunken, white trash.

Kudos to Judy and Dennis Shepard (Matthew's parents) who have worked diligently for years to get this legislation passed and signed. Your son would have been so proud of your dedicated efforts to give federal protections to an important segment of the American population. America is truly in your debt.

Now, President Obama, let's get serious about "Don't Ask - Don't Tell." Everyone who wants to serve their country should be allowed to do so without having to hide who they are. The troops are way ahead of the politicians on this one. It's time to get rid of this archaic and detrimental policy - a policy that weakens our military and our national security.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arnold Goes Acrostic

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I have written about acrostic poetry before - poems in which the first letter of each line spells out a special message, a message that usually adds some degree of depth to the basic message of the poem. Lewis Carroll, for example, used an acrostic poem in Through the Looking Glass to reveal the name of the very real little girl whom he modeled "Alice" of Alice in Wonderland after. I also used this blog to show an acrostic sonnet that I wrote - many years ago - that poked a little fun at Petrarch for not completely structuring his highly structured sonnet form.

Now Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has gotten into the act. It seems the guv likes to attach a personal note to bills that he signs or vetoes - and then send the bill back, with the note, to the bill's author. That is very courteous, and I am certain that his mother would have been pleased at her son's thoughtfulness. But, being a mother, she was probably also very aware of what a rascal her little boy was.

Or did he turn into a rascal due to all of those steroids over all of those years?

Whatever the reason, the governor of California did pull a good one recently when he sent a note to Tom Ammiano, an assemblyman from San Francisco who had submitted a bill in the legislature that passed unanimously - a bill that would have economically revitalized part of the Port of San Francisco. Unfortunately for the bill and Port of San Francisco, the governor chose to veto that bill - hence the governor's personal note to Assemblyman Ammiano.

Did I mention that the assemblyman had heckled Governor Schwarzenegger at a San Francisco event earlier in the year?

So what was the personal message that Arnold sent to Assemblyman Ammiano along with the veto letter?

(Unfortunately, I can't get Blogspot to format the way that Arnold's letter was formatted - so here is the text with the first letter of each line in bold:)

"For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just kicks the can down the alley.

"Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is unnecesary to sign this measure at this time."

Schwarzeneggar has vetoed six of eight Ammiano bills this year, with five of those six coming after the assemblyman heckled the governor.

Way to go, Arnie! Your clever rebuke puts me in mind of the words of another great American, Dick Cheney, when he told Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (on the floor of the U.S. Senate) to "go fuck yourself." You Republicans sure can turn a phrase - and get even!

And isn't that what government is all about?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

GOP Blood-Letting in New York's 23rd

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Twenty-three is my favorite number. I was born on the 23rd day of a month, as was one of my children. It's a prime number which makes it infinitely stronger than those wimpy numbers that are divisible by other numbers. It was the number on Michael Jordan's jersey. And, I am certain that when I win Powerball, the powerball number will be twenty-three. It's a great number - what's not to love!

Today lucky number twenty-three is making political news. Earlier this year President Obama (God, I love saying "President Obama!") made news when he selected conservative Republican Congressman John McHugh of New York to be the new Secretary of the Army. McHugh took the position and thus left a vacancy in his old district - New York's 23rd. Whether Obama was playing a crafty game of political chess when he made that appointment may never be known, but nudging McHugh out of Congress has created a firestorm among Republicans - both in New York's 23rd congressional district as well as nationally.

(When Republicans are spitting fire, it is so gratifying to watch them burn each other!)

The Republican establishment in New York nominated a moderate named Dede Scozzafava to run for McHugh's seat. She is a resident of the district who apparently has a fairly good handle on the issues affecting the residents of the 23rd. But, she is "moderate" - a word that the right-wingers in the Republican party can't pronounce without spitting! (Among things that Ms. Scozzafava favors are abortion rights and gay marriage...horrors!)

So enter Doug Hoffman who grabbed the banner of the Conservative Party and is running for the same seat. Mr. Hoffman has been exposed by the local press as being somewhat of a carpetbagger who may or may not legally reside in the district and has little understanding of local issues.

Hoffman probably wouldn't pose much of a threat to Scozzafava if it weren't for his chorus of national teabaggers who have stormed into upstate New York to help him campaign. So far he is being endorsed by Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Steve Forbes, lobbyist Dick Armey, columnist Bill Kristol, Fred Thompson (who has made a television commercial for him), former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Kansas Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Tiahrt. Today, Minnesota governor and political whore Tim Pawlenty announced that he was also rushing to New York to support Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.

Dede Scozzafava, the actual Republican who isn't pure enough for the fascist wing of the party, is being supported by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. She also has the support of the local Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.

The relatively non-controversial Democratic candidate for Congress in New York's 23rd is Bill Owens. So far two United States President's - Barack Obama and Bill Clinton - have stopped by his district to offer their support. Can Jimmy Carter be far behind?

While the Republicans are focused on eating each other, it is entirely possible that Bill Owens could win the seat. If this GOP cannibalism is allowed to spread, 2010 will be a great year!

Go you teabaggers!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "Sunday Morning Coming Down"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Occasionally I like to highlight song lyrics as the featured "poetry" of the week, and while I fully understand that there are still poets scribbling great thoughts and emotions that aren't put to music, that doesn't detract from the reality that many great poets are, in fact, songwriters and lyricists.

Today I would like to spotlight an amazing poet and songwriter from my generation, Kris Kristofferson. Though some will undoubtedly argue that "Me and Bobby McGee" was his most memorable effort, I remain a fervent fan of "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Kristofferson leads us down a city street - sharing the sights, and sounds, and smells - of a hungover Sunday morning. His descriptive powers are as tight and masterful as they are emotive.

Just try reading the lines that follow without hearing Johnny Cash. Just try!

Sunday Morning Coming Down
by Kris Kristofferson

Well I woke up Sunday morning,
With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes,
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
An' I shaved my face and combed my hair,
An' stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I'd smoked my brain the night before,
On cigarettes and songs I'd been pickin'.
But I lit my first and watched a small kid,
Cussin' at a can that he was kicking.
Then I crossed the empty street,
'n caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin' chicken.
And it took me back to somethin',
That I'd lost somehow, somewhere along the way.

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
'Cos there's something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there's nothin' short of dyin',
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin' city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin' comin' down.

In the park I saw a daddy,
With a laughin' little girl who he was swingin'.
And I stopped beside a Sunday school,
And listened to the song they were singin'.
Then I headed back for home,
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin'.
And it echoed through the canyons,
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
'Cos there's something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there's nothin' short of dyin',
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin' city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin' comin' down.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Kite Runner Soars on Stage!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Theatre Critic

I drove to downtown Phoenix today to see the Arizona Theatre Company's production of The Kite Runner. I left home early in order to enjoy a leisurely drive over the city streets rather than zipping across town on Interstate 10. The drive down McDowell took me past the Arizona State Fair and gave me the opportunity to check out the parking situation there in case I develop the resolve to take in the fair next weekend - and I think that I may just do that!

By leaving the house early, I was able to find parking on the street - effecting a net savings of $12.00. My much coveted parking spot was right in front of the U.S. Airways Center, within spittin' distance of the Hard Rock Cafe, and in the shadow of a fire department ropes exercise where firefighters were lowering themselves by ropes off of a crane that whose arm was about 300 feet in the air. That show by itself was worth the drive into Phoenix!

The Kite Runner is based on Khaled Hosseini's runaway bestselling novel of the same name. It was adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler who is a Professor of Performance Studies at San Jose State University in California. The play was originally produced at San Jose State under the direction of Mr. Spangler. The production that I was privileged to see today had many of the original San Jose cast members. Some of the cast have been living these roles in various locations for two years, and this afternoon's performance was their last for the foreseeable future.

To say that this was a polished performance would be serious understatement. The Kite Runner was intricate, complicated, and flawless. It would be difficult and unfair to single out individual actors for their efforts simply because to do so would imply that some were better than others - when in truth, every member of the large cast was superb.

I will make special mention of the lone musician, Salar Nader. He sat on a corner of the stage throughout most of the play and did a remarkable job playing the tabla - an instrument consisting of seven or eight individual and unique drums. Mr. Nader's amazing percussion skills continually stoked the intensity of the play. (For those who would like to know more about Salar Nader or the tabla, he has a web page at

This play is too good to just pack up and go home. It is a lesson in Afghan history and culture interwoven with serious questions of humanity and morality. I predict that The Kite Runner will soon be Broadway bound, and if I am right, I will make a pilgrimage to the Great White Way to see it there!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Devil and Daniel Webster Take the Stage at Luke AFB

by Pa Rock
Citizen Theatre Critic

The Luke Experience is a community theatre troupe that is a relatively recent addition to the cultural scene at Luke Air Force Base. Tonight I had the pleasure of attending their performance of The Devil and Daniel Webster, a morality play based on an award-winning short story by Stephen Vincent Benet.

I enjoy community theatre, having worked with a few, and I came to tonight's performance with several expectations. First, because the show was being staged for one night only, I expected quite a few first night gaffes - but if there were any they escaped my critical perusal. The play was performed skillfully, and even though there were quite a few people on stage, the blocking was good and the cast flowed across the stage with ease and grace.

I was also expecting to see some stilted acting, especially since the major characters of this play are men. (It is often hard for little theatre's to find an adequate pool of men from which to cast - and, at least in my experience, they tend to be less dramatically inclined than the ladies.) This cast was exceptional. Of particular note, Marques Bones had a commanding stage presence. Bones portrayed Jabez Stone, the poor New Hampshire farmer who sold his soul to the devil. Mitchell Bechtold was the devil, Mr. Scratch. He strolled the stage in a delightfully demonic manner as he sought to collect and protect his property - the soul of Jabez Stone.

The director of this production was Lacey Quattlebaum. Not only did she do a fine job of bringing this script to the stage, she also donned a mustache and served as a stand-in for the actor who was scheduled to play Daniel Webster. Lacey was presented with a very well-deserved bouquet from the cast and crew at the end of the production.

Many of the people associated with the Luke Experience and tonight's play are active duty members of the United States Air Force. They keep us safe, and in their spare time they are damned fine entertainers! I hope to have the opportunity to attend many more of their productions.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gabrielle Giffords

by Pa Rock
Political Observer

At times I catch myself getting a little critical of Arizona, particularly Arizona politicians. It's easy to be critical in Maricopa County where we have a sheriff and a county attorney sharing a brain - and not a very good one, at that, where my congressman, Trent Franks and Beans, proves time and again that he is mostly beans, and where a Presidential visit is tantamount to a call to arms. Our U.S. Senators, Kyl and McCain, both have 3rd degree chapped lips from kissing the butts of every teabagger and know-nothing in the state, and the State Superintendent of Schools is openly contemptuous of education.

But there are some bright spots in this state. Five of the state's nine congresspeople are Democrats, and of those five, the brightest star is Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona's 8th Congressional District. I first became aware of this amazing young lady last spring when someone at one of her town hall meetings got so excited that he left his gun behind after the event. I instinctively knew that morons don't take guns to the events of other morons, which meant that Giffords must have something positive going for her.

And she does. The Tucson native is well educated. She received a B.A. in sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in California, and completed a Master of Regional Planning at Cornell. She focused her studies on Mexico–United States relations while at Cornell. (Her congressional district is one of only ten in the United States that shares a border with Mexico.) Rep. Giffords was a Fulbright Scholar in Chihuahua, Mexico, and she has also been a fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. She has an education and a work history that served as an ideal preparation for service in Congress. (For years, my congressman in Missouri was a used car dealer who was openly suspicious of anyone with an education!)

Congresswoman Giffords fashions herself a "blue dog" Democrat, but that has to be political posturing because her record does not support that appellation. While in the Arizona legislature she worked tirelessly for improved health care, especially for women and children. She is also pro-choice and pro-gun control, garnering the endorsement of Emily's List and a grade of D+ from the National Rifle Association and a D- from the Gun Owners of America. Blue Dog, indeed!

Her primary strength, however, has to be in understanding what is going on in Mexico and in the logical support of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a guest worker program. She has her finger on the pulse of our neighbor to the south, noting recently that the maquilladora factory system - the one that came about when U.S. manufactures rushed across the Rio Grande for cheap labor after Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and screwed the unions - those same maquilladoras are now packing up and moving to Asia for even cheaper labor. It is illogical to think that unemployed Mexican factory workers are going to sit on the curb and starve when jobs are available in Los Estados Unidos. ("The United States" for you gringos who refuse to learn even an elemental smattering of Spanish.)

Congresswoman Giffords is married to astronaut Mark Kelly, making her the only current member of Congress to have a spouse who is a member of the Armed Forces, and the only member of Congress to ever have a spouse in space.

Gabrielle Giffords is one smart cookie, and the good citizens of Arizona's 8th are damned lucky to have her representing them in Washington! I may just have to move to Tucson!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dear Senator McCaskill

by Pa Rock
Concerned Citizen

Dear Senator McCaskill,

I received your self-laudatory email today in which you paint Congress with the broad brush of wastefulness and then go on to make it seem as though you are are going to tame the spending beast. The entire content and tone of your email puts me in mind of Ronald Reagan who arrived in Washington, DC, in 1981 and promptly proclaimed that the federal government was our enemy. He was still singing that same basic song eight years later, even though he had been the head of the federal government all of that time.

Your communication boasted of new legislation which you were sponsoring that would solve a lot of our fiscal problems. You referred to it as pay-as-you-go legislation, and stated that it would require Congress to find a way to pay for all new entitlement spending or tax cuts, rather than adding to the national deficit. Okay, I understand the politics of the legislation: hindering the ability to cut taxes would be taking a strong swipe at the Republicans, but you give them something by messing with future entitlement programs - giving some credence to their unending braying about entitlement programs being giveaways to lazy people. Shame, Claire, shame!

Your "PAYGO" legislation adroitly ignores the biggest government waste of money - the war industry. Obviously the entitlement program for Blackwateer (excuse me, "Xe") is going to be left in place and allowed to flourish. We will fund murdering thugs like Erik Prince's evil cabal, but hungry kids can just suck it up! Smooth move, Claire!

But that isn't what really got me going about your silly email. You state in the missive that you will only vote for a health care reform bill if it's deficit-neutral. Got an election on the horizon, Claire? Got a sugar daddy in the insurance industry? Everyone knows, me and you included, that you are going to do the right thing and support good health care legislation. Everyone knows, including the two of us, that Congress will find a way to make it deficit neutral. So why all of this tough guy posturing if not to play to the hillbillies in the Ozarks and the morons in St. Louis County. Claire, you're better than that.

If you are intent on changing Congress, how about beginning with straightforward, honest communication. If you want to role play, join a Little Theatre!

And here is something else about Congress that needs immediate attention:

The Congressional email service is lousy. It is intentionally lousy. It was designed to deliver messages en masse from members of Congress to their constituents - and to prevent input from citizens. I hit the reply button on your email tonight, typed in a few cogent remarks, and sent it. It was immediately bounced back. I knew that would happen because I have tried previously to answer Congressional junk email with the same disappointing results.

That's shameful, but it gets worse...

If a person goes to any Congressional homepage, your's included, and sends an email through the access there, the email won't go unless a myriad of questions are answered about the sender and the message. The sender has to select a topic that best relates to the comment being sent. Then, an immediate reply is fired back automatically relating to the subject that was checked. If you send the email at night, the comment comes back the same night - even though the Congressional office that should have responded to the email was closed. The citizen sending the email has no way of knowing whether any human read the message, let alone the member of Congress to whom it was addressed.

If Congress doesn't want public input, they should just say so.

Get a grip Claire. If you want to save the public's money - go to where the money is - in the wallets of the old white boys running the military-industrial complex. It is not un-American to expect accountability in defense spending. Seems like I remember George Bush saying that this war would soon be paying for itself. Why hasn't that happened? Enquiring minds want to know!

How about a good, thorough audit of the defense contractors? You are a fan of audits, aren't you, Claire? If you want to save money - go to where it is!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Harriet the Hedgehog: Living the Dream!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Consider the following three individuals:

Alex is a four-month-old healthy baby boy who weighs 17 pounds. Aslin is a two-year-old little girl, also healthy, who weighs 22 pounds. Harriet is an adult hedgehog (weight unknown) who requires regular anti-psychotic medications. Which one of those three was able to get health insurance without a hassle? Obviously the correct answer is Harriet the hedgehog - this is America, after all!

Alex Lange was initially denied health insurance because the insurance company felt that he was obese. Alex's father is a well-known television personality in Colorado, and he and the family were able to stir enough media interest in the case that the insurance eventually backed down.

Aslin Bates, also of Colorado, was denied insurance because her parents' insurance company regarded her as underweight. So far her parents have been unsuccessful in trying to change the insurance company's attitude and policy regarding their daughter.

But Harriet the hedgehog, of Wisconsin, has health insurance, thank you very much! Of course, she was healthy when she got the policy and developed her psychotic behaviors later - but the fact remains that a hedgehog could get insurance in 21st century America, when that same benefit is not universally available to our children. Somehow, that just doesn't feel right!

(National Public Radio (NPR) told the story of Harriet this morning as a part of a longer piece that they were doing on the evolving industry of pet insurance.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More on Levi King

by Pa Rock
Social Commentator

I wrote a piece for The Ramble on October 7, 2009, regarding Levi King, a young man who has been sentenced to life in prison in Missouri for killing two people there, and also sentenced to life in prison by Texas for killing three people there and attempting to kill a fourth. I understand that Levi is still in jail in Texas, but will soon be transferred to Missouri where he will serve out the remainder of his sentence and his life.

Levi is a cold-blooded murderer, and that fact cannot be glossed over by any argument or clever justification. Indeed, he pled guilty in both states. The only judicial deliberations were over the sentences that the two states would impose. That was how I got involved. As a former social worker associated with Levi and his family as he was growing up, I was called to Lubbock to testify about the conditions of his youth. I was on the stand three and a half hours.

The jurors in Texas spent five weeks listening to people who knew Levi and his family through the years. They were shown a comprehensive picture of a little boy with a bright smile who slowly, and almost predictably, was transformed into a monster. Each day for five weeks the jurors listened to people from Levi’s past relate his life in terms that were agonizing to hear – for the jury as well as for Levi. Each day they watched Levi’s guarded, silent reactions to things that were being said about him, and his parents, and his brothers and sisters.

(Levi had been scrubbed up and fitted with a nice suit. One juror supposedly commented on the first day of the sentencing hearing that she had mistakenly assumed he was one of the attorneys. But a new suit and a good haircut could do little but highlight the pain and fear that were emanating from his young eyes.)

The jurors also had to look into the eyes of the victims’ family and friends who were in the courtroom every day. There was pain in those eyes also, as well as bewilderment and anger. If there ever was a thankless job, it belonged to those twelve fine people in Lubbock who had to chart a steady course across a sea of rage.

Yesterday I received the following anonymous comment on the original “Levi King” post of October 7, 2009. It gives a rare glimpse into the grueling responsibility that befell that jury.

Thank you for your kind words, for Levi and for the jury. I was one of those jurors who sat for over 5 weeks and listened to all the testimony, including your own. I have weeped many nights for the victims and their family, but I have also weeped for Levi. I truly hope he does take this opportunity that has been given to him and that he makes something of the precious life of his that was spared.

To which I reply:

Thank you, Juror, for taking your task so seriously and listening patiently day after day, week after week, while a young man’s life was dissected and reassembled in a Texas courtroom. Thank you for having the heart to realize that while Levi did commit unspeakable acts of violence and murder, no child is born evil, not even Levi King, and he was pushed down a path toward tragedy at a very young age. Thank you for being compassionate when it would have been much easier to be vengeful. I hope and pray that Levi will be ever mindful of the opportunity that you and your colleagues on the jury have given to him. May he find the ability and resolve to do something positive with his life in prison, and may you find peace in your heart for your courageous decision to allow him to live. It could not have been easy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "Troop Train" Reflections on the Greatest Generation

by Pa Rock
Proud Son

My father, Garland Eugene Macy, was born eighty-five years ago today in rural Newton County, Missouri. He was born into poverty and grew up, like many rural kids at the time, not realizing just how poor his family actually was. My dad, when just a very young boy, put some of the food on the family table by trapping rabbits. He also made some spending money doing farm work for the neighbors and his numerous relatives who had hardscrabble farms close by.

My grandfather, Charles "Chalk" Eugene Macy, also did farm work and had a couple of milk cows. He had a horse and buggy that he would occasionally drive several miles into Neosho and Seneca, but more often than not he and my grandmother, Hazel Josephine (Nutt) Macy would catch rides into town in the cars of obliging neighbors. The family never owned a car, and Chalk and Hazel never learned to drive.

All of that was happening during the Great Depression. Probably the three definitive periods of my father's life were the Great Depression, World War II, and the post war economic boom in the United States, a time when many of the nation's poor whites successfully transitioned into the middle class.

My dad learned to struggle, and scrimp, and save during the Depression. Many of the values that form his character came from that period. Until quite recently, for instance, he was adamant that the only measure of success was money. He is beginning to soften some on that gage of success now - and can admit that happiness and personal satisfaction are also contributing factors to living a successful life - but money is still mighty important!

Dad attended a small rural school (Westview) that only went to grade ten. When he completed tenth grade, he moved to Neosho, lived with relatives, got a job, and finished high school. In 1942, shortly after graduating, he entered the U.S. Army Air Corps.

The Second World War took my father out of the sticks of Newton County and showed him the world. He served in the European Theatre (seeing both London and Paris) and eventually attained the rank of staff sergeant. (I can still remember his cousins always referring to him as "Sarge" because he was the only one of their number who achieved the status of becoming a sergeant.) Dad was seriously wounded during a training exercise and received the Purple Heart.

When the war ended, my dad rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He owned several businesses over the years, and likes to brag that he and my mother only rented a house one time - and then only briefly. In fact, over the years he accumulated several rental houses of his own. He was successful on his own terms, made lots of money, and has held on to much of it!

Today he lives by himself in a house that is much too large, drives where he needs to go, and relishes the opportunity to get out and "fix" something. He doesn't walk as well as he once did, and I worry that he will suffer a fall that will limit his mobility - but mentally he remains razor sharp. He likes following the stock market and reading westerns.

Today's poem, "Troop Train," is respectfully dedicated to my father. He tells a funny story about getting into some minor difficulty during basic training and, as punishment, having to peel potatoes on a troop train all the way from St. Louis, Missouri, to St. Petersburg, Florida. (I'm certain that it wasn't funny at the time!)

Troop Train
by Karl Shapiro

It stops the town we come through. Workers raise
Their oily arms in good salute and grin.
Kids scream as at a circus. Business men
Glance hopefully and go their measured way.
And women standing at their dumbstruck door
More slowly wave and seem to warn us back,
As if a tear blinding the course of war
Might once dissolve our iron in their sweet wish.

Fruit of the world, O clustered on ourselves
We hang as from a cornucopia
In total friendliness, with faces bunched
To spray the streets with catcalls and with leers.
A bottle smashes on the moving ties
And eyes fixed on a lady smiling pink
Stretch like a rubber-band and snap and sting
The mouth that wants the drink-of-water kiss.

And on through the crummy continents and days,
Deliberate, grimy, slightly drunk we crawl,
The good-bad boys of circumstance and chance,
Whose bucket-helmets bang the empty wall
Where twist the murdered bodies of our packs
Next to the guns that only seem themselves.
And distance like a strap adjusted shrinks,
tightens across the shoulder and holds firm.

Here is a deck of cards; out of this hand
Dealer, deal me my luck, a pair of bulls,
The right to draw a flush, the one-eyed jack.
Diamonds and hearts are red but spades are black,
And spades are spades and clubs are clovers - black.
But deal me winners, souvenirs of peace.
This stands to reason and arithmetic,
Luck also travels and not all come back.

Trains lead to ships and ships to death or trains,
And trains to death or trucks, and trucks to death,
Or trucks lead to the march, the march to death,
Or that survival which is all our hope;
And death leads back to trucks and trains and ships,
But life leads to the march, O flag! at last
The place of life found after trains and death -
Nightfall of nations brilliant after war.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

by Pa Rock
Citizen Film Critic

This afternoon I went to see the new action thriller, Law Abiding Citizen, the tale of a very smart man who is wronged by the system and goes on to wreak havoc on most of those who had a hand in the injustice. The man, once a loving father and husband, evolves into a raging psychopath - a character written to give a warm and fuzzy feeling to the vigilante in all of us!

Gerard Butler is an inventor and employee of some clandestine government agency who cleans up situations and causes people to go away. As the movie opens, he is felled in his home by a couple of homicidal thieves. He lays helpless on the floor as one of the two miscreants rapes his wife and then carries off his 10-year-old daughter. (The age of the child does prove to be important as the plot unfolds.)

Butler's wife and daughter are both killed, and the case goes to Jamie Foxx for prosecution. Foxx is an up-and-coming young lawyer in the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, and he is overly concerned with keeping his conviction rate high. Foxx bargains away the case so that he can get an easy conviction. The most evil of the two thieves rolls over on the other. The deal-maker is charged with third degree murder, a crime that will land him in prison for just a few years. The other is convicted of first degree murder, a crime for which he will be executed.

And then suddenly it is ten years later. The execution of the luckless thief takes place - with a surprising twist - and his evil partner is dispatched to hell with a slaughter scene right out of Dexter. It is quickly determined that Gerard Butler's character is the murderer. He is sent to prison and ultimately (after killing his cell mate) is thrown into solitary confinement in the prison's dank and eerie basement. From there he begins to take revenge on society by somehow continually exacting his bloody wrath on those associated with the trial ten years before - all of whom are located outside of the prison.

There is a nice parallel drawn between the lives of Butler and Foxx. When the original crime is committed, Foxx is a young attorney with a pregnant wife living in a house that has bedsheets for curtains. When the story heats up ten years later, Foxx is financially secure and living in a nice home with his beautiful wife and ten-year-old daughter, almost exactly the same life that Butler had been happily living ten years prior. Would Foxx use that significant parallel to come to terms with his lax prosecution of the murderous home invaders, would he show some empathy toward Butler, or would he push on as an able crusader for truth, justice and the American way?

Jamie Foxx is a treat whenever he is on the screen - in any film, but Gerard Butler owns this movie. Yes, he is a psychopath, but it's hard not to root for the guy who is laser-focused on fixing America's porous court system through rampant bloodshed. Alfred Hitchcock could not have created a villain with the complexity of the one portrayed by Butler. Violet Davis, a favorite of mine, musters enough grit to be a very credible mayor of Philadelphia. All of the actors are solidly in the debt of Kurt Wimmer for a standout screenplay.

Law Abiding Citizen is great escapist entertainment, and isn't that, after all, why we still go to the movies?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Arizona Theatre Company

by Pa Rock
Patron of the Arts

Yes, it's true. If you live in the Valley of Hell long enough, you are bound to discover a few positives. For me, the primary benefit of hunkering down in the sand along with the scorpions and rattlesnakes is the abundance of really good theatre. No, not the cineplexes, but real, honest-to-God theatre. Since getting stuck here in the desert, I have been to several performances at the Stray Cat Theatre, mostly off-beat and always entertaining, and one unforgettable production at the Nearly Naked Theatre that left nothing to the imagination! I have also been to some wonderful productions at the Phoenix Theatre. I get fliers in the mail and email updates from all of these organizations, and try to take in a show every couple of months.

Last spring I saw an outstanding production of "A Raisin in the Sun" that was put on by the Arizona Theatre Company. It was one of the two best that I have seen in Arizona - the other being "Les Miserables" as performed by the Phoenix Theatre.

I mention all of this because early this morning just as my mental cylinders were beginning to fire, a young lady from the Arizona Theatre Company telephoned and asked if I had enjoyed "A Raisin in the Sun." It was a nice ice-breaker, guaranteed to draw me into dangerous chit-chat. Before I knew it, she had sold me a season's pass to the ATC productions for this year - six shows with great seats.

One week from tonight I will be enjoying "The Kite Runner." In November the fare is an Elaine May comedy / mystery entitled "George is Dead." Marlo Thomas will star in that production. (Wouldn't it be great to sit next to Phil Donahue and give him hell for supporting Ralph Nader in 2004!) The Fats Waller Musical, "Ain't Misbehavin'," will be performed in early January at the ATC. The February showcase will be a play entitled "Title of Show," focusing on two songwriters who are writing a play about two songwriters. Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" will take the stage in April, and the season closes out in May with Chicago's Second City comedy troupe in a performance specifically crafted for the Cactus State that is aptly titled "The Second City Does Arizona, or Close, But No Saguaro." That should be an especially fun night!

As is my annoying habit, I will be reviewing each of these productions in this space the morning after. So, if you can't be there, don't worry. Pa Rock has got you covered!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Interracial Marriage in the Twenty-First Century

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Way down yonder in Louisiana, in the 8th Ward of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to be exact, resides a justice of the peace who would have to evolve significantly to be considered a Neanderthal.

That justice of the peace is Keith Bardwell, a self-righteous character who refused to issue a marriage certificate to an interracial couple - not fifty years ago, but right now in the year 2009! His statement justifying his racist stupidity was this: "I'm not a racist. I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children." (Give the cracker a point: he didn't use the N word - at least not in front of the press!)

So good old boy Keith isn't racist - he's only concerned about the children that might result from a black-white union. The children!

Hey, Rip, have you been dozing for a few years? The President of the United States was one of those children. The President, Rip! God knows what will have changed after your next nap!

The United States has a long and ugly history with anti-miscegenation laws - especially with regard to black and white marriages. It wasn't unusual in the wild and woolly west, where there was a shortage of available white women, for white men to take Indian wives, and, indeed, many Americans (myself included) are descendants of such unions. And while those marriages went generally unchallenged, not so with whites who wanted to marry blacks. Some of the onus on that type of marriage is undoubtedly rooted in a Christian theology that spent two centuries preaching various versions of "blacks are not really human" as a justification for slavery. (Enslaving humans, after all, would not be moral! And if blacks were actually some form of ape, letting them marry whites would be bestiality.)

Various states began legalizing black-white marriages in the nineteenth century, but as of the late 1950's the Old South was still solidly against the concept. In June of 1958 a Virginia couple - Mildred Delores Jeter (a black woman) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man) went to Washington, DC, where they were legally married. When they returned to Virginia they were promptly arrested. The state of Virginia sentenced each of them to twenty-five years in prison, and suspended the sentence on the condition that they leave the state.

The case of Loving vs Virginia eventually made it's way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the Virginia decision was unanimously overturned and anti-miscegenation laws were effectively outlawed throughout the entire United States - even in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana.

That bold decision came from the liberal Warren Court. (Yes, there was a time in this country when the Supreme Court was decidedly liberal.) If the same case were to be argued before the Court today, the decision would likely not be unanimous. Somehow I can't see Justices Scalia and Thomas ever signing onto something that radical.

Oh wait...Justice Clarence Thomas is married to Virginia Lamp Thomas, a lady of decidedly Caucasian descent. My bad!

I suspect that Keith Bardwell will lose his justice of the peace gig, either through public pressure or a lawsuit, but not to worry - in rural Louisiana he ought to be a shoo-in for Congress!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to Pay for Health Care Reform

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Despite the moaning and wailing from conservative Americans whenever the subject of taxes comes up, the honest truth is that America was built and is maintained on taxes. Taxes fund the things that society demands - national defense, roads, prisons, schools, hospitals, police and fire protection, and every other thing that cannot reasonably be funded by individuals. There are various types of taxes available to keep the country functioning including corporate income taxes, personal income taxes, property taxes, inheritance taxes, and sales taxes.

Of all of America's taxing options, sales taxes are regressive and easily the most unfair. By regressive I mean that the poor spend a far greater percentage of their income on sales tax than do their rich counterparts. Gladys, who works two minimum wage jobs to feed her family, might bring home $500 in a week - if she gets lucky and pulls down some overtime - but she will spend forty or fifty percent of that on groceries - which are still taxed in most states. In fact, almost all of her salary gets spent on something, most of which is subject to sales tax. Poor Gladys doesn't get the opportunity to save much.

Ronald A. Williams, the President of Aetna Insurance, has to get by on $63,139.27 per day. Ron eats considerably better than Gladys, but where she spends forty to fifty percent of her salary on food, Ron can eat quite well on far less than one percent of his income - thank you very much! So, yeah Ron Williams will pay more in sales taxes than the poor folks that he lives off of, but much of his income goes into the bank or tax free investments, and is not subject to sales tax. Sales tax is a tax on the poor, and that is why it is so popular with Republican politicians and the rich.

But there is one big advantage to sales taxes - they can, when properly applied, change behavior. You have seen the commercial, no doubt, where the rough looking mom is bitching about Congress wanting to tax sodas and "fruit" drinks. She claims that taxing things doesn't change behavior, education does. Wrong. If you don't think taxes can't change behavior, just ask the cigarette industry. Smoking in America has dropped markedly over the past few decades - due to taxes. I quit in 1974 when the price rose to fifty cents per pack - because I could no longer afford to set aside that much money for a vice. Today smokes are in the neighborhood of $6.00 a pack!

Don't tell me that people have quit smoking for health reasons. I might believe that, but they are still lining up at the trough for Big Macs and Whoppers! People have quit smoking because of price!

So, as much as I hate sales taxes, they do represent a good way to pay for national health care and they could also serve to make us a healthier nation. It's simple: put targeted sales taxes on things that hurt our health. Put a "value added" tax on fast food, Twinkies and Ding Dongs, sodas and "fruit" drinks, candy, raw sugar, white bread, potato chips, tanning beds, cigarettes, alcohol, and, of course, guns and ammo. Tax that stuff to the point that it begins to change our behavior. We will be healthier as a country, and have the security of knowing that a catastrophic injury or illness will no longer be able to wipe out our savings and property.

Come on Congress, grow a set!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Killing for Votes

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was a moratorium on executions in the United States back in the sixties and early seventies while the Supreme Court studied the constitutionality of the ultimate punishment. The Court bent to the public bloodlust in the mid-1970's, and the greatest, most honorable country in the history of the planet resumed the barbaric practice of executing some people convicted of murder in 1976. Since that time, 1,176 people have been executed in the United States, and over one-third of those have been in the state of Texas.

Texas has executed 441 people during the past thirty-three years, over four times as many as second place Virginia which has killed 103 killers. Oklahoma is third with ninety-one. In fact, over 82% of all executions in America since the moratorium ended have occurred in the south, a region known for its strong fundamentalist Christian belief system.

(If executions were a deterrent, would these numbers be so high?)

Texas has executed over two hundred individuals (nearly half of its total) since December of 2000, the month that the state's current governor, Rick Perry, assumed the office when his predecessor, George W. Bush, resigned and moved off to Washington, DC.

Rick Perry is a vainglorious politician who is constantly preening his image - both physical and political. The late caustic Texas columnist Molly Ivins tagged him "Governor Goodhair." Perry's political instincts told him early on that a good execution generated as many boners among the good ole boys of the Lone Star state as a winning football team.

But now Governor Goodhair is suddenly having to defend his penchant for killing. The governor is locked in a tight Republican party primary fight with Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the senior U.S. Senator from Texas who wants to become governor - and both candidates are slinging dirt faster than a Juarez gravedigger.

The controversy revolves around the 2004 Texas execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, a young man who had allegedly murdered his three small daughters in 1991 by means of arson. Prior to his execution new and credible evidence surfaced that concluded that the house fire in which the little girls perished was not an act of arson. Governor Perry supposedly reviewed the new evidence and chose to ignore it, not wanting to risk the wrath of the voting public during an election year. Willingham went to his death declaring that he was an innocent man.

More evidence has emerged since the execution of Willingham that clearly shows that the fire was not an act of arson. Not only did his children die a brutal, horrible death, but the bereaved father was accused of killing them and then executed. And Rick Perry ran a comb through his great hair and smiled at the cameras!

It is cold comfort for the Willingham family, but the wrongful execution of the girls' father may be the deciding factor in finally removing Rick Perry from the governor's office.

Right now it is a real Texas horse race between Perry and Hutchinson - and those are just the Republicans. There are several Democrats seeking the chance to take on the Republican candidate - hoping that the GOP will be mortally wounded by their rough and rowdy primary. The most colorful Democratic contender is country singer and band leader (and mystery novelist), Kinky Friedman. Mr. Friedman, who runs with the likes of Don Imus and Willie Nelson, describes himself as a "Jew cowboy."

Texas politicians can be a lot of fun - when they aren't out killing for votes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

God and Guns Run Amuck

by Pa Rock
Social Commentator

I've written about Ken Pagano before in the Ramble. He was the Assembly of God pastor at the New Bethel Church in Louisville, KY, who had a "bring your guns to church day" at his little church last summer. I say "was" not because God's enforcer has gone to meet his maker, but rather because he has resigned from the ministry.

Yup, the God-fearing, pistol-packing minister has turned in his collection plate and is in pursuit of greener pastures. Kenny Boy, it seems, has decided to get into the church security business. He has joined forces with a New York rabbi to form a company whose goal is apparently to either provide armed guards to churches or to train church security personnel.

News flash, Ken: Churches have been very safe - at least they were before moronic ministers started encouraging their flocks to come to services armed. In fact, the only church shooting that I can remember in recent years happened in your state, Kentucky, when an armed right wing lunatic named Jim David Adkisson brought a shotgun into the Universalist Unitarian Church in Knoxville and opened fire. He was there, by his own admission, to kill liberals.

Will your new company help to protect churches that cater to liberals, or gay people, or people of color? Will it, Ken?

Ken, why don't you take your avid interest in guns and go into law enforcement. You could be a deputy in some jerkwater town, wear a badge, shoot at an occasional bad guy, and spend hours and hours salivating over your weapon. Could life get any better than that, Ken?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "Trees"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I have been digging in the dirt for a couple of weeks now, with some successes and one notable failure. Failure first: the beautiful standard lemon tree that I plugged into my front yard died. I don't know why, it just did. I guess trees are like all living things, including people, and sometimes they just die. Fortunately, I bought it from a large chain store, and all I had to do was dig "Baby" up and haul it back to the store.

The successes: The two red grapefruit trees that I planted are doing well, thank you very much, as is the tangelo tree. And yesterday, joy of joys, I came across a small kumquat tree that is just perfect for the extra-large flower pot that I bought on spec a few months ago. I dug up a nasty bush that I never liked, and replanted it out of the way - and where the bush did sit, now the potted kumquat rules! I love fresh kumquats and it is so rare that I ever come across any. But now...

So it is fitting that tonight I recognize trees with a couple of classic poems. The first is Joyce Kilmer's immortal Trees, and it is followed by a humorous rejoinder from Ogden Nash.

by Joyce Kilmer

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

To which the sardonic Ogden Nash replied:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hot on the Tail of Over-Sized Escorts

by Pa Rock
Critical Observer

I took the boys to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix twelve hours ago, and they have had an awful airport type of day. Air traffic was backed up in Denver due to weather someplace else, so they weren't able to catch the second leg of their trip to Kansas City. Tim finally got a seat on an outbound plane, but Nick and Boone have been at the Denver Airport literally all day. They are finally due to be boarding a plane to Kansas City as I write this. I think the plan now is for them to spend the night with Tim and Erin and head back to West Plains in the morning.

Yesterday Tim drove us back to Phoenix from the Grand Canyon. I was the co-pilot, and Nick and Boone sat in the back seat where Nick kept getting text updates on the Cardinals - Dodgers game. It would have been an uneventful trip, but Nick happened to look up as Tim passed a mini-van with tinted windows. Written across the side of the vehicle was "Over-sized Escorts of Tucson" and, in smaller lettering, "Chubby Chasers." (It turns out that similar advertising was written on the other side of the vehicle as well as across the back.) Nick had Tim slow down so the mini-van could pass us, and when it did, we passed them again so that Nick could get a good photo.

We laughed about over-sized escorts most of the way to Phoenix. Turns out that it is a company that escorts big loads going down the highway - such as mobile homes. But the double entendre was too clever not to have been intentional!

Chubby chasers, indeed!

Fly safe, boys!

Gun Shows: The Marketplace of Choice for Criminals, Cartels, and Creeps

by Pa Rock

Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, has released the results of a multi-state investigation into the dark world of gun shows, and, in findings that should surprise no one, sane or otherwise, the research shows that gun shows are the place to shop if you don't want to mess with all those pesky and intrusive government forms.

According to Mayor Bloomberg, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has identified gun shows at the source of more than 30% of all illegally trafficked guns in the country. Those are the guns most likely to be used in crimes - and to kill innocent people, including police officers.

New York City, longed plagued with gun violence committed with weapons that are imported into the city from the scarier parts of America, sent investigators with hidden cameras into seven gun shows across Ohio, Tennessee, and Nevada. They quickly learned how easy it is for criminals and people who are mentally ill to buy guns with no questions being asked.

"Private sellers" are those individuals who can legally peddle their wares at gun shows without doing background checks and are supposed to only make "occasional" sales, yet many essentially sell and trade weapons for a living, much of it "off the books." New York City's investigators discovered one individual who had sold 348 guns in less than a year. Many of these private sellers had large inventories ready to foist on the paranoids, sociopaths, and sportsmen perusing their wares.

The research method employed by NYC's investigators was to pose as buyers and tell the sellers that they "probably couldn't pass a background check." Even though these sellers don't do background checks thanks to America's loose gun laws, federal law still prohibits them from selling to individuals whom they suspect could not pass a background check. (So some yahoo telling a seller that he probably couldn't pass the background check should be a significant clue.)

And the results? Investigators told 30 sellers that they probably could not pass a background check. Nineteen of those thirty made the sale anyway.

Mayor Bloomberg's proposed remedy for this national sham:

"Congress should pass legislation requiring that all sales at gun shows be subject to criminal background checks - a measure that has the support of Sen. John McCain, President Obama, and 83% of gun owners. It is also time for Congress to support the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) with the resources it needs to crack down on illegal sales at gun shows."

The mayor ended his remarks by trying to make nice to private gun sellers:

"The vast majority of gun buyers at gun shows are law abiding citizens. Closing the gun show loophole and increasing resources to help AFT enforce the laws will not detract from anyone's Second Amendment rights. What it will do is send the message that criminals are not welcome at gun shows."

Of course, in a capitalist economic system, the goal is sell, sell, sell - with government regulations only when they serve to increase sales. Somehow I suspect that the gun manufacturers who own the NRA will not be supportive of Mayor Bloomberg's challenge to their profits.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On the Road in Arizona

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

It was a beautiful two days in Arizona's high country!

Yesterday we left Phoenix early and climbed steadily for a couple of hours until reaching beautiful Sedona (at about 6,000 feet above sea level) where we lunched and shopped. The highlight of Sedona for Boone was a visit to the UFO Store where he posed for a picture with a genuine alien and his spaceship, and came away with an Obama-as-an-alien tee shirt. The young lady who was working at the UFO Store had recently quit a four-year stint at Sprint. She said that she liked selling alien merchandise much better than working for Sprint because at the UFO Store she could have her hair any color that she wanted. (What a great job benefit!)

The UFO Store in Sedona has a genuine housing for a Triton missile that is for sale. Hurry up - it won't last long! (Talk about provocative yard art! The macaroons in Phoenix would cream their jeans over something suggestive of that much fire power - even without its innards!)

I have a small, but growing, collection of "Day of the Dead" figurines. The three skeletal pieces that I had prior to this sojourn were a bride, a janitor, and a little girl - all from previous trips to San Antonio. In fact, the little girl, a Peruvian craft, was purchased at the Alamo. Yesterday, I found a skeletal dog in Sedona to add to the collection. The dead pooch figurine (also a product of Peru) now has a place of honor on the bookcase beside the rest of his new dead family.

We stayed at an Econo Lodge on Highway 17 in Flagstaff last night. It was very nice and reasonably priced. Dinner was at the Galaxy Diner - a large eatery that is awash in photo's from Hollywood's heyday and Route 66 memorabilia. (Route 66 passed through Flagstaff.) An older fellow was playing guitar as we dined on really great food. (I had a fried egg sandwich that was to die for - and it came with a side of the best fried potatoes and onions that I have had since my mother's passing more than two decades ago!) We got there just in time, because five bus loads of French tourists swarmed the place right after we ordered. The ambiance was completed by an antique car show that was taking place in the parking lot.

After dinner we went to Bookman's, a huge used bookstore that Andy Cleeton and I discovered when we visited Flagstaff ten years ago. I managed to get out with only making a couple of unnecessary purchases!

Today we headed for the Grand Canyon which is about sixty miles from Flagstaff. The drive was beautiful, wending through Ponderosa pine and white birch trees. There were signs along the highway warning us to be on the lookout for large animals - deer, elk, and even cows. Tim saw some deer off in the distance, but the only one that I observed was dead and being loaded into the back of a pickup by a trio of hunters sporting guns and wearing camouflage garb.

Our one stop before the Grand Canyon was at a rustic trading post where I had taken Boone's picture standing under a large rack of antlers two years ago. (The photo turned out great, and I still tell people that it is of my twelve-point grandson!) Today I took the photo again, just for comparative purposes. The trading post has lots of great stuff, including much in the way of native American crafts. I bought a small piece of horsehair pottery signed by the artisan who produced it.

After we tithed twenty-five dollars to the National Park Service, we got into the park and spent considerable time looking for a place to park. After that tedious task was accomplished, we walked along the south rim of the Grand Canyon and took snapshots of each other standing on various promontories. The day was beautiful, sort of a crisp autumnal experience. The Grand Canyon was, and hopefully always will be, breath-taking!

And now we are safely back in the Valley of Hell. The boys have a flight to civilization early in the morning. They will be missed!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Morning in America

by Pa Rock
Proud American

The news this morning was amazing: Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace prize! After eight years of being scorned by the world, America was finally resuming its place as the moral leader and conscience of the world. And while the choice was roundly and predictably condemned by America's rancid wingnuts, it has received enthusiastic praise of people from around the world. Indeed, after the announcement has had the day to sink in, it seems to have garnered approval from all quarters except the Taliban, Iran, and the Republican party.

Rush Limbaugh is not happy - and that makes me ecstatic! Glenn Beck felt the prize should have gone to America's teabaggers who slouched around the National Mall on September 12th. Yeah, Glenn, those mouthy bigots are the key to world peace!

Barack Obama is only the fourth American president to win the prestigious award. Teddy Roosevelt, a liberal republican, won for negotiating a peace in the Russo-Japanese war. He was followed by three democrats. Woodrow Wilson won for his leadership in drafting the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I. Jimmy Carter received the high honor for his years of work for human rights and world peace, most of which was accomplished after he left the Presidency. And today Barack Obama has won for his uplifting presence on the world stage and his willingness to take America and the world into a positive and peaceful future.

George Bush wanted to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for destroying the Middle East, but that is the problem for Republicans - they don't get the term "peace." No fighting? Where's the profit motive in that?

One pundit said today that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George Bush. That fact alone does go a long way toward justifying the honor.

Barack Obama has opened up a dialogue with the world, and suddenly we are talking to countries that we once scorned. We are having conversations with former enemies about nuclear disarmament, human rights, and global warming - things that were of no interest to Bush and Cheney. We are clarifying our goals in the Middle East and beginning to untangle the mess Bush and Cheney and Rummy left in their wake. Our current President has reached out to the world's billion plus Muslims with a hand of friendship, something that would have never even been contemplated by his religiously rigid predecessor.

George Bush was a Yale cheerleader, and little more. Barack Obama is a world leader, and we as a nation are very fortunate to have him at the helm of the ship of state.

Yes, Barack Obama does deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George Bush. America has had far too many morons running our government for far too long. It is high time that we had somebody in the White House who is a role model (a good husband and father), ferociously intelligent, and not afraid to say and do what is right.

I am proud of our country and proud of our President. It is once again morning in America!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Banned Books Week: 2009

by Pa Rock
Prolific Reader

Yes folks, it's Banned Books Week again, the time of year when the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and some other groups who cherish the right to have a free and open access to ideas tell us what books are so controversial that they threaten to drive religious fundamentalists and other small minded morons into apoplectic fits.

The list of most challenged books of 2008 has just been published, and it sounds like ten winners to me. If you oppose the idea of others telling us what cannot read (like the brain-strained last governor of Alaska tried to do at the Wasilla Library), please support authors who dare to write about real life in real terms by buying one or more of these oh-so-dangerous titles.

The most challenged book of 2008 was an illustrated children's book entitled And Tango Makes Three, the true story of a same-sex penguin couple at New York's Central Park Zoo who were given an egg to raise. Did you catch that emphasis - true story? Stuff like that gives those whack-job fundamentalists a problem with their certainty that all gays choose to be that way. Most people don't choose their sexual orientation any more than penguins do.

Here is the list:

1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell - and illustrated by Henry Cole.

2. His Dark Materials (trilogy), by Philip Pullman.

3. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series,) by Lauren Myracle.

4. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz.

5. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya.

6. The Preks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.

7. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar.

8. Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen

9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

10. Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper

There are numerous reasons that people come up with for wanting to ban books, but generally it boils down to this - they are afraid of ideas that challenge long-held beliefs, and they want to remain comfortable in their small and secure world. But ideas are out there, and today, with the ubiquity of the Internet, anyone can explore any topic with relative ease. A youngster will not turn gay just because he reads about a pair of gay penguins, but the young reader might develop some tolerance and perspective from reading that book and grow into a better person - one that does not automatically hate - because of the experience.

A good book is a window that opens onto the world - the real world - the one in which we all must live.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Levi King

by Pa Rock
Social Critic

I have written about Levi King before, though without revealing his name. Levi is the young man who brutally murdered five individuals in September of 2005 - two in Missouri and three in Texas. His crimes were heinous and horrendous. Levi killed an elderly man and his daughter-in-law in McDonald County, Missouri, before stealing their truck and fleeing to Texas where he killed again. His Texas victims were a man, his pregnant wife, and her fourteen-year-old son.  Levi also left the scene believing that he had killed the woman's ten-year-old daughter, but that child managed to survive the horror that befell her family by pretending to be dead in her darkened bedroom.

Levi stood trial last year in Missouri where he pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. This year the state of Texas had its turn at him. Levi again pled guilty, and for the past five weeks or so a sentencing hearing has been taking place at the county courthouse in Lubbock, Texas, to determine if he would be executed or spend the rest of his natural life in prison.

Texas is known for, among other things, its penchant for executing murderers. Those good ole Texas boys like frying killers almost as much as they do grilling steaks. The fact that Levi would be killed for his crimes should have been a foregone conclusion in the Lone Star state, but that was not to be. Yesterday a courageous jury separated themselves from the state's reputation for knee-jerk bloodlust and sentenced the 27-year-old to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The local press in Lubbock reported that most of the members of the jury were crying as the verdict was read.

I have much that I would like to say about this young man, the crime of murder, and the subject of capital punishment. I must, however, be rather circumspect in discussing Levi because I knew him on a professional basis through my work in child protection for the state of Missouri. Let me describe him thusly: Levi King was a child who grew up in a very isolated location under less than optimal circumstances. It would be fair, I believe, to conclude that his childhood was aborted by his circumstances in much the same manner that his adulthood was aborted by his crimes. Yes, he grew through childhood and he will probably grow through adulthood, but in both cases he was (and will be) tragically shortchanged.

(And yes, I fully understand that his victims and their families and friends have also been tragically shortchanged by the actions of Levi King. I am concentrating on the perpetrator because he grew up as a victim of people and circumstances that were beyond his control, and if the continuing cycle of American carnage is ever to be reduced, it will come through addressing the social and economic environment that produces killers - and not through grisly "deterrents.")

Levi was spared a meeting with the executioner primarily for two reasons. First, as alluded to in the paragraph above, his background was so "less than optimal" that even a Texas jury was able to bring humanity to the table when deciding his fate. They heard from his teachers, social workers (including myself), family members, friends, and people with whom he had attended church as a youngster. Day after day, week after week, jury members watched a picture of a sweet kid with a bright smile slowly transform into that of a savage killer, a monster who was literally the result of an unrelenting, heartbreaking environment.

The second thing that saved Levi from a death sentence was an amazing team of mitigators who spent over a year interviewing people who knew Levi as he was growing up, and organizing materials and testimony that would be presented to the jury in its sentencing deliberations. The team included attorneys, legal aids, researchers, and even a private investigator.

The mitigation team was funded by the state of Texas. Why? Because death is the most serious sentence that a state government can level against an individual, and once it is imposed there is no way to achieve redress should that become necessary. Yes, Levi King admitted his crime - but was he a free agent acting solely on his own accord, or was he himself a victim of a life so unfair that it was a wonder he maintained as long as he did? The mitigation team believed that Levi was himself a victim, and that was the case they were able to successfully make to a jury.

Is a sentence of life in prison a fair one for a young man who killed five innocent people and seriously wounded a child? No, it's certainly an unfair trade in favor of the killer who lives on. But what punishment is ever fair? Would death be a fair punishment for a murderer who truly was a victim of his circumstances - circumstances so tragic that they could make a Texas jury sob?

Some would argue, probably vehemently, that death would be the only fair punishment - the Old Testament eye-for-an-eye rationale. But death would be an act of vengeance, and would be of no benefit to anyone. Capital punishment is not a deterrent to murder, and there is no credible research that says otherwise.

Today the United States and Japan are the only two major powers in the world that still kill killers, and Japan just appointed a new justice minister who opposes the practice - and the justice minister in Japan is the person who must approve all executions. That leaves just us - and we are morally wrong to meet barbarism with barbarism.

Levi King will not be executed for his crimes, but he will spend the rest of his life in a dirty cage surviving among the absolute dregs of society. That bright-eyed little boy will know very little joy in his remaining years - and years - and years.

Maybe we all live in cages, only some of us are confined by social constraints instead of bars. Society demands a certain amount of restraint, and if we can't or won't keep ourselves under control, society necessarily steps in to set boundaries for us. We have speed limits, rules for drinking, areas where we can and cannot smoke, and requirements for voting. Society decides when we can drive, who we can marry, and how many fish we can catch on a trip to the river. Society even sets social norms that tell us how to dress and behave in public. Yes, we all live in cages, but most of us manage to successfully navigate through life in spite of, or perhaps because of, social constraints.

Levi King has beaten the odds and may survive for many years to come. It is my hope and prayer that he recognizes that he has been given an opportunity and the time to atone for his crimes, and that through some form of personal achievement in prison he can begin to repay the massive debt that he owes society.

The ball is in your court now, Levi. Catch it, hold it up to the light and admire it, and know that it is your last chance to prove to yourself and to the world that those twelve good people in Lubbock made the right decision.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Company's Comin'!

by Pa Rock
Proud Grampa

Boone Macy, my 10-year-old grandson, will be coming to Arizona on Thursday to visit Pa Rock. He is also bringing along his Dad and Uncle Tim - and that's good, too!

I've been out shopping today, trying to fill the larder. Don't worry, Boone - we have plenty of ice cream, cookies (Oreo's!), and lunch meat - all the basic food groups! Plus we will be on the road a day or so heading to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, so there will be some pit stops at McDonald's and other fine restaurants. And the best news, Boone, is that it is starting to cool off in Arizona. We could even cook out!

And I'm digging holes and planting some trees that I could never plant back in the Ozarks at Rock's Roost. I now have a standard lemon tree in the front yard that will have buckets of lemons next year. I have also planted two red grapefruit trees, and have a fig and a tangelo yet to put in the ground. Boone, maybe you can help me dig those holes!

We are going to have so much fun! We'll even put the top down on my raggedy little car and act like we're in Hollywood!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "The Ballad of Joe Hill"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

(This selection is dedicated to two class acts: Joan Baez who sings it, and Chad Manspeaker who lives it.)

Joe Hill was performed by Joan Baez at Woodstock in 1969 and is now not only a staple of her repertoire, but also one of the anthems of the labor movement. Baez is a nightingale blessed with a crystalline voice and a pure heart. She cares about people, and nowhere does this come across better than when she warbles the inspirationalBallad of Joe Hill.

Chad Manspeaker was born a full decade after Woodstock. I am fortunate to know this young labor activist and Kansas Democratic Party organizer through his long friendship with my youngest son, Tim. An America blessed with young men of Chad and Tim's caliber cannot fail!

Enjoy Joe Hill.

The Ballad of Joe Hill
by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me:
Said I, but Joe you’re ten years dead;
I never died said he.
I never died said he.

In Salt Lake, Joe, Great God, said I,
Him standing by my bed;
They framed you on a murder charge,
Said Joe but I ain’t dead;
Said Joe but I ain’t dead.

The copper bosses framed you Joe
They shot you Joe said I;
Takes more than guns to kill a man,
Said Joe I did not die.
Said Joe I did not die.

Joe Hill ain’t dead he says to me,
Joe Hill ain’t never died;
Where working men are out on strike,
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.

And standing there as big as life
A-smiling with his eyes.
Said Joe, what they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize!

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill -
Where working men defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me:
Said I, but Joe you’re ten years dead;
I never died said he.
I never died said he.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And the Shuffle Sez...

by Pa Rock
Music Fan

Sister Phillipia (Mary Syracuse Harmon) "tagged" me on Facebook yesterday with a challenge to shuffle my music playlist, copy down the first fifteen songs to pop up, and send that list to a group friends asking each of them to do the same and to send a copy of their lists back to me. (A chain-letter type of thing without any monetary risk.) I try to not use Facebook because it is too complicated for my simple mind, and I'm not sure that I have a group of friends - so I decided to do my list and post it here. If anyone wants to shuffle up their own list and send it to a group of friends or back to me, be my guest!

My iPod currently has 3,341 songs, a very eclectic mixture as you are about to see. It (the iPod) is certainly the best investment that I have made in years. I have a docking station at the office and at home, and headphones for the gym. My time on the treadmill has quadrupled since I started marching to my tunes!

Here is Pa Rock's first fifteen after the shuffle. Make of them what you will:

1. Daydream Believer (Anne Murray and Nelly Furtado)
2. 10,000 Miles (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
3. The Blue Danube Waltz (Andre Rieu)
4. They Can't Take That Away From Me (Rod Stewart)
5. The Dark End of the Street (Linda Ronstadt)
6. I Ain't Got Nobody (Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
7. Don't Say Goodbye (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young)
8. This Ole House (Bette Midler)
9. Blue Reverie (Benny Goodman)
10. Monday, Monday (The Mamas and the Papas)
11. It Is No Secret What God Can Do (Elvis Presley)
12. The Name of the Game (Abba)
13. Are You Sure Hank Williams Done it This Way? (Waylon Jennings)
14. Volunteers (Jefferson Airplane)
15. She's Got a Way (Billy Joel)

I have six Beatles albums on the ole iPod, and not a single Beatles song made the front fifteen!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Arizona Autumn

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It is slowly but surely getting cooler in the Valley of Hell - and I love it! Now instead of 115 degrees every day, the high is usually closer to ninety-five. I heard one forecaster say yesterday that the triple digits may be gone for the rest of the year.

There is, of course, a down side to the improving temperatures. The blue-haired snowbirds will soon be flocking here from the colder climes, driving up the price of liquor and clogging up the freeways with their big-assed cars and RV's. A few months from now the Valley will start to get insanely hot again and the old farts will head home. And so it goes...

I have been outside today landscaping with cactus. It feels good to get my hands in the dirt, sort of reminds me of being back in the Ozarks at Rock's Roost. Well, not much! The people who lived here before me preferred bushes to cactus, and I have spent much of the summer trimming and hacking my way thought the landscape. Now I am beginning to pull up their confounded bushes and replace them with cactus - which are much easier to care for.

I have also been pushing paths through the house today to get it ready for my sons and oldest grandson when they visit later in the week. I'm glad that summer is fading. That should make their trip more bearable - for them. It will be a blast for me! We are talking about going to Sedona and the Grand Canyon while they are here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

One, Two, and the Germs Flew!

by Pa Rock
Health Nut

The Air Force hospital where I work had its annual "Safety Day" this week. The hospital employees - military and civilian - spent the morning going through various stations and learning a variety of things from how to get handicapped individuals downstairs in the event of an emergency to the proper method for sneezing. Yes, there is a curriculum outlining the best way to sneeze!

The current best standard is to sneeze into your sleeve. By doing that, your little germies get caught in the fabric where they hopefully die. The second best method is to sneeze into a tissue and then throw the tissue away. It is definitely not cool to hang onto the tissue for multiple uses! (Remember the old days when little boys used to carry handkerchiefs that would get cemented into a wad with a day or a week's accumulation of green winter snot? No wonder we were always sick!

One of the things we learned at Safety Day is that Swine Flu has already arrived in the Valley of Hell. Unfortunately the Swine Flu shots - that may or may not work - have not arrived. There was lots of instruction about the necessity of washing hands any time they come into contact with items that could carry germs - bathroom fixtures, door knobs, other people's hands, etc.

That was Tuesday. On Wednesday morning I was driving through McDonald's for my ritual morning breakfast - a sausage egg McMuffin that I share with Bob the Grackle, and a large, unsweet iced tea - when I observed a young crew kid sneeze directly into a cup of coffee that he had just poured. I assumed he would do the right thing and dump it out, but instead he deftly fitted the cup of coffee with a lid. That left me with an ethical dilemma: should I point out the error of his ways, hold up traffic in order to fuss, embarrass the kid, and maybe put his job in jeopardy, or should I drive on and hope the guy in the next car had a good immune system. And if I did do the right thing, would that same kid develop his own ritual of spitting on my sandwich, or worse, every morning?

I took the coward's way out, and am suffering shame for that decision. But the incident did make me realize how vulnerable we all are to the vagaries and moods of people working in the food industry. The swine flu is here, its dangerous, and we all need to be very, very careful. This would probably be an excellent time to go back to the old standard of packing a lunch!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ken Lewis Gets His Butt Fired!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It was announced yesterday that Ken Lewis, the CEO of Bank of America, will be "retiring" at the end of the year. The truth, of course, is that the embattled uber-banker is finally getting what he so justly deserves - fired! Welcome to the economic downturn, Ken!

But it really isn't much of a downturn for Ken. True, he does lose a lot of power and prestige, and he won't be thumbing his nose at the American people anymore by riding the Bank of America's private jet in and out of Washington, DC, like some Saudi potentate. But with a retirement package of $54 million and another $18 million in deferred payments, Ken will be able to lick his wounds in style and live quite comfortably, thank you very much!

So if Ken was such a colossal fuck-up that he merited the public humiliation of being fired, how could Bank of America afford to give him such a lavish send-off? Was it bailout cash that came from the chump taxpayers? Possibly. But what is more likely is that it came off of the backs of BOA's credit card holders - people like Jordan Cid.

Private Jordan Cid joined the U.S. Army when he was seventeen. That same year he got a debit card from his bank - yup, Bank of America. Being a minor, he had to get his parent's permission in order to secure the debit card.

Young Private Cid used his card for many small purchases each month - pizza, lunches, movies - the things most young people typically spend their wages on. The seventeen-year-old soldier didn't worry too much about keeping up with his balance because he knew that he had overdraft protection. What he didn't realize was that the overdraft fee charged by Bank of America was a hefty and predatory $35 per check! In five months he accumulated $1,785 in overdraft fees.

Private Cid's parents got involved and told Bank of America to quit honoring his checks - but BOA declined to kill their cash cow. The matter eventually came to the attention of the press, including NBC Nightly News, and Bank of America decided to refund Private Cid's overdraft fees - no one else's of course, just those of the kid who made the evening news!

American banks are expecting to reap an astounding $27 billion in overdraft fees this year. It is one of their largest income streams, and it comes almost exclusively from the poor. Most of these scurrilous bastard banks hold checks until the end of the day, then they pay the biggest ones first, causing many little checks to bounce into the overdraft bucket. It's robbery worthy of John Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde!

But the good news is that Ken Lewis is getting his! The bad news, however, is that he is also getting ours, theirs, and everyone else's!

Thank you, sir! May I have another!