Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of the Oughts

by Pa Rock

The first decade of the twenty-first century will officially pass into the history books tonight. Ten years ago tonight I was relaxing at my small farm, Rock's Roost, when good friend Bruce Arnold called told me to get ready because he was coming by to take me to a party. The party was at the home of Kevin and Ellen Arnold (no relation to Bruce) who lived (still live) across the road and down the lane from The Roost. It was a bring-your-own libations party with quite a few people. There was an enormous bonfire that was lit shortly before the new millennium arrived, and the partiers livened the affair up by throwing fireworks, including sky rockets, into the fire! Somehow the woods survived without going up in flames!

I haven't calculated the winners of the 2009 Pa Rock's Dead Pool yet, but I will get that sorted out and published as soon as I return to Arizona next week. The prizes are savings bonds, so I will be asking for addresses of winners - and it may take social security numbers also. More to follow on that.

Tim has challenged me to post on this blog everyday, and today marks the end of a year in which I was able to do just that. Some days I even banged out multiple posts. It wasn't always easy!

Gail and I are still busy sorting through Dad's papers. We let out kids take the things that they wanted out of the house, and a local church will be picking up his clothes. Sometime in March or April we will be having a big auction to get rid of the rest of his lifetime accumulation of "stuff."

We have been so busy this week that I haven't had time for grieving, but today as my kids were leaving the melancholy started to set in. It may be a very long and lonely drive back to Arizona.

My best to everyone for a hearty and healthy 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Torch is Passed

by Pa Rock
Member of the Older Generation

My father was laid to rest this morning. The service was wonderful. The minister had never met Dad, but the ceremony was personalized by four of his grandchildren rising and addressing the mourners. While public speaking is not everyone's forte, particularly under such emotional circumstances, the four grandchildren who chose to speak certainly painted a very human and loving picture of their grandfather. Thank you Heidi, Tim, Justin, and Tiffany!

The burial was at the Noel Cemetery with full military honors. It was beautiful and very moving. The funeral detail was made up of active duty soldiers in dress blues. The funeral director told me that usually veterans' groups do the funerals, and that it was quite an honor that actual military members did this ceremony. The young men in the funeral detail performed a very polished and respectful ritual. The family was immensely appreciative of their efforts.

I saw many old friends at the funeral and at the reception at the reception following the service. Jack and Billie Allman, two of the best people in the world were there. Billie was the school secretary the entire time that I was principal at the Noel School. Mertie and Anna Harmon and Joyce Short - all good friends - came and paid their respects. The ladies from the church who put the reception together were all friends from our past including Rose Peck, Lou Fisher, Ruby Flynn, Patti Carroll, Opal Hatfield, - and I should have not mentioned any of them because I surely have forgotten some! Family members included all of our kids, our cousins Angie Lankford, Bill Dobbs and Wayne Macy (and Wayne's mother, Betty), my Dad's sister, Betty Lankford, and my mother's brother, Floyd Sreaves. Betty and Floyd are each the last surviving members of their parents' families. Several of Dad's Hispanic friends were in attendance.

Gail's kids have all left and all of mine are staying with me tonight at the big house. They have spent the evening eating pizza and playing Jenga. The game has been challenging because Sebastian likes to throw the Jenga blocks!

It has been a very long and interesting day. I feel that Gail and I have both been too busy this week to absorb our the depth of our loss, but I know that as family begins to go back home, the enormity of what has happened will begin to settle in on us.

Friday I am heading back to Arizona.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Hispanic Community

by Pa Rock

All of Gail's kids and mine are in Noel tonight, and this evening I met Judah, my newest grandson! He is such a sweet baby! And Sebastian is so friendly. He asks me to pick him up and take him outside - so he can play in the snow - or upstairs so he can jump on the bed! We also tossed a big blue ball back and forth! Boone is here, and he been very helpful in walking around with Sebastian and telling him about things.

Here are a couple of stories about Dad's good Hispanic friends:

Manuel is from Mexico. Ten years ago he bought Dad's big commercial building and opened a Mexican market that has become very successful. He and Dad have been good friends over the years, and he has been a regular visitor in Dad's home. He also taught him to appreciate certain Mexican foods. Manuel had been in Mexico and had not heard that Dad passed away. Today he came to the house for a visit, and was met at the door by my niece Heidi who was here alone. She told him that her Granddad had died, and he began crying. She finally invited him into the house in order to calm him. Tonight Manuel, his father, and two of the workers at their store came to visitation, and Manuel and his dad were two of the very last to leave.

Juan and Alma Garza and their children came to visitation tonight. After they had been there awhile Juan came up and asked if they could place a rosary in Dad's hands. I told them they could. Later a friend came up to Gail and said, "I didn't know your father was Catholic." Gail replied that he wasn't, and then she was shown the rosary. When she asked me I told her about my conversation with Juan. We decided that since they were good friends, we would honor that friendship by letting him be buried holding the rosary.

Juan asked me if he could be allowed to give Dad's yard it's first mow this spring out of respect. He had often helped Dad with the mowing in the past.

Two years ago Noel had a terrible ice storm, and half of the town was without electricity for nearly a week. Dad's house is immense - easily the largest in town. His electricity did not go out, and he invited a large Hispanic family in to stay with him during the outage. They cooked and helped out, and he enjoyed the active company.

I am proud of the way that our dad opened his house and his heart to our new Hispanic neighbors. Not everyone in this community has been that welcoming - and that is their loss.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

The following piece has a clouded history, but is usually credited to Mary Elizabeth Frye. I first came across it in the early 1990's in the state capitol at Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I noticed it printed on a block of the National AIDS Quilt that was touring the United States. Since that time I have seen it used occasionally on memorial cards at funerals, and it is the selection that Gail and I have chosen to go on our father's memorial card.

To me this poem symbolizes the idea that we are all at one with nature - each of us is part of the great cosmic hum, and just because we leave one form of life does not mean that we are gone. Indeed, life ripples ever outward like the cosmos itself, and each of us rides those waves beyond our own time - through the lives that we touched, our offspring and descendants, our works, the humanity we fostered, and all of the harmony (or noise) that we generated during our mortal time on the planet. Heaven isn't a cushy seat on a cloud with a good view, it's one note played well in the symphony of life.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I did not die.

A Daunting Day or Two

by Pa RockGail and I have spent the day digging through Dad's financial records, going to banks, his stock broker, and the funeral home. Friends have dropped off food at the house and stopped in to talk. We have heard funny stories and learned things about our father that we never knew.

A wonderful Hispanic couple who have rented from Dad for five years stopped by yesterday for a chat. Juan and Alma Garza and their daughter, Clarissa, live a few houses up the street. They told about bringing fireworks down to Dad's house this year on the 4th of July and setting them off so that he could watch. They said he enjoyed that evening and wanted to stay outside even after they left. Juan said that he had driven Dad to Wal-Mart in Neosho just last week and had enjoyed some of his stories during that trip.

Ricky Farmer, an area businessman who is eleven years my junior and who also grew up in this area, came by this evening with a bunch of food. Ricky told several stories including one about how our dad had staked him to a bicycle (sold it to him on credit) when he was little and starting a lawn mowing business. He and Dad remained good friends throughout the years and had other business dealings.

Darby Green, one of my former co-workers brought by a huge roast with veggies while Gail and I were out. Darby and I recently got to see each other in Lubbock, Texas, when we each testified in the sentencing phase of the Levi King murder trial.

Dad's cousin, Cloyce "Chubb" Macy, who himself is eighty-nine, called tonight to recount the many good things that Dad had done for him. Chubb has failing eye sight and has trouble getting out of the house to run errands. Every other weekend Dad would pick him up and take him out to breakfast, and then they would go shopping and take care of Chubb's errands.

Mertie Harmon, our oldest and dearest family friend, brought a ham and some other groceries yesterday. Mert sat and talked about Dad and Noel and this big old house where he spent the last years of his life. Mert and her late husband lived in the dining room portion of the house during World War II.

Today people at each of the banks that we visited came up to us and shared a few memories. The common theme running through them was that he was such a nice man. The stock broker's assistant said that he read the financial news and watched the stock quotes on television constantly, and that he would often call her during the day and give her information that she hadn't received yet through her agency. The Methodist minister who will officiate at the funeral told Gail that when he announced Dad's death in church on Sunday, that some people started crying.

It has been a very daunting couple of days, but we are meeting so many nice people and hearing great stories that help to round out the character of our father.

The worth of our lives is measured by the numbers who truly mourn our passing.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Obituary for Garland Macy

by Pa Rock

The following will run in area newspapers on Tuesday. It was written by Gail and I, with love.

Garland Eugene Macy

Garland Macy was born in rural Newton County, Missouri, on October 19, 1924. He passed away on Christmas morning, 2009, at Freeman Hospital in Neosho.

Mr. Macy was preceded in death by his wife, Florine (Sreaves) Macy who died in 1986, his father and mother, Charles E. Macy and Hazel (Nutt) Macy, and two brothers, Wayne Macy and Tommy Macy. He is survived by his sister, Mrs. Betty Lankford of Seneca, a son, Rocky Macy of Litchfield Park, AZ, and a daughter, Gail Macy of Fayetteville, AR.

Other survivors include seven grandchildren: Nick Macy of West Plains, MO; Heidi and Jason Pfetcher of London, England; Molly and Scott Files of Salem, OR; Tiffany and Nathan Burke of Lowell, AR; Tim and Erin Macy of Kansas City, MO; Justin and Lisa Smith of Springdale, AR; and Reed Smith of Las Vegas, NV.

There are six great-grandchildren: Boone Macy, Lauren Pfetcher, Sebastian Files, Brieanna Burke, Ruby Pfetcher, and Judah Files.

Garland Macy was a staff sergeant with the Army Air Corps during World War II. He served in England and France and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Mr. Macy was a prominent businessman and real estate broker in the Noel area for many years. He was a past member of the Noel School Board, the Noel Chamber of Commerce, the Noel City Council, and the board of directors for the State Bank of Noel.

Garland Macy will be mourned and missed by his family and his community. He was a good friend and neighbor to the people of Noel, the town that he called home for over fifty years.

The family will hold a visitation at the Ozark Funeral Home in Noel this Tuesday evening from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. The funeral service will be Wednesday, December 30th, at 10 a.m. at the Ozark Funeral Home in Noel, followed by burial with full military honors at the Noel Cemetery.

Pall bearers will be grandsons and the husbands of granddaughters.

Contributions may be made to “Friends of the Department of Social Services of McDonald County,” through the Ozark Funeral Home. The organization helps to meet the needs of children in foster care.

(A guestbook is available for viewing and signing at

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Heading Home

by Pa Rock
Weary Traveler

Here I sit at Sky Harbor Airport, my home away from home, getting ready to board a flight to Memphis, the first leg of my trip back to the Ozarks. This will be my first physical contact with Tennessee since leaving Ft. Campbell more than two years ago. How time flies!

I'm still not fully accepting of the death of my father. It was tough not making that phone call at 4:30 yesterday evening. I kept emotions at bay by rushing to get all of my yard work done, and I also spent a couple of hours in the office catching up on paperwork that I had set aside for Monday. I managed to get several days worth of work done in one day!

More later.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Garland Eugene Macy (October 19, 1924 - December 25, 2009)

by Pa Rock
Proud Son

My sister, Gail, called a couple of hours ago to let me know that our father, Garland Macy, passed away very early on Christmas morning. He ended where he began eighty-five years ago, in Newton County, Missouri. Enough happened in those intervening years to fill several lifetimes.

My dad was a true child of the Great Depression. He was born to Charles Eugene and Hazel Josephine (Nutt) Macy on a hardscrabble farm between Seneca and Neosho. The family was poor, never owning a car and having to accept rides to town from relatives or neighbors. That poverty, which was pervasive across much of the country during those difficult years, had a lifelong impact on my dad - as it did with so many of his generation.

World War II brought the Depression to an end, and it also proved to be the vehicle by which many young people were able to break through their poor circumstances and connect with the future and the world beyond. Dad volunteered to join the Army Air Corps soon after he graduated from Neosho High School in 1942. His Army service took him to several bases in the United States for training, and finally led him to England and France. He attained the rank of Staff Sergeant, and received the Purple Heart for a wound received in France during a training exercise.

My Dad was fiercely independent, a trait that was undoubtedly rooted in his impoverished childhood. His most serious fault (and we all have faults) was a lifelong interest in making money and ensuring that he and his family did not have to endure the conditions that he experienced in his youth. Making money bordered on being an obsession with him. He could be generous to a fault and was always there to help when someone needed something, but if he was spending money on merchandise, especially cars, he would haggle to the last nickel. While I was often critical of his overt materialism, I do recognize that it provided me many opportunities that I would have not had if he had been content to spend his life working for an hourly wage in a factory.

My dad owned several businesses during his lifetime, and also had quite a few rental properties at one time. He often bragged that he and my mother only rented one home in their lifetimes, and that was just for a couple of months. He knew the value of money and understood how to put it to use.

My mother passed away in 1986. She was a complete invalid for a couple of years preceding her death, but Dad took care of her at home by himself - often getting up in the middle of the night to attend to her. He did not want to see her in a nursing home, and he fought to the very end to stay independent himself.

As my dad aged, he began to develop more of a sense of what truly mattered in life. I moved away from him five years ago, but I tried to make up for that necessary abandonment by telephoning each evening. We have had well over a thousand calls since I began my current career, and it was through those phone calls that he and I finally got to know each other as we had not been able to do before.

I talked to my Dad yesterday evening, as I always did (that will be a hard habit to break!). He told me that he had fallen earlier in the day and hurt himself while he was out delivering Christmas candy to his renters - one of his annual traditions. He said that he was hurting, but that he had taken a Tylenol and was going to bed. He thought that he might have broken a rib. I was concerned, but not overly so because he had been able to make it home. I told him to get to the hospital in the morning for x-rays if he was still hurting. Then I called Gail and let her know. It was already dark in the Ozarks and it was beginning to snow.

Sometime after midnight Dad called an ambulance and asked to be taken him to Freeman Hospital in Neosho - the same hospital where his only two children were born. His heart stopped while he was being transported. He was resuscitated and made it to the hospital. His heart stopped again there, and they were not able to revive him. It was around 1:20 a.m. Ozarks' time. He was tough and self-sufficient to the very end.

Besides Gail and I, my Dad leaves seven grandchildren. They are, by age: Nick Macy, Heidi and Jason Pfetcher, Molly and Scott Files, Tiffany and Nathan Burke, Justin and Lisa Smith, Tim and Erin Macy, and Reed Smith. He had six great-grandchildren ranging in age from ten years to less than a month. They are, also by age: Boone Macy, Lauren Pfetcher, Sebastian Files, Brieanna Macy Burke, Ruby Pfetcher, and Judah Files.

We will all miss our father and grandfather. He was a good man who managed to live life on his own terms. He truly was part of the greatest generation.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Apple Rocks!

by Pa Rock
Conspicuous Consumer

I swore off of Wal-Mart and shopping malls years ago, so why did I find myself pushing a path through Arrowhead Mall today? What could be dumber that stepping into a major mall on Christmas Eve?

Here's the story:

I noticed a few weeks ago that my iPod wasn't holding a charge more than a couple of hours. Last week I took it to Best Buy because they sell iPods. I figured if nothing else, the Geek Squad could at least pop the damned thing open and change the battery. That would have been way too simple. A young store clerk told me that I would have to take it to the Apple Store, of which there is apparently only one in western Phoenix, fifteen miles from my home in the other direction. The sales clerk kid questioned me about how I used my iPod. I told him that I take it to the gym a few days a week, but basically it plays all day on the docking station at work. That, he said, was the problem. It recharges on the docking station, and too much charging will wear out the battery.

Why hadn't I read about that little quirk in the instruction manual?

Today we got off of work at noon, and I headed to Lowe's in Surprise to pick up some landscaping supplies so that I could stay busy over the long weekend. Anticipating a trip to the gym sometime this weekend, I had my iPod in my jacket pocket. With the whole afternoon off, I decided to scoot on down the road from Lowe's and get that new battery. I knew roughly where the Apple Store was located and figured that I could find it. I assumed it would be a store, standing alone, on Bell Road.

The first guy that I asked told me that it was in the Arrowhead "Shopping Center" on Bell between 83rd and 75th. When I got to that area, I discovered a big shopping complex on the right hand side of the road. After looking carefully at blocks of stores, I finally went into Barnes and Noble where I knew that smart young people would congregate - all of whom would know where the Apple Store was. The first person that I asked told me that I was on the wrong side of Bell Road, so I piled back in the rag-top and fought my way across Bell to the other shopping mall.

When I still couldn't find the Apple Store, a good Samaritan directed me to enter the mall through Macy's and head for the food court. "It is downstairs from the food court and to the left," she assured me. What she didn't explain was that the food court was at the end of about a quarter mile of pushy holiday shoppers and teenage street walkers.

So I finally got to the Apple Store at a few minutes before two p.m., and, being Christmas Eve, it was packed. I thought about cutting my losses and leaving - but I stayed, and I am glad that I did.

The Apple Store was very impressive. First of all, there was plenty of staff and I found myself being triaged within moments of stepping into the store. A young man with some type of hand-held computer asked me why I was there. I explained the situation and said that I needed to replace the battery in my iPod. "We don't replace the batteries in iPods," he informed me politely. As I turned for the door, he added, "but I can help you." He took my vitals and entered them into his computer. He said that I had an appointment for 2:10 p.m. at the "genius counter." He showed me where to sit and wait, and within minutes I was talking to a technician

I told the young man (they're all young!) that my battery wasn't holding a charge. He looked me up on the store computer, told me that it was still under warranty, and handed me a new one! How simple was that?

As the technician was filling out his paperwork, I decided that I would take the opportunity to learn more about iPods and Apple. I asked if spending too much time on a docking station would cause the battery to lose its charge more quickly. He told me that would be the case only if the docking station was under water! Then I asked about iPhones. Would some other carrier beside AT&T begin working with iPhones? He told me that he didn't know. I grumbled a bit about AT&T, airing some of my complaints from forty years ago. The technician kid smiled and replied that he had heard it all before. I did learn that the Apple Store provides workshops on how to use the iPhone - in the event that I choose to buy one.

I was in and out of the Apple Store in less than fifteen minutes - with a new iPod in my pocket! Apple rocks! I see an iPhone and a Mac in my future.

Steve Jobs, answer your iPhone. It's Verizon calling!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Every Word Is True

by Pa Rock

I’ve put off telling this tale for several weeks now, not because it’s weird, though it certainly is, but because I don’t want to frighten my children. They are all young adults scattered across America like three dandelion seeds that got caught up in a great gust of wind. And while they are concerned for my welfare, sometimes overly so, they do not have the time or the means to come running every time their father is beset by some strangeness.

It was late October. The days were getting shorter, and the intolerable summer heat was slowly giving way to the welcome coolness of the desert in winter. Most of my moving boxes had been unpacked and finally put away, and the skirmishes with Fat Jack, the grounds manager at the Wheezin’ Geezer Trailer Park, seemed to finally be settling into an uneasy truce.

My attention had turned from the inside of the house to the gravel patch that passes for a desert landscape yard. I had pulled down all of the ugly rose vines that covered the east side of my trailer, and ripped away some of the ground cover that was threatening to take over. The cooling weather had allowed the planting of a few citrus trees in various barren spots, adding definition and productive potential to the rock patch. All in all, the lot was beginning to reflect my tastes – and, if I may be allowed this modest observation, it was looking good. Even Fat Jack gritted his teeth and snarled a couple of compliments regarding the improved appearance of my domicile.

About that time the strangeness began

It was little things at first, barely perceptible changes that would have probably gone completely unnoticed if more than one person lived in my trailer. One day after work, for example, I turned on the television only to discover that it opened onto a channel that I never watched – Lifetime! Two of the neighbors had keys to my trailer – the housekeeper and the occasional cat-sitter – but I could not imagine either having the time or desire to come into my trailer while I was at work to watch Lifetime.

And I had never given Fat Jack a key, although he seemed to think that he had some inherent right to one hundred percent access to my abode and my life. It is possible, I suppose, that he maintained a key from the previous owner, but would that waddling pile of exposed ass-crack risk giving me the opportunity to legally shoot him just so that he could treat his feminine side to an afternoon tear-jerker? Somehow I suspected that even Jack was smarter than that.

Actually I don’t own a gun, but I do have dos machetes! Let the fat bastard’s head roll!

There were more instances of the errant channel selections over the next couple of weeks – mainly Lifetime and Oxygen, and occasionally The Shopping Channel. (I made a mental note to be extra careful in keeping my credit card – singular – on my person at all times.)

And other things also started happening. One evening I detected the faintest hint of cigar smoke, and another time I found one of my jelly jar glasses sitting in the dish drainer, the drainer that I knew for a fact had been empty that morning because I had just put away a week’s worth of clean dishes. A sudden flash of insight led me to open the refrigerator and pick up the wine box. It was definitely lighter than it had been the previous evening!

The pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together in an alarming fashion. Now I realized that the bread really was disappearing much too quickly, and the milk wasn’t evaporating as I had recently joked at work. I began a careful inventory of my larder and came to the conclusion that I was missing cans of tuna, a good amount of peanut butter and strawberry preserves, packaged cheese and crackers, and even eggs. Somebody else was living in my residence when I wasn’t home!

I guess I should have been scared, but instead I was pissed! Really pissed! Some jerk was sitting on my furniture, watching my television, eating my food and washing it down with my wine!

A new reality was setting in.

I awakened to this new reality on the Sunday morning of Thanksgiving weekend as I was struggling to maintain a state of sleep well into the morning. Although I don’t feel the need of an excuse for sleeping in on a Sunday, I had been up late the previous night blogging and watching Clint Eastwood do his John McCain “Get off my lawn!” impersonation in Gran Torino. (I’m also getting older and appreciate the pleasures of undisturbed slumber more and more with each passing year. Clint and John probably do, too.)

But my state of sleepiness had begun to dissipate as the morning sun found its way through the bedroom Venetian blinds, and my tired old body was going through the subtleties of slowly awakening. It was then that I heard it. A sneeze! My eyes popped open and I literally sat straight up in bed. Someone had just sneezed in my bedroom!

I spun around as my feet hit the floor, taking a quick survey of the room. No one was there, and nothing seemed to be out of place. I checked under my old iron bed and discovered only a couple of boxes of books that had yet to be shelved. The walk-in closets and master bathroom were also clear. As my startle response began to subside, I slowly and methodically started to check the rest of the house. Ultimately I was left with the necessary conclusion that the phantom sneeze had been nothing more than a very realistic figment of a dream that I could not remember. That was what I told myself, but something at my core whispered with a quiet urgency that what I heard had been very, very real.

That was how my irreversible slide toward the gaping maw of madness began. Although I had no way of knowing the extent of the craziness that was about to beset me, I was destined to find out very quickly.

Right now I’m shaking too badly to continue this accounting, but I will endeavor to relate more of this weird tale at a later date – if I am still able to do so!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Eve in Sweden: "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!"

by Pa Rock
Cultural Observer

This quacks me up!

The Swedes celebrate the Christmas holiday on December 24th, Christmas Eve. Since 1959, a big part of the holiday celebration for millions of Swedes is to sit down in front of their televisions at precisely 3:00 p.m. to watch a very special television special. The show is commonly referred to as "Kalle Anka och hans vanner onskar God Jul!", or, in plain English, "Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas!"

Kalle Anka runs commercial-free on Sweden's TV 1 each Christmas Eve, and it is one of the three most watched television programs of the year. Estimates are that between forty and fifty percent of the nation's population watch the one-hour special. Kalle Anka features Jiminy Cricket as he presents a dozen Disney cartoons and clips from some of the more famous Disney animated movies.

As evidence that Kalle Anka is heading toward cult status, many people like to quote dialogue from the program. Also, there is a political movement in Sweden called the Kalle Anka-partiet or The Donald Duck Party. The Kalle Anka-partiet has garnered as many as 1,500 write-in votes in some elections. Their political platform calls for "free liquor and wider sidewalks!"

So while Donald may play second fiddle to Mickey Mouse in the United States, he is definitely the star in Sweden!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "Twas the Night Before Christmas" or "The Visit of St. Nicholas"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

This poem, the Christmas classic that has been a staple of the holiday season for nearly two centuries, has mysterious roots. It was originally published in 1823, anonymously, in the Troy (New York) Sentinel, and quickly became a sensation. The public began clamoring to know the name of the poet of this beloved work, and a fellow named Clement Clarke Moore, a biblical scholar and son of a famous minister, stepped up and said that he had written it for some young friends on Christmas Eve 1823.

A problem arose when a small group of people came forward and said that the poet, Henry Livingston, had read the same poem to them as a work of his own fifteen years earlier - also in Troy, New York. Livingston had died by the time Moore took credit for the poem.

Regardless of who actually penned these immortal lines, the poem went on to become a masterpiece of the Christmas season. Indeed, some claim that this work was the first to ever associate St. Nicholas with sleighs and reindeer!

Please enjoy this seasonal offering!

by Clement Clarke Moore
or Henry Livingston

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Really Bad Cruise Poetry

by Pa Rock
Rhyme Meister

The Mighty Ocean
by Rocky Macy

The mighty ocean -

smells and swells
ceaseless motion
rolling, restless
tossing, churning -

Breeding life,
taking life,
pounding life to sand -

Before returning
to the tossing, churning
rolling, restless
smells and swells
of ceaseless motion -

The mighty ocean.

"Hello, Margaret. It's so good to hear your voice!"
by Rocky Macy

Old ones
and twos
Gray and flabby white
Hobbling away from the Port of San Juan
Clutching their cell phones
Like the hoses of respirators
Or the souls of dead pets.

It's been two days
or three
Loosed from the leash
An eternal, infernal
Nuisance of freedom
Finally made right
by satellite
And a superior calling plan!

Half Moon Cay
by Rocky Macy

A soft island voice
Catches the afternoon breeze,
Drifts across a sea of beach drinks
And chattering monkeys
In sandals and shorts.

A soft island voice
Straining to be Jimmy Buffett,
Weaves through lazy guitar chords
And the tropical smells
Of rum drinks and sun block.

A soft island voice
Floats aloft like the heat of love,
Lingers briefly under the swaying palms
And blows away
Onto postcards and warm memories.

Phoenix, Midnnight Saturday
by Rocky Macy

The City of Phoenix from a mile in the air
sparkles as if it hadn't a care

An amazing show of colorful lights,
Twinkling blues, greens, and whites,

Stars above, stars below
Midnight Phoenix is aglow!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Long Road Home

by Pa Rock
Airport Fixture

I am sitting in the Atlanta airport. It is dark outside and feels later than it actually is. My plane will leave for Phoenix in two hours. Hopefully my baggage has made the same arrangements, but considering the clusterfuck at the sidewalk check-in at Ft. Lauderdale, that is doubtful at best.

Okay. I'm tired. I know it and I feel it!

I have been reading Mary Tillman's book about her son, Pat Tillman. It is called Boots on the Ground by Dusk. Her co-author was Narda Zacchino, a professional journalist who was one of our presenters on The Nation cruise. I can only read a few pages at a time, and then my eyes start watering and I have to stop. That could be because I ran out of one of my meds (an important one) on the trip, or, more likely, I just get emotionally overwhelmed at the thought of losing one of my children - especially to violence or needless and stupid war. Actually losing a child for any reason would be devastating, an impossible situation from which to recover.

I heard Narda speak about the death of Pat Tillman at one of the panel discussions on the cruise. The notion that the death of this football star and uber-patriot was shamelessly used by the government to create a surge of patriotism is now a matter of record. We also know that the government - our government - tried to cover-up the fact that it was, at best, a death by friendly fire, and, at worst, a political execution. I have only finished the first third of this book, but with each passing page I become more emotional and angry.

Did you know that by the time of his death, Pat Tillman had read the Bible and the Koran cover-to-cover and had a strong grasp of the political realities behind the Middle East wars? Did you know that he was beginning to openly question United States military and foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did you know that his death had an effect of helping to pull public attention away from the atrocities committed by our troops and their civilian contractor masters at Abu Ghraib? Did you know that one of the architects of the cover-up in the death of Pat Tillman appears to have been General Stanley McChrystal, the current commander in Afghanistan?

I hope that Mary Tillman and her family are able to eventually force the truth out of our own government about what really happened to this brave young man. When I finish the book I am going to write a thoughtful letter about my concerns in the matter and send it to the old, white males who represent me in Congress: Trent Franks, Jon Kyl, and John McCain. At one time McCain had an interest in this story, but he now has transitioned into being a cheerleader of McChrystal.

Boots on the Ground by Dusk is a great read. Buy it, read it, get pissed, and then make some noise! (I will post a full review on The Ramble after I finish it.)

Meanwhile, back in the airport, the night drags on!

The Big Ship Dump

by Pa Rock
Weary Road Warrior

The party is over. The rats have all left the ship and are headed home - all except for the rats from the northeastern United States who are apparently being held at bay by snowfall of gargantuan proportions.

Getting out of the port was hell, until I procured the services of a seasoned porter who knew just how to skate through the crowds. Unfortunately, Jesse had to stay behind at the port and was not able to help me with the horrendous lines at the airport. I checked my bags curbside, a process that took over an hour! Fortunately, my plane doesn't leave for a couple of hours yet. That gives me time for a beer or three to calm my nerves!

Good friend Mike Box commented on my blog post from yesterday where I was complaining that the Eurodam blocks the signals of phone and Internet providers so that its captives must use their pay services. Mike, a retired attorney, pointed out that the practice is blatant restraint of trade and the parent company, Holland America, could be held liable for treble damages for their thievery. And let's not have any gloating from the folks at Disney because your cruise line does the same damned thing!

Mike, hang your shingle back out and let's go after them with a big class action lawsuit!

Last night's dinner was memorable. Our table was the last to clear - the conversation was that good. I was just beginning to chat with Rose Styron when investigative journalist Christian Parenti came and sat down at our table. The Widow Styron immediately excused herself, very politely, and rushed over to sit at his side. Parenti is about the age of my oldest son (mid to late thirties), rugged, Hollywood-handsome, and world-wise well beyond his years. He had been a war correspondent embedded with American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had also written on prison reform, the environment, and the economy. The elder babes clung to him like barnacles on the ships hull!

I tried to ask at least one off-the-wall question of each celebrity that I encountered. Since Parenti is an associate editor of The Nation, and health care was a major focus of the workshops, I asked him if The Nation paid his health insurance. I really wasn't surprised when he told us that he was not covered by the magazine - indeed, he admitted that he has no health insurance because he thought that Obama's plan was going to cover him. Now, of course, he will be looking elsewhere.

The Nation magazine was founded in 1865 and has been published continuously since that time. Parenti told us a few things about its history that I did not know. For instance, it is a privately owned for-profit magazine that does not make any profits. Ownership occasionally changes hands, but the philosophy and feel of the magazine has remained relatively constant since its founding. Katrina vanden Heuval, in addition to being The Nation's editor, is also its current owner.

Another interesting person at our table was Larry Powell who stated that he was a co-inventor of the mag-lev system that powers the high-speed, magnetic trains that are coming into fashion in Japan. I have done some reading on mag-lev technology and feel that it is where our country needs to be headed. Mag-lev does not rely on fossil fuels, and it has a proven track record. I had a chance to visit with Mr. Powell again this morning, and he is going to send me some information. Expect to hear more!

The next Nation cruise will be in September. It will originate in New York City and the destination will be Bermuda. The only two speakers announced so far are Jim Hightower and Judy Collins. Please check the magazine's website for more information.

Can't believe I am on dry land and headed home! Scroungy Bastard is going to be so happy to see me!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ship of Secrets

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I am learning so much on this trip, and not all of it was listed on the itinerary!

For instance, I now know, for a fact, that the good ship Eurodam blocks Internet and telephone signals so that passengers are forced to use their expensive services. One of the young ladies working in the ship's Internet Cafe let that bit of knowledge slip a few days ago, and I confirmed it last night with another crew member. Capitalist swine!

I also mentioned that the ship was really rocking and rolling the first two days that we were at sea. Turns out, according to the scuttlebutt (a naval term), that it had nothing to do with the conditions of the sea or the weather, for indeed the sea was relatively calm and the weather pleasant, but the rolling motion was due to the ship's stabilizers malfunctioning. Apparently they were repaired in Puerto Rico. But yesterday, his holiness, The Captain, had the gall to make a public apology over the loudspeaker system for the rough seas on the first two days of the voyage. Lying bastard!

Our crew is wonderful, so polite and courteous, and always willing to put forth the extra effort to honor any goofy tourist request. Unfortunately, not all of the tourists remembered to pack their good manners for the trip. Today on Half Moon Cay (Holland America's private island in the Bahamas) I listened in open disgust as a shrewish little woman unloaded on a waiter because she wanted two glasses of water, and he had given one of hers to somebody else. Pa Rock kept it under control and didn't slap the bitch, but I did step directly up to her and say in a loud, clear voice that she was behaving very rudely. The glare that she turned on me said just as clearly that no one had ever spoken to her that way before. Her husband pushed her on out of the way before she could take a swing at me. He appeared to have had plenty of practice in saving her flabby ass!

A good portion of our crew is from Indonesia. They work eleven hours a day for ten months and then get two months off. They work hard and maintain a pleasant outlook and demeanor. Most of the Indonesians are also Muslims. A dinner companion and I talked to a couple the other night about their religion, and learned that although there is no mosque on ship, they do have a designated place of prayer and worship. My gut feeling is that it would behoove the whiny and privileged little old biddies to keep their vitriol in check - or else we could have the makings of a Tom Clancy novel!

Our boat still floats, but will dock at Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow morning.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

by Pa Rock
Proud Papa

My daughter, Molly Miranda Macy Files, is thirty-three-years-old today. She lives in far away Salem, Oregon, and I am currently serving a tour on the Love Boat, so I am not even able to call her and wish her the best on her birthday.

Molly has achieved much in life and done things that I could never do - such as delivering pizzas or working in a hospice - and she has always been quite independent. Her most lasting accomplishment, however, in Pa Rock terms is presenting me with two handsome grandsons - Sebastian and Judah. Judah is less than two-weeks-old and we have yet to be introduced, but I have that to look forward to.

All the best on your birthday, Molly. You make me very proud!

Statehood for DC and Other Issues

by Pa Rock
Ancient Mariner

I attended three presentations today and learned a variety of things. The first was a panel discussion on the economy. The members were Betsy Reed of The Nation who served as a moderator of sorts, William Greider, Robert Scheer, Christian Parenti, and Eyal Press. The panel quickly formed into a clash of generations with Greider and Scheer flogging the banks and the monetary system, while Press and Parenti tried to keep a focus on environmental factors. Ron Paul's name kept surfacing, primarily due to his desire to audit the fed, and with Paul, there was a modicum of agreement between the generations.

William Greider described the Congressman from Texas as a "nice guy, but one who is a crackpot on monetary policy." Press wanted to table all talk on Paul, noting that he has been promoting a racist screed for years, but Scheer, who is unnaturally impressed with the sound of his own voice, would not honor that request for a moratorium on talking about Dr. Paul. Unfortunately for the entire program, Scheer managed to overpower most attempts at speech by the younger members of the panel.

The second panel discussion was on the subject of the future of journalism. Narda Zacchino (Robert Scheer's wife) was the moderator. The panel included the verbose Mr. Scheer, comedian and documentarian Katie Halper, Patricia Williams, and Betsy Reed. The group discussed the concept of old media versus new media, and ways of making new media effective and profitable. Again, Mr. Scheer, the only male on the panel, tried to dominate the discussion and posit his solution to every question, but his wife was able to tactfully rein him in - a few times.

(After the discussion on journalism, I rushed back to my stateroom and pulled out my traveling DSM-IV - and, sure enough - Robert Scheer's picture was in the section on narcissism!)

The third session that I attended was a very small group on Statehood for DC. The presenter was DC resident Ann Hoffman. She explained the District of Columbia has a larger population than Wyoming, yet has little direct control over its own affairs. Residents of our nation's capital pay federal and local taxes, but any legislation passed by the city council can be overridden by Congress. Ann's mission is to spread the word beyond the confines of her city to create pressure on Congress. Our representatives may be marginal (hello, Trent Franks) but at least we are represented (kinda, sorta in my case). Citizen's of DC pay their taxes yet have absolutely no votes in Congress.

And still our boat floats...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Overheard on St. John

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A tourist walks up to a man who is sweeping out his open-air cafe. The tourist asks if there is a bathroom. The cafe owner points across the street to the public facility and says, "It's over there."

"Do I have to pay for the bathroom?"

The cafe owner shakes his head wearily, and as the man trots across the street to use restrooms, he adds ever so seriously, "No, the bathroom is free on Wednesdays."

I sat at the bar waiting (and waiting and waiting) on my cheeseburger. To kill time I began chatting up the young waitress. She told me that she was from the mainland but had lived on the island for five years with her boyfriend. It was beginning to bore her, though, and she was thinking about moving on to some other island. But then she got to talking about snorkeling, fishing, and her much-loved garden. I mentioned the ubiquitous chickens and she told me about the cows that roam into her garden. She said that she has learned to use a sling shot to move them on down the road.

I asked the waitress if St. John would be a good place for me to retire. "Oh, yes!" She said enthusiastically. "If your are ever hungry you can just step outside and kill a chicken!"

St. John is definitely my kind of place!

Gotta Love Island Time...Unless Your Boat is About to Float!

by Pa Rock
Island Hopper

For those of you who have been to the Caribbean, the concept of island time is not hard to master. None of the locals wear watches, and they do things at their own pace. Try to rush somebody at your peril!

Our ship docked at St. Thomas at eight o'clock this morning, and I was one of the first people down the gangplank. I caught a cab into the downtown area of the capital, Charlotte Amalie, where I expected to hop the nine o'clock ferry to St. John. But the ferry schedule had inexplicably changed yesterday, and today the first ferry did not run until ten o'clock. That left me an extra hour-plus to walk through the maze of jewelry stores and diamond shops that comprise a big section of Charlotte Amalie. I was confronted by many street hustlers who tried to steer me into their stores, even though diamonds were not my priority for the day.

The highlight of the morning in Charlotte Amalie was watching a mother hen and her several baby chicks scratching for bugs on the lawn by the post office. You can take the hillbilly out of the hills, but you can't take the hills out of the hillbilly!

The ferry ride to St. John was thirty minutes. The area where the ferry landed, Cruz Bay, is a quirky little community of outdoor cafes and taverns, tourist shops, and, yes, chickens running loose everywhere. I also heard that there were goats, donkeys, and the occasional cow that went where they pleased, but I didn't encounter any of those residents.

After deciding that St. John was now my favored place for retirement (sorry Puerto Rico), I opted to take a taxi tour of the island. I met a retired cop named Elvis who ran his own taxi. He quoted me a good price - if I could wait a few minutes until he secured some more riders. Half and hour later he still had only me. As I started to roam away, Elvis directed me to a store and a cafe thinking that would keep me busy. I stepped into the cafe and ordered a cheeseburger - to go. One hour later, after the lady already had my $10 for the burger, it finally arrived. I went outside to find Elvis driving off with three other customers!

Thanks, Pal!

After one of his colleagues flagged him down, I hopped aboard. It turned out that the hour-and-a-half tour was going to take a little longer than that - and I had to catch a ferry back to St. Thomas before the tour would end. Elvis suggested that he would drop me after part of the tour and I could take a taxi back to the ferry.

Fine. That sounded simple enough.

What I didn't anticipate was that all taxis seemed to operate on the principle of not moving until they were packed with tourists - and then only if the mood strikes them! Elvis found a cabbie at Trunk Bay who promised to get me back to the ferry on time for the 2:00 p.m. departure to Charlotte Amalie. As soon as Elvis pulled out of sight, that taxi driver shuffled me off to somebody else who had made no such promise - and would not worry about it if he had.

I told the new driver that I was in a hurry. Big mistake. He told me it was not good to hurry. As the time ticked on and our taxi filled oh-so-slowly, I was nearly in panic mode. Eventually the taxi was full, and later-rather-than-sooner our driver ambled over and cranked up his gold mine. We made it back to the ferry with five minutes to spare.

But the ferry schedule on St. John had changed. The next one to Charlotte Amalie wasn't for nearly two hours - too late for me to make it to the cruise ship before the scheduled departure. (Somehow, I sensed that the Captain of the Eurodam probably wasn't sailing by island time!)

The lady at the ticket cage told me that I could go to Red Hook by a ferry that was preparing to leave. Is Red Hook on St. Thomas, I asked hopefully. She looked at me like I was the dumbest mango in the tree, and told me that of course it was. I could go to Red Hook and then take a taxi to the ship.

Oh, great! Another taxi!

Things got better in Red Hook, and I was pushed into a taxi that was nearly full. We were able to get on the road relatively fast, and I soon learned that Red Hook was just about as far from my ship as you could get and still be on St. Thomas. But my sudden gust of good luck prevailed and now I am safely on board - although some of the crew did eye me suspiciously when I bent down and kissed the gangplank!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Puerto Rico by Coach

by Pa Rock

We docked at San Juan Harbor early this morning. My first stop was at a souvenir shop where I bought a couple of throw-away cameras because my expensive digital died yesterday. It always has issues when I am on nice trips.

I walked on up the hill to the old Spanish Fort, which I had visited when I was in Old San Juan thirteen years ago. Deciding it was too sultry, I strolled back to the port and boarded an air-conditioned tour coach for a trip to El Yunque, the rain forest that is also a National Park. Our driver, Jose, was quite informative as he took us from the port, through New San Juan, and on east to El Yunque.

Jose explained that the island is basically one hundred miles by thirty-five miles, and most of the interior is mountainous. The beaches are plentiful, 365 total - one for every day of the year, and they are free! Free beaches - what a concept! Jose recommended Flamingo Beach in eastern Puerto Rico, saying that it is ranked number seven in the world. (I want a job ranking beaches!)

The architecture of New San Juan is a mixture of Miami and Moscow, colorful and elegant interspersed with drab and dreary cement boxes.

I had been to El Yunque on that earlier trip, and today we went to many of the same places that I visited then. I was amazed that I remembered things so well, because that was the equivalent of several lifetimes ago.

We did come across some wildlife in El Yunque. I saw several lizards, birds, and a nest of the tiniest birds that I have ever seen. We also imported a bird into the forest preserve - a Chicago Shit Bird. The CSB is a featherless moron who crows too loudly, never shuts up, and knows everything while really knowing nothing at all. This particular bird wandered into El Yunque with an expensive camera, and then proceeded to break the only rule that had been imposed on our group. He strayed off - and caused no end of bother. Jose finally had to send us on back to the bus by ourselves while he retraced the trail looking the wandering loon. Turns out the moron had grown fearful for his expensive camera when it started to rain, and he ran back to the bus without having the courtesy to tell anyone.

Did the Chicago Shit Bird apologize to his traveling companions as he should have done? No, of course not. His species does not have the vocal ability to admit an error.

The CSB is also not the smartest bird in the cage. What kind of fool would walk into a rain forest not anticipating that it could possibly rain?

Avoid this creature at all costs!

Finally, back in Old San Juan, our group discovered a very large iguana at the old Spanish Fort. He posed politely until the CSB with the expensive camera got too close - and then he scurried underground. If the hole that he crawled into had been larger, some of the rest of us might have followed just to get away from the predatory bore!

More later...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday's Poetry: Obama Rising

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I am sitting at the same keyboard where Calvin Trillin was parked and typing yesterday. To honor the significance of the proximity to greatness, tonight's selection will be a work by Mr. Trillin.

Trillin, a native of Kansas City, MO, is the "deadline poet" for The Nation, a proud literary position that he has held for nearly two decades. His unique talent is the ability to put politics into rhyming verse. This selection, "Obama Rising," recaptures his ascendancy into national politics and the Presidential race.

Obama Rising
by Calvin Trillin

Electrified is what they were, they say -
The Democrats in Boston on the day
A man with eloquence at his command
Had held the whole convention in his hand.
Their highest campaign moment in '04
Was when Barack Obama had the floor.
He spoke of getting past our old divides -
To form one nation, not just many sides.
He said together we'd heal every wound.
The crowd exploded. Why, they nearly swooned.
He hadn't made it to the Senate yet,
But, still, some delegates were moved to bet
That he was destined for the next top spot.
They mad such statements, Hillary or not.
When Kerry lost, the buzz did not abate.
Some said Barack could well afford to wait.
He had, they said, no end of times to run:
In twenty twelve he'd be but fifty-one.
According to a long-established tenet
He should mature for years yet in the Senate.
(Producing legislation at a trickle,
Some Senate members don't mature, they pickle.)
Obama, thinking time would not improve
The chance he had, resolved to make his move.
He went to Springfield, where he could invoke
The spirit of Abe Lincoln as he spoke
To thousands, cheering in the bitter cold.
He may have been by many fans extolled,
But pros said it was a long-shot bet
To think the nomination's what he'd get.
When faced with Clinton's powerful machine,
They said he might collapse, like Howard Dean.
Experience was what he seemed to lack.
And to be frank, they pointed out, he's black.

Celebrity Encounters

by Pa Rock

I am making these posts from the Internet Cafe on the top level of the Eurodam. The computers are maddeningly slow at sea, a condition made all the more stressful by the fact that the service is provided at a cost per minute. As I finished my last post, I stood up and happened to glance at the fellow who was typing in the cubicle next to me. It was E.L. Doctorow, and although I had nothing witty or insightful to say, I did manage to stammer out my name, tell him that I was a fan, and shake his hand.

I just came from two workshops. The first was a one-hour (far too brief) discussion on health care reform with Patricia Williams (columnist for Diary of a Mad Law Professor), Howard Dean, and Betsey Reed, Katrina Vanden Heuvel and William Greider - all of The Nation. Dr. Dean began the session by telling the group that faux Democrat, Joe Lieberman, is now saying that he will also block lowering the Medicare age to fifty-five. Joe is serving his insurance masters well!

Howard Dean said that the health care debate needs to be framed in terms of choice rather than as a left versus right issue. He pointed out that the concept of individuals having a choice would even appeal to Libertarians. He was thunderous and eloquent in his defense of the right of all Americans to be able to choose the type of health care that they receive - and in his condemnation of the insurance companies purchasing legislation that works to their advantage.

The second workshop was a discussion on the power of caricature and illustrations. It discussed examples such as the trouble in Denmark over the depictions of Muhammad, and The New Yorker cover that showed the Barack and Michelle as terrorists in the Oval Office giving each other a fist bump.

After the workshops I went to the Piano Bar where Howard Dean was signing copies of his book. My question for the good doctor today: When is Harry Reid going to stand up and knock Joe Lieberman down. His answer: "That day may be coming sooner rather than later." I hope that he is right about that.

Grand Turk by Cab

by Pa Rock
Experienced Road Warrior

(This posting is dedicated to Tanya, a happy cabbie who provided an interesting tour of Grand Turk, and her small son, Travez, who was out of school today and helping Mom.)

Not being quick enough getting off of the Eurodam to snag a decent seat on a tour bus, I opted instead to visit with some of the tour coordinators and decide what I wanted to see, and then hopped in a cab and took off. Turned out I got to see more than many of my fellow travelers (pun intended - it is The Nation, after all!), and at less cost.

The cab that I snagged at the port took me to Cockburn, the old town and historic district of Grand Turk. If you are thinking something on the order of Hamilton, Bermuda, disabuse yourself of that notion right now. The main drag of Cockburn has never amounted to much, and after last fall's force four hurricane, there is even less to attract tourists today. There is a museum, several very small tourist shops selling handmade local wares, a post office, two churches, and a couple of stores.

While strolling down Front Street, I stopped to pet the scrawniest dog that I have ever encountered. The dog, of course, immediately took up with me. I walked back to a grocery store that I had just passed that had a hand printed sign on the door announcing that they had a fresh shipment of Friskies and Alpo. I walked in and asked the old man working there (he actually looked to be about my age) if I bought a can of dog food and fed the dog, would I be arrested. He replied that their new shipment was already sold out. (Turns out that everything on Grand Turk has to be imported.)

The old fellow followed me to the front door and wanted to talk. He told me about John Glenn's space capsule landing close to the island in 1962. I asked if he got to see the famous astronaut, and he said, proudly, "Yes. I shook his hand!" He then told me about the U.S. warship that was anchored off of Grand Turk inspecting Russian ships that were headed to Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. The next topic was his service in World War II. My father, who served in that war as a very young man, is eighty-five now, so I new that this fellow was older than he looked. I asked, and he again replied in a proud tone, "I am ninety-three years old."

Grand Turk is a very laid back place, so perhaps the aging process is slower here.

My second cabbie, Tanya, picked me up in Cockburn, took me to the lighthouse on the end of the island, and eventually back to the port. Tanya had much to say about her home island. One of the questions I asked was about the recent hurricane whose effects are still very evident across Grand Turk. She said Hurricane Ike had ravaged the island from the evening of September 6, 2008 through the next morning, leaving the inhabitants without electricity or running water for three or four months. She said she had headaches because of the constant noise of the generators, and that she had to bathe with bottled water.

When Tanya mentioned Hurricane Ike, she was quick to add the rejoinder, "Like Ike Turner. But we survived and grew stronger, like Tina!"

Grand Turk has an airfield, but there are currently no international flights due to the lack of hotel rooms. Tanya told me that there are less than 100 rooms for rent on the entire island. Much of the island's income is derived from the cruise ships, and she said that it is also one of the world's ten best destinations for divers. There is a reef surrounding much of the island, and just beyond the reef the water drops to a depth of over 7,000 feet!

The island of Grand Turk is building a new hospital that should be completed next April. Currently persons requiring serious surgery and some medical procedures have to fly to Miami or other locations.

One of the more interesting things about the island is that there are horses and donkeys roaming freely. Jumping on a donkey to get someplace is probably a practical option because gas is over five dollars a gallon!

Traffic is sparse, and it is not unusual to see people walking along the main road, or even in the main road! The island's primary thoroughfare was paved in the 1950's and has been poorly maintained. I learned from Tanya that there are no taxes on property or income, which probably explains the conditions of the road. (Are you listening, Arizona?)

I asked how public services, like roads, are funded. Revenue comes from duties on imports (Republicans would love this system!) and fees for work permits. About 17,000of the island chain's 30,000 people have work permits. There are approximately 5,000 individuals on Grand Turk, and probably half that many dogs, horses, and donkeys!

According to one sign that I read at the lighthouse, much of the island's income used to be derived from salvaging ship wrecks. The light in the lighthouse would occasionally dim mysteriously, causing ships to crash onto the reef, and the locals would rush out to retrieve the cargo. If memory serves, I think that Key West had a similar racket going at one time!

Part of the island's historic lore is an assertion that it was actually the place where Columbus first landed on October 12, 1492. There is even a marker on the beach where that purportedly happened. The resident's of San Salvador, of course, would beg to differ with that claim!

At one time the U.S. Navy had two bases on Grand Turk, but both have closed. One is now a junior college.

There is not much going on in Grand Turk today, but it has the potential to develop. I mentioned one business idea to Tanya that I felt would be successful, and she told me not to repeat it because that was an idea that she was working on. God speed on that, Tanya. I hope you become rich beyond your wildest dreams!

I fervently hope that the island of Grand Turk develops wisely and much of the benefit goes directly to the locals.

When visiting Grand Turk, take a cab - they are very reasonable - and ask for Tanya. She will give you a delightful tour! And don't forget to tell her that Pa Rock sent you!

Ahoy Grand Turk!

by Pa Rock
Cruise Rat

Our ship, the Eurodam, is slowly making its way into port at Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands. I am not certain that I will be able to walk on dry land, having just gotten used to doing the shipboard stumble - but it will be nice to try. It looks like we should be tied up and ready to go ashore in an hour or so.

The sea has been very rough. I noticed last night at dinner that even the waiters were having an unusually hard time moving from table to table. The entire dining episode could have become fodder for a Marx Brothers movie, but the wait staff managed to stay on their feet and deliver the calories in an exemplary manner.

The highlight of yesterday afternoon was a panel discussion on International affairs. Speakers included Katrina Vanden Heuvel (the editor of The Nation), Robert Sheer (liberal curmudgeon and noted writer formerly of the Los Angeles Times and now associated with the Internet site, Truthdig), Steve Cohen (a professor at Princeton and New York University with expertise in Russia - and Katrina's husband), William Greider (former international affairs writer for Rolling Stone, and Howard Dean.

Barack Obama, who was not on the panel, seemed to be the focus of everyone energies. Scheer ravaged the President for not living up to his liberal potential and immediately changing the world, while Dean was the counter-weight who argued that the President is effecting change and that the federal government is a mighty beast to tame.

I had a chance to visit with Howard Dean at The Nation's reception last night, quite a feat because the little old ladies were fawning over him like so many blood-starved mosquitoes. When one finally stopped for a breath, I stepped in close and told him that I had a serious health care question. He smiled, and left the others to their argument over international matters. My question for the remarkably skinny and youthful looking Dr. Dean: "Are we going to be seeing you in a Jenny Craig commercial?" His response, "Lord, I hope not!" I then commented on all the weight that he has lost and asked how he did it. He replied, "Biking. Exercise and diet." Excellent advice - and remember, this guy is a physician and he knows that of which he speaks.

Our ship has docked and I am headed to shore!

More later...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rocking and Rolling!

by Pa Rock
Pea Green Sailor

The sea has been restless, more big waves and movement than I have ever experienced before. I'm fine, but one obnoxious fellow regaled us at dinner last night with stories of vomit sightings around the ship!

I had a great seat at the opening session this morning, on the center aisle just four rows from the stage. Got some up close shots of Howard Dean, Bob Scheer, Katrina Vandn Heuvel, Calvin Trillin, and E.L. Doctorow. Vanden Heuvel and Scheer did a relentless interview of Dr. Dean, followed by some equally tough questions from the audience. He beleives that Obama is striking the right tone in Afghanistan, a sentiment that was not universal among the audience, but he had unkind words about Blue Dog Democrats. Dean said that he would not be giving money to either the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) because they will inevitably support some of the crackers who aren't supporting health care reform. ("Crackers" is my term, not his.)

Calvin Trillin interviewed E. L. Doctorow with a deadpan humor, asking such insightful questions as why he calls himself E.L. The great author, obviously a good friend of Trillin's, was nonetheless occasionally nonplussed at his questions. Doctorow read from his latest book and told interesting personal anecdotes on individuals as diverse as Ayn Rand and Robert Altman. Doctorow said that he has only liked one movie made from his books, and that was Sidney Lumet's take on The Book of Daniel. Doctorow was set up for a book signing after the presentation, but they ran out of his books before I could push over enough blue hairs to get to the book sales table. Sorry, Tim, but there goes your Christmas present!

Howard Dean will be involved in a workshop this afternoon focusing on international affairs. I want to be sure and get a good seat for that.

More later...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Katrina Vanden Heuvel Told Me Where to Go!

by Pa Rock
Sea-Going Fool!

It's dark out, we are having a soft Florida rain, and the big boat has started to move. I have managed to get oriented to the ship and even slipped in a good nap while waiting on my suitcases to arrive - which they eventually did. (I have a theory that they deliver to the cheap rooms last. Capitalist swine!)

We had the obligatory lifeboat drill this afternoon, which the cruise ships have mercifully begun conducting sans life vests. I'm not too worried about ice bergs in the Caribbean, but I guess that it is possible that we could get rammed by another cruise ship. (If that happens, you read it here first!)

I caught up with one of the ship's officers after the drill and asked my wise-ass question for the day. "Excuse me, Admiral," I said, "but have your lifeboats ever been in the water?" To my utter amazement he told me that they had. He said they are required to put them all in the water once a week and sail them around the ship. That is supposed to happen in either St. Thomas or Puerto Rico, and I will, of course, be on hand to see if I can snag a ride! Cheap thrills!

After the drill I wandered off looking for the reception room where The Nation was handing out name tags and paraphernalia related to the educational aspects of the voyage. As I was roaming rather aimlessly I happened into the magazine's editor-in-chief, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, who led me to my destination. She looks exactly like she does on television when she is trying to talk over one of Chris Matthews' boorish rants, except that she is surprisingly skinny. Nice lady.

My wise-ass question for tomorrow will be to ask Ms. Vanden Heuvel if Chris Matthews is the blithering idiot that he appears to be on television. Will I get an honest answer? Stay tuned. You will learn it here first!

Tomorrow will be a day at sea, and we will dock at Grand Turk on Monday.

Ahoy, Maties! Aargh!

by Pa Rock
Sailing Fool

It is almost 1:00 p.m. in Florida, just about the time that the Eurodam was supposed to begin boarding. Being the cynical bastard that I am, I got here a couple of hours early and found the other rats already scurrying up the gang plank. I have dined (boy, did I dine!), and now I am sitting by an ourdoor bar listening to a marimba band and fighting off waiters who want to ply me with rum drinks. It is a very rough job, but somebody has to do it!

I met an interesting fellow while standing in line waiting to begin the boarding process. (Yes, there is always a line!) His name is Ron and he used to be the director of Phil Donahue's television show. I told him about recently seeing Marlo in a play in Phoenix, and we immediately had enough in common with that to begin a conversation that took us through lunch. Ron is also traveling as a part of The Nation which means that we also share some leftist views in the fields of politics and social justice. Nice guy!

More later from the high seas!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Welcome to Ft. Lauderdale!

by Pa Rock

It has been a long day...a very long day!

I got on a plane at Sky Harbor last night at 12:45 a.m. after being parked in the airport gate area for the obligatory two hours. For someone who likes to be in bed by 10:00 p.m., I was hopeful that some sleep would overtake me on the flight from Phoenix to Atlanta, but that, of course, never happened! I caught a breakfast, or sorts, at the Atlanta Airport, and then flew on to Florida, again sans sleep.

My first hint of what to expect Ft. Lauderdale came from the shuttle driver in Phoenix last night who said that when he visited there in his youth he and his buddies always referred to the city as "Ft. Liquordale." Now, of course, most of the spring break crowd has moved north to the Florida panhandle, but Lauderdale still seems to attract its share of entertaining characters.

I tried to sleep during the day, but that didn't work out, so I hit the streets on foot to see what all was in this part of town. I soon discovered that my hotel was basically the pivot point for seedy fast food joints and a wide array of street people. The entertaining indigents were collected on street corners sharing smokes and stories, and a few roamed the traffic islands haranguing drivers with loud dialogue and the handfuls of various reading matter.

(There must be street people and homeless in Phoenix, but even though I have traveled roads in every section of the Valley of Hell, I haven't seen any. Is it just too damned hot? Or does it have something to do with our draconian law enforcement? Inquiring minds would like to know.)

Tomorrow I head to the Port of Ft. Lauderdale. Embarkation begins in the early afternoon and the ship (Holland America's Eurodam) sails at 5:00 p.m. (Is that five bells? Or seventeen bells?) I asked the lady at the hotel desk tonight if there were things to do at the port if I got their early. Her answer: "Absolutely not." No equivocation there!

Sunday will be spent at sea, and Monday morning our ship docks at the Turks and Caicos Islands. More later...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Night Flight to Florida

by Pa Rock
Happy Traveler

I'm off later tonight for a much needed winter vacation. I will be in the air most of the time between midnight and six a.m. heading to Ft. Lauderdale via Atlanta. Tomorrow I will sleep off the flight at a hotel and will have a nice meal on or near the beach in the evening. And then Saturday I will be boarding Holland America's Eurodam for a cruise through the Caribbean. Our stops will include St. Thomas (been there, wasn't impressed), Puerto Rico (been there, loved it, considering it for retirement), and the Turks and Caicos Islands (never been there but have heard that they are great).

I am floating with The Nation Magazine, a large group that will include much of the magazine's staff, some national speakers (Howard Dean, Calvin Trillin, and E.L. Doctorow, for starters), and numerous people from across the United States who are of the liberal activist persuasion. So, in addition to an abundance of beautiful island scenery, there should also be ample intelligent conversation - an exceedingly rare commodity in the Valley of Hell!

Stay tuned for rum-soaked, sun-drenched updates!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brits Bite Back Bank Bonuses

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's that time of year again, the time when America's working poor - a group that includes just about all of us - run up our credit card debt in order to properly celebrate the birth of Jesus with unneeded (and often unwanted) bobbles, bangles, and bows. As we get those breathtaking after-Christmas credit card bills, we also learn that the honchos of the really big banks that are getting rich off of our credit card interest, are lavishing obscenely large annual bonuses on themselves. This year that pill will be exceptionally bitter, considering that taxpayer money was used to keep most of those banks solvent.

Thanks, suckers!

My favorite banking scoundrel, Ken Lewis of Bank of America, is pocketing cash and perks worth in excess of fifty million dollars as he "retires" from the python that is BOA.

(Did you hear about Jackie Ramos, a young lady in Georgia who was fired from her job as a customer advocate at BOA because she took her job too seriously? Jackie couldn't sleep nights after hearing the tragic stories of people who were financially raped by her bank. She finally quit trying to follow bank rules, and set about seeing that everyone she dealt with found a way to have their credit card terms modified - whether they met the bank's restrictive criteria or not.)

Ken Lewis is not leaving voluntarily, yet he is being pushed out with a sweet golden parachute. Jackie Ramos is also not leaving voluntarily, but she is going without a rusty farthing. One helped himself, and the other helped the poor. Good-bye, Ken. Good riddance!

All of which brings me to my point. Why should these scumbag bankers get juicy bonuses off of the suffering of the poor, and why especially should they lard themselves up with money that came about through the generosity of American taxpayers? Doesn't that suck?

Great Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer (their Treasury Secretary), Alistair Darling, announced this week that his government will place a windfall tax on bonuses given to employees of bailed out banks. Bonuses that are in excess of 25,000 pounds ($40,800) will be taxed at fifty-percent! Not a bad deal for the government which gets to recoup some of the obscene profits - and the white collar bank robbers still walk away with 50% of their ill-gotten gains.

Our government is always struggling with ways to increase revenue. Maybe we should look into following the example of our British cousins. Politicians are quick to ridicule welfare for the poor and needy, so why don't they have the cajones or the morality to be just as outspoken against welfare for the rich and greedy?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't Leave Home Without It!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Sneaking across the border from Mexico to the United States can be a deadly endeavor. A recent report by the U.S. Border Patrol stated that the remains of 191 humans were found in the Tucson Sector in the past year, a number that is up twenty percent over the year before.

The Sonora Desert is hard, hot, and hostile to humans. Those trying to walk into the United States must struggle against the elements while being on the lookout for rattlesnakes, scorpions, rabid coyotes, border patrol agents, and the occasional whack job with a rifle who wants do his or her bit to "protect" white America.

The long walk through the desert is not for sissies!

But the odds of making a safe crossing appear to be improving, thanks to a technological breakthrough by a professor at the University of California at San Diego. Working from a humanitarian perspective, Professor Ricardo Dominguez has invented a cell phone application that guides people across the desert. He said that it locates where the traveler is in relation to where he wants to go - highlighting the best way to get to that point. The program also tells the traveler what to expect when he reaches his destination.

Professor Dominguez calls his application the Transborder Immigrant Tool, and he says simply that it gives people crossing the border "a way not to die." Law enforcement officials are opposed to this new technology, arguing that it will be used by drug smugglers and human traffickers - most of whom have the resources to enter the country in a much less dangerous manner.

Law enforcement also opposes the purely humanitarian practice of leaving jugs of water in the desert to keep people from dying. The jugs of water and this new locator technology aren't going to draw people into the United States - they are coming anyway, forced across the border by an unbelievably cruel poverty that makes our own modest circumstances seem like grotesque affluence. The water and the Transborder Immigrant tool are efforts to save lives.

Maybe for Professor Dominguez's next project he will come up with a way to open minds to the Golden Rule!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "Freedom's Plow"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Langston Hughes and I were born a mere twenty-five miles apart, but with the differences in our life circumstances, we might as well have been the products of different planets. Hughes, a native of Joplin, MO, moved on to become a major literary light of the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry, often told in the black dialect of the times, highlights the historical and cultural differences that separated the races in the first half of the American twentieth century.

The following piece gives an accounting of the building of American civilization from the black perspective. Please enjoy, and hold on!

Freedom's Plow
by Langston Hughes

When a man starts out with nothing,
When a man starts out with his hands
Empty, but clean,
When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself
And the faith that is in his heart-
The strength there,
The will there to build.

First in the heart is the dream-
Then the mind starts seeking a way.
His eyes look out on the world,
On the great wooded world,
On the rich soil of the world,
On the rivers of the world.

The eyes see there materials for building,
See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.
The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.
The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,
To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.
Then the hand seeks other hands to help,
A community of hands to help-
Thus the dream becomes not one man's dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.

A long time ago, but not too long ago,
Ships came from across the sea
Bringing the Pilgrims and prayer-makers,
Adventurers and booty seekers,
Free men and indentured servants,
Slave men and slave masters, all new-
To a new world, America!

With billowing sails the galleons came
Bringing men and dreams, women and dreams.
In little bands together,
Heart reaching out to heart,
Hand reaching out to hand,
They began to build our land.
Some were free hands
Seeking a greater freedom,
Some were indentured hands
Hoping to find their freedom,
Some were slave hands
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
But the word was there always:

Down into the earth went the plow
In the free hands and the slave hands,
In indentured hands and adventurous hands,
Turning the rich soil went the plow in many hands
That planted and harvested the food that fed
And the cotton that clothed America.
Clang against the trees went the ax into many hands
That hewed and shaped the rooftops of America.
Splash into the rivers and the seas went the boat-hulls
That moved and transported America.
Crack went the whips that drove the horses
Across the plains of America.
Free hands and slave hands,
Indentured hands, adventurous hands,
White hands and black hands
Held the plow handles,
Ax handles, hammer handles,
Launched the boats and whipped the horses
That fed and housed and moved America.
Thus together through labor,
All these hands made America.

Labor! Out of labor came villages
And the towns that grew cities.
Labor! Out of labor came the rowboats
And the sailboats and the steamboats,
Came the wagons, and the coaches,
Covered wagons, stage coaches,
Out of labor came the factories,
Came the foundries, came the railroads.
Came the marts and markets, shops and stores,
Came the mighty products moulded, manufactured,
Sold in shops, piled in warehouses,
Shipped the wide world over:
Out of labor-white hands and black hands-
Came the dream, the strength, the will,
And the way to build America.
Now it is Me here, and You there.
Now it's Manhattan, Chicago,
Seattle, New Orleans,
Boston and El Paso-
Now it's the U.S.A.

A long time ago, but not too long ago, a man said:
His name was Jefferson. There were slaves then,
But in their hearts the slaves believed him, too,
And silently too for granted
That what he said was also meant for them.
It was a long time ago,
But not so long ago at that, Lincoln said:
There were slaves then, too,
But in their hearts the slaves knew
What he said must be meant for every human being-
Else it had no meaning for anyone.
Then a man said:
He was a colored man who had been a slave
But had run away to freedom.
And the slaves knew
What Frederick Douglass said was true.

With John Brown at Harper's Ferry, Negroes died.
John Brown was hung.
Before the Civil War, days were dark,
And nobody knew for sure
When freedom would triumph
"Or if it would," thought some.
But others new it had to triumph.
In those dark days of slavery,
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
The slaves made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
That song meant just what it said: Hold On!
Freedom will come!
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
Out of war it came, bloody and terrible!
But it came!
Some there were, as always,
Who doubted that the war would end right,
That the slaves would be free,
Or that the union would stand,
But now we know how it all came out.
Out of the darkest days for people and a nation,
We know now how it came out.
There was light when the battle clouds rolled away.
There was a great wooded land,
And men united as a nation.

America is a dream.
The poet says it was promises.
The people say it is promises-that will come true.
The people do not always say things out loud,
Nor write them down on paper.
The people often hold
Great thoughts in their deepest hearts
And sometimes only blunderingly express them,
Haltingly and stumblingly say them,
And faultily put them into practice.
The people do not always understand each other.
But there is, somewhere there,
Always the trying to understand,
And the trying to say,
"You are a man. Together we are building our land."

Land created in common,
Dream nourished in common,
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
If the house is not yet finished,
Don't be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don't be weary, soldier!
The plan and the pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
Into the warp and woof of America:
Who said those things? Americans!
Who owns those words? America!
Who is America? You, me!
We are America!
To the enemy who would conquer us from without,
We say, NO!
To the enemy who would divide
And conquer us from within,
We say, NO!
To all the enemies of these great words:
We say, NO!

A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Die Hard with a Walker

by Pa Rock
Citizen Film Critic

I spent three hours tonight, three hours that I will never get back, watching Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth entry in the Die Hard movie franchise. It was, as one would imagine, highly formulaic and completely engrossing. Bruce Willis does his best to bring New York Police Detective John McClane back to life in a believable fashion as he battles cyber terrorists, jumps on an F-35 fighter jet in mid-air, and moves heaven and earth to rescue his daughter, but every move that Bruce makes literally screams into the camera, "I am an old man!"

The original Die Hard was filmed in 1988 when Bruce Willis was a mere boy of thirty-three, still young enough to be a believable, well-oiled, tough cop with a death wish. In that film he battled East German terrorists who held his wife and many others captive in a Los Angeles high rise building.

Die Hard was followed two years later in 1990 by Die Hard 2: Die Harder, in which Willis's John McClane was fighting mercenaries who had taken over Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, in an attempt to free a drug lord.

The series then took a five-year hiatus before returning in 1995 with Die Hard with a Vengeance, a film in which Willis, by then forty, revived John McClane as a struggling alcoholic ex-policeman who was drawn into a game of "Simon Says" by the East German brother of the main terrorist in the first film. Simon was a bit peeved at McClane for killing his brother.

And that is where it should have stopped. But no, Hollywood felt the need to squeeze one more Die Hard out of the forever boyish Mr. Willis.

Live Free or Die Hard, completed in 2007 when Willis was a sprightly fifty-two, is good in the way that Hardy Boys novels were good when I was a kid. The settings and some of the characters are different in each one, but you know basically what is going to happen - the mystery will be solved in the end - John McClane will take on platoons of evil terrorists to save the world and a family member, he will jump through fires, dangle from scary high places, and kill dozens with his bare hands - and in the end truth, justice, and the American way will triumph.

Willis is far too old to be believable as a rogue cop who has the strength and agility of someone half his age, but he was propped up by several really good young actors who brought off their roles in a realistic fashion. Timothy Olyphant was the sinister hacker who managed to bring most of the commerce, power, and traffic of the United States to a complete standstill. He was cool, and slick, and wicked. Justin Long played Matt, a young computer hacker who became Willis's reluctant partner in the drive to bring down Olyphant's cyber gang. Mr. Long had the energy and acting talent to nail his role. He would be a good candidate to carry on the franchise when Bruce Willis is mercifully turned out to pasture.

Live Free or Die Hard is a grand way to waste an evening. It is predictable in every sense of the word, but that doesn't stop it from being great escapist entertainment!