Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Pod

by Pa Rock
Music Lover

When Miss Carla and I were in New York this winter she let me play with her iPod. I'm not very techie, but I knew at once that I wanted one of my own. Well, a fool and his money are soon parted, and this past weekend I took the plunge. I'm now the proud owner of a silver "Classic" (like me, another silver classic!) that I understand can accommodate my entire extensive collection of music CD's.

I tried to make it go last night, but quickly realized that I should have purchased the deluxe version - the one where they send a thirteen-year-old kid home with you to show you how to operate it. I finally gave up and set the shiny gadget aside.

Today I pulled up the manual on-line and learned a little, then after work I took a trip to Best Buy and picked the brains of one of their adolescent salesboys. With what I learned from Skippy, I was able to come home and charge the battery on my new toy. I have also successfully "ripped" ten CD's into the Windows Music Library. Tomorrow night I will see if I can figure out how to transfer them from the library onto the iPod.

If anyone reading this knows about iPods please respond to this post or drop me a note at pa.rock.macy@gmail.com. One of my questions is how many CD's can I "rip" to the Windows Music Library before my computer freezes up or lays an egg or something? Can I place my whole library (250 CD's or more) in the Music Library, or do I have to dump some every so often? Do you have any special hints on how to transfer from the computer's Music Library to the iPod. (Yes, I can read about it in the manual, but I'm not much of a manual person. If you attempt to teach me something, keep it very simple!)

I'm still dragging myself to the gym most evenings and it continues to be a very boring experience. Perhaps by this time next week my iPod will be loaded and I will be walking on that evil treadmill while "sweatin' to the oldies!"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Books I Have Almost Read

by Pa Rock
Shameless Reader

Anyone who knows me well can appreciate that I have seldom started a book that I could not or would not finish. Reading is almost a contractual obligation: what is started, must be finished. But there have been a few books from which I have just had to walk away.

I started thinking about the books that defeated me yesterday after enjoying Les Miserables at the theatre. The novel that the play was based on, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, was one of those books that I was never able to finish. It has been many years ago that I fought my way past the first hundred pages or so, only to decide that it was just too sad for my tastes. Perhaps, having matured by a couple of decades (me - not the book), it is time that I picked it back up and tried again.

Another book that defeated me was Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, a German tale of a young man fresh out of the university who goes up a mountain to visit his cousin residing in a tuberculosis hospital. While visiting the cousin, the hero, Castrop, becomes infected with the dreaded disease himself and has to be admitted to the facility for a prolonged stay. I have no idea whether he survived tuberculosis or not, because I set the book down one evening and never got back to it. Please don't tell me how it ends, because I may get back to it also.

While those first two easily qualified as literature by the pound, a third book that I couldn't finish was fairly brief by comparison. That book, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, was one of the most graphically anti-war novels ever written. It came out in 1938 and was undoubtedly a major factor in Trumbo being blacklisted during the McCarthy era. In fact, the book itself was censored during World War II. Johnny is the narrator, and he awakens in a hospital after falling in battle in World War I. At first Johnny doesn't know where he is or what is going on, because he is blind and can't speak. He slowly discovers that he has no arms or legs. I set the book aside when I got to the part about him realizing that the rats were eating at his bandages during the night when the hospital attendants were gone. Johnny Got His Gun is too important not to be read, and I will definitely get back to it.

And when I say that I will try again to read these important works of literature, I mean it. Another book that challenged me for years was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I gave up on it twice because the characters and situations were just too bizarre to follow coherently, but the third time was a charm. When I began the third reading I was determined that I would read every page regardless of how hard it was to follow - and at some point toward the end of the book it all started to come together and make sense. Catch-22 and I will probably do battle again!

Reading a particular book may be a matter of timing. When the time is right, the book will reveal itself to to the patient reader.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Les Miserables

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

Les Miserables is a fantastic musical that has been around several years and won numerous awards. And although it is becoming firmly established as a theatrical classic, today was the first time that I have had the opportunity to see it staged. Les Miz has been playing in Phoenix for a couple of months, and its run has been extended twice to accommodate the throngs who wanted to wanted to get in but were unable to obtain tickets.

One of the radio ads said "You've never been this close to the barricades!" I was able to land a seat on the second row - dead-bang center of the theatre - not more than twenty feet behind the barricades. My perch was so close to the stage that I could see the spray leaving the singer's lips as they hit their majestic musical swells!

Les Miserables is a musical retelling of Victor Hugo's monumental novel of the same name. Hugo's 1,200 plus pages are pared down to a stage production of just three hours. The story is an epic struggle of good versus evil and ultimate redemption. It is set in France after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and leads up to the ill-fated Paris Uprising of 1832. It is not, as often thought, a tale of the French Revolution. That bit of history occurred several decades before story of Les Miz begins.

The central character in this morality tale is Jean Valjean, a man who, as the play begins, has just completed serving nineteen years in prison at hard labor for stealing a small amount of bread to keep his sister's son from starving. He is paroled, and promptly learns that his status as an ex-con keeps him from receiving a decent job or fair wages.

Valjean tears up his parole papers and soon steals a silver place setting from a bishop who tries to befriend him. When he is caught fleeing the bishop's quarters with the contraband silver, he tells the police that the bishop gave it to him. To his surprise, the bishop concurs with his lie and enables the man to go free - with the admonition that he has just purchased the man's soul for God. His challenge is to go forth and do good.

Jean Valjean, who never completed his probation and thus remained a wanted man, becomes a successful politician. While keeping his vow to do God's work, he befriends a dying prostitute and promises to raise her daughter, the beautiful Cosette. He keeps his promise to the prostitute, all the while dodging the relentless Javert, a police official who has made capturing him his life's obsession.

If the Valjean-Javert dance sounds familiar, that is probably because it was resurrected in the 1960's in a television show called "The Fugitive," and again in the 1990's in a movie of the same substance and name. No matter how much good Dr. Richard Kimball did, that awful Lt. Philip Gerard remained fixated on bringing him to justice.

There were several standout performers in the Phoenix Theatre's production of Les Miserables. Douglas Webster was a dynamic Jean Valjean. His acting was passionate, and his voice ranged from delicate to thunderous. When Webster traversed the stage, he owned it. Jenny Hintze was the dirty-faced and streetwise Eponine who easily outshone the lovely Cosette. She was compelling and appealing - and her voice was magnificent, with a force that could break windows in the cars driving by out on McDowell.

Beau Heckman and Terey Summers were show-stoppers. They were Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, a pair of coniving street louts who were always on the lookout for a quick franc. They were Eponine's parents and the evil guardians of Cosette when she was a child. The Thenardier's were lovable rogues who could have easily been the creations of Charles Dickens. Their masterful comic relief gave the audience a much needed reprieve from the serious business of persecution, poverty, and war.

Les Miz has a wonderful score, yet it contains few songs that people are likely to hum or sing (or even remember) as they leave the theatre. But it is a show that would be very difficult to forget. The company performing at the Phoenix Theatre have done a terrific job of bringing this great musical production to the stage in the Valley of Hell. I was truly transported to nineteenth century Paris within spitting distance of the barricades!

This was a wonderful afternoon!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Arizona on Parade

by Pa Rock
Desert Observer

It is the best time of year in the desert. The days are still relatively tolerable, and the evenings are cool, but not so cool as to prohibit riding around town with the top down. Tempers remain subdued, but they will begin to flare with the advent of the hard, miserable summer.

The cacti are just beginning to bloom, and they look especially vibrant with their crowns of blossoms. They will hold their blooms for a month or so, and then go to seed. The little cactus wrens are starting to drag straw into the upturned armpits of the giant saguaros, building nests that no sensible predator would dare to invade. And the little doves will soon begin their family planning by building nests on the tops of buildings. Soon they will all be chirping and raising their babies.

My favorite bird, however, is the desert goober. While this doofus species acts too dumb to reproduce, something must be happening somewhere because they keep on appearing year after year. Yesterday I was heading out to the Arizona State in Glendale when one especially heinous desert goober pulled up beside me on a motorcycle. I was fairly certain that he was a true goober because he wasn't wearing a helmet, and my suspicion was confirmed when I looked closely and noticed that he also had a pistol holstered to his expansive girth. While a desert goober, particularly one with prison tattoos, may strut his stuff and act as though he is one bad dude, he is generally too dimwitted to pose any serious danger to the other desert creatures.

It's springtime in the desert, and me and all of my fine feathered friends are enjoying the last of the nice weather!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cesar Chavez Conference

by Pa Rock
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Today I joined more than five hundred other mental health providers at the 5th Annual Cesar Chavez Conference at the West Campus of Arizona State University. The focus of the event was on issues impacting the Latino community, as well as an examination of cultural issues - presented with the intent of making mental health services more accessible to that important segment of the population.

The highlight of the conference, at least for me, was a very compelling presentation by Luis Rodriguez, an author and civic activist who works with troubled youth in the Los Angeles area. Mr. Rodriguez came of age as a gang member in East Los Angeles and has been hardened and tempered by the fires of real street life. I knew that I was going to enjoy this speaker when, early in his talk, he referred to the sheriff of Maricopa County, AZ, by name, and called him a national clown. This was a guy who wasn't going to mince words - and he didn't!

Mr. Rodriguez talked about the shame of directing our youth straight into prisons instead of focusing on prevention and rehabilitation. He noted that most young people of color who run afoul of the law are sent to prison, while white youth in similar circumstances are often shunted off into treatment.

(There was a story on the internets a few weeks ago that discussed this phenomenon. Of the forty or so states that provided information, Wisconsin was the most racist in its drug sentencing with racial minorities being 42.4 times more likely to go to prison over drug offenses than whites. Surprisingly, at least to me, Missouri was the best of the lot with minorities only being 2.7 times as likely to serve prison sentences over drug charges as whites.)

Luis Rogrigues was very inspirational (in a Dave Pelzer sort of way) and highly passionate. His dedication to making the world a better and safer place for young people is sincere and absolute. He is also a very expressive writer, as is obvious with the following poem on immigration:

Running to America
by Luis Rodriguez

They are night shadows violating borders,
fingers curled through chain-link fences,
hiding from infra-red eyes, dodging 30-30 bullets.
They leave familiar smells, warmth and sounds
as ancient as the trampled stones.

Running to America.

There is a woman in her finest border-crossing wear:
A purple blouse from an older sister,
a pair of worn shoes from a church bazaar,
a tattered coat from a former lover.

There is a child dressed in black,
fear sparkling from dark Indian eyes,
clinging to a headless Barbie doll.

And the men, some hardened, quiet,
others young and loud - you see something
like this in prisons. Soon they will cross
on their bellies, kissing the black earth,

then run to America.

Strange Voices whisper behind garbage cans,
beneath freeway passes, next to broken bottles.
The spatter of words, textured and multi-colored,
invoke demons.

They must run to America.

Their skin, color of earth, is a brand
for all the great ranchers, for the killing floors
on Soto Street and as slaughter
for the garment row. Still they come:
A hungry people have no country.

Their tears are the grease of the bobbing machines
that rip into cloth
that make clothes
that keep you warm.

They have endured the sun's stranglehold,
el cortito, foundry heats and dark caves
of mines swallowing men.

Still they come, wandering bravely
through the thickness of this strange land's
maddening ambivalence.

Their cries are singed with the fires of hope.
Their babies are born with a lion
in their hearts.

Who can confine them?
Who can tell them
which lines never to cross?

For the green rivers, for their looted gold,
escaping the blood of a land
that threatens to drown them,
they have come,

running to America.

A hungry people have no country - and a Christian nation should have no border fences - and a truly Christian nation should love their neighbors.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Riding the Rails

by Pa Rock

Railroads have played an important role in our nation's history, and with the steady decline in the availability of fossil fuels, they are destined to play a vital role in America's future.

At least President Obama thinks so.

A provision of the recently passed $787 billion economic recovery bill sets aside $8 billion for the construction of high speed rail lines. The current state-of-the-art version of high speed trains is called mag-lev, a process of operating trains via giant electrical magnets that raise (levitate) the train up off of its rail (singular) and then propel it at very high speed with very minimal other energy involved. Several mag-lev trains are in operation around the world, and they are experiencing high degrees of success. In addition to their speed, the mag-lev trains also get points for running silently. Gone are the days of the clickety-clack of the railroad track!

Thirty-five years ago I rode the famous Bullet Train across Japan. At that time it ran at an ear-popping 160 miles per hour. I have also ridden trains in Germany (very nice) and in Russia (very crappy).

Part of the reason that Japan and Germany's rail systems are so much more extensive and efficient than those of the U.S. is that we bombed the smithereens out of their tracks during World War II, and they had to rebuild everything after the war. Many railroad tracks in the United States date back to the Civil War and are obviously in bad repair. Russia and the United States also suffered from their other priorities - military build-ups - and let their infrastructure crumble.

All of the dumber members of Congress like to piss and moan about Amtrak, and threaten to withdraw all government funding. To do that would be a boon to the gas companies who, of course, stuff the pockets of the same politicians with cash.

I have ridden Amtrak out west on three occasions. They are comfortable and a good way to see the country, but they are definitely not fast. The tracks are old and delays are commonplace. Uncle Sam gave land to the railroad companies during the 19th century in order to get them to bind the nation with railroad tracks. Consequently most of today's rail lines are owned by the railroad companies. These companies make their profits off of freight, and they charge Amtrak to use the lines. Every time Amtrak shows a profit, their rents are raised - and then the blowhards in Congress start whining to shut down this service because it can't turn a profit. It's a vicious cycle and a very dishonest one. Our government does help to fund Amtrak, but our government also helped to fund the old railroad companies by giving them land. Now the old companies use that advantage to reap Amtrak's profits.

Gas will be back up to five dollars a gallon in a few months. When that happens, there will be a very serious push for alternative transportation - just as there was last year. (If you don't believe America's driving habits changed during the last gas price spike, you had your car parked like so many others and were not out in it! There were no RV's, few trucks, and a lot fewer cars on America's major interstate highways.)

The days of the greedy oil and gas companies leading us around by our noses are numbered. High speed trains are coming, and they are the way of the future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Radio Rod

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

Several days ago while writing about the Beatles, I mentioned that one of my favorite radio stations back in the day was WLS (AM 89) out of Chicago. In fact, most evenings while I was in high school I could be found in my room, reading or writing, and listening to the pop music of the times on WLS. At it's zenith, the Chicago AM station reached forty of the forty-eight continental states.

WLS missed the boat sometime in the early 1970's when many radio stations upgraded to the new technology - FM. Today the station still exists in Chicago as an AM outlet, and it is primarily a talk radio station. (Eventually, WLS did go on and purchase an FM license for a second outlet - which focuses on "oldies.")

WLS (AM 89) has been in the news today because of a rather notorious fill-in DJ for their morning show. Disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich was at the mike bloviating, playing some Elvis, and interviewing celebrities like news reporter Ann Compton and comedian D.L. Hughley.

(Has the former governor fallen on hard times financially? Did Roland Burris's check bounce?)

According to the news blogs, Rod did a passable job as a DJ, if you overlook the time that he spent whining about being railroaded out of office, dissing his successor, and invoking the will of God by saying that he is awaiting God's plan for him to be revealed.

But the former person of importance may have already screwed the pooch when it comes to a career in radio. When he was fighting to keep his job as governor, WLS told him that they would give him his own show if he would resign. The governor inexplicably passed on the opportunity. He should have thought longer and harder on that generous offer because there is obviously money to be made in talk radio. After all, the medium is capable of keeping Rush Limbaugh in groceries and drugs - definitely not a small change operation!

Hey Rod, you snooze, you lose!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The People Flex Their Muscle

by Pa Rock
Consumer Advocate

Finally, a computer game that I could master.

Last week someone sent me a game via email. It was a photo of the AIG Headquarters in New York City. The object was to drag your mouse over the photo and click it at random. A tomato splashed on the building with every click. It was kind of fun to get artsy and make tomato stain patterns on the AIG Building. And it was educational, too, because at certain levels of hits, derisive facts about AIG would pop up.

(Hey, I live by myself and am always on the lookout for inexpensive amusements! Sort of like George Bush and his chainsaw, only not nearly as dangerous!)

Today that same AIG building was in the news. The giant letters, AIG, had been taken down from above the front door - so as not to draw too much attention to that den of inequity. (Were they worried about real tomatoes being lobbed at their headquarters?)

Also, over this weekend some activists chartered buses and rode up into the tonier rural areas of Connecticut where they traveled past the fabulous country homes of AIG executives. Some even de-boarded the buses and held protest rallies out in front of the plutocrats' locked gates!

Arthur Levitt, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said today in the Wall Street Journal that this public scrutiny has reached extremes of incivility that are intolerable. Those good old boys in the Armani suits and Italian shoes just aren't comfortable with John Q. Public knowing who they are, where they live, and how much they are being paid.

Some of the AIG bonus payments have been returned this week, and some big banks are now publicly talking about returning their TARP money. The public money just isn't worth the hassle of public oversight.

In truth these corporate hogs have been sucking at the public tit for decades - through tax breaks, purchased legislation, constant deregulation, and treating their line workers like serfs from the Middle Ages. They brought about this sorry economic mess, and they should now be forced to live and work where they crapped. And if their public benefactors want to drive by and ogle their mansions or look over their shoulders while they work, well, the swine brought it on themselves.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Benjamin Button Effect

by Pa Rock
Birthday Boy

A year ago today was Easter Sunday, a very early Easter Sunday. I have no idea when it will be this year, but I remember last year's because it happened to fall on my 60th birthday. Today instead of turning 61, I have decided to start counting backward. So, if anybody asks (or cares), I now consider myself to be fifty-nine. I'm calling this new math The Benjamin Button Effect in honor of Brad Pitt's character in that movie that I never got around to watching. My gut on this is that if I can convince myself that I am getting younger, better health has to follow.

I like birthdays because all of my kids call and check in. Molly called first, while I was still at work. It is apparently cold in Oregon today, and she and Sebastian were hanging around the house. He got on the phone and chattered a bit to me. Boone called after I got home. We talked about school and things like that. He will be representing his fourth grade class in the county spelling bee again this year. He has represented his class every year since kindergarten. Boone is a spelling machine! Nick also got on the phone and talked awhile. Boone told me that his Dad has lots of customers at his business - and I am very glad about that! Tim called in last. He and I talk on-line fairly regularly. We will all be together in Las Vegas in less that three weeks (minus Boone and Sebastian) to support Tim as one of his works that was made into a movie is shown at the Las Vegas Film Festival.

I also made my daily call to my Dad tonight, and he surprised me by remembering my birthday. I wonder if I will be around when my kids hit 60 and then start back into their fifties? Anything is possible, but in case I am not here, I am secure in the knowledge that they all know how proud I am of them - and how much I love them!

I also had birthday calls yesterday from Missouri friends Carla Turnbough Brown and Imogene Knaust - both a couple of December girls! And my niece, Tiffany Smith (a proud new mom), put a birthday message on my Facebook wall. I feel really special!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sex Offenders, Old Friends, and Cyber Farming

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

Officials in North Carolina have discovered 2,116 of the state's registered sex offenders are on MySpace, and the social networking site has agreed to remove them from its service. State Attorney General Roy Cooper is now requesting similar information and action from Facebook.

I have been on Facebook for a couple of years. My daughter got me to register so that she could share something with me. Whatever she was sharing has been long since forgotten, at least by me, but my name stays on the site and occasionally generates an inquiry from an old friend. Tonight a friend from several years ago popped up in an email that came from the Facebook account. That was a very nice surprise.

Although I am a very passive user, and usually only check my page when something like tonight's communication pops up, I have acquired several "friends" over the past few years. I'm a poor Facebook correspondent, and generally redirect them to my email account if they desire to do much chattering. Email is easy, and I check it several times a day - but Congress could have several salacious sex scandals between the times that I check Facebook.

Recently I learned that a friend had sent me a "tree" on Facebook, and then the service that she used also sent me a tree. Now I apparently have three of four cyber trees on a cyber farm. The trouble is - I don't know how to find the damned farm! A cyber farm is something that I might really enjoy - in case anyone would like to send me some cyber chickens or a cyber goat.

I have friends who really get into Facebook, leaving messages like what they are having for supper or when they are going to bed. I don't begrudge them their passion - after all, I blog daily for my own amusement.

I might even enjoy Facebook if I had the intellect and patience to sit down and master the site. The problem is that my old head will only hold so much quasi-useless information, and if I didn't release some of it every night via the Ramble, it would probably explode!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Beatles and Me

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

Liverpool Hope University, located in Liverpool, England, the boyhood home of the Fab Four, will be offering a Master of Arts degree in The Beatles. The title of the project is The Beatles, Popular Music and Society. It will consist of four twelve-week sessions and a dissertation. Mike Brocken, the senior lecturer in popular music at Hope University noted that there have been over 8,000 books about the Beatles, but there has never been a serious academic course of study on this group that revolutionized music in the second half of the twentieth century.

The Beatles arrived in America on February 7, 1964, leading what has come to be called The British Invasion. John Kennedy had been killed less than three months before their arrival, and America, especially the youth of America, were ready to move on. When the Beatles set foot on the shores of America, they brought the fire that lit the fuse that forever changed this country and the world.

The Beatles were a very big deal.

When the Beatles first came to America I was six weeks short of turning sixteen and getting my driver's license. We were still living at Riverview Court, but would move into town (Noel) at the end of that summer. My dad had a television and appliance store in Noel, and consequently we had the first color television in town. I remember watching The Ed Sullivan Show the night of their debut. The television cameras were focused on the four skinny kids with mop tops singing on the stage, but they would also pan around to take in the screaming young people in the audience. I'll always remember my dad saying, "My God, are they that popular?" Yes, they were, from note one.

(Thirty-five years later I would be sitting in that same theatre watching a "live" taping of Late Night with David Letterman, amazed that I was that close to the actual stage where the Beatles made their U.S. debut.)

The Beatles first single (they were vinyl with two songs in those days, one on each side) was "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" with "She Loves You" on the reverse. They sang both on the Sullivan show.

(Those records were called 45's because they spun around at 45 revolutions per minute. Albums were also vinyl and played at 33-and-a-third revolutions per minute. Really old records, the ones from my parents' youth were also still around. They were called 78's - care to guess why? America was changing rapidly - within months we would begin hearing about something called 8-track tapes!)

This was a couple of years before the serious advent of FM radio, so we listened to AM. The two most popular stations for young people were WHB in Kansas City which covered much of the midwest, and WLS in Chicago which was one of the preeminent radio stations in America. The primary evening DJ at WLS was Dick Biondi, and I have heard that he still hosts an oldies program on the radio.

But I digress. I brought up WLS and WHB because that is generally where the small town kids got to hear pop music. I remember that late in the summer of 1964, there was one week when the Beatles had eight of the top ten singles in America. They were a mighty big deal.

I saw the two Beatles movies - "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" at the Ozark Theatre in Noel. That was in the days before music videos. Elvis had made dozens of movies to keep his music, face, and moves before the public. The Beatles literally blew him off of the charts, and, as if to add insult to injury, they were quickly up on the silver screen in what must now look like a cross between music videos and Marx Brothers' movies.

I enjoyed being a part of the generation that came of age with the Beatles and the other dynamite groups and bands of British Invasion. The music was great and has held up well. That was back in the day when you could still sing along to most tunes on the radio, but we recognized that was rapidly changing. The Beatles themselves began evolving quickly, musically and personally, and before many years had passed the group was history. Today only Paul and Ringo survive.

I lived through that special era, but as with most who are part of something that transformational, the enormity is not realized until the moment has passed. Ten years after the Beatles had broken up, I was teaching history at Liberty High School in Mountain View, MO. That spring I gave my sophomores a lot of latitude in coming up with special projects to present to the class. Two outstanding students, Leigh Ann Adams and Cindy Stanley, did a presentation on the Beatles, with lecture, photos, and music. It was absolutely spellbinding. Suddenly I was very conscious of the amazing cultural era that I had experienced.

The last I heard of Leigh Ann she was teaching English at Southwest Missouri State University at West Plains - but that has been several years ago. I haven't heard anything about Cindy since she graduated from high school. I hope that they find this mention and are able to realize how proud their old teacher still is of the work they did.

When Carla and I were in New York in January we saw the Dakota and the spot out front where John Lennon was gunned down. Yoko Ono still lives there, a little old lady in her seventies. We also walked across the street from the Dakota and into Central Park where Strawberry Fields is located and the Imagine Memorial is set up. The memorial had been decorated with flowers on that cold and snowy day.

The Beatles will eventually all be gone, perhaps during my watch. But their music will live forever...yes it will...yeah, yeah, yeah!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dropping Anchor

by Pa Rock
Trailer Trash

That's right! Pa Rock is moving into a trailer park - a very nice, quiet, respectable trailer park that is located close to where I work. In fact, it is the nicest trailer park that I have ever encountered - and, as a social worker - I've encountered plenty! My payment and lot rental combined will be significantly less than I am currently paying in rent - and the price was right! Beautiful landscaping, lots of nice extras, and room, room, room! Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, utility room, large living room, and an extra storage building outside.

It is an immaculate double-wide with covered porches and a covered carport. The "yard" is all stones and established desert plants with an underground automatic watering system. No mowing!

I will move in sometime between the middle of April and the end of May. The sign over the front door will say "Welcome" - and that means you! Come see me in my new digs!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Say What?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Life is fairly predictable, world events are generally predictable, and American politics are completely predictable - or so I thought - until today. We all know that Democrats cater to the poor and the unions, and Republicans wrap themselves in the flag, hold a cross in one hand and an automatic weapon in the other, and take care of the rich while trying to convince the rednecks that the GOP is the only path to national salvation.

Nothing changes in American politics - ever! Well, sometimes one of the parties will come up with a rock star candidate - Raygun or Obama for example, but basically the same arguments drag on for generations with one party running things for a few years and then the public opinion pendulum swings back and the other party gets to have the power for awhile. It is so predictable, and progress seems to take forever.

That is why I was so shocked when I heard the news tonight. It was like I had an enormous mind fart and woke up on another planet. I blame the rotten Bush economy. It has shaken the bedrock of the established American political landscape and left things topsy-turvey.

I am getting ready to talk about the AIG bailout and the recent discovery that their executives - like those at Merrill Lynch (Bank of America) - got their bonuses at taxpayer expense even though they had proved themselves to be incompetent during the last year. I haven't written about AIG because to do so would have been pointless. The milk has been spilt and there has been little else in the news for the past few days. My two-cents worth would not have added anything significant to the brew.

But the story just keeps getting better and better, and now I can't help myself!

AIG was apparently able to pay the bonuses because of a legislative sleight-of-hand committed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut and the son of a disgraced Connecticut Democratic Senator from another era. Dodd, when cornered, admitted that he had secretly taken a provision out of legislation that would have blocked the bonuses. He said that treasury officials had asked him to do it for the good of the country. And Dodd, btw, has received more cash from AIG that any other member of the U.S. Senate. (Look for lots more on that story in coming days.)

So, between Senator Dodd and Obama's Treasury Department, there were Democratic fingerprints all over the AIG bonuses. There was no way that the Republicans could lose on this issue - unless they were mortally stupid. But lose they did.

First of all, the Democrats got the jump on the issue with the President going on TV and railing about the awfulness of what had happened. His indignation was loud and it was righteous. Then, before Republicans could get their bearings, Congressional Democrats started thundering about how awful it all was. The Democrats in Congress came up with a plan to put a 90% tax on the bonuses, effectively returning the money to the U.S. Treasury.

The Republicans wanted to be indignant, too, because that's where the public was on the issue. But the Democrats had outflanked them. They knew that Republicans typically rally around the rich, and everyone knows how much Republicans hate taxes on the rich.

The House of Representatives voted on the 90% tax on the bonuses today. Democrats overwhelmingly voted for the measure (98%), but the Republicans inexplicably voted against it 87-85. What the hell were they thinking?

With today's vote in the House, the Republican party consigned itself to ignominy for the next decade. They could have easily blamed this sordid affair on the Democrats (with a fair amount of justification), but instead they chose to give up the moral high ground to protect a few rich slimeballs and a principle that isn't in sync with the country's views or needs.

The Republicans seem to be intent on committing political suicide. Democrats would be well served to sit on their hands, keep quiet, and let it happen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ken Lay is Alive
...and so is Dan White!

by Pa Rock
Conspiracy Theorist

Yup, that's right, I'm a conspiracy theorist. Oh, not one of the really tedious ones that corner people at cocktail parties and go on and on about some typo that they found in a court document that proves the Rosenberg's were railroaded. I don't even go to cocktail parties.

But my boring social life aside, I do have some opinions on historical occurrences that don't measure up to the official line. I went to college and learned to think critically while that lying weasel, Nixon, was in the White House. And since then I have survived under Ronnie Raygun, two Bushes, and a yokel from Arkansas who "never had sex with that woman." In fact, the only two Presidents, prior to Obama of course, who weren't pathological liars were Ford (who pardoned a liar) and Carter (who kept it in his pants but lusted in his heart).

Our government, its leaders and mouthpieces, have shamelessly lied to the American public for at least half a century. How could anyone not be a conspiracy theorist?

Seymour Hirsch, the award-winning investigative reporter who broke the story of My Lai during the Vietnam War, recently let a comment "slip" at a symposium that there have been executive assassination teams who answer only to the President or his designees, and that these teams blatantly go into foreign countries and kill with impunity. Apparently these teams were used frequently in the most recent Bush administration. Who's surprised? Certainly not me. What can you expect from a despot who thinks that God has anointed him to save the Republic?

It used to take a lot of work to be a conspiracy theorist - finding resources to fit theories and then getting people to listen to those theories. But now the Internet has made the fine art of conspiracy theory a whole lot easier to commit. As an example, I have believed since Ken Lay's "convenient" death and quick cremation that he obviously had made a quick stop at a plastic surgeon's office and is now living large in some tropic hideaway. Lay's timely demise came after his conviction, but before his sentencing and incarceration - and apparently in time that the inheritance went to his wife who was not liable for his losses.

So, let's review: a lying, scum-sucking piece of crap bilks individuals and state governments out of millions, rat-holes most of it away in secret accounts when he realizes that his financial contraption is about to sink, and then conveniently dies before he can be imprisoned and have to give up the assets that he couldn't get hidden quickly enough. Yeah, that's sounds just a tad suspicious!

(I remember his wife, Linda, lined up with some of their children on a morning show just after Enron imploded. She was sniffling that all of their money was lost in Enron - that's how much Ken believed in the company, and how those awful accountants had done him wrong. Poor Linda said that all they had left was their home. It was almost too much to take - until the media found out that they actually had eleven homes left!)

How many people would have to be paid off to make that happen? Four or five, tops: two paramedics, an ambulance driver, the coroner, and the crematorium operator.

And Dan White is the other death that I found to be just a tad convenient. White, the San Francisco city supervisor who murdered Mayor George Moscone and fellow supervisor Harvey Milk - in cold blood - got off with just a five-year prison sentence because of the "twinkie defense" - too much sugar and junk food impaired his judgement. (You can't make this stuff up!) He was also a martyr to the city's police force and other homophobic elements.

White got out of prison and returned to San Francisco where he was living under an assumed or assigned identity. He quickly committed suicide by asphyxiation in his car to avoid the gay brigades who would have liked nothing better than to hunt him down and out him for the murdering bastard that he was. Convenient? You betcha! His buddies on the police force "handled" the suicide.

And then there is my favorite conspiracy - the murder of John F. Kennedy by elements of his own government. But that is a very heavy topic that will have to wait for another posting.

The truth is out there!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The O'Bama's

by Pa Rock
Proud Citizen

Have I prattled on lately about how happy and proud I am to have real people living in the White House? The Obama's are absolutely refreshing! Barack will be going on Sixty Minutes and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno next week. He is accessible. He takes questions, hard questions, and answers intelligently but in a way that is understandable to mere mortals.

And Michelle! What can I say about Michelle? Last week she went to Ft. Bragg - the biggest, baddest Army base in the United States. She was accessible, talking to groups on base and organizations out in the community. Ft. Bragg! She has also visited most of the major departments of the U.S. Government. She's a mom, a wife, a political partner, an ad hoc ambassador, and a hottie!

Today Michelle had the White House fountains dyed green, and tonight the O'Bama's are holding a St. Paddy's fete at the White House in honor of our Irish forebears.

It has been so long since I have been proud of the inhabitants of our Nation's House - and it is such a great feeling!

The Big Count

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The United States Constitution contains a mandate that the country count its citizens every ten years. The first national census was conducted in 1790, and the process has been repeated every ten years since that time. The earliest censuses contained only the names of the head of families along with the gender and age of other family members. In 1850 the census began listing every member of the family by name. The modern censuses contain a great deal of information about the country's population, including family migration history, occupation, salaries, size of house or apartment, and other demographic matter.

These old documents are very useful to genealogists and historians. A census is released to the public seventy-five years after it is completed. All of the censuses from 1790 through 1930 are open for public perusal and can be obtained at most libraries and many on-line sites. The only major census that is problematic is the one that was conducted in 1890. Those records were being stored in a warehouse in Pittsburg, Kansas, that fell victim to a fire. Nearly the entire census was lost in that disaster. Other records are available for that time period, and a smart librarian can be very useful in tracking them down.

The census is also a very hot political topic. The actual count determines whether states gain or lose Congressional districts and have a big impact on how federal dollars are distributed. Every political entity wants to make sure that they are accurately counted. Historically, minority groups have been under-counted. There were certain areas that census takers feared to enter, and many people who had good reason to fear government intruders were reluctant to share information. In 2000 there was an effort to use a statistical process to estimate the under-counts, but certain parties in Congress (primarily Republicans) fought the process and would accept noting other than actual head counts. It wasn't that they didn't trust statistics so much as it was that they benefited politically from minority under-counts.

This year the folks at the U.S. Bureau of the Census have initiated some precautions to ensure a more accurate count of minorities, particularly Hispanics. The census countered over 35 million Hispanics in the U.S. in 2000, and many felt that was a serious under-count. By 2007, the Hispanic population was estimated at nearly 45 million.

So, enter the anti-immigration groups. They don't mind a fair count because they can use that as ammunition to keep the know-nothings stirred up. But they do get upset when political entities suspend immigration raids during the time the census is being taken. They also object to the Census Bureau's practice of counting illegal aliens - who do reside in this country and hence meet the Constitutional mandate for being counted.

This year the Census Bureau has enlisted Hispanic cultural groups and Spanish media to help promote and explain the census process. They will be using public service announcements, education, and public meetings to explain the importance of getting an accurate count, showing the ways that a good count can benefit the local communities.

Some of the census is taken by door-to-door census takers, but a majority of it is done through forms that are mailed to households. This year - for the first time, the census bureau will be sending out bilingual forms - 13 million of them. They are also actively trying to hire census takers who are bilingual. The goal is to have a census taker at the door who is a reflection of the person being interviewed.

Some people don't like it, but America is an inclusive country. We are many people from many backgrounds formed into one proud nation. Our diversity is our strength. We must all be counted so that we can ensure that all of our citizens share equally in that strength.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Finally: A McCain Worth Quoting!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

There are people who believe that if John McCain had remained true to his maverick persona that he perfected in the 2000 primary against George Bush, he would have beaten Obama, or at least given him a decent race. But the 2008 McCain veered sharply to the right, and crawled into bed with the batshit wing of the Republican party - the group that adorns itself with crosses, swastikas, and cheap bed linens. Unfortunately for him, the old Bush coalition didn't coalesce this time around, and John McCain learned the hard way that America truly was ready for a change.

Now, however, another McCain is emerging as somewhat of a maverick in her own right. True, Meghan McCain, the Senator's daughter from his second batch of kids, holds no elected position, but she is using her famous name to try and slap some sense into the Republican party. Meghan is a blogger who developed a good-sized fan base of young Republicans during the election.

Last week she remarked in her blog that she didn't "get" Ann Coulter and found her to be offensive, insulting, and confusing - a description that is somewhat tame - considering the subject matter. Ms. Coulter ignored the lowly blogger.

A few days later the 24-year-old Ms. McCain suggested in her blog that Republicans ought to seek compromise with Democrats. (Oh, that her daddy would listen to that bit of sanity!) Laura Ingraham, a right-wing radio mouthpiece took issue with that bit of commonsense, and replied with a tried and true Republican staple - insults. Ingraham referred to Ms. McCain as "a Valley Girl gone awry" and a "plus-sized model." (Or, for those encumbered with a home-schooling degree, dumb and fat.)

Meghan was on The View and struck back in the spirit of her old man back when he wasn't afraid to speak his mind. She informed the nation that Laura Ingraham could "Kiss my fat ass!"

You go girl! A little straight talk never hurt anybody!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Adios, Texas!

by Pa Rock
Amused Spectator

Chuck Norris, who has probably been kicked in the head too many times to be responsible for anything he says, stated on Glen Beck's radio show last week that he may just run for President...of Texas! A day or two later, after the idea gained some traction with the Fox News morons, he expanded his notion into a column for The World Net Daily. His disjointed analysis of the problems facing the world lend credence to my "kicked in the head" theory, but what is also readily apparent is that he is rampantly paranoid of President Obama and his liberal agenda.

But not to worry, if push comes to shove, Texas will secede and Chuck will lead them to glory, or Albuquerque, or somewhere. In his rant about the unhappy state that he thinks the nation is in, he references "thousands of cells" that he claims stand ready to rise up. And while the Chuckster doesn't call for a national revolution, he does discuss, in a seemingly serious manner, the potential secession of Texas.

Well, with the exceptions of Austin, El Paso, and select parts of San Antonio, that dog might hunt. President Norris could strap on his six-guns, rip open his shirt, pin a yellow rose to his right nipple, place his hand on the Bible, and swear to God that he will faithfully lead his Republic back into the glory days of the nineteenth century.

In a related story, Homeland Security announced this week that there are now one million names on the no-fly list. The actual alleged terrorists may number only around four hundred thousand, but many apparently have multiple aliases - hence the one million names. What do you want to bet that the person who is openly advocating for the dismemberment of the nation - the future President of Texas - is not on the list?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

On Religion and Pornography

by Pa Rock
Social Critic

The Gallup organization released a poll last month that revealed a couple of important findings regarding religiosity in the United States. First, the poll demonstrated that we live in a basically religious country where 65% of Americans regard religion as "an important part of their daily lives."

The second significant finding of the poll was that the degree of religiosity varies widely by region. There is, according to the poll by Gallup, a distinct "Bible Belt" where religion plays a very significant aspect in peoples' lives. That belt is a strip across the American South that includes eleven of the most religious states: Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Texas. The least religious states were in New England and the West: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and (are you listening, Sarah?) Alaska.

Political note: Nine of the ten most religious states voted for McCain, and nine of the ten least religious states wound up in the Obama column.

Okay, so let's overlay the results of that poll with a new piece of research on America's interest in Internet pornography. The researcher was Benjamin Edelman, and his work was also published last month.

A major on-line porn provider gave their credit card billing records (anonymized so that porn clients were identified only by their zip codes) to Mr. Edelman. After a statistical analysis of those records the researcher was able to delineate a group of states that were the heaviest subscribers to Internet porn and a list of states that were the lightest subscribers.

The most "porn-a-holic" states were Utah, Alaska, Mississippi, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota, Louisiana, and West Virginia. That list includes the home of the Mormon Church (Utah - which was ranked number one in Internet porn usage), Sarah Palin's Alaska, and four states of the Bible Belt: Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

The least porn dependent states were Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Tennessee, Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Political note: Eight of the top ten pornography consuming states voted for John McCain, and six out of the lowest ten voted for Barack Obama.

What does all of this mean? Does going to church regularly fan the flames of prurient desire? Do stories of all of those lusty babes of the Bible get the blood flowing south? Can the human spirit take only so much sanctimonious blather before it goes looking for something more titillating? Should we keep our kids out of church for the sake of their immortal souls?

It all sounds so hopeless - the higher we set our sights, the further we fall. But there is a glimmer of hope. The research on Internet porn usage showed that people in the most religious areas did cut back on their acquisition of pornography on Sundays!

Can I have an Amen!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Killer Joe

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

Someday when I look back on my years in the Valley of Hell and try to identify the cultural highlights, I'm certain that tonight will have made the list. This evening I drove to the heart of Phoenix (100 East McDowell) to see the Nearly Naked Theatre's production of Killer Joe, a dramatic event that could have easily been subtitled White Trash on the Rampage!

This was the first production of the Nearly Naked Theatre that I had witnessed (and, yes, witnessed is the appropriate verb!), and it turned out to be quite an experience. The organization is in its tenth season and prides itself on provocative productions. The name, Nearly Naked,is somewhat of a misnomer, because there was no nearly to it. Of the five cast members, one man and one woman roamed around the stage in their altogether, two others qualified as nearly naked, and the fifth spent quite a bit of time shirtless. The wardrobe manager had an easy ride with this show!

But in case the nudity wasn't gratuitous enough, there was an ample serving of real language - the kind you might hear in a truck stop restroom. Skin for the eyes, profanity for the ears, and, oh yes, one of the characters smoking a joint on stage that provided olfactory stimulation for the audience. (It smelled like the real deal, but surely they were using the medicinal variety!) This play had it all!

The plot was somewhat sweet and syrupy. The grown son, a small-time drug dealer, owed money to some hoods who were going to take it out of his hide. He came up with a plan to have his mother killed so that he could get a share of her insurance money. His dad (mom's ex) agrees to the scheme, and together they bring a hit man into dad's household. Problems arise when the hit man, Killer Joe, wants his money up front. The money won't be available until mom is in the ground and the insurance company pays off. Joe finally agrees to do the job on spec, but he demands a retainer, the family's 20-year-old virgin daughter. After that it starts to get complicated. (See, I told you it was a sweet story!)

I could go on and describe the scene where the dad's new tramp wife was forced to perform fellatio on a Colonel Sanders drumstick, but I wouldn't want to spoil it for you.

In spite of the raunchiness, or perhaps because of it, Killer Joe made for an entertaining evening. The cast had fun with it, and so did the audience.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cry Me a River

by Pa Rock
Local Observer

Yesterday evening I watched a flock of geese, flying in V formation, above Goodyear, Arizona. The geese were headed due east.


It was almost dark, a time when they should have been fluffing their goose down and settling in for an evening's rest in some quiet backwater. But where is the backwater, or any water for that matter, in the West Valley of Hell? Maybe they were headed for a pool in the backyard of some foreclosed, abandoned home. I certainly hoped they were not counting on finding water in the Agua Fria (Cold Water) River. The last time that particular rocky trench contained water there were probably dinosaurs lining its banks.

My move to Arizona a couple of years ago was a rush job. I had to find a place to rent via the Internet and telephone. One of the first things I did was to study maps of the West Valley so that I could find something convenient to my work. Every map of the Phoenix area that I consulted showed the Agua Fria River meandering through the desert communities of Glendale and Avondale, close to Goodyear and Surprise. It was always colored a bright blue.

I have lived here long enough to experience rain - on a couple of rare occasions. Rain rolls off of the desert and collects in the parking lots and roadways where it causes surprise flooding. But rain never, ever causes any water to collect in the Agua Fria - I've checked!

Reluctantly, I have come to two conclusions regarding the clowns who create maps of Phoenix and its environs: 1. They are on the take from the tourism industry, and 2. They are lying bastards!

My best guess is that the geese were headed toward the Salt River which is on the other side of Phoenix proper. The Salt has water, lots of water. It laps up against Arizona State University where 50,000 young people spend their parents money riding the new Metro Light Rail and drinking designer coffee. They are lucky bastards!

And, on a semi-related note, Arizona is making plans for its share of the stimulus money that the Feds are distributing. We were told that the West Valley could get connected to the Metro Light Rail in twenty years - maybe. That was before the stimulus money was even anticipated. Now they are saying that it will still be twenty years before we can get connected to the Light Rail - but, if the stimulus is sufficient, they might be able to start providing covered parking for the Light Rail riders in the East Valley now.

They are truly lucky bastards! But until that covered parking is completed, may the yuppies have to wash the goose poop off of their little cars every morning before they hit the Starbucks! There ought to be some fairness in this life somewhere, or at least an occasional mud puddle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ellen's Got Milk

by Pa Rock
Cultural Observer

I don't watch daytime television, due in large part to the fact that it is so bad - and also because I work days. But yesterday I happened to walk past a television set just as Ellen DeGeneres was discussing the movie Milk on her show. I liked that movie, a lot, and wondered what the lesbian take on it might be. Ellen, being Ellen, delivered a sock-o one-liner that slammed the nail right on the head. She said, "This is a great movie and I know that you're going to like it - unless you happen to be lactose intolerant!" And then she told her audience that they each would be receiving a free copy of the DVD.

Before I could pull myself away from that clingy television, Ellen flashed up a picture of her wife, Portia de Rossi, and said that she would air an interview that she conducted with Portia on her show next Tuesday. I don't claim to be totally in tune with modern life, but I certainly have no problem with gay marriage. The DeGeneres - de Rossi union, in particular, is very understandable. Ellen latched on to an absolutely beautiful wife, and Portia now has a rich spouse who can dance.

What's not to love?

The Bard of Lard

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Conservative jaw-flapper Rush Limbaugh has been all over the news for the past few weeks. He got the publicity ball rolling when he stated that he hoped the Obama administration failed, and then, after near unanimous criticism, even from members of his own party, he repeated and expanded on his scurrilous statement at a national conference of conservatives. One blogger compared the remark to a passenger on board the Titanic saying that he didn’t like the Captain and hoped that he would steer the ship into an iceberg.

But the White House countered Rush’s silly piece of bombast with a move so crafty and cunning that it would impress a Chess Grand Master. President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, went on a Sunday talk show and make a reference to Rush being the intellectual force of the Republican Party. Newly elected Republican Party Chair Michael Steele felt obliged to weigh in by remarking that Rush was an entertainer, and not a political leader – and with that bit of truth, the intra-party fracas was on!

Would the GOP officials line up behind the party chair, a man who supposedly was elected to show the newer, more inclusive face of the party, or would they jump behind a vitriolic loudmouth who is viewed favorably by less than a fifth of the population – a group that is the total embodiment of the party’s racist, hate-mongering old face? Well, Republicans are nothing if not persistent in their failings. Everybody that was anybody in the Grand Old Party lined up behind their pet buffoon, leaving the embattled Chairman Steele with few viable options but to apologize to the party’s “intellectual” leader.

Limbaugh, who apparently lives by that old axiom that all publicity is good publicity, took advantage of the national press’s sudden focus on him and issued a challenge to President Obama to show up in his studios for a debate – without teleprompters – a not-so-veiled accusation that the brightest person to occupy the Presidency in the last couple of generations could not stand up to Limbaugh’s fierce intellect without cue cards. The President, whose positive poll ratings are over three times greater than those of Limbaugh, ignored the bait.

So where has this world-class narcissist focused his attentions this week? Unbelievably, Rush has turned his noise on the ailing Senator Edward Kennedy, stating with the assurance of someone who has a direct line to God, that Kennedy will be dead by the time Obama’s health care package is passed into law. Hopefully the Lion of the Senate will take that as a personal challenge and strive to outlive the drug-addled radio clown.

America may not be perfect, but it is certainly better than Rush Limbaugh!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Prairie Awful Update

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last summer I wrote a couple of postings about a horrendous crime that took place in a Greyhound bus out on the Canadian prairie. It was late at night and most of the passengers were asleep or watching a movie when the evening’s calm was suddenly interrupted by screams from Tim McLean, a young carnival worker who was sitting in the rear of the bus. It quickly became evident that McLean was being stabbed repeatedly by his seatmate, a Chinese immigrant by the name of Vince Li. The driver managed to get the bus off of the road as the panicked passengers rushed for the door. They assembled along the side of the road waiting on help, while inside the bus Li severed the head of his victim and chewed on his bloody flesh.

This past week the case went to trial. It lasted two days, and only two witnesses testified. Both were psychiatrists. Not surprisingly, the defendant was adjudged to be “not criminally responsible due to mental illness.” Also not surprisingly, many are angry over that decision, and the victim’s mother is damned angry.

The insanity defense and subsequent verdict were almost foregone conclusions. How could a sane person hack off a fellow human being’s head and munch on his flesh? Even without the expert testimony from psychiatrists, how could any rational person come to a conclusion other than insanity? There was no history between these men – they were literally strangers on a bus who happened to be sitting next to one another.

Li, according to the psychiatrists, is schizophrenic. He believed that God wanted him to kill his fellow passenger because McLean was a force of evil. God told him to do it. Li cut his victim’s body into many pieces, stuffed some into plastic bags, and put McLean’s ear, nose, and tongue in his pocket. He did not want the murdered man to be able to come back and wreak revenge on him.

The anger regarding the verdict was also predictable. Family members and friends of the young victim have suffered a loss that is very real. Someone they knew well was removed from them – forever – in a manner so bizarre and gruesome that the method of the death became more of a story than the death itself. They want justice, but in a situation where justice is impossible, they will settle for vengeance. And an indeterminate period of confinement in a mental facility doesn’t mitigate their desire for justice or vengeance, it only makes them angrier.

Vince Li will have his mental status reviewed every year. There may come a day, after years of quality mental treatment, when he is determined to have regained his mental health. When and if that day comes, Vince Li will be released back into society.

The fairness of what transpired in court can be argued logically and passionately by supporters of the verdict and by those who believe it was a miscarriage of justice. Was it Vince Li who killed the young man on the bus, or was it some evil demon inhabiting his body? Should he be killed, jailed, exorcised, or hospitalized and treated? The judge chose the most humane response and passed this problem on to mental health providers. If they do their job properly, Vince Li may yet be able to contribute something of benefit to society. But if this sentence generates a bad outcome, society will be weakened by an onslaught of rabid demands for codified vengeance.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cents and Sensibility

by Pa Rock
Capitalist Swine

I had lunch at the Subway on base today. My bill was $4.99 and I handed the young man at the register a ten dollar bill. He handed me back a five dollar bill and then asked something that left me dumbfounded. He asked if I wanted my penny. I looked him squarely in the eyes and said that of course I wanted my penny. (I support some charities, but Subway is not on the list!) He laughed (laughed!) and then handed me the penny.

I am not a great financial planner, which explains the modest circumstances of my life. But I do know the value of a penny. I scan the ground as I walk, constantly on the lookout for an unusual rock, an interesting bug, and the odd bit of change. Just today I came up with a Canadian dime. A Canadian dime is the equivalent (at least) of ten U.S. pennies.

A penny saved is a penny earned – as an ancient cousin of mine used to say. The more pennies one saves, the more he has earned. Today I found ten pennies (that dime from Canada) and kept Subway from taking a penny that rightfully belonged to me. That is a total of eleven pennies, and the day isn’t over. Just four more pennies and I would be able to buy a share of the world’s largest satellite radio provider – Sirius XM! That’s right…fifteen pennies would make me a member of the investor class - and that little jerk at Subway wanted to keep me from moving up the economic ladder!

A couple of weeks from now, if I am very observant and marginally lucky, I might come up with a hundred and five pennies when (at today’s closing price, at least) I could purchase a share of Citigroup. With one hundred and sixty-eight pennies I could buy a share of the world’s largest car company – General Motors. Or, if I decided to wait a day or two beyond that, I might come up with an additional six pennies and be able to buy a share of Ford Motor Company. The opportunities are endless!

Do I want my penny? You bet your wage-slave ass I do!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Brighter Future

by Pa Rock
Old Fart

It's easy to get down on things and worry that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, especially in dire economic times like the ones that we are currently experiencing. But there is a brighter future just starting to peek over the horizon, and it will be ushered in by people much younger than myself.

Arizona is a good case in point. It is basically a conservative place that has put forth national candidates named Barry Goldwater and John McCain, and prides itself in having the most sadistic sheriff in America. The population is old, especially during our warm winter months when the blue haired "snowbirds" descend into the state from the nation's colder regions.

But Arizona also has a vibrant and diverse cultural base of Hispanic Americans as well as a significant Navajo and Hopi Indian population. There is nothing that I enjoy more than putting the top down on my little car in the cool of the evening and driving through the Hispanic sections of Phoenix, listening to the music, absorbing the smells of Mexican cooking, and taking in the vibrant colors the adorn the street signs and businesses.

The future of Arizona, as with the nation as a whole, lies with its young people. The total population of the state includes 59% non-Hispanic Whites, and 30% Hispanics. But that number changes significantly with its teen population which is currently 45% non-Hispanic Whites and 41% Hispanic. Not surprisingly, Arizona's teens think differently than their elders - and some of that free-wheeling thought will stay with them as they age - just as it did with my generation.

The Morrison Institute of Public Policy at Arizona State University released a poll of 950 Arizona teens (age 13-19) last week that portrays the young folks of this state as decidedly more liberal than the old fogies who are currently making such a mess of things. And while all is not roses with this group - for instance, like teens historically they still practice risky behaviors with regard to sex, drugs, and cars - this group does offer a lot of promise.

One of the items on the survey involved how these young people define the good life. Twenty-percent said that to have a good life it is necessary to have lots of money. Thirty-three percent said that doing good for others is an element of the good life, 57% said it involves having a happy family, and 58% tie the good life to having an enjoyable job. My father grew up during the Great Depression. Sadly, he and many in his generation have only one standard for success - money.

Older people in our country are racially and culturally sensitive. While the baby-boomers leaned toward Obama in the last election, their surviving parents did not. Ninety-three percent of the teens surveyed by the Morrison Institute agree with this statement: "I enjoy being among people with different backgrounds and lifestyles." The world is getting better in spite of itself.

These young people are tuned into national issues, and again their responses signal that a new day is at hand in Arizona and America. Immigration is a hot-button issue in the southwest (actually, in most of America), and demagogues are constantly using it to stir the rabble. But these young people are not as fearful of immigrants, even illegal immigrants, as are the older residents. Seventy-five percent of teens taking the survey said that illegal immigrants should be given the chance to become citizens. Three out of four young people surveyed are accepting of these people who risk their lives crossing into the United States in order to make a better life for themselves and their families. We are going to age out of these hateful times!

Remember all of that science that the Bush team tried to rewrite? It didn't take, at least not with Arizona teens. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the statement that "Global warming is a long-term crisis caused mostly by human action, not just natural temperature changes." Al Gore is proud, and so am I!

Sixty-five percent of the teens in the Morrison Institute survey agreed that the choice of whether or not to have an abortion should be left to the woman involved. Fifty-six percent agreed that there should be more legal restrictions on gun ownership. Trust me on this - those are not the views of their parents!

The subject of evolution is a little murkier, but still shows promise. Forty-three percent agreed with the statement "The theory of evolution best explains how life developed on earth." Thirty-one percent disagreed with that statement, and 26% were undecided.

Gay marriage, anyone? Thirty-nine percent agreed with this statement: "I think marriage should be allowed only between a man and a woman." Fifty-one percent disagreed - that's over half of the teens surveyed who are open-minded on the subject of gay marriage! Ten percent were undecided.

How about helping those less fortunate than ourselves - basic Christian charity? Twenty-percent agreed with this uncharitable comment: "Society is too generous to poor people, who would be better off if made to stand on their own two feet." Sixty-four percent disagreed with it, and 16% were undecided. Wow! America has been castigating the poor since the days of Reagan, but these kids must have not gotten the memo!

One subject that the Arizona teens did not have a clear opinion on was the death penalty. This statement brought a fairly even distribution of responses: "The value of the death penalty outweighs the danger of executing an innocent person." Thirty-six percent of the kids agreed with that statement, 32% disagreed, and 32% were undecided.

Overall, I am amazed and pleased at how bright the future looks for Arizona, and I have a sense that young people around the world are nurturing the desire to roll up their sleeves and take charge of their lives and their planet.

I wish them Godspeed!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Generation Before Mine

by Pa Rock
Personal Historian

There was something in the news from back home this week that saddened me. The Munitions Plant at Parsons, Kansas, is being deactivated by the Army. Don't get me wrong, I'm not pining over the demise of a bomb-making facility - any fool knows that there is no shortage of arms manufacturers or weaponry in the world today. But the Parsons Munitions Plant is different because it was a component in my mother's personal history, a significant part of her life that I heard her discuss on many occasions.

The Kansas Army Ammunition Plant was opened at the beginning of World War II to supply munitions for our nation's greatest war effort. My mother, then known as Florine Sreaves, had graduated from high school in Seneca, MO, in 1939. She was still a very young woman, and single, when the war began.

The young men were, for the most part, incorporated into the fighting forces as quickly as they came of age - with many volunteering to serve even before they were out of high school. The role of the women was not as readily defined, but many found ways to be active in the war effort. Tom Brokaw would later refer to the youth shedding their innocence during World War II as "The Greatest Generation."

My mom chose to do her part making bombs at Parsons, a job that could be, and often was, dangerous. Later during the war she moved to El Paso, TX, with her sister and brother-in-law, Christine and Bob Dobbs, where Bob went through his basic training at Ft. Bliss. During that time, if memory serves, Mom worked at the base Post Exchange (PX). (My dad, Garland Macy, graduated from high school in Neosho, MO, in 1942, and fought in the European Theatre with the newly formed Army Air Corps.)

I made a long audio tape of my mother telling stories about her life shortly after she was diagnosed with brain tumors. It was one of the last, lengthy sentient conversations that we ever had. We talked all morning, and enjoyed each other's company. That has been nearly twenty-five years ago, and those memories, and others, have grown dusty with time. But occasionally something happens to shake off the dust and bring back that ache that comes when someone important is missing from your life. The news of the closing of the Parsons Munitions Plant caused me to glance backward, if only for a moment.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Animal Science

by Pa Rock

Scientists have a long history of experimenting with animals in order to benefit the human race, and while that practice is often controversial, especially where it harms or kills the animals, it can be seen as the practical alternative to the use of human subjects. The following is a collection of stories involving animals and science that have appeared in the press over the past few months. Some are clearly aimed at the advancement of human health, while others are more frivolous in nature. This poor typist is not an advocate, only a reporter of strangeness.

The BBC recently aired a report of cloned calves from the United States that produce human anti-bodies. Four calves have been produced so far that have extra DNA which contains the genes for part of the human immune system. The antibodies, several different types, are expected to be useful in killing infectious disease agents.

Science Fiction in the News, a web outlet that compares new science with the older science fiction that spawned the ideas, had a report on human-pig hybrids that have been approved in the United Kingdom. The concept is to remove skin cells from humans who have a mutation for certain types of heart disease, and transfer those cells into pig eggs after the chromosomes have been removed. They will then make embryos from which stem cells will develop - leading to research on heart disease through the new stem cells.

Another story from Science Fiction in the News discussed goats that have been bio-engineered so that they produce an anti-clotting protein in their milk. The protein is for use with human patients. As someone who has raised little goats, I am glad that they finally have a purpose in life beyond rampant head-butting and eating expensive rose bushes.

And science also messes with animals just for the fun of it. The same web-site that reported on the pigs and goats, had a story before the holidays about modified zebra fish that glow in red and green. California had a ban on bio-tech household pets, but they were reportedly reconsidering their haste to push for public safety when the wife of one of the commissioners began pressuring her husband to change it because she wanted some of the glow fish for her aquarium - proving once and for all that it's not what you know, it's who you sleep with!

Science Fiction in the News also reported on professors from University of California at Berkeley who have developed radio-controlled rhinoceros beetles. These insects have their wings "and other body parts" wirelessly controlled and can carry a package of up to 1.3 grams on their back and still fly. This one scares me. I can imagine some evangelical potentate with the humanity of Dick Cheney loading up a squadron of beetles with nano-nukes on their backs and releasing them on an unsuspecting world. Calling Dr. Strangelove!

But my favorite animal research story has been kicking around in the popular press for several months now. Scientists in Japan are working with the frozen remains of a male woolly mammoth. The goal is to come up with frozen sperm DNA and use that to impregnate a female elephant. With luck, the scientists believe that they could develop a creature that is 88% woolly mammoth within the next fifty years. My guess is that commissioner's wife in California will want one of those, too.

I would be satisfied with a little dog, but with the charges that Palm Valley Luxury Rentals want to tack on to my monthly rent for a tiny Chihuahua, I could easily raise a woolly mammoth!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Moving on from Gitmo

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Shortly after taking office President Obama made a necessary and long overdue decision to close the “Detention” Facility at the Guantanamo Naval Station on Cuba. Many of the inmates who were in for no specific crimes other than being suspicious characters in somebody’s opinion have already been released and sent home. Others are more problematic and difficult to deal with. Supposedly some will be in danger if they are sent back to their home countries, and others may truly be dangerous. All in all, our government has about two-hundred-and-fifty “hot potatoes” sitting in holding cells at Gitmo who will have to be housed somewhere, at least for the time being.

The detainee population is a result of political and military decisions made in the United States, and consequently it is the United States that will have to deal with it. American politicians are already grandstanding about the “imminent dangers” imposed by this population and making loud demands that they not be shipped into their districts or states. Politicians know that this jingoistic noise plays well with voters. Just this week, for example, Virginia Republicans announced their opposition to Gitmo’s former residents being sent there (though apparently no one has suggested it), and challenged their Democratic Governor to join them in keeping the detainees at bay.

But the sad truth is that if they can’t be deported or released, those alleged terrorists will have to be housed somewhere. Selecting a location for their incarceration will be as controversial as figuring out where to store nuclear waste or deciding which military bases to close. Everybody will be quick to point someplace else.

I have three (very good) recommendations on where to transfer this problematic population. Each is a place where I have resided and about which I have a good deal of firsthand knowledge. They are listed below in reverse order (a la David Letterman):

The third best place to build a new, state-of-the-art prison for detainees with numerous good jobs for the local population would be anywhere in the state of Arizona. Arizona is home to many private prisons that contract out to other states to house their inmates. It is practically impossible to drive any distance in this state without passing a nice prison facility sitting out in the desert among the cacti and sage brush. I haven’t heard of any escapes – a fleeing felon would have to deal with extreme temperatures, scorpions, rattlesnakes, coyotes (two-legged and four-legged), and the odd Border Patrol agent.

The second best place to build a new, state-of-the-art prison for detainees with numerous good jobs for the local population would be Leavenworth, Kansas. Leavenworth (city and county) has long prospered on a prison economy. It is home to four major penal institutions: the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, the Federal Penitentiary, Kansas State Prison for Men, and Kansas State Prison for Women. Most local families have members who either are or have been employed in the prison industry, and, whether they admit it or not, local residents have come to accept the realities of penal institutions in their midst. A new prison would not have nearly the emotional impact on Leavenworth as it would in other communities.

And (drum roll, please)…

The very best place to build a new, state-of-the-art prison for detainees with numerous good jobs for the local population would be McDonald County, Missouri. Although McDonald County borders Benton County, Arkansas (the home to Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, and Jones Truck Lines), it shares none of the wealth that has been slathered upon its Arkansas neighbor. The economic base of McDonald County is poultry processing and a scant bit of tourism, and the “best” jobs are teaching, postal, and working at the welfare office. (I am a veteran of all three and know that of which I type.) Land is still affordable, remote locations are abundant, and taxes are virtually non-existent.

And if none of the above work out, ship those rascals off to Crawford, Texas!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Judicial Ethics for Dummies: Part II

by Pa Rock
Court Reporter

Yesterday I wrote about a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice who "appeared" to have been purchased by an extremely large campaign donation. He had subsequently refused to recuse himself from a hefty damages case involving his campaign donor, and ruled not once, but twice, the way the donor wished. The U.S. Supreme Court has taken the question of the possible impact that campaign donations could play on the judicial process under advisement.

Last month there was another story about judges in the national press, and this time there was no question that the two jurists were purchased over a period of several years for a very large sum of money. The judges from central Pennsylvania were Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, both justices of the Juvenile Court. They have been accused of, and have tentatively agreed to plead guilty to, taking bribes from two privately run youth detention centers. In return for cold, hard cash, they funneled alleged juvenile offenders into those two facilities. The facilities, in turn, received reimbursements for each child inmate from the state of Pennsylvania.

Everybody won - except for the children, some of whom were guilty of "crimes" as lame as bitching about friends or school administrators on their My Space pages. The centers were run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC.

While Judge Conahan was serving as President Judge in charge of the budget, he managed to help get the county-owned detention facility closed down and secure contracts with the two Child Care corporations. It was Judge Ciavarella's job to sentence kids to those facilities. The two Judges had been receiving kickbacks totaling between two and three million dollars since 2002.

Youth advocates had been complaining about Judge Ciavarella for years stating that his sentences were unusually harsh. Between 2002 and 2006 he sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers. (The statewide rate was 1 in 10.) Often he would hold court with no legal representation present for the juvenile defendants. Authorities are now trying to figure out what to do with the more than 5,000 juveniles (and their records) who were sent away by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme began.

The two judges have entered into a plea bargain where they admit being involved in a kickback scheme and will receive jail time not to exceed 87 months. If convicted of the felony, they will also lose their judicial retirements.

A parent of one of the youthful offenders was standing outside of the courtroom when the two judges entered their pleas. She noted that when her daughter had left Judge Ciavarella's court, she was shackled in handcuffs and leg irons. That parent was disappointed that the two judges were themselves not adorned in any such hardware.

Where do we go for justice if our courts are tainted?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Judicial Ethics for Dummies

by Pa Rock
Court Reporter

"An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought."--Simon Cameron

Today the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Caperton v. Massey, a case so simple in its logic that my nine-year-old grandson could hear it after breakfast and make a sensible decision before the early recess. But the Supreme Court, being the Supreme Court, is apparently closely divided - 5 to 4 one way or the other - on what would be a slam dunk in any traffic court.

A decade or so ago Harman Mining, a modest West Virginia coal mining operation, had a lucrative contract with a large steel manufacturing company in Pittsburg, PA. Things were going fine, according to Hugh Caperton, the owner of Harman Mining, until his contract was hijacked by the nation's fourth largest coal mining company, Massey Energy. Harman Mining took Massey Energy to Court and won an astounding judgement of $50 million. The decision was promptly appealed to the district level where it was upheld.

Massey Energy then appealed to the Supreme Court of West Virginia. A major Massey stockholder who regards himself as a warrior for the business class, did not want to see his company risk competing in an impartial judicial setting, and decided to stack the deck. The stockholder, who had been paid millions by Massey over the years, targeted one particular Justice whom he believed would be unfavorable toward Massey. He put up a puppet candidate and smeared the sitting Justice with attacks so vile they would have shamed Karl Rove. One rumor generated by the smear machine was that the Justice had helped to turn a pedophile loose in the public schools. The stockholder spent over $3 million and was able to get his man elected. Not surprisingly, the new Justice cast the deciding vote not once, but twice, to throw out that $50 million verdict. The stockholder's money had been well spent indeed!

That same stockholder, described in news articles as "a large man with small eyes that betray nothing," was later spotted with another West Virginia Supreme Court Justice in Monte Carlo. When ABC News asked him about that gambling junket, he shoved a cameraman and suggested that someone was "liable to get shot" if reporters didn't mind their own beeswax. (Gotta love those good ole boys!)

The stockholder who spent three million dollars in a West Virginia judicial decision had this to say about the allegations that he had bought a judge:

"I've been around West Virginia long enough to know that politicians don't stay bought, particularly ones that are going to be in office for 12 years. So I would never go out and spend money to try to gain favor with a politician. Eliminating a bad politician makes sense. Electing somebody hoping he's going to be in your favor doesn't make any sense at all."

Malarkey! The stockholder's judge stayed bought. That is one ethical rascal!

But drama aside, thirty-nine states elect the judges to their Supreme Courts, and judges at some level are elected in nearly every jurisdiction in America. The question before the U.s. Supreme Court is real and it is vital. Can justice be bought? Unfortunately, at least the four most conservative justices seem to see no problem with judges accepting huge political contributions and then helping to decide cases that involve their sugar daddies.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Simply Green

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I have written in this space previously about the concept of green funerals - burials in biodegradable caskets with no embalming fluid. Recently there was a story on the 'internets' about green cremations, an interesting off-shoot of the green burial concept.

The company cited in the article was Eternal Reefs of Decatur, GA, an outfit that mixes cremated remains with environmentally safe cement and forms the result into artificial reefs that are then dropped into the ocean to form safe habitats for the little fishies. Carole Dunham, who passed away from cancer last November, chose this option. Her remains are now part of an artificial reef off the coast of North Miami Beach. Her loved ones can scuba out to the site and view the reef which is marked with a brass plaque.

I still have a preference for green burials over green cremations. There is a lot of energy expended in cremation, and a decomposing body works its way back into the soil for the benefit of plants and, ultimately, animals.

The Green Burial Council of Santa Fe, NM, an independent, non-profit organization, released the following statistics regarding standard burials in the United States. In one year the United States buries (in addition to the bodies): 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 827,000 tons of toxic embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of steel (from caskets), and 30 million tons of hardwood board. The Council dramatized those amounts by stating that the steel buried in this country in one year could rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge, and the concrete is enough to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit.

And while we are still in the throes of the Bush Depression, wouldn't it be nice for the family if their only burial expenses were a biodegradable casket (fancy cardboard) and a burial plot? - no satin-lined, mahogany box with genuine brass handles, no cement vault, no embalming fluid. Nice, and simple, and cheap.

Funerals in America have slowly evolved into a racket. We have grown accustomed to funeral directors directing us into plush send-offs and guilting us if we choose to pack our dearly deceased in something less than the Cadillac of caskets. We are spending more and more money to needlessly pollute the earth and waste all of that good plant food. It's time that we got back to the basics of burials - the way our ancestors did it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rage in the Cage!

by Pa Rock
Observer of Mindless Violence

Last might me and most of the other faux white trash in the Phoenix area converged on the Celebrity Theatre to enjoy an evening of cage fightin'! The majority of the crowd looked as though they were probably professionals during the day - lawyers, realtors, car dealers, drug dealers - who donned their grunge garb at sundown and were out for an evening of slumming.

"Kick his ass!"

I won tickets for the event at work on Friday and was determined to expand my cultural horizons, no matter how many caged humans had to die in the process.

"Pound his head!"

It was definitely an interesting experience, and while the blood-lust was present, especially as the cold beer flowed, the actual blood never materialized. I had visions of pairs of grown men locked in a cage by themselves, ripping off limbs and breaking bones, as they worked out their unresolved Mother issues, but what actually transpired was something much more controlled.

"Punch him in the belly! Beat him to a pulp!"

The cage was an octagonal affair of what looked to be vinylized chain-link fence, approximately fifteen feet in diameter and six feet in height. The evening featured thirteen matches in the cage, each consisting of two size-matched aggressors and a referee.

"Hurt him! Make him cry!"

For the uninitiated (of which I was one until last night), cage fighting is a mix of boxing, kick boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts. The fighters wear shorts and leather gloves with the fingers missing. They do not wear shoes or any form of head gear. The fights can go three rounds where the winner is decided by two officials sitting on opposite sides of the cage scoring the violence, or it can end early by a process called "submission." I never did figure out what exactly constituted a submission, but it appeared to be something like getting pinned in wrestling - a hold that the poor wretch on the mat or up against the chain-link can't break.

"Kiss him if you ain't gonna hit him!"

Most of the fighters were young kids, age 18 and above, with fighting weights between 130 and 160 pounds. Others were older with weights over 200 pounds. Tattoos were common, especially among the older fighters. Many were from fighting clubs in the Phoenix area.

"Chris Brown his ass!"

Cage fighting is like "professional" wrestling in that it has an entertainment focus. One of the local television stations was filming the event for midnight viewing later in the week. The crowd was constantly encouraged to make noise. Noise wasn't a problem in the area where I was sitting. Several drunken young men were busy seeing who could be the loudest and the funniest.

"Break his nose! Send him home ugly! Okay, send him home uglier!"

Cage fighting differs from "professional wrestling" in that it is real. These fighters work hard and are invested in winning. Generally, however, they begin and end the match as gentlemen, shaking hands with their opponents or even giving each other a man hug as they exit the cage. They end the night banged up and bruised, and the elation or disappointment that they leave with is very real.

"Bust his head! Bust his damned head!"

While most leave with their heads held high, even in defeat, there was one eighteen-year-old who stormed out of the cage, angry, after a close decision that didn't go his way. The crowd took note of his petulance, and my guess is that they will remind him of his immaturity in his next fight. To its credit, a large chunk of this activity seems to revolve around good sportsmanship. That may be due to the strong infusion of Oriental discipline through the martial arts component.

"Kick him in the nuts!"

And cage fighting - while I didn't see any blood - is truly dangerous. The blows were often vicious, coming both from fists and feet. One fighter might find himself pinned to the mat while being face-pummelled by his opponent - with the referee standing by and calmly watching. As someone who has a professional knowledge of Traumatic Brain Injury, I suspect that some of these young men will find themselves in a state of permanent punchiness sooner rather than later in life.

"Slam him! Slam him hard!"

I found this activity to be almost a guilty pleasure. It was very hard to watch at times, yet it was also hard not to watch. America has a fascination with car wrecks and mindless violence, and, in this regard at least, I'm a red, white, and blue-blooded, shit kickin' American!

"Hey, which one of you bitches drank my beer?"