Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Lumley Vampire

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist


A few days ago I wrote a post about the people of Hardin, Montana, who own a brand new prison, a state-of-the-art prison that has never held a convict. The community passed a $20 million bond issue to build the facility with what they felt was a tacit agreement from the state of Montana that if the prison was built, the state would use it. The intent was to spur local job growth (at least 100 new jobs) and ignite the local economy. It should have worked because incarceration is a huge business in America. But when the prison was completed, the convicts never came. The town's citizens began to lobby to have the prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, brought to the prison at Hardin, but the Montana Congressional delegation quickly scuttled that plan declaring that captured al-Qaeda terrorists would never be brought to Big Sky country.

In the piece I suggested that private prisons, while not ideal, seemed to work well in Arizona, so perhaps Montana should lighten up on the entrepreneurs of Hardin. That was a dumb statement, and I knew that as I typed it. Anytime government turns some public function over to a private company (like the evil Blackwater running the war in Iraq), the pooch inevitably gets screwed.

The next morning Anonymous had replied to the post with a stinging rebuke:

Private prisons aren't "working" in Arizona or anywhere else unless you count frequent escapes and murders as "working." They have all sorts of problems. In Eloy's CCA-owned La Palma, there's hardly a day goes by without an assault on staff.

Hardin Montana has a vastly overpriced minimum security facility that should never have been built. Texas hucksters made off with millions in investor money.


Anonymous appears to be somebody who works with the Arizona Department of Corrections and has intimate knowledge of what is happening in the prison system. (Eloy is a community outside of Phoenix that is home to a giant private prison. CCA is Corrections Corporation of America, a monster company that owns numerous private prisons.)

Having been righteously chastised, I determined to expend some effort in learning more about the penal system of Arizona. And although I haven't found much regarding escapes, there is enough in the press to strongly indicate that the prisons in Arizona are festering pits of abuse, abuse directed at prisoners as well as staff.

An example of prisoner abuse occurred this past week at the Perryville Women's Prison in Goodyear, AZ. Arizona is bitchin' hot in the summer - and two-thirds of the days this month have been over 100 degrees. Last Wednesday, 48-year-old Marcia Powell, who was serving a 27-month sentence for the victimless crime of prostitution, was placed in an outdoor holding cell and essentially forgotten. When guards got around to checking on her four hours later, she was unconscious from the heat. Ten or so hours after that when it became apparent that she was in a vegetative state and would not survive, Department of Corrections Director, Charles Ryan, ordered Ms. Powell removed from life support.

It was over 100 degrees last Wednesday. Outdoor holding cells at Perryville have no water or shade, and prison policy calls for prisoner's to be held in those cells no longer than two hours. Changes are being made to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated, but Marcia Powell is still dead.

The abuse of staff appears to also be quite too common in Arizona prisons. Private prisons are notorious for low pay and under-staffing. It was under-staffing that led to the death of of Correctional Officer Brent Lumley at the Perryville facility in 1997. Lumley was overpowered by prisoners and killed as he struggled to open the door to a control room.

Officer Lumley was memorialized by his co-workers in a most unique manner. Shortly after his death, a newsletter entitled The Lumley Vampire began circulating among prison staff and showing up on the windshields of employees. (The name "Vampire" comes from the fact that it originated with the prison's graveyard shift.) Prison officials, not being overtly enamored of the First Amendment, quickly got the ink-on-paper effort shut down - but the Vampire went underground and surfaced in cyberspace where it flourishes to this day.

The Lumley Vampire is the source for hard news on what is occurring in the prisons of Arizona as well as those nationwide. The site may be accessed at: http://thelumleyvampire.homestead.com/

Officer Brent Lumley was killed because there was not sufficient staff on duty to come to his defense. Under-staffing puts money in the pockets of the prison owners, and so does low pay for employees and deliberate over-crowding of prisoners. Capitalism works fine some places, but prisons run for profit are scary propositions.

It's past time for the states to take back their responsibility to society and to prisoners. Prisons should be run by people who can be held accountable to the voters. Wars should, too.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Suicides Temporarily Shut Down Ft. Campbell

by Rocky G. Macy
Licensed Clinical Social Worker


As a former mental health provider at Ft. Campbell, KY, I was saddened, though not necessarily surprised, to learn about the rash of suicides that has plagued the post over recent months. According to news reports this week, the 101st Airborne Division (basically all of Ft. Campbell) has suffered eleven confirmed or suspected suicides recently, including two in the past week.

This week, in an effort to take a breather and examine the problem, and hopefully stem the tide of this horrific dynamic, the base commander, Brigadier General Stephen Townsend, announced a three-day stand-down to focus on the problem and look for solutions. Regarding the rash in suicides, Townsend told his troops, "It's bad for soldiers, it's bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division - and our army - and our country - and it's got to stop now. Suicides at Ft. Campbell have to stop now!"

Yup. Brigadier General Stephen Townsend has ordered the suicides to stop. That ought to get the job done - after all, the man has a star on each shoulder.

One hundred and fifteen U.S. soldiers took their own lives in 2007. That number rose to 128 in 2008, and this year it is already at 64 and on track to beat last year's total. Sadly, of all the army units, Ft. Campbell is in the lead.

I worked as a mental health provider at Ft. Campbell from 2005 to 2007, so I have some understanding of what is happening. First. like most military units, Ft. Campbell has a shortage of mental health professionals. And even if every slot for social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists was filled, it would still be an uphill struggle to evaluate and monitor every soldier who has gone through the trauma of one, two, three, four, or even five long tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

One tour can ruin a marriage and destroy a family. Loneliness and infidelity take their toll both at home and in the combat theatre. One tour can take a happy, well-adjusted young person and return him (or her) with emotional and psychological issues that will impact the veteran for years - or longer. And that's just one tour.

Multiple tours take all of the risks and dangers of one tour and increase them exponentially. If one tour doesn't wreck a family, two very well may. Fathers and mothers return from the desert to discover that their children have grown up and away from them. The parent who had remained at home has become the decision-maker, the go-to person when something needs to be approved or accomplished. It takes months for the family to re-group as it was prior to the deployment, and by the time it does, the next deployment has rolled around.

I've harped on this before, but it needs to be explained again - so bear with me. Numerous deployments are a product of the dishonest way this war has been waged. Bush, Cheney, and Rummy didn't want to institute a draft - because each of the three had clear memories of the social upheaval that resulted from the draft for Vietnam and did not want to see the country get that fired up over their oil war. (They also undoubtedly remembered all of their own artful dodging to keep from going to Vietnam, and did not want to put today's children of privilege in that same predicament.)

So having a draft was out of the question. Bush, Cheney, and Rummy did not want to do anything to create and stoke public resentment to their Middle East misadventure. Where, then, were the troops going to come from to fight their war?

One way was to recruit soldiers from the general population. Recruiting quotas were increased and recruiters were forced to scrape the bottom of society's barrel in order to meet those quotas. The minimum enlistment age was raised to forty-two, and recruiters routinely told marginal applicants how to pass drug exams and falsify other entrance requirements. Steven Green, also a member of the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, was brought into the army with no difficulties, even though the young man had obvious psychological issues - issues that led to the slaughter of an Iraqi family.

The other method was to not let soldiers out of the army when their terms of enlistment expired (a back door draft called "Operation Stop Loss"), and to keep pumping them into the combat zones over and over.

In a line obviously stolen from a social worker, Brigadier General Townsend said, "Suicide is a permanent solution to what is only a temporary problem."

It's not a temporary problem, General, it's a recurring problem. Something has to be done to get these young people off the combat merry-go-round.

General Townsend, you and your brother generals need to step up to the plate and let the Defense Department and the President know that the mental health of your troops is being worn away. The casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are not limited to the battlefields. Many of those brave men and women appear to be fine when they march into the hangars at your base for reunions with their families, but they are often ticking time bombs (or land mines, or IED's) that will suddenly go off weeks, months, or even years after the welcoming bands have played their last happy notes.

Good mental health is not something that can be "ordered" to occur. For our troops to have even a semblance of a chance for a future of good mental health, multiple deployments must come to an end. If these are wars that have to be fought, bring back the draft and share the burden with those who couldn't be bothered to volunteer to serve. And maybe thirty or forty years from now when we are on the verge of some other major military operation, our country will have the leadership of people who actually went to war and understand its reality.

The men and women at Ft. Campbell are in my thoughts and prayers.

Friday, May 29, 2009

In Bruges

by Pa Rock
Film Critic

I caught this much ballyhooed independent film on cable last night and was quickly captivated. In Bruges is the story of two hit men on the lam due to a very botched crime, and the numerous intersecting lives and stories that wash through their exile. It is apparent from early on that this story will end tragically, yet there are many laughs en route to the bloody ending.

The hit men of In Bruges are Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson). They are in the employ of the mysterious Harry (Ralph Fiennes). As the story begins, Ray is in a church confessional telling the priest that he murdered someone for money. "You murdered a man for money?" the priest asks. "Who, Ray?" The reply: "You, Father." Ray begins shooting the priest through the confessional wall, but the stout Catholic cleric doesn't die easily. He gets up and walks away. Ray comes up behind him shooting some more, eventually bringing the priest down. When the priest falls and dies, a young boy is revealed lying in a pool of blood on the floor. He has also been killed by Ray.

That was Ray's first hit, and it went badly awry. Harry sends Ray and Ken, the experienced hit man, to the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium, to hide out. From there is gets funny, and complicated, and more deadly.

Fifteen or twenty minutes into this film I began to have a sense of deja vu. In Bruges has a very similar feel to the 1996 classic, 2 Days in the Valley, which was also a tale about a botched murder with several intersecting lives swirling through the resultant mayhem. Both were delightful on one level and absorbing on another.

I recommend In Bruges highly. And if it leaves you wanting more, rent a copy of 2 Days in the Valley. It will be an evening well spent!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Apology

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Steven Green, the former U.S. Army private who led the brutal attack on an Iraqi family in order that he and his friends could rape the pretty fourteen-year-old daughter, was convicted last week of the raping and killing the girl. He was also found guilty of murdering her parents and her younger sister. The jury could not come to a unanimous decision to impose the death penalty on Green, probably due in large measure to their knowledge of some of the abuse that he suffered as a child. Some jurors may have also factored in the devaluation of human life that accompanies war - who knows for sure? Because the jury could not act in unanimity, the judge was obligated to sentence young Mr. Green to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

And I am much like those jurors. Where is the line that serves as a boundary between an abusive childhood and an evil adulthood? At what point did that pathetic child finally become an irredeemable monster? Would killing him right any wrongs? Will permitting him to live decades in a cage and finally die in a cage accomplish anything either?

Today Mr. Green apologized to the relatives of the family that he murdered. He didn't have to, because his verdict had already been determined. But he chose to express his shame to those family members gathered the courthouse in Paducah, KY. While his words were simple, they rang with sincerity. Mr. Green said:

"I helped to destroy a family and end the lives of four of my fellow human beings, and I wish that I could take it back, but I cannot. And, as inadequate as this apology is, it is all I can give you...I know you wish I was dead, and I do not hold that against you. If I was in your place, I am convinced beyond any doubt that I would feel the same way...I know that I have done evil, and I fear that the wrath of the Lord will come upon me on that day. But, I hope that you and your family at least can find some comfort in God's justice."


Steven Green said that he now sees the Iraq War as "intrinsically evil because killing is intrinsically evil." He added that he was sorry that he had anything to do with either.

Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hard Luck, Montana

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The 3,600 residents of Hardin, Montana, thought they had come up with a sure-fire way to stimulate the local economy a couple of years ago when they floated a $27 million bond issue to build a state-of-the-art prison that would hold 464 inmates. The facility would be leased to a private prison company, and up to one hundred locals would be hired to work there. Those technical or licensed positions that could not be filled by Hardin residents would attract high-salaried individuals from the outside who would, of course, purchase local goods and services - and homes. Although the good people of Hardin had no contracts to fill the prison with inmates, their politicians felt that the state was implicitly implying that it would support the facility.

Wrong.

Hardin sued the state for the political equivalent of breach-of-promise, and won the case. But still the prisoners did not come. Montana has a law on the books that prohibits the importation of prisoners from other states, and there was apparently no pressing need for more prison space. (Although the closest county jail has to turn away minor offenders because their prisoners are already stacked too high.) The $27 millions dollars in bonds went into default last year.

So, there is a new prison - a high quality prison - sitting vacant on forty acres near Hardin, Montana. When President Obama announced that Gitmo would be closed and its prisoners moved, the folks in Hardin sensed that Christmas might be about to happen. Their city council voted unanimously to offer up the empty prison for any or all of Gitmo's 240 "detainees." Yup, the people that nobody wanted had a safe lock-up waiting in Hardin, Montana. Bring 'em on!

But once again Hardin was foiled by its state politicians. Senator Max Baucus, who can be semi-intelligent if it suits him, said that he feels for the poor folks of Hardin, but..."we're not going to bring al-Qaeda to Big Sky Country - no way, not on my watch!" So much for being supportive of community development.

It can hardly be a safety issue, because if there is any state in the union that is better armed than Arizona, it has to be Montana. Any prisoner who managed to escape this maximum security facility would step into a frenzy of flying lead. It would be a bigger deal than elk season!

And water-boarding could be retired for good. One bitch of a Montana winter would have those terrorists spilling their guts about everything!

Hardin is missing the economic gravy train due to the political cowardice of its entire (3-person) Congressional delegation. The good folks of Hardin can kiss their $27 million good-bye thanks to the NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude of a pack of dumbass political yahoos.

I am not a fan of privately run prisons, feeling they could easily become breeding grounds for all manner of abuse. But, they seem to be working in Arizona. So, if the people of Hardin have a prison waiting, and want the Gitmo prisoners - let's get it going!

And if that doesn't work out - McDonald County, Missouri, is still available. I will personally buy some of those bonds!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Arizona State Motto

by Pa Rock
Proud Arizonan

Arizona has an unofficial state motto: "The Grand Canyon State." It adorns most of our license plates and assorted postcards and souvenirs. Surprisingly, that little gem of a motto apparently was never officially adopted by the state legislature, and a move is now on to correct that oversight.

The story unfolded this way: A fifth grader in California sent an email to one of our prize state legislators asking if the state had an official motto. Upon researching the question, the legislator (or more likely his intern) discovered that our motto had never been officially made official. The amazing aspect of this story is, of course, the fact that the fifth grader happened to pick a legislator who could read - but, again, it was probably handled by his intern.

So, the legislator, who was between between gun bills, decided that this might be a non-controversial bill to sponsor. And now, if nobody bitches, "The Grand Canyon State" will soon become the official state motto of Arizona.

If nobody bitches...

Enter Pa Rock. "The Grand Canyon State" has got to be one of the lamest state mottoes ever - probably second only to "Ski Kansas!" So, in an effort to spare the great state of Arizona more than its normal share of embarrassment, I am hereby submitting the following ideas for the new (official) Arizona state motto. If you see one that you particularly like - or if you have a better one - please forward it on to any member of our state legislature - or, better yet, to one of their interns. (These are in no special or preferential order.)

Arizona:

America's Sandbox!
It's a Dry Heat!
Death Valley East!
Hellizona!
Rain! Rain! We Don't Need No Stinking Rain!
America's Rest Home!
Armed and Stupid!
Welcome to Hell on Earth!
Our Politicians are Dumber than Yours!
The Scorpion State!

And, should the city of Phoenix ever get the itch to have it's own official motto, I humbly propose the following:

Phoenix: Arizona's Other Big Hole!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Extended Workout

by Pa Rock
Heavy Breather

I used to date a beautiful young lady (Hi, Susan!) who would drive her little sports car around the Wal-Mart parking lot for thirty minutes looking for the absolute closest-to-the-door parking spot that she could find. Never mind that she could have been in the store and out in the time it took her to find that exceptional spot, and don't even begin to tally up the wasted gas! It was a convenience thing.

So maybe after a hard day at work, people have some sort of innate right to try avoiding a long march across the hot asphalt. But what about the lunkheads who go to my gym here in sunny Arizona? There are some shady spots at the back of the lot, which is where I always head, but some of the more fit specimens of humanity like to sit in their tricked-out trucks and big-assed SUV's with the air conditioning running while waiting on something closer to the doors to open up. And then when they finally find a spot that suits them, they amble up to the front doors toting nothing more than a gym bag - and hit the button that automatically opens the doors!

It's a gym, genius! You're not there to primp and model athletic gear - you're there to sweat! Consider that trek across the length of the parking lot to be your warm-up for the treadmill, and pulling those big doors open will limber up your arms! Anything less would be as dumb as playing golf for the exercise and then renting a cart!

I think that I may have worked for the military too long!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Secret of a Successful Weekend

by Pa Rock
Procrastinator

As every working person knows, weekends are too short. Saturdays are set aside for relaxing and licking the wounds of the previous week, while Sundays are for summoning the strength to face five more days on the chain gang. One day of winding down, followed by a day of winding up. That's why it's damned hard to get anything done on a weekend.

I have been unpacking for a month now. Weekends are when it should be happening, but the pull of Saturdays followed by the push Sundays have contrived to keep my momentum firmly stuck in neutral.

But this Sunday was different. Today I didn't have to plan my activities around getting ready to go back to work - because tomorrow is a holiday. I will fret and panic tomorrow. Today I moved furniture, unloaded boxes, shopped for a mop, and had a very productive time of it. Today was a good day!

I also talked to my son, Nick, and his son, Boone. They were at my dad's house in Noel this weekend where Nick mowed the yard at my little farm on Old Pine Trail, and helped his granddad trim up his yard. Nick seemed to have had a very good time showing Boone the world that was his youth. They went fishing at the dam - the place Nick literally grew up - cooked out, played ball, and discovered a swimming hole. Nick is a wonderful dad!

Nick and Boone were able to get to Noel because they had a three-day weekend. And yes, having that third day is the secret of a successful weekend. All of the pressures fade away with that extra day stuffed into the weekend.

Barack, if you're reading this - and who am I to think that you aren't? - four ten-hour workdays each week would boost national productivity and be a wonderful way to live. Make it happen!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pa Rock at Rhyme

by Pa Rock
Limerickster

While unpacking I ran across a copy of the January-February 1993 issue of Reminisce Magazine. I had saved that copy because it contained a a page of limericks submitted by their readers, and one of those selected for publication was crafted by me. It was an untitled little ditty on the subject of marriage:

A maiden had sights set on wedlock
to a beau who shied from such deadlock.
When she failed at discourse,
she took him by force,
and he walked down the aisle in a headlock!

If you desire to reply to this post, please do so in the form of a limerick. (Free verse 'tis but the curse of a willful pen, and haiku will never do!)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ain't No Liberty at this "University"

by Pa Rock
Educator

Not every university is the same. Some are private and very good - like many of the Ivy League schools of the northeast, and some are public and also very good - like many schools in the state university systems. A true university is a refuge for those wanting to explore and increase the accumulated knowledge of the world. Real universities tolerate divergent points of view. Unfortunately, there are also some truly bad schools also posing as universities, schools with no tolerance of divergent points of view and whose sole function is to push religious dogma and fight the acquisition of knowledge at every turn.

Liberty University (sic) of Virginia is a grand example of the latter. It is a private school founded by the late televangelist and hate-monger, Jerry Falwell. Liberty prides itself on not encumbering its students with genuine knowledge about the real world, and produces graduates who don't believe in evolution, or apparently, even the two-party system.

The school is little more than a pit of religious fundamentalism. It is the place where John McCain actually lost the 2008 Presidential race when he showed up there a couple of years earlier to lick Falwell's boots as he tried to worm his way back into the good graces of his party's reprobate wing. Many of the kinder and gentler Republicans were aghast at his hypocrisy, and went on to vote for Obama.

Liberty University (sic) allowed a crack in its know-nothing shell last October, one month before the election, when it inexplicably granted a small group of students the right to start a Democratic Club. Apparently that was a move that their fat cat fascist funders could not abide, because last week the university (sic) pulled the plug on its fledgling attempt to accommodate some bipartisanship on campus.

Last Friday Mark Hine, the Vice President of Student Affairs at the pseudo hole of higher learning, sent an email to the Democratic Club president, Brian Diaz. The email, which young Diaz said came "out of the blue" decreed that the club must stop using the university's (sic) name, holding meetings on campus, or advertising events. Violations of that edict could lead to expulsion.

The university (sic) official said yesterday that it could not sanction an official club that supported Democratic candidates - apparently on moral grounds. But, he added for clarification, "We are in no way attempting to stifle free speech."

So far there is no confirmation to the rumors that students who refuse to recant their Democratic tendencies will be burned at the stake - but this story is still evolving!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fried Spammers!

by Pa Rock
The Retaliator

I like using Google for my email, primarily because it sorts the spam, at least most of it, out of my way and into a special folder. But spammers get smarter every day, and now some have started getting around my spam sniffer by putting the word "Google" in their title.

I received an interesting response to a blog posting that I wrote on April 16, 2009, entitled My Favorite Republican. It was from Anonymous and went on-and-on-and-on - pages and pages of disjointed crap that ended with a threat about not trying to identify the author because he had a right to remain anonymous.

I don't really give a rat's ass who wrote the screed, but I copied it to a word document figuring that it might be useful. This week I began pasting in in replies to spammers. I figured that might have one of two results: a. it would confirm that my email address was a working one and spam would increase, or b. my name would be struck from the spam lists as someone who slows down the system and is not worth the bother. So far - after just a couple of days - I've noticed no difference what-so-ever.

If this turns into a war, the next phase will be for me to copy my most recent 500 blog posts and reply to spam with them. Phase three will be attaching the entire Bible or Koran (or both) to spam replies. (If someone has a copy of one of those - or War and Peace, Gone with the Wind, or the Complete Works of William Shakespeare in word, please consider sharing!)

Can you tell that I have too much time on my hands? Anything to keep from unpacking and getting things put away!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John and Mary: Wherefore Art Thou?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was an interesting piece on baby names in USA Today this morning. The newspaper cited census information in its listing of the fifty most popular baby names for boys and girls from 1890 through the present.

The popularity of first names seems to be partially cyclical, with classy old names occasionally coming back into fashion, and partially experimental with new names constantly surfacing based on unique sounds, things found in nature, bodily functions, political leaders, or even rock stars - often spelled in a stupid manner with an eye toward originality! I have a personal theory that if one was to study the first names of soap opera characters over the years, they would correlate strongly with actual names given to babies during those same periods.

John and Mary were the most popular baby names in 1890. Those two names continued to head the list in 1900, 1910, and 1920. In 1930 John slipped to number three (behind Robert and James), while Mary remained at number one. (I guess that naming your daughter after the mother of Jesus was always seen as a safe bet.) Mary continued to be the most popular girl’s name in 1940, and John hung in there at number three (with the top two being reversed to James and Robert).

Mary was finally knocked from the top spot in 1950, when that name placed second behind Linda. John continued to cling to third behind James and Robert. Mary regained the top spot in 1960, but John slipped to number four – behind David, Michael, and James. (Poor Robert was at an ignominious fifth!) John was still number four in 1970 behind Michael, James, and David, and Mary had plummeted to number nine.

John was down to number eight in 1980 and Mary had dropped to number twenty-six. Mary’s Hispanic cousin, Maria, entered the list that year at number thirty-six. John was at twelve in 1990, with Mary at number thirty-five and Maria at number forty-seven. John was down to fourteen in 2000, and his Hispanic cousin, Juan, came in at forty-eight. Maria was at forty-one in 2000, and Mary placed at forty-seven.

By 2008 John, Juan, Mary, and Maria had been completely eliminated from the listing of most popular names. One variant, Jonathan, did place at number twenty-six on the boys’ list.

The current top ten names for boys in America are: Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Alexander, Anthony, William, Christopher, and Matthew. The most popular names for girls are: Emma, Isabella, Emily, Madison, Ava, Olivia, Sophia, Abigail, Elizabeth, and Chloe.

To see the complete lists for any of the years listed above, check out today’s on-line edition of USA Today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Television Roundup

by Pa Rock
Recovering Couch Potato

As I have aged, my interest in the boob tube has declined markedly. I still watch television, but now I view with the aim of seeing something of substance and not just vegging out.

BBC America has its moments of quality, though much of it is beginning to resemble mindless American reality crap. Several years ago that network ran the first season of Shameless, a thoughtful and very funny series about a family of seven children being raised by a worthless and drunken father in public housing in Manchester, England. I liked it so well that I purchased the first season for my son (the playwright) and myself. Shameless is now on its sixth season in Great Britain, but so far BBC America has not seen fit to bring seasons two through six to this side of the Atlantic. That needs to change!

Torchwood is another exceptional British program. It is about a group of researchers who work in Cardiff, Wales, at the site of a time rift where strange creatures occasionally drop in from other times and other worlds. BBC ran the first season and is now sporadically re-running it, but if new episodes are being filmed, they haven't made it to America. Either way, its a shame that new episodes aren't available.

Another new favorite of mine is the HBO series, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency. This show is based on a series of books by Alexander McCall Smith whose main character is a lady in Botswana who has some money saved and decides that she will open an office as a detective. I read the first two books in the series and found them to be unusual and very clever. The HBO series is true to the author's work, and presents the characters and settings very much as I imagined them.

My favorite television program, however, is decidedly American. I discovered Jericho quite by accident last year. The program had been on two seasons and canceled when the CW Network bought the existing episodes and began airing them. It was a Sunday evening and I was doing a bit of channel surfing when I happened upon the first episode of Jericho just as it was beginning. I watched the program, not knowing what to expect. It was passably interesting until the wayward son, Jake, was leaving his hometown of Jericho, KS, after a poor attempt at reconnecting with his family. Suddenly, in the distance, was a mushroom cloud. That got my attention, and I have been a fan of this survivalist tale ever since. It is so disappointing to know that the series ended before I even had the chance to get hooked!

That's my list. Every now and then I catch a good movie - I have HBO free for three months. Less television equals more time for things that are really important - like pounding out this damned blog night after night! But it's my life, and I make the rules. When things get dull or overpowering, I will change the rules!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Milking Scorpions

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

It was a warm and toasty 107 degrees in the Valley of Hell both yesterday and today. If the current trend continues, it could really get hot by August! Isn't fire also a dry heat?

I read a piece in one of the local rags about a guy who makes a living "milking" scorpions and selected varieties of spiders. The product is used in manufacturing "anti-venoms" and other scientific endeavors. (Colonel Mustard in the library with scorpion venom, anyone?)

Apparently there are two methods for collecting the venom. One involves placing cellophane over a receptacle and the letting the scorpion (or whatever) sting the film. The second method involves strapping the little bugger into some type of restraint, connecting suction tubes, and then stimulating him with an electric shock. Apparently method number two is much more reliable and really gets the old juices flowing!

I have no interest in becoming a scorpion milker, but I know for a fact that I could catch them. Been there, done that. I also milked one, just not in a way that preserved the venom! There are scorpions under most rocks in this cruel desert. Just flip them over and scoop the little bastards up in a paper cup and deposit them in a minnow bucket or some ventilated container. Nothing to it - until you get to the rock that is keeping Brother Rattler cool! That's when it gets interesting!

But the desert is not all hell-on-earth and venom - the sunsets are amazing!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels and Demons

by Pa Rock
Movie Critic

This wasn't a great weekend for really devout Catholics. President Obama gave a kick-ass commencement address at the University of Notre Dame to numerous standing ovations - and Angels and Demons opened in theatres across the nation. The President didn't hide from the issue of abortion, but addressed it head-on in his speech, while three dozen pitiful protesters were arrested outside of the venue. Dan Brown, the author of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, sees the Catholic Church as being two millennia of shadowy conspiracies. All in all, it was probably a good weekend for most Catholics to hit the beach!

I first read Angels and Demons several years ago, just a few months prior to the death of Pope John Paul II, and well before the election of his successor, the decrepit and intellectually dishonest Benedict XVI. That is significant, because this story centers around the election of a new Pope. Dan Brown, in the novel, goes into intricate detail about how the new Pontiff is chosen, and that portion translates well to the screen.

Angels and Demons was written before The Da Vinci Code, and it is the better of the two books. I read them in the order that they were written, not a must, but there are references to things in the latter that occurred in the former. Ron Howard, the director, brought them to the screen in reverse order, due undoubtedly to the fact that The Da Vinci Code sold like gangbusters and had the whole world talking. (According to Amazon.com, it is the number one selling adult hardback of all time.) People were so taken with Brown's book and his clever take on history, that they then went back and "discovered" Angels and Demons.

Both tales paint the Church in a bad light, undoubtedly the reason that the Vatican refused to provide any assistance to this current movie. The villains in The Da Vinci Code were members of Opus Dei, a secret order within the Church that Brown implied has enormous influence over the Church's operation. Brown put forth a tale of how the pregnant wife of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, was smuggled out of the Holy Land and to the safety of France, and that descendants of Christ were possibly still alive. The Knight's Templar became aware of this unknown royal line during the Crusades and hustled to protect the secret and the descendants. The Church rounded up the Knights Templar and murdered them for their wealth, but, according to Brown's version, a few survived. His Opus Dei, of course, was hellbent on finding these threats to the Church and snuffing them out.

The villains in the other tale, Angels and Demons, were the Illuminati, a secret order that were driven underground a couple of hundred years ago by the Catholic Church because they were too open to the notions of science. In this story, the Illuminati have returned and managed to infiltrate the Vatican where they are killing off the Cardinals most likely to become Pope and threatening to level Vatican City and much of Rome with a small vial of "anti-matter."

The hero of both stories is Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon, who was adequately portrayed by Tom Hanks. He had a quest in each movie that was accompanied by breath-taking action, pulsating music, and the obligatory pretty girl. Both movies are well worth the seven or eight dollars that it costs to see them, if for no other reason than the tours of Rome and (in The Da Vinci Code) London. But, sadly, neither movie captures the full magic of Dan Brown's work.

There is a scene toward the end of Angels and Demons (the book) where an evil priest, who happens to have a parachute, bails out of a helicopter a mile or so above Vatican City, leaving Robert Langdon and the chopper pilot to deal with the anti-matter bomb that is aboard the helicopter. In the book Langdon jumps from the helicopter, sans parachute, and uses his jacket like a parachute to guide his fall into the Tiber River. Apparently there were no stunt men in the stable willing to tackle that one, and the movie kept Professor Langdon safely on the ground.

Another thing that I found disappointing was that Langdon was flown to Rome in the book via a new experimental aircraft, one that I suspect exists, but Ron Howard left that alone and flew him to Rome in a Vatican jet.

I like Ron Howard, and have since he was running the streets of Mayberry, but I kept wondering what Steven Spielberg would have done with this material. Howard translated the basic stories to film, and he did so in a way that will sell tickets and popcorn, but he definitely did not push any boundaries or break any new ground.

And as for the Vatican's continuing displeasure with Ron Howard and Dan Brown - suck it up, boys. Brown's follow-up to these two fine tales, The Lost Symbol, another Robert Langdon thriller, will be in bookstores on September 15th - and the movie won't be far behind. (Maybe this one will explore the Nazi influence over the Church - that would certainly be timely!)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mea Culpa

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A couple of nights ago I spit some venom at the National Rifle Association - always an easy target. In the middle of that rant I also took a sideswipe at funeral directors, suggesting that those in Arizona might have lobbied for an especially heinous piece of gun legislation that permits employees to keep their guns in their cars, on company property, even if the company owner objects. The next morning there was a response, a very nice comment from a Mr. James Showers who identified himself as a funeral director. He was supportive of what I had written about the NRA and did not take me to task over my remark about his profession.

The point that I was trying to make was that this stupid law will increase deaths by guns - and of that there can be no doubt. But after Mr. Showers supportive reply to the post, I regret taking the cheap shot at funeral directors.

James Showers left no way to contact him, and I hope that he reads this and sends me an email (pa.rock.macy@gmail.com). A Google search revealed that he is most likely from Great Britain. I have written about the funeral industry before, especially with regard to green funerals, and I would like to hear how that concept is faring in Britain.

So, Mr. Showers, please accept my apology for disparaging funeral directors. I have known probably a dozen men (they always seem to be men) in this country who serve in that profession, and the ones with whom I have been acquainted have all been very nice. Of course, being pleasant-to-a-fault is practically a job requirement for those charged with dealing with grieving families. Unfortunately, the funeral directors whom I have known have also all been somewhat predatory. They were charming and wealthy, and they were always quick to show their top of the line boxes. It seems like it is just too easy to pick the pockets of those struggling with the loss of a loved one.

The old joke goes that the undertaker shook my hand, and while he was at it, he checked my pulse. (The American undertaker doesn't necessarily wish anyone ill, but if the worst happens he will be quick to roll out his high-end wares!)

Lawrence, Kansas, one of the hippest small cities in America, just set aside part of one of their city-owned cemeteries for green funerals. I'm thinking that I might just make Lawrence my final address.

I may not cheat the devil, but I certainly intend to cheat the staff at the local funeral home!

"No man is completely worthless - he can always serve as plant food!" - Pa Rock

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Hell That Was Steven Green's Childhood

by Pa Rock
Social Worker

Last Saturday in a post entitled The Worst Person in the World I discussed the awful crimes committed by Private Steven Green and some of his fellow soldiers while they were stationed in Iraq in 2006. Green led his buddies in a late evening raid on an Iraqi home with the sole goal of raping the teenage girl who lived there. He began the evening by murdering her little sister and their parents, then he and one of the others raped their selected victim, and they rounded out the night by killing the pretty fourteen-year-old and burning her body. In that article I made the following educated guess / prediction:

Though it has not been reported in the press, be assured that Steven Green was seriously abused as a child, physically without doubt - and probably sexually as well. Children aren't born bad - ever. They are often taught to behave badly by those who are entrusted with their care. A brutalized child learns to cower in weakness or to lash out against anything that gets in his way. A child who is repeatedly raped learns to fear sex, or use it to survive, or to use it as a weapon. Every child, and each of us, is a product of our life experiences.

Well, sadly I was right.

Green was found guilty of rape and murder last week in Federal Court in Paducah, Kentucky. This week the sentencing phase of his trial began. That is the part where others are allowed to put in their two-cents worth on what should be the fate of the evil Mr. Green. The defense was busy calling witnesses who could conceivably help convince the Court not to sentence their client to death.

Yesterday witnesses were called who testified to the circumstances of Steven Green's youth. He was described as being the middle child in a very dysfunctional family. His mother hadn't wanted him and often disparaged him in public. Father left when Steven was four, and at age 9 he was diagnosed ADD and placed on medications. The social worker who interviewed family members for the Court said that she doubted the mother, a barmaid who had little interest in parenting, administered his medications properly. The parenting was primarily left to the older brother who often beat Steven to the point of injury - one time causing his head to swell "like a pumpkin."

Steven Green was physically abused as a child. He was beaten by an older brother, and who knows what he suffered at the hands of mother's visiting male friends as well as an eventual step-father. But I also predicted that he had been sexually abused. That may not come out, but I hope that it does because the sexual abuse is an important component into the animal that this child eventually became. The reason the sexual abuse may not surface is that Steven, while currently locked in a cage and facing the likelihood of execution, is still a macho creature, and it is very difficult for someone struggling so hard to be a real man to come to terms with the reality of rape - not the rape of some nameless Iraqi girl, but the rape of himself. "Real" men don't let things like that happen to them, regardless of their age, and if it does happen to them the results, without good treatment, can stretch across a lifetime. One result can be the objectification of women, and another can be a penchant for violence and cruelty. Sound familiar?

Steven Green could have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of any man who was a part of his mother's life - a boyfriend or a trusted relative. It is even possible that his abuser was a woman. And then there's the older brother. Incest among brothers happens far more often that is commonly thought, especially when there is a power differential and one is literally in control of the other. A guy who routinely beats his little brother to the point of injury probably wouldn't hesitate to screw him.

There are more facets to Steven Green's sad tale than we have yet been given. Frankenstein's monster wasn't born evil - he was made that way by the hands of man.

I'm not seeking mercy for Steven. The nature of his crimes make it unlikely that he could ever be rehabilitated. But maybe, from afar at least, we can have a small bit of compassion for this child that was shaped into an adult by awful circumstances - because there, but for the grace of God, go each of us.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Invasion of Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Fifty-five thousand out-of-towners are going to converge on Phoenix this week to celebrate and support their interpretation of the Second Amendment. Yup, the good ole boys (and girls) of the National Rifle Association will be convening here to peruse armaments and swap paranoid fantasies with wild abandon. Oh, the tales they will tell and the guns they will fondle!

This is a very big deal locally, supposedly the largest gathering ever at the Phoenix Convention Center. One Chamber of Commerce flack estimated that the visitors will consume more that 10,000 room nights in the Valley of Hell, and the spending effect will pump about $70 million into the local economy. Spend away, suckers, we'll take your money!

A billboard out by the Air Force Base proclaims that the event will have acres and acres of guns and gear for sale. I'm sure thousands of the baddest guns will be loaded into those black SUV's and quickly transported to Nogales, Mexico, and points south. This should be a real boon for the drug dealers - not having to traipse all over the country looking for massive quantities of deadly bargains! Phoenix ought to have one of these gun-shows-on-steroids every year, or even twice a year!

The NRA convention comes at an especially good time for Arizona in a political sense. Our new governor, Jan Brewer, and John McCain will both be there flapping their right wings and squawking like Rush Limbaugh on a full tank of speed.

Last night the state legislature passed an absurd piece of legislation making it illegal for property owners to prohibit their employees from keeping guns in their cars (on company property) while they are at work. A spokeswoman for the NRA said that her organization supports property rights, but the God-given Second Amendment protections trump property rights every time. (It's true! You can't make this crap up!) This probably would not be a great time to be working in one of the local post offices!

Arizona ranks 5th nationally in states with the highest percentages of gun deaths. Nearly 7,000 people died by gunfire in this crazy state between 1999 and 2006. The new armed workplace law should help to propel us to number one in short order! (I'll bet the state's funeral directors had some lobbyists working to pass that jewel!)

Our local National Public Radio affiliate, KJZZ, ran a story on this commercial madness. They interviewed an old couple who are strong NRA supporters. The man carried a card in his wallet that listed "ten ways Barack Obama threatens the Second Amendment." His wife barked about how Obama (she couldn't bring herself to refer to him as "President") was going to be the "ruination" of America. The husband chimed in that it wasn't about his color (which meant that it assuredly was!), but that he and his wife were against Obama's political policies.

So, for the next few nights, downtown Phoenix will be in full Halloween mode. The streets will be pulsing with hillbillies, hookers, soldiers-of-fortune, arms dealers, drug dealers, fascists, racists, and countless other types of miscreants and miscreant wannabes. It ought to be a real hoot. Hell, I may even punch a couple of holes in one of my good sheets and go join the party!

Phoenix - gotta love it - or leave it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Survey Says...

by Pa Rock
Struggling Linguist

There was a survey at Daily Kos today that was more interesting for the responses than it was for the question. This was the question:

AIG's CEO says he wants people to stop critiquing the company's activities, even though we the people own 80 percent of it. Your reaction as a majority stockholder?

There were seven possible responses.

Response #1: WTF?
At the end of the day it had received 1,194 votes or 13% of the vote. WTF is fairly obvious - I get it.

Response #2: STFU!
This answer garnered 4,246 votes. It was the most popular, drawing 46% of the total vote. I get this one also. The ST is "Shut The" and the FU is a no-brainer - with the exclamation mark making it an imperative command.

Response #3: LOL
Laughing Out Loud collected 542 votes or 5% of the total. LOL is somewhat like me - a real no-brainer!

Response #4: FU!
Another colorful imperative command that was good for 1,715 votes or 18% of the total. Being a simple soul, I was sorely tempted to vote for good old FU!

Response #5: MEH!
That collected 121 votes or 1% of the total. Help me out here...WTF is MEH?

Response #6: SYFPH!
This snappy little piece of colorful language collected 1,032 votes - including my own - which was good for 11% of the total. If I'm translating correctly, the PH part of the response stands for "Pie Hole."

Response #7: (.)
308 people agreed with that selection, comprising 3% of the total vote. This one stumped me also. Who can clue me in to what (.) means?

As soon as I can become proficient in communicating in this abbreviated format, I plan to take up texting. A year from now I'll be TMAO - count on it!

An Old Boy with a New Toy

by Pa Rock
Happy Camper

It's been a few days since I have written about the new love of my life, a slight that needs to be addressed. I am speaking, of course, about my iPod, made even more accessible and friendlier by the addition of a docking station. I am listening to it now, as I type, without the encumbrance of headphones. In the last fifteen minutes I have been treated to Michael Buble, Meatloaf, Simon and Garfunkel, Harry James, and now Elton John.

My entire CD collection now resides in the iPod - 257 albums, or 3,040 songs, or 7.3 days of different selections. The little silver wonder is about the size of a pack of cigarettes, but only about one-third as thick - and it is just 20% full!

Listening to the music coming from the docking station is like having my radio tuned to the best station anywhere, with no static or interference, no commercials, and no music that does not rise to my high standards!

The Doobie Brothers have finished serenading me, and now Waylon Jennings is banging out a country tune.

I just learned something else - the iPod is charging while the music plays! How cool is that!

Gotta run. The Beatles are here singing about A Hard Day's Night - and the Moody Blues are on deck!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Bush Legacy

by Pa Rock
Angry Citizen Journalist

I don't want to write about Army Sergeant John M. Russell, the soldier accused of killing five American troops at a mental health clinic at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. There hasn't been much hard news released on the sad event, just a lot of surmising and second guessing. So I really don't want to write about it until I have a clearer understanding of what actually happened out in that mean desert. I don't want to write about it...but I can't help myself!

You see, for the past five years I have worked in military mental health clinics - so this shit is personal - very effing personal!

Every man or woman who does a tour in a combat zone is negatively impacted - every single one, no exceptions! No, they don't all go on a killing rampage, but they suffer physical hurts - and psychological injuries that may not manifest themselves for months after the troop returns home. And their relationships with loved ones suffer also. It's damned hard to keep a marriage together after one partner has spent twelve or more months living in close proximity with a group of strangers - people who tend to become more like family than the actual families as the stress of war takes it toll.

That's after one long tour. Sgt. John M. Russell, 43, of Sherman, TX, was on his third tour in Iraq. Why, one would wonder, would anyone have to serve three tours? (I know some Special Forces troops who have been to the desert five times!) Vietnam required one tour, and a person could volunteer for a second tour if they wanted an opportunity to get out early.

Why three or more tours? Our troops were forced to do multiple tours because chicken hawks like George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Don Rumsfield (who all declined to take part in Vietnam, but were not too proud to send your kids off to the Middle East) wanted in the worst way to avoid a draft. They were spared Vietnam tours due to family privilege, but all were in college during the draft protests of the sixties - and none wanted to see those types of events soaking up valuable newsprint or television air time. That was not the story they wanted told. "Stop Loss," the practice of not allowing soldiers to exit the service when their enlistments were up, was another form of this back door draft.

Sgt. Russell's unit apparently did everything right. According to some news sources, his superiors recognized signs that he was losing it. They took his weapon and had him escorted to the mental health clinic. Once inside, the angry sergeant got into a loud disagreement and was told to leave. Somewhere outside of the clinic he acquired another weapon, reentered the clinic, and opened fire. Where did he get another weapon? Hey, it's Iraq, a country where guns are as ubiquitous as grains of sand.

Two of the casualties were supposedly doctors, one Navy and the other Army. I've known several Army doctors (psychiatrists) who served in Iraq, as well as countless combat soldiers from Ft. Campbell, and I am, quite obviously, hoping that none of my friends or acquaintances were among the victims - but whoever died, they were friends, and relatives, and loved ones of many, many people.

I can't bring this to a close without folding in the case of Steven Green, a former Army private who was convicted last week of masterminding the murder of an Iraqi family and the rape of their young daughter. Green was only on his first tour of Iraq, but he obviously did not have the psychological strength to deal with it - a fact that should have been caught as he was trying to enlist. But we had quotas to meet - and an honest draft to avoid.

And I have to take one swipe at Texas, the home of record of Sgt. John M. Russell and Pvt. Steven Green. Texas is pure testosterone - a place where any seven-year-old boy who isn't a sissy is expected to be learning how to play football, and every ten-year-old male has at least two guns and an NRA membership card. Football and killing things. If there are any better indicators of emerging manhood, I'd like to know what they are. (Somehow George Bush missed the macho boat, though. He went to college and became a cheerleader, and then graduated and hid from the war.)

The killings at Camp Liberty this week marked the fifth incident of the Oil War in which one of our own has gunned down his comrades. The gun advocates will quickly point out that guns don't really kill people (and other assorted horse shit), and the fuzzy headed liberals will argue with equal fervor that those young people are not responsible because the war is so damned loud and wrong and stoked with machismo that no one could hear their cries for help.

So, if they guns can't be held responsible, and the shooters were themselves victims, who then is to blame?

My vote goes to the chicken hawks: Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield! Boys, you broke it, and damn you all - now you own it!

Peace, brothers and sisters. It's the only real answer!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Me and Hank Sr. Do Best Buy

by Pa Rock
Shameless Consumer

Sunday afternoon I was at the gym marching to Pretoria on the evil treadmill when my iPod up and quit. After playing with it most of yesterday, I finally gave up and decided to find a twelve-year-old to help me get it up and running. So today I took the little silver monster to Best Buy where a lovely girl named Jennifer showed me how to reset it.

Easy, peasey! That's one more thing that I now know how to do with an iPod. I am getting to be such a techie!

So after the free lesson, I told Jennifer that I would buy a base from her. It turns out that what I wanted was a docking station - a "base" goes back about forty years to my days of selling CB radios! She took my little iPod, hit the shuffle function, and popped it into a docking station. Poor Jennifer's eyes got as big as silver dollar pancakes when Hank Williams, Sr, started belting out some country hit from the 1950's.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "Don't you like hillbilly music?"

"Oh, yes." She stammered. "I like all kinds of music."

Nice recovery, Jen!

Archbishop Raymond Burke Is Not Worthy of the Name Catholic

by Pa Rock
Hypocrisy Hound

There are two institutions that never let me down on a slow news day. If I feel the need to rant, I have to look no further than to the Republican Party or the Catholic Church. Indeed, as often as not, those two groups verge on being indistinguishable.

The Catholic Church has been in the news a couple of times this week, and, as usual, its leaders have been going out of their way to embarrass themselves.

Last Friday Archbishop Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican's Supreme Court and the former Archbishop of St. Louis, took the University of Notre Dame to task for inviting the President of the United States to speak at its spring commencement. Burke said that the invitation was "scandalous," and he went on to accuse President Obama of pushing an anti-life and anti-family agenda.

This isn't the first time that this clown (Burke) has stuffed both feet in his mouth. In 2004 he stated that he would not give communion to presidential candidate (and Catholic) John Kerry due to Kerry's support of abortion as a public policy. In 2007 he made a similar threat to Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani for the same reason. He also ran his pious mouth after the confirmation of Catholic Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services because she, too, supports the choice of abortion in public policy. He said the Sebelius confirmation was "the source of deepest embarrassment for Catholics."

Archbishop Raymond Burke said that if Catholics are not willing to stand up for the church's teachings, "we are not worthy of the name Catholic."

You know what, Ray? It's a shame you were born in the twentieth century and had to miss the Catholic glory days of the Spanish Inquisition! You're a real sweetheart - spewing all of that venom at exceptional public servants! Where was your outrage over the pedophile priests? Obama isn't one one-hundredth as scandalous as your pervert priests who took sexual advantage of little boys and girls! (And don't think for a minute that the sexual abuse has stopped. Child molesters never change!) Sebelius is not half the embarrassment that you are? You are shameless for not turning your wrath on your robed brothers who were routinely destroying the lives of little children.

But Burke is not the only prominent Catholic to be out of sync with his Church and the world in general.

Today Pope Benedict XVI was in the Holy Land visiting Israel and the Palestinians, and he managed to offend most of his hosts. The Pope went to the site of a holocaust museum in Jerusalem but didn't go inside. The problem: he is promoting Pope Pius XII for sainthood. Pius was the Pope during World War II and a Nazi appeaser who turned a blind eye to the holocaust. If the Pope had ventured into the museum he would have encountered a plaque pointing out the treachery of Pius XII.

Pope Benedict is a sad religious leader who is too damned old to be running a used car lot, much less a worldwide religion . He, too, would have been much happier burning heretics in the Spanish Inquisition. Oh, for the good old days - back when people really got religion - or suffered the consequences!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Arrest Cheney and Haul His Sorry Carcass to The Hague!

by Pa Rock
Public Citizen

Dick Cheney needs to crawl off into a hole and pull the hole in after him. One would assume that after eight years of systematically dismantling the Constitution of the United States and shaming his country as no other Vice-President has since the days of Aaron Burr, The Dick would have the decency to just shut up and go away. But one would be wrong.

This morning as I was getting ready to go paint, I had the CBS news program, Face the Nation, playing for background noise. Cheney was the guest, and he was in full attack mode.

The former Vice-President is very pissed that President Obama released the torture memos and shined a light on the crimes of the previous administration. Cheney is going at it hammer-and-tong trying to rewrite, or at least justify, the history of his glory days. He has very good reason to be in attack mode: he doesn't want to be the subject of civil suits that could put a dent in all of those Halliburton millions that he piled up while he was supposed to be serving America - and he doesn't want to go to prison - even one of the country club prisons frequented by Republicans and the business classes.

I used to agree with President Obama that nothing would be accomplished by dredging up the past and trying to punish the Bush administration officials for their stupid, dangerous, and treasonous acts. But that was then and his is now. If The Dick is insistent on flaunting himself in front of every available camera and microphone and bloviating about how much safer he made America, then I say let Congress, and the Courts, and the Spanish judges, and The Hague have him - and let the cow chips fall where they may!

America doesn't owe Dick Cheney squat, but he owes us for destroying our national pride and our reputation for fairness and honesty. Cheney and his minions managed to decrease our national integrity to a level comparable to that of North Korea in just eight short years. The Dick owes us for the deaths of over four thousand of our finest young people (and the senseless mangling of countless thousands of others) in a futile and needless war - while letting our true enemy, Osama bin Laden, a relative of Bush and Cheney's Saudi oil buddies, get away. He owes us every corrupt dollar that was funneled to Halliburton, Blackwater, and Kellogg, Brown, and Root for those scurrilous no-bid contracts. And lest we forget the thousands of dead and mutilated Iraqi children, their blood is on his hands as well. All of those bills need to be paid.

But, the former Vice President did not really come up with anything new or newsworthy until near the end of the interview when Bob Schieffer asked him about the leadership of the Republican Party, and, in particular, should the party be looking for leadership from a moderate like Colin Powell or a firebrand like Rush Limbaugh. Cheney took the bait and ran with it.

Cheney said, "If I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh." He then went off on a mean little tirade about the renegade Powell supporting Barack Obama over McCain in the November election.

Translation: Colin Powell was a good nigra back when he was steppin' and fetchin' and carrying water for the Bush team - telling their lies to the United Nations with a straight face, but now that he has developed a spine - well...the Republican party doesn't need any nigras that have the ability to stand tall. Rush Limbaugh is a more representative face of the Grand Old Party.

How sad is that?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Worst Person in the World

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Keith Olbermann has a regular segment on Countdown where he identifies the three worst people in the world. Each day three new individuals are selected for this honor based on their crimes, outrages, or dumb comments. Usually Bill O'Reilly of Fox News (whom Keith refers to as "Bill-O the Clown") makes the daily top three, accompanied by a couple of other buffoons like Rush Limbaugh ("Comedian Rush Limbaugh" or, more recently, "Boss Limbaugh"), Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, or any other easy mark.

And while it would be nice if those Neanderthal jugheads were the worst people in the world, clearly they aren't - well, with the possible exception of Cheney.

My nominee for Worst Person in the World is Steven Dale Green. The twenty-two-year-old Green was serving with the United States Army in Iraq when he and three of his buddies decided that breaking into an Iraqi home and raping a young girl would be an entertaining way to spend an evening.

According to at least one of the attackers, the four had spotted the fourteen-year-old girl while working at a checkpoint. They found out that she lived close by. The girl's mother, fearing that he daughter had attracted the interest of some unsavory U.S. soldiers arranged for the daughter to sleep at a neighbor's house. The problem didn't come that night, though, it happened late the next afternoon.

Private Green and his friends had spent that afternoon playing cards, drinking whiskey, and hitting golf balls. At some point after they began to get their drunk on, Green brought up the idea of breaking into the Iraqi home and raping the girl. One of the gang later described Green as being persistent about wanting to rape the young girl. At some point the group gave in to Private Green. They put on dark clothing, painted their faces, and proceeded to the girl's house.

One of the men related that after pushing their way into the home, Green took the parents and the five-year-old little sister into a bedroom and gunfire was heard. When Green emerged alone from the bedroom he said simply, "I just killed them. All are dead." Green and one of the others then got what they had come for. They raped the fifteen-year-old. After they were done, Green reportedly shot her in the head two or three times. They finished off the evening by burning the girl's body.

When the murders were discovered, the Army was quick to blame it on insurgents, even though the locals suspected that it had been committed by American soldiers. The FBI was brought in to assist with the investigation. A few months later two soldiers were abducted from Green's platoon by Iraqi insurgents. When their mutilated bodies were discovered, some felt that they had been murdered in response to some outrage committed by the Americans. One of the men who had been with Green that day was overcome with guilt for his dead comrades, and blurted out the story of the killings of the Iraqi family.

By the time the story of that awful evening in Iraq came to light, Private Steven Green had been honorably discharged from the Army after being diagnosed with a "personality disorder." The three who were still in the Army were tried for murder and rape in a military courts-martial and received sentences ranging from 27 months to 100 years in prison.

Steven Green, by virtue of no longer being in the military, was tried in a Federal Court in Paducah, KY. This past Thursday he was found guilty of murder, rape, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. The penalty phase of his trial will begin on Monday, and it is likely that he will be sentenced to death.

The four young men who committed this awful crime were part of the Army's 101st Airborne Division out of Ft. Campbell, KY. I didn't know Mr. Green or any of his gang, but I was at Ft. Campbell during the time they were there. And while I never met, and probably never even saw, Steven Green, I feel like I do know quite a bit about him.

Though it has not been reported in the press, be assured that Steven Green was seriously abused as a child, physically without doubt - and probably sexually as well. Children aren't born bad - ever. They are often taught to behave badly by those who are entrusted with their care. A brutalized child learns to cower in weakness or to lash out against anything that gets in his way. A child who is repeatedly raped learns to fear sex, or use it to survive, or to use it as a weapon. Every child, and each of us, is a product of our life experiences.

Steven Green grew up flawed - and then he joined the Army. He became part of a large enterprise that valued violence, an organization that saw Iraqis as something less than good Christian humans. His deeply flawed character became immersed in the military and the occupation of a foreign country, and the result was almost inevitable. He was an open can of gasoline sitting in a room full of burning candles.

Society failed Steven Dale Green, and society suffered his rage for that failure. How many more Steven Greens can we bear before society completely breaks down? We need to be watching our children and listening to what they tell us. We need to be respecting our children and celebrating the fact that they are our future. When it comes to children, we truly do reap what we sow.

And we need to be highly selective about who we allow to serve in our military. Psychological tests are available that would have weeded out Steven Green - but some recruiter was hard pressed to make his quota. By the time he was weeded out with a "personality disorder," two innocent children and their parents had lost their lives.

So is it fair for the government to take the life of Steven Dale Green if he is indeed the product of forces beyond his control. Of course it isn't. If he is sentenced to prison for the rest of his life, can he be rehabilitated and be of any use to society? Probably not. Green who grew up in Midland, TX, the same affluent community that produced President George W. Bush, will either be killed for his crimes or warehoused.

Death or warehousing? Two bad choices, but what other choice is there?

Friday, May 8, 2009

How Hot Is It?

by Pa Rock
Weatherman

It's hot in Arizona, so damned hot that the asphalt radiates its scorching heat through shoes, and socks, and flesh. It's so hot that the little birds totally ignore me when I scatter tater tots for them at lunch. Just a few short weeks ago they were coming in so close that I feared for the safety of my lunch - and now they're gone, hiding in some dark hot place waiting on the sun to go down. And when the evening finally does arrive, those tater tots will be burned beyond edibility.

Arizona heat is unrelenting, and it's a bitch. The past three days have been over one hundred degrees each, and it's only early May. There are no clouds to give hope for rain, only the occasional hot breeze made brown with the worthless dust of the desert. Everything hides under rocks, or beneath buildings, or in air-conditioned cubicles until the sun sets and the temperature eases down into the 90's. If there is any living to be done in this hellhole, it will be in the evening, or late at night, in dark places.

An appropriate summer greeting in this part of Arizona is "Go to Hell!" While Hades might not be the ideal vacation spot, it has to be cooler than Phoenix!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another Desert Menace

by Pa Rock
Macho Muchacho

The local news media reported that four people in the Phoenix area were bitten by rattlesnakes last weekend. One was a child who didn't know enough to back away. Another was a fellow who stepped off of his porch and was bitten on the heel by a rattler who was snoozing in the shade and awoke just as he was about to be stepped on. A local hospital reported that one man was bitten on the hand after he tried to pet a rattlesnake. It was discovered, to the surprise of no one, that he had been drinking prior to the incident. (Doctors at that same hospital stated that they had previously encountered people who were bitten as they had tried to kiss a rattlesnake. I wonder what drugs they were taking?)

Local doctors gave the press some pointers about snake bites to share with the public. They said not to use a tourniquet to impede the blood flow, not to cut into the bite and try to suction out the poison, and definitely not to catch the snake and bring it to the hospital. Treating the snake bite does not require the presence of the snake.

Some of my co-workers feel that snakes pose no serious threat to those of us residing within the city limits, but I know better. It's all desert. It's their home, and we are the intruders. This week I saw a roadrunner speed across the intersection of Litchfield and McDowell - a very busy place. (The roadrunner made it safely across the intersection, but the coyote who was chasing him was hit by five cars, a fat kid on a skateboard, and an anvil falling from the sky!) I know for certain that the scorpions don't turn around at the city limits sign, and I'm doubtful that the rattlers do either.

I think that being stung by a scorpion (3 times!) has hardened me as a desert dweller. That hurt more than anything I have ever encountered in life - and I lived to tell the tale. The guy who survives a scorpion probably has little to fear from a rattler. If some of those bad boys slither over my way, I may just wind up with a new pair of boots!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Savage Weiner

by Pa Rock
Amused American

Yesterday the United Kingdom's Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, made news by announcing the names of sixteen individuals who have been banned from entering the United Kingdom. The ban went into effect last October when, supposedly, the selected individuals were informed that they were not welcome to enter the British Isles. Ms. Smith, in making the list public yesterday said, "I think it's important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have here. It's a privilege to come to this country. There are certain behaviors that mean you forfeit that privilege."

Apparently those behaviors include terrorism, racism, gay-bashing, and stupidity.

The majority of those named were political extremists from the Middle East, but a few notable Americans also made the list. Stephen Donald Black, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard was on the list of banned individuals, as was neo-Nazi Erich Gliebe. Topeka's favorite homophobe and all-around idiot, Fred Phelps, can no longer enter the United Kingdom, and neither can his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper. (The Phelps' Klan makes the news on a fairly regular basis with their protests at funerals of American service men and women. Their contention is that our government supports a gay agenda, and hence our service members are somehow helping to promote a gay lifestyle. - You can't get much stupider than that!)

But the highlight of the list of people now banned from entering the United Kingdom was American right-wing radio personality Michael Savage. Savage is known for his bizarre racist rants, and has spent a lot of air time hollering about the need to keep Mexicans out of the United States. Now he is in a major snit because somebody wants to keep him out of their country. I was listening to Savage yesterday being interviewed by NPR over the phone. He became angry over a question that another caller asked, and threatened to hang up. The host calmly replied, "Go ahead, then." And he did!

Michael Savage was born Michael Weiner. Apparently "Weiner" did not fit the image of a seriously rabid shock jock, so he changed it to the much more macho "Savage." I wonder if he ever thought about splitting the difference between Weiner and Savage and going with "Sausage?"

Probably not.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ray's Hell Burger

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

Ray's Hell Burger, a small food establishment at a strip mall in Arlington, VA, hit the big time today. As the lunch crowd was lining up for one of Ray's signature burgers what should come driving up but a motorcade with the President and Vice President of the United States, a contingent of Secret Service agents, and most of the White House press corps. It was a big deal, a very big deal indeed, for a small burger joint trying to eek out a profit in a rotten economy. This morning a struggling business - tonight a landmark!

There was some conflict among the reporters over what the Prez ordered, with some reporters saying that he had a "basic cheeseburger, medium well" and others insisting that that his request was for a "Swiss mushroom burger." There was no confusion over the sauce, however, with all parties hearing "spicy mustard, if you have it." The Veep had a Swiss cheeseburger with jalapeno peppers. After paying for his meal, the President was seen placing a five dollar bill in the tip jar.

The President also treated the reporters to lunch. Most of the members of the fourth estate were quick to say that they would contribute an amount equal to the value of their meal to charity. They apparently did not want it to be said that they could be bought for the price of a burger and fries!

I like the Obamas. A couple of nights ago Barack took Michelle out to a restaurant in Washington for a date night. It's beginning to look like the White House has suddenly been inhabited by real people! I hope that they are able to maintain that free and easy attitude and lifestyle while living in the world's most closely watched fish bowl.

Monday, May 4, 2009

2666

by Pa Rock
Book Reviewer

I am becoming an ardent fan of the late writer, Roberto Bolano. Last fall I completed his Savage Detectives, a long and complicated tale about a group of young poets in Mexico who spend a good portion of the literary work driving around the Sonoran Desert of northern Mexico looking for a poet who disappeared several decades earlier. And while that plot may sound as though it is less than gripping, it was a surprisingly good read.

Bolano died a few years ago just as he was finishing up 2666, a long tale (900 pages) about the very real murders of hundreds of females in Ciudad Juarez (las muertas de Juarez), and how those murders figured in Bolano's fictional tale of a reclusive German author who was being pursued by three fans - professors of German literature. And where does this pursuit take place? Why across the Sonoran Desert, of course.

It is the setting, I suppose, that draws me to Bolano - that and his very unique writing voice. I have been to many of the small Arizona towns that are discussed in this work, and the starkness of the Sonoran confronts me every day. But I am also a fan of Bolano's expansive pallet as he pursues his characters and story line across two continents and eight decades. Reading a work by Roberto Bolano is very much like tackling Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky - definitely not a task for sissies.

When this swine flu thing finally dries up and the drug cartels start behaving like gentlemen, I may make an extended literary tour into northern Mexico and visit Bolano's haunts on that side of the border. It would be a unique experience to let his work guide me through the ragged desert communities that populate his tales.

I look forward to the day when I can make that trip. I look forward to the day when we as a country can open or hearts and our borders to the good people of Mexico.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Dead Horse Lament

by Pa Rock
Wordsmith

My friend Bruce sent out email invitations to his big birthday bash that will be held somewhere on a creek bank in the Ozarks. It will be a drunken affair with booze supplied by the host and supplemented by BYOB. Gifts are discouraged because Bruce figures that with all of the drinking and debauchery they will probably wind up being thrown in the river anyway.

Bruce is a fan (as am I) of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe series of books by the late Douglas Adams. Adams had an interest in bad poetry and at times cited the alien Vogons whom he credited as being the third worst poets in the universe. Bruce included some of his own Vogon poetry in the email invitation, and identified a page on the Internet that is home to a Vogon poetry generator.

The following is my own sample of Vogon poetry which was created by myself and the Vogon Poem Generator.

The Dead Horse Lament

See, see the feisty sky
Marvel at its big burnt persimmon depths.
Tell me, Salvador do you
Wonder why the mangy dog ignores you?
Why its foobly stare
makes you feel cranky.
I can tell you, it is
Worried by your phallotragic facial growth
That looks like
A defeated mushroom.
What's more, it knows
Your horehound potting shed
Smells of scallions.
Everything under the big feisty sky
Asks why, why do you even bother?
You only charm dead horses.

Perhaps now you can understand why Vogon poetry is the third worst in the universe! The generator may be accessed at www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/vogonpoetry/lettergen.shtml

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Weekend Happens

by Pa Rock
Daily Scribe

I took this past Wednesday off from work and used the time to finish moving out of my old apartment. It was time very well spent and I accomplished the mission of finishing the move - all except for the unpacking, of course. By Friday I realized that I was getting further and further behind in my work at the office. Today, despite my very loud vocal vow not to, I spent quite a bit of time at the office trying to get caught up. No more time off for me!

When I finished at the office, close to being caught up, I headed off to the gym for my first visit there since before the never-ending move began. It felt good to be getting back into the gym routine, but I used so many muscles during the move that I didn't seem to have lost any ground during my hiatus from Lifetime Fitness.

The day was capped off with some unpacking and the potting of six large cacti. Anyone who tries to stroll casually across my lot after dark could easily wind up perforated!

Tomorrow, if the desert wind begins to die down, I will paint some wooden tables that function as furniture in my simple lifestyle. The excitement just rolls on and on!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Water-Boarding for Jesus

by Pa Rock
Heretic

A new survey reveals something surprising about the thought processes of the highly self-righteous. (Well, it isn't really a surprise - just more of an illumination of hypocrisy.) Survey says: The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists.

Religion has a long history of justifying war - and bigotry - and hate, and devout Christians in particular go through all kinds of mental contortions as they try to find ways to overlook, ignore, or misinterpret the humanist themes in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Surely the man from Galilee didn't really mean to suggest that there is something wrong in the accumulation of wealth. (After all, is it not true that he with the gold, rules?) And of course we should all love our neighbors, unless, of course, some of our neighbors happen to be Muslim, or gay, or Mexican, or Black, or Jews, or feminists, or Democrats. Jesus wasn't really speaking about being nice to those folks, was he?

If God didn't want us to be vigilant and protect our homes, our way of life, and our racial purity, why did he bless us with guns? Our God, love him and fear him, is every bit as small-minded and hateful as we are - so it makes perfect sense that he supports the torture of lesser human beings who may be out to get us.

Jesus was about love, and so is war. It is our Christian imperative to make others see the benefits of a life in Christ whether they are open to the idea or not. Besides, it's not really torture, it's just enhanced interrogation techniques - just as water-boarding is nothing more than an enhanced baptism.

God bless America. Let us prey.