Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hate Groups Are Bailing on CPAC Hate Fest

by Pa Rock 
Citizen Journalist

The Conservative Political Action Conference, more commonly known as CPAC, will hold its annual Hate-a-Palooza in Washington, DC, during the second week of February, 2011.  This gathering is where conservatives trot out their potential presidential candidates for public display, and the organization's faithful get the election season started with a preference poll that theoretically will give one or two of the candidates a leg-up on their opponents in the long race to the White House.

Conservatives, being basically racist, homophobic, and anti-poor, have some serious problems putting together majorities because greedy, straight, white people are not showing up at the polls in sufficient numbers to deliver the government they feel they deserve.

So this year CPAC decided to do some outreach.  Apparently without the knowledge of all of the parties involved in the umbrella group, CPAC officials invited a gay Republican organization, GOProud, to help plan and participate in the conference.  That inclusionary gambit could have been a big plus for the basically reactionary group, but unfortunately for all concerned, CPAC's uglier elements could not abide the gesture of  tolerance.

When the news of this invitation to GoProud was announced, the American Principles Project, American Values, Capital Research Center, the Center for Military Readiness, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage all backed out of the conference.  This week the Family Research Council and the Concerned Women for America have added their names to the list of organizations that won't rub elbows with gay Republicans.

The conservatives seem to be struggling with the "Big Tent" concept!

As an interesting aside to this tale of snake-pit democracy, it needs to be mentioned that the Family Research Council, Concerned Women of America, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage have all been recently designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because they "continue to demonize homosexuals and other sexual minorities."

It's lucky for CPAC that they didn't invite some Latino gay group - or nobody would have shown up!  One wonders why they didn't hold their convention in Phoenix!

Tough Year for the Screaming Eagles

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The lead story in today's Stars and Stripes concerns the fatalities that have befallen the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.  So far, 104 soldiers from the Screaming Eagles have been killed in Afghanistan this calendar year, or roughly twenty percent of all American fatalities in what has become the deadliest year yet for our troops in that war.

The 101st Airborne Division was formed in 1944 just prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  Today the Division is over 20,000 strong and, when not deployed, it is housed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

I worked with the Family Advocacy Program at Ft. Campbell through most of 2006 and 2007.  At the time I arrived there, the Division was deployed to Iraq.  (During the 2005-06 deployment the Division suffered 105 fatalities.)

One of my many duties while at Ft. Campbell was to help with the debriefings as the planes brought the troops home directly to the base.  On those days and evenings I would wait with the families on the tarmac watching for the first sign of the plane coming in.   A roar would go up from the crowd as the speck that was the aircraft was first sighted.   As the young soldiers came down the steps from the plane toting or dragging their gear, the families screamed and yelled their welcomes, held children aloft to get a view of daddy or mommy as they marched past, and cried and cried with relief.

The families were taken into the hangar to wait a few minutes longer to throw themselves into the arms of their loved ones, and the soldiers formed up outside to listen to a few necessary and basically useless spiels - such as mine on how to access mental health services.  (Like everyone else, I never took more than a minute to give my information, because we knew that all those people could possibly be focused on was getting inside to be with their families.

And then the sliding doors at the end of the hangar were pulled open, the band began to play, the generals and dignitaries on the stage came to attention, and the brave men and women of the 101st marched inside to thundering applause.  After the briefest of remarks by the people on the stage, the troops were dismissed to reunite with their loved ones.  My "job" at that point became just to stay out of the way, and to keep an eye out for those sad few who had nobody waiting to welcome them home.  When that happened I transformed myself into an instant relative.

It was a scene that played out dozens of times as the Division slowly made its way home, and I was fortunate to be involved in five or six of the reunions.  Those were some of the most somber, yet joyous, occasions that I will ever experience in this life.

I am not a fan of Bush, or Cheney, or Rumsfield, or any of the other evil bastards who engineered these oil and glory wars - and I am not a fan of war in general.  But I do respect and admire the young people who stepped forward and put their lives on the line when they felt that our country needed their help.  They displayed courage and honor - something that the wars' architects were sadly lacking.

I grieve for the soldiers from the 101st Division who died during this deployment and those who will come home broken, many beyond repair.   Their sacrifice was as heroic as it was tragic and needless.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Amazon Destroys the True Meaning of Christmas!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist, America's retailer, has sunk to a low that would even shame Wal-Mart.  The book-and-everything-else on-line shopping center has recently placed a patent on software that allows gift-receivers to peek in their presents before they are shipped and decide if they really want what is in box number one, or would they prefer something else altogether.

That's right.  The customer places an order with Amazon for a particular item for a particular person, and his money could end up going toward something totally different.  You order a really sophisticated paint-ball gun for Gramma, and she decides she wants the coffee table edition of the Kama Sutra instead - something the old bag clearly shouldn't have.  So you wind up unknowingly funding her slide into immorality - and - to rub salt in the wound - Amazon sends you a thank you note from Gramma for the paint-ball gun!

That's deception, and it's damned rude!

I put a lot of thought into my Christmas giving, and I don't give a proverbial rat's ass if it's what the recipient wants or not - it's what I want to give that person.  There is a proper way to get rid of unwanted gifts - it's called "re-gifting."  That, boys and girls, is what Jesus would do!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The High Cost of Racism

by  Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was an amusing little tale on the Internet today suggesting that the state of Arizona cost itself as much as $775 million due to the racist rhetoric and despicable actions of its public officials.  The cause of this big money shortfall was that many of the states Hispanic residents, not necessarily "documented," felt too intimidated by the gun-toting baboons and hate-riddled politicians who run the state to report their presence to the census takers.  This fearful brown underclass didn't trust the census officials to keep their information confidential.

Unfortunately for the baboons (Arizona office holders and self-appointed vigilantes), the state receives its allocation of federal dollars based on the census count.  Demographers working on the census have determined that 276,062 fewer people were counted in Arizona than what estimates expected.   The federal government provides aid to the states to the tune of just over $2,700 per person - hence the $775 million figure.  That's a big chunk of change for a state that prides itself on low to no taxes.

And when that loss is added to the money that Joe Arpaio costs Maricopa County each year in wrongful death and jail abuse lawsuits, its a miracle that there are any public services at all in the Scorpion State.

It's a good thing that Bristol Palin is bringing a cash influx as she gets settled into her 5-bedroom ASU party house!  How many undocumented workers will it take to pick up the beer cans, do the yard work, and take care of the baby?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tom Coburn as Chicken Little

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Senator Tom Coburn was out this past weekend telling news sources (if you count Fox as a news source) that the federal government must cut spending significantly and soon if the country is to avoid an economic catastrophe and "apocalyptic pain."  While the Oklahoma Oracle didn't get specific (yet), one can safely predict that what he is talking about are any social programs that have not already been gutted on the altar of national defense and corporate greed.

The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!

Coburn, who currently resides in subsidized housing at Doug Coe's Christian fundamentalist cult house on C Street in Washington, makes nary a mention of the real economic problem - the national deficit - which is a result of spending along with a shortage of income.  Coburn, in fact was adamant that the tax breaks for the wealthiest two percent of Americans not be repealed - a sweetheart deal for the rich that robbed the American treasury of a trillion dollars over the next ten years.  He is also a war hawk, supporting the outrageously expensive and futile Bush Oil and Glory Wars in the Middle East.  When Old Tom talks about balancing the budget, he is not looking to harm Halliburton or Exxon.  His sights are set on government "giveaways" like school lunches, help for the unemployed, and social security.

Tom, if you really want to keep the sky from falling, take some responsibility and use your position of power to formulate some changes that make sense:  vote to stop the ridiculous and never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, push for comprehensive audits of Halliburton, Xe (Blackwater), and all of the other war profiteers, tax the rich (The top individual income tax rates when Eisenhower was President were north of 90% - and the economy was booming!), push for comprehensive health care for all, and establish serious regulation of the banking system.

That is if you really want to fix things.  But if your aim is to stall and dodge while protecting your rich buddies and blaming everything in sight on our President of less than two years, then by all means keep flapping your gums on Fox.  Their lemmings undoubtedly appreciate your righteous wrath toward any government spending to help people in need, even if doing so does have a direct and positive impact on the economy.

But as for the rest of us, Tom, we have met the apocalyptic pain - and he is you!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Poor Arizona Just Can't Catch a Break!

by Pa Rock
Arizona Escapee

Arizona's cadre of oddballs is about to grow by one.   Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, Ben Quayle, Russell Pearce, John McCain, and J.T. Ready will soon have to scrunch over to allow yet another vacuous celebrity to soak up some of their precious time in front of the cameras.  Bristol Palin is headed to Sand Land!

That's right.  According to press reports, Sarah Palin's once promiscuous eldest daughter, Bristol, has bought a five-bedroom home in Maricopa County with some of the money that she was given for stumbling around the stage on Dancing with the Stars.  At this time it is unclear whether she will be a snowbird who just likes to winter in the sun, or actually take up permanent residence on her very own little patch of scorched earth.

The good news, at least for Ben Quayle, is that she is only twenty, and he will be able to serve three terms before she is old enough to challenge him for his seat in Congress.   But, she will be old enough to challenge Joe Arpaio (who will be eighty) when he runs for re-election as Sheriff of Maricopa County in two years.  Wouldn't that be fun!

Welcome to Arizona, Bristol.  You will fit right in!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Father's Legacy

by Pa Rock
Proud Son

My father, Garland Eugene Macy, died one year ago in the wee hours of Christmas morning.  He lived alone in a huge house and managed to take care of himself right up until the end - when he called his own ambulance.  He was eighty-five.

My dad was part of what was truly "the greatest generation."  He grew up in poverty out in the woods of Newton County, Missouri, during the Great Depression.   He earned his spending money trapping wild rabbits and selling them to the neighbors for their stew pots, and he and his parents would have to catch rides to town with neighbors or relatives because the family never owned a car.  The rural school that my dad and his friends attended, Westview, only went through grade ten, so my dad moved in with relatives in Neosho after grade ten where he got a full-time job and managed to complete high school.  He graduated in May of 1942 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis shortly after that.

My dad's older brother, Wayne, and most of their male cousins served in World War II.  Dad was the only one of that group to rise to the rank of sergeant, and his cousins called him "Sarge" well into all of their declining years.  Dad's military specialty was fixing the sights on machine guns of fighter aircraft.

The Great Depression and World War II marked an entire generation in a way that history seldom does.  My dad and his contemporaries started out in life dirt poor and always worried that no matter how good things happened to be at the time, those bad days could come back.  They worked hard and saved with a vengeance.  I can literally remember my mother washing tin foil so she could use it again, and my dad, to his last days, always lectured me about the need to be doing my own home and car maintenance.  He felt that it was foolish to pay someone else for work that any able-bodied person could do on his own.

My dad was a hard worker and a saver, often, I felt, to the detriment of his family.  He did take our family on three vacations as Gail and I were growing up, and on two of those we basically drove day and night to get to California where we bunked with relatives.  He and my mother owned businesses that often precluded things we take for granted today - like days off.  I remember him best at work, because that is where he usually was.

I was able to become closest to my dad during the last five years of his life.  I left Noel in January of 2005 when I went back to work for the military.  From that time until the very day he died, I telephoned him each evening to see how he was doing.  We had some wonderful conversations that covered hundreds of topics, and we both got to where we really looked forward to our daily telephone visits.  More that a couple of people have related to me how he rushed them off of the phone because it was time for "Rock's call."  It took me several months after his passing to get over the feeling that I needed to be making my daily call.

My dad had money stashed in several types of investments when he passed away last Christmas, and although the temptation to take my half and have some fun with it was nearly overwhelming - since he seldom did - I have found that in some ways I have been marked with his conservative instincts, and the inheritance has proven to be more burdensome than beneficial.   I have never lived through a Great Depression, but I think we came close to an economic catastrophe at the end of our last President's term - and we are not out of the woods yet.  So I spend my own money and shepherd his, knowing that one day my kids and I may need his savings to get through awful times like those my dad knew as a child.  History really does tend to repeat itself.

If the economic apocalypse hasn't happened by the time I call my own ambulance, my children will inherit the burden of handling their grandfather's legacy and they can decide what to do with it.   I know that they will be up to the task because they come from a long line of smart people!  In fact, that know-how is also a part of their grandfather's legacy!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays From Okinawa!

by Pa Rock
Tramp of the World

(The following is the holiday message that I sent out to friends and family earlier today.  That effort consumed all of my originality quotient for the day and will have to suffice for this space as well!  Happy holidays!)

Happy holidays to all of my friends back in the snow!   It is Christmas Eve afternoon on Okinawa, the temperature is 80 degrees under mostly clear skies, and I have been running up and down the island is shorts and a tee-shirt getting some last-minute things done before all of the stores close this evening.

For you Jackass fans, Wee Man is on the island.  I haven't run into him yet, which is a wonder because we have been at some of the same places this morning.  He was giving an hilarious interview on the local radio station when I rolled out of bed this morning.  Jackass 3-D is premiering at the local military theatres today, and he is here to pump up interest in the film.   I will probably catch it in a a few days because I am a fan.  I thought the first movie was hysterical, but the second didn't live up to the high standards set by the first!

Trace Atkins is also someplace on Okinawa performing for the USO.  

There was a special announcement on the radio this morning begging everyone who uses the Kadena post office to come in and pick up their incoming Christmas presents because the facility had literally run out of room to pile packages.  There probably fifteen people were working at the package window when I got there - including the base Commanding General, Command Sergeant Major, and a few bird colonels!  One thing I can say for Brigadier General Wilsbach, he had the place running smoother than I have ever seen it function before.  His elves knew how to hop-to!

Friends and I went to a wonderful jazz concert last night by a Japanese pianist named Hiromi Uehara.  She was absolutely amazing and kept the audience of three or four thousand (at $60 a ticket!) enthralled for nearly three hours!   Ms. Uehara pounded out some serious jazz, interspersed with bits of musical humor and whimsy.  She is quite a showman - sort of a mix of Jerry Lee Lewis and Marian McPartland!

Tomorrow, Christmas Day, the same friends and I are meeting at one of their houses to share a potluck meal and play some games.  I am going to bring two of my world famous store-bought pies and a carton of ice cream!

Two of those same friends and I spent Thanksgiving in Korea - Seoul and Busan.  We arrived the very day that North Korea shelled the island in South Korea, which resulted in our planned side trip to the DMZ being cancelled.  But other than that one little hiccup, the trip was fun and a major success!  I am hoping to also get to Vietnam while living in the Far East.

My kids all appear to be doing fine.  Tim and Erin are coming to Okinawa and then on to Tokyo in April, and I hope that the rest will make it out here sometime during the summer. Gail and all of her kids are heading out on a cruise December 26th.  The Smith kids lost their father last year on New Year's Eve in a tragic accident that almost took Reed from us. (Gail and I lost our father last year on Christmas day.)   May this holiday season be much better for all of us!

All is well here.  No, it doesn't feel like the Christmas season, but I know that it is, and I wish you the very best for the upcoming New Year. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Military's Creature

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Steven Dale Green is one of the most compelling characters to emerge from the war in Iraq.  The army private was serving with the 101st Airborne Division in a particularly bloody part of Iraq that was known as the “triangle of death” in March of 2006 when he led some of his fellow soldiers in the savage rape of a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl and the bloody murder of that girl, her parents, and little sister.  Green was subsequently discharged from the Army with a “personality disorder.”  When the crimes came to light later and his part in them was revealed, the government reclaimed its former private and brought him to trial as a civilian in Paducah, Kentucky, for the crimes that had committed in Iraq.

Green was arrested and convicted under the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a relatively new law that allows the government to charge civilians in American courts with crimes that were committed overseas.  Green was the first person tried and convicted under this law, and he has an appeal going forward challenging the constitutionality of that law.

But, legal maneuverings aside, it is Steven Dale Green’s disordered personality that begs examination.   He is currently incarcerated in a federal penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, from where he has been corresponding with the Associate Press for over a year.  Recently Green agreed to a telephone interview with AP.   His comments during that interview give a chilling insight into the dark places of a mind that was shaped by the horrors of war.

Ironically, Steven Dale Green grew up in Midland, Texas, the same community that foisted George W. Bush on the world.   However, the similarities between the two men end with their shared hometown.  George Bush, a child of privilege, was able to finesse his way out of going to Vietnam through family connections, and went on enjoy a prolonged adolescence dependent on the largess of his parents for a couple of more decades.  Green, a poor kid who dropped out of high school, managed to get a correspondence GED so that he could join the Army, grab a gun, and get the hell out of Midland.

Green takes full responsibility for the physical aspects of his horrific acts, but he places his state of mind squarely at the feet of the military.  His argument is basically that he was just a dumb kid from Texas who was turned into a monster by the monstrousness of war.   Unfortunately for our national psyche, it is a compelling argument.

A major component of war is the successful dehumanizing of the enemy.  Young kids who grew up at least within the shadows of Christianity, have an intrinsic, moralistic notion that killing is wrong.  The  military tries to overcome that “weakness” with flag-waving and patriotic fervor, but the act of killing another human being can still be (and should be) profoundly disturbing.  To combat that, it is necessary to create and constantly reinforce a mindset that the enemy is not human, but rather they are so sub-human that they require killing.  Unfortunately, this portrayal spills over into the civilian population as well – particularly in a war zone in which civilians are often an integral part of combat.

Steven Dale Green had gone through all of the Army conditioning, intentional and otherwise, and was filled with hatred for the Iraqis.   That hatred grew more intense with the killing of two of his sergeants by a formerly friendly Iraqi at a traffic checkpoint.  The former private said that those deaths “messed me up real bad.”  He added, “There’s not a word that would describe how much I hated these people.  I wasn’t thinking these people were humans.”

The army provided Green with minimal mental health care over the next few months, but the limited counseling and mood-altering drugs that he did receive were not enough to counteract the animal rage that had consumed this simple kid from Midland, Texas.  In March of 2006 Green had spotted pretty Abeer Qassim Al-Janabi at a checkpoint and was able to figure out where she lived.  A few days later he rounded up some of his buddies to join him for a gang rape of the fourteen-year-old girl.  Once at the girl’s house the rape and savagery consumed the soldiers, and when the carnage ended all four family members were dead and their bodies burned.   It had been a wild and wicked boys’ night out, and tomorrow they would sober up and go back to work.

Steven Dale Green does feel some remorse for his actions – now that he is away from Iraq and has some clear perspective on what he and his friends actually did.  But thinking back to that time, he sees himself as someone totally different, a true victim of war.  “I was crazy,” he told the Associated Press.  “I was just all the way out there.”  Green admits that he had “an altered state of mind.”  He added, “I wasn’t thinking about more than 10 minutes into the future at any given time.  I didn’t care.”

The army created its monster, and when he grew beyond their control they stamped him with the label “personality disordered” and sent him home.  Unfortunately for Mr. Green and the Al-Janabi family, the army waited too long to rid themselves of their creature.

Today Steven Dale Green sleeps on a prison bunk serving five life sentences while George W. Bush lies curled up in the lap of luxury like a gilded slug – and life goes on.  We may someday claim a “victory” for our national efforts in Iraq, though that is doubtful. We will always, however, bear the stain of the actions of Private Green and his buddies who were themselves little more than victims of the cruel affront on civilization perpetrated Bush and Cheney and Rumsfield.  Perhaps if those three had manned-up and gone to Vietnam, the War in Iraq would never have happened and Steven Dale Green would have gone on to become a productive member of society. 

And who knows what pretty Abeer and her little sister could have made of their lives?

GOP Wants to Control the Other Guys' Budgets

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Back in the dark ages when I was a school administrator, myself and other principals would joke about how much the public desired "discipline" in the schools.  The truth was that most parents wanted you to keep everyone else's children in line, but went off like rockets when the disciplinary measures were directed toward their own misbehaving spawn.

Hypocrisy, of course, isn't limited to schools, and sadly, it seems to be particularly pervasive in politics.  A good case in point is the opportunistic politicians who are quick to point out the other guy's faults and slow to acknowledge their own shortcomings.  Fortunately, with the advent of the internet, there are many watchdogs keeping an eye on everybody - and sanctimony no longer has to go unchecked.

Today I was leafing through the Stars and Stripes and came across a couple of good examples.  Eric Cantor, the incoming House Majority Leader who bears an eerie resemblance to a weasel with glasses, has been foaming at the mouth about government "bureaucrats" making too much money.  Apparently members of his personal staff are not bureaucrats, because Mr. Cantor's office payroll went up over eighty percent between2001 when he came to Congress and 2009 when he moved into the Minority Leader position and got a bigger staff...over eighty percent!  And when Cantor did take over the Minority Leader's office in 2009, personnel expenses there went up by over 16 percent.  Hey, big spender!

Now Cantor and other Republican leaders are pledging to cut their budgets by five percent when they take the reins of power next month.  One doesn't need to be a math whiz to figure out that even if they do cut their budgets, which they won't, their staffs have still done very nicely compared to workers in other sectors of the economy.

Michele Bachmann, a certifiable looney-toon Congressperson from the dumbest district in Minnesota, makes a nice personal income off of government farm subsidies, and she is quick to take care of her staff as well.  She has been a loud-mouthed advocate of "freezing" federal salaries, but her office payroll has increased by over sixteen percent since she arrived in Congress in 2007.

Jason Chaffetz, a Republican serving in Congress from Utah, is going to chair the House subcommittee that oversees federal government workers.  He likes to blather on about how the government must "do more with less."  But Mr Cranky Pants isn't so mean-spirited when it comes to his personal staff.  Congressman Chaffetz has given his employees an average raise of about nine percent this year.

The lesson is this:  if you have aspirations to work for the federal government, try to land a staff job with a member of Congress.  They take care of their people - and screw the rest!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Health Benefits of Having a Pet

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I ran across an article on the internet yesterday that trumpeted the health benefits of owning a pet - or, as so often was my personal experience, being owned by a pet.  The author stated that having pets around can help with allergies, lower cholesterol, improve heart functioning, and keep their owners fit.  Some of that is easy to understand.  Walking the dog for an hour or two a day has got to be better for a person's health than sitting mindlessly in front of the television or the computer.  That regular exercise for the humans would necessarily help to keep them fit, probably be good for the hearts of average people, and certainly help with lowering cholesterol in most cases.  All of that taken together would have the added benefit of lowering healthcare costs because, if you need to go to the doctor less often, you pay less.

But the author went further and implied that there were mental health benefits to pet ownership as well.   She noted that pets tend to relax their owners and make them smile more.  Their love is unconditional.

As someone who works in the mental health field, I strongly suspect that is where pets have the greatest impact on the well-being of their owners.  It has been known for years that the elderly, especially those who live alone, become more animated and focused when they have a pet to care for.  That same principle works for the young and lonely as well.   When I am dealing with someone who is lonely and depressed, we always work the conversation around to the possibility of getting a pet.

We name our pets, talk to them, worry about them, scold and reward them, and generally personify them to the point that we believe our communication with them is reciprocated.  Smart pets lets us know when they are hungry, need to go outside, or want play.  They warn us when there is trouble,  and cozy up to us when we need some comfort.

I guess I'm missing Emme Ears, Paladin and Paloma, and even Scroungy Bastard.  Pets  are a lot of work and responsibility, but they pay their owners back in love a hundred-fold...and they keep you healthy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Unexpected Call

by  Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

People reach a certain age when late night phone calls are no longer from drunk friends who want you to come out and join the party.  When my telephone rang at 3:15 a.m.  last night, I raced for the clanging monster knowing with absolute certainty that someone was dead.  (I did briefly consider the possibility that war had erupted in the Koreas and all civilians were being called in to the "safety" of the base in preparation for flights home, but that was too far-fetched to distract me for than a couple of milliseconds.)

"Hello," I answered tentatively.

There was no response - which was a response in itself.  This was going to involve multiple deaths!

I braced myself and tried again.  "Hello.  Is anybody there?"

"," stammered a youngish-sounding woman. "Is this the Toledo Zoo?"

I flopped down in the chair by the phone, relief rushing over me, and explained to the lady that she had somehow managed to dial Okinawa.

"Oh, well thank you anyway."

I couldn't get back to sleep because all of my synapses were firing like Gatling guns - so I began pondering those timeless telephone gags that were so hysterical fifty years ago.  Gems like, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?  You do?  Well, let him out!"  That probably wouldn't translate too well today when most responsible people no longer use tobacco products.  (Do they still make Prince Albert Pipe Tobacco - and is still packaged in a can?)  The other knee-slapper, of course was "Is your refrigerator running?  It is?  Well, you'd better catch it!"

Those gags were so funny when I was eight-years-old!  How did my parents manage to smile every time I delivered one of those timeless classics?  Well, the telephone jokes must have still been just a little bit funny, because I was smiling as I drifted back to sleep.

And I have added the Toledo Zoo to my bucket list!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Wounded Platoon

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Another Sunday afternoon, another video about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This week I watched The Wounded Platoon, a PBS Frontline documentary about a group of soldiers from Ft. Carson, Colorado, and all of the tragedy that befell them after each of the platoon's two long tours in Iraq.  This film focused on the mental health aspects of the deployments, with strong emphasis on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), two very real and very devastating results of combat in the current war theatres.

Ft. Carson is located near Colorado Springs, Colorado, a community long known for its piousness and sanctimony.  Colorado Springs is the home to several Christian fundamentalist organizations such at Focus on the Family and the United States Air Force Academy.  It was also the home of the mega-church founded by disgraced minister Ted Haggard.

But, there is an even seamier side to Colorado Springs as became readily apparent in this film.  Being near a large military installation, especially one like Ft. Carson that plays an active role in the wars, Colorado Springs has a fair amount of sleazy bars and gun shops.  Soldiers returning from the hell that is Iraq were drawn to both - a combination that proved to be as deadly and dangerous as the environment that they had left behind in Iraq.  

Soldiers interviewed in this documentary talked openly about the appeal of alcohol and drugs as they returned home, substances which helped to dull the emotional baggage that they had yet to unpack and address.  One soldier in talking about the guns, said that he feared being injured or killed by some American gangster (gang member) after successfully surviving Iraq.  He bought a gun so that he would be able to fight back.  Another said that the gun shops were literally emptied out by returning soldiers.

This film was an indictment of the military's seemingly callous disregard of the mental health problems of veterans.  Young men who were identified with mental problems, often after running afoul of the authorities, weren't provided with the services they needed by the military, and instead were apt to be booted out of the service with "less-than-honorable" discharges so that they were not even eligible to receive medical benefits from the Veteran's Administration after being discharged from the service.

The Wounded Platoon talked about the importance of numbers when it came to running the war.  Some young people were given significant waivers by the military to allow them to join - to keep the numbers up.  One young man, for instance, had a juvenile record because he had shot and killed a friend when he was twelve.  Another was spirited off to combat even though he was facing domestic violence criminal charges for pulling a gun on his wife.  One person in the film noted that some of the criminals ushered into the military were actually good fighters.  The problem was, of course, that they were being lauded for their social deficits instead of being treated for them, and those deficits were still a part of those soldiers when they returned the civilian world, deficits that had often been enhanced by the experiences of battle.

The mental health services that these young people received in Iraq and back in Colorado was never sufficient, nor was treatment adequately monitored or followed-up.  One treatment that became popular in Iraq was the use of psychotropic medications, something that had not been previously employed in war time due to availability issues.  Commanders became impressed with this mode of treatment when they learned that it kept that PTSD symptoms in check to the point that their soldiers could continue to fight.  Unfortunately, medications like anti-depressants have side effects, not all of which are beneficial to human beings who are in combat situations.  There were also problems in getting refills to soldiers on a timely basis, causing the usage to become sporadic - a less-than-desirable way to take anti-depressants, to put it mildly.

I didn't jot down the numbers, but several murders and incidents manslaughter were committed by soldiers from Ft. Carson after returning from the war zone, and a couple of dozen eventually committed suicide.

One of the saddest characters in this very sad tale was Army Specialist Jose Barco.  Barco, a young hero who was badly burned in an IED explosion, managed to extricate himself from under his burning vehicle and pull some of his platoon buddies free from the wreckage as well.  He came back to Colorado with many of the same demons that accompanied his friends, and, like them, he was given inadequate treatment with sketchy follow-up.  Barco had been honorably discharged from the Army with a seventy percent disability (a medical retirement), but that still did not keep his demons in check.

Jose Barco was at a party one night, drinking and armed, when he became angry and fired his .357 Magnum pistol into the ceiling.  After being asked to leave, he drove around a few minutes and then came back by the house where he unloaded his pistol into the front wall of the structure.  His drive-by shooting resulted in a couple of injuries, including a pregnant woman who was wounded in the leg.   A very angry and self-righteous judge lectured Barco at the sentencing phase of his trial and told him he was a disgrace to his uniform.  The judge then sentenced the damaged soldier to fifty-two years in prison.

(Please "google" Jose Barco and read his story.  This young man needs all of the support he can muster.)

The Wounded Platoon is a vivid recounting of a nightmare.  Unfortunately, it is a nightmare that is rapidly spreading across the entire country.  No communities in America are immune from the lingering horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan, nor should they be.  We broke these young people, and now we own them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Twas the Whine Before Christmas

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Senator Harry Reid is threatening to keep the United States Senate in session well into what would otherwise be their blatantly undeserved and generous holiday break.  But Republicans are trying to run-out the clock on the Lame Duck Congress, and they are pitching one of their famous (and constant) fits.  It has gotten so ugly that Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) have attacked Reid for messing with the members' opportunity to observe Christmas, the implication being that the senator from Nevada is not a very good Christian if he has the temerity to screw around with Christmas.

Actually attacking Reid was a two-fer for these senatorial boneheads, because not only is Reid a despised Democrat, he is also a Mormon, a religion which some of the more conservative elements in the Republican Party see as more cult than Christian.

This week Joe Scarborough, of all people, went on the offensive.  Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman and a commentator on MSNBC, labelled Kyl and DeMint as "un-Christlike" because they had dared to judge Reid's level of faith.  Fox News rose to the bait and immediately accused Mr. Scarborough of also being judgmental - of Kyl and DeMint.

So will our esteemed Senators, and even Kyl and DeMint, get to spend an extended Christmas break at home with their families, or will they have to work right up until the holiday itself like most Americans?  Are any of the senators who are raising such a stink about this matter going on record for giving our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan a few days off for their Joyous Noel as well?  Surely they are just as deserving of some peace, happiness, and turkey this holiday season as the whiny, fat, white guys who sent them into harm's way!

Enjoy your days off and your blessings, Senators.  Every day you are not in Washington is a blessing to the rest of us!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sanctimonious Army Doctor to Serve Jail Time

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist 

Justice has prevailed, albeit weakly, and LTC Terrence Lakin, a birther kook who refused a lawful order to serve in Afghanistan, will be serving in lock-up instead.  The pious officer and medical doctor will also be drummed out of the Army just three years shy of his cushy retirement.  The discharge under those circumstances should be, and hopefully will be, "dishonorable."

Lakin will be incarcerated for six months.  If an enlisted man or woman had pulled that same stunt, the sentence would have been six years - easily.  But at least the example has been set and even field grade officers are now painfully aware that they must follow the orders which flow from directives of the Commander in Chief - even if that person happens to be black.

Insubordination has consequences!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Birther Army Doctor Convicted

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

LTC Terrence Lakin, an Army doctor from Greeley, Colorado, was convicted in a military trial today of refusing to follow a lawful order.  The officer went on YouTube earlier in the year and announced that he did not believe Barack Obama was the legitimate President, and he (Lakin) was therefore refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Why?  Well, Lakin is a birther.   He holds the view that President Obama hasn't proven his place of birth sufficiently well enough to satisfy Lakin and the rest of the kooks who suddenly became Constitutional scholars when a black man moved his belongings into the living quarters of the White House.

Lakin was righteously outraged that this usurper with African roots would dare to run a war and order him anywhere.  He threw down the gauntlet and refused to serve, undoubtedly hoping that he would lead some mass uprising of like-minded officers that would impact the course of history.  But when the dust settled, Lakin was standing by himself.

Another officer, a man who had not had all of the pre-deployment training afforded to LTC Lakin, had to be called in to take his place at the last minute.  That officer, Major Dobson, testified that two days after arriving in Afghanistan their unit suffered a mass casualty attack with sixteen wounded.   Major Dobson said that he was not as well prepared to handle that situation as he would have been if he had the training that Lakin had received.

Terrence Lakin had his moment of glory.  He was proud and indignant, and by golly he  told the world that he didn't have to follow orders that originated from a man whom he regarded as unqualified to be President - regardless of what his Hawaiian birth certificate said or a majority of American voters wanted.

So today the seventeen-year Army veteran was convicted.  He faces a possible three years in prison and being dismissed from the service without his benefits.

And today LTC Lakin is whining.  He is sorry.  He told the court that he doesn't want it to end this way and he wants to continue to serve.  He even admits that he was wrong for trying to push the birther question within the Army.  Whine, whine, whine!

My fear is that Barack Obama,  President Barack Obama, will get personally involved and ask for clemency for this criminal or grant him a pardon.  I hope that doesn't happen.  LTC Lakin disrespected the Commander in Chief, he disrespected the troops for whom he had been trained to provide medical care, and he disrespected the American people.  He isn't worthy to shine Barack Obama's shoes, and he deserves some time behind bars followed by a dishonorable discharge from the military.

And hopefully, the next time he feels compelled to go on YouTube it will be to give us a tour of his cell at Leavenworth!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Halliburton Bribes Again!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

America's cuddly war criminal, Dickhead Cheney, was charged with bribery earlier in the week by a government agency in Nigeria, effectively adding one more country to the list of places that he may no longer visit.  The impropriety allegedly occurred in Cheney's pre-vice-presidential days when he was the overpaid head of Halliburton, and involved Cheney and fifteen other Halliburton executives slathering a total of six billion dollars on Nigerian politicians in exchange for favors and access to Nigeria's rich oil fields.

But not to worry, Halliburton is out with its checkbook working to get The Dick out of trouble.  It was reported in the national press today that the company has agreed to pay $250,000,000 to the Nigerian government in lieu of prosecution.  Paying cash to get out of a mess - sounds like Halliburton is still practicing bribery.  Of course, the company has the cash to spend considering all of the ill-gotten billions that it was able to bank while war-profiteering in the conflicts that Cheney helped to engineer.

Here's hoping George and Dick go out drinking some night and wake up the next morning in The Netherlands.  Even Halliburton probably doesn't have the resources to bribe the judges of the International Court of Justice at The Hague!  And it couldn't happen to a sweeter pair!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Limbaugh Disparages Women - Yet, Again!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Rushbag was waxing idiotic on the radio tonight during the drive home, as he does five evenings a week, but tonight I just couldn't summon the strength to reach over and turn him off.  My penance, of course, for this laziness was having to listen to the drug-addled idiot for the ten minutes or so that it took me to get home.

Rush is so phenomenally stupid that it becomes almost pointless to rage back at his nonsense.

Tonight he was ripping the President for sharing the podium at a news conference last week with Bill Clinton - a sure sign, Rush said sadly, that this has become a "shared" presidency.  Then he went on to point out that if Obama was angling for Clinton family support for his presidency, he ought to have brought Hillary to the podium.  Because the President chose to use Bill instead of Hillary to promote his tax deal with Republicans, Rush conjectured that women should really be taking offense.  His exact words were, "The nags ought to be up in arms over this!"

Well, Rushbag, you are partially right.  The women ought to be up in arms over something - like your stupid trash mouth, for instance.

Once a pig, always a pig!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday's Poetry: "1913 Massacre"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

There was a time in the history of America when businesses   operated with little or no government oversight.  John       Boehner and the teabaggers in Congress view that era with    nostalgia and long to return America to the "glory days" of  unfettered capitalism.  The following lyrics by Woody Guthrieserve as a counterbalance to that conservative nonsense.
1913 Massacre
by Woody Guthrie
Take a trip with me in nineteen thirteen
To Calumet, Michigan in the copper country
I'll take you to a place called Italian Hall
And the miners are having their big Christmas ball
I'll take you in a door and up a high stairs
Singing and dancing is heard ev'rywhere
I'll let you shake hands with the people you see
And watch the kids dance 'round the big Christmas tree.
There's talking and laughing and songs in the air
And the spirit of Christmas is there ev'rywhere
Before you know it you're friends with us all
And you're dancing around and around in the hall
You ask about work and you ask about pay
They'll tell you they make less than a dollar a day
Working their copper claims, risking their lives
So it's fun to spend Christmas with children and wives.
A little girl sits down by the Christmas tree lights
To play the piano so you gotta keep quiet
To hear all this fun; you would not realize
That the copper boss thug men are milling outside
The copper boss thugs stuck their heads in the door
One of them yelled and he screamed, "There's a fire"
A lady she hollered, "There's no such a thing;
Keep on with your party, there's no such a thing."
A few people rushed and there's only a few
"It's just the thugs and the scabs fooling you."
A man grabbed his daughter and he carried her down
But the thugs held the door and he could not get out.
And then others followed, about a hundred or more
But most everybody remained on the floor
The gun thugs, they laughed at their murderous joke
And the children were smothered on the stairs by the door.
Such a terrible sight I never did see
We carried our children back up to their tree
The scabs outside still laughed at their spree
And the children that died there was seventy-three
The piano played a slow funeral tune,
And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon
The parents, they cried and the men, they moaned,
"See what your greed for money has done?"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Restrepo and the Futility of Afghanistan

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I have just spent an afternoon watching a documentary film by National Geographic entitled Restrepo.  To be exact, I have dedicated the afternoon to watching this film twice, wanting to make certain that I accurately understood all that the production company from National Geographic was trying to tell me.

Restrepo documents the 15-month deployment of an Army unit into an Afghanistan hellhole called the Korengal Valley.  Shortly after arriving in the Korengal in the summer of 2007, the unit medic, "Doc" Restrepo, was killed by enemy fire.  The unit went on to set up an outpost in the Korengal which they named in honor of their dead friend.  It was an outpost from which they could "take it to the enemy," though ultimately they appeared to function as little more than sitting ducks in a one of the war zone's hottest spots.

When our military started talking about winning the hearts and minds of the enemy (the Petraeus model), a saying came down from some of the dubious old-timers, to wit:  "Get them by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow!"  It was basically that conflict in military philosophy that was at the core of this film.

The brave young men who manned Outpost Restrepo and carried out patrols from that base were charged with rooting out and destroying the enemy.   A second component of the plan, the more long-term portion, was to convince the locals that cooperation with the American military was in their best interest.   The valley elders were marched into Restrepo for weekly meetings, called Shura,  where the American Captain tried to win their support.  He told them at one point that there would be a paved road through the Korengal Valley in a few years, and that road would give them, the elders, money and power.  As the cameras scanned the bearded old men who were sitting on the ground listening to the spiel, the expressions on their faces showed that the Captain's words were having no impact.

The invaders come and go, as they have for centuries in Afghanistan.  This too shall pass - just ask the Russians.

At one point some of the elders came to the outpost voluntarily.  Their arrival excited the military leaders because they thought that the elders might have finally decided to start playing ball with them - providing information on the Taliban.  But the trip to the outpost by the old men was to protest the death of one of their cows at the hands of the Americans.  The American negotiator told them that the cow had become entangled in the wire barriers surrounding the outpost and it had to be killed due to its injuries.  The cow's owner wanted to be compensated, in cash, but was told that couldn't happen.  The Americans volunteered to compensate in groceries and supplies  The locals left unsatisfied,  one more sign that the "hearts and minds" approach wasn't working.

The invaders come and they go, but the old man has lost his cow permanently.  That was his reality of the war.

The Captain stated toward the end of the deployment that the thing he was proudest of was the creation of Outpost Restrepo itself.  "Building Restrepo," he noted, "was the single most important event for the Korengal."   A note at the end of the film stated that the Korengal Valley was abandoned by our military in April of 2010, three short years after this platoon took its first casualties there.  Over fifty Americans lost their lives in the Korengal.

They come and they go.  So much for the paved road.

This is a hard film to watch.  It has lots of up-close combat, and glimpses of these brave young men (or "boys," as the Captain referred to them) coping, crying, and coming apart.  One young man talked about being on "four or five types of sleeping pills" so that he could get some respite from his horrible dreams that were inspired by what he has gone through and seen in the Korengal Valley.   There were also scenes of the troops playing and joking around as they tried to maintain an emotional footing in a mental landscape that was as rough and treacherous as the physical one in which they had to survive.

One of the troops who came across as the most memorable was a young Army specialist who talked about growing up in a household where he could not eat sugar until he was thirteen, and he was never allowed to play with toy guns.  He describes his mother as being a "fucking hippie."  His entry into the service and into the war itself seemed to be some sort of generational payback for his anger at the way he was raised.

War is a strange business.  It is brutal, bloody, and, all too often, futile.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Views From a Gasbag and a Statesman

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Two big talkers took center stage over the past day in our nation's capital.  Both were discussing the tax and unemployment benefits deal that President Obama made with the Republicans in Congress -  a mangy group who believe they were elected to do God's work - the God of rich, white people.

Bill Clinton, a particularly irksome millionaire, joined Obama at a press briefing to sing the deal's praises, saying that it was absolutely the best bargain that the President could strike under current political circumstances.  I guess we will have to take Bubba's word on that, because there was apparently no effort expended to get a better one.  This "deal" will certainly not hurt the financial situation of Bill and Hillary.  What a shameless huckster!

The other prominent talker to step out onto center stage today was Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  The 69-year-old independent took to the floor of the Senate and ridiculed the President's capitulation for eight hours and thirty-seven minutes - not a record, but pretty damned good for an old codger!  Sanders waxed sarcastic with lines like these:

"How can I get by on one house?  I need five houses, ten houses! I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We've got the money, we've got the power, we've got the lobbyists here and on Wall Street. Tough luck. That's the world, get used to it. Rich get richer. Middle class shrinks."

I am proud to say that I have donated to Senator Sanders' political campaigns in the past and will do so again!  He speaks for us all, whether we have the intelligence to realize it or not.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Desperately Seeking Mel!

by Pa Rock
Family Historian

As reported earlier in this space, I am getting back into genealogy after a thirty-year hiatus.  I have an eleven-year-old grandson in West Plains, Missouri, named Boone Macy.  Boone is in the sixth grade and smart as the proverbial whip.  One of my goals in this new genealogy push is to show Boone enough of his personal family history so that he will become hooked on history.  History is important.  Think how much better and richer our country would be today if George Bush had read some history - or anything else for that matter!

I am using the subscription services of, an amazing company that can scour its enormous data base and provide family tidbits in milliseconds.  Much of what is available through this company is the accrued work of other genealogists, which makes it somewhat suspect, but the company also has complete U.S. census records through 1930, Social Security Death Indexes, military records, many courthouse records, immigration records and ships' passenger lists, and a whole host of things that allow for honest research and source citation.

Yesterday I was searching for information on a couple of Boone's female ancestors.  I had their first names, but couldn't get anything beyond them without discovering their maiden names.  I found one through a 1913 marriage license on  The other was more complicated, but I eventually located her maiden name in the obituary files maintained by the McDonald County Library in Pineville, Missouri - a wonderful repository of information!

But back to Boone...

Boone's mother was born a Wallis, and by using all that has to offer, I managed to follow her Wallis lineage back to the year 1482 in Scotland.  With that name and that location, I kept expecting to bump into William Wallace, or at the very least, Robert the Bruce.  No such luck yet, but I will keep digging.  Young Boone is eighteen generations removed from that earliest Scottish Wallis.  I emailed the lineage to him tonight.  Not only will it be great for show-and-tell, it is also a very practical lesson in history.  If Boone studies the dates and locations that I provided, he will see when his Wallis family left Scotland and came to America.  He can also trace the family's migration from coastal Virginia to the Missouri Ozarks.  He can then sit down with a good history book, or the Internet, and develop theories as to why his ancestors moved when they did and where they did.

And while he does that, I will still be on the trail of Mel, uh...William Wallace.  He can run, but he can't hide!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ryan Newell, American Patriot

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It’s hard to know what to think about Ryan Newell.    The twenty-six-year-old Army veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan has been housed in the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita, Kansas, for the past week.   Newell has been incarcerated because was armed and seemingly stalking some individuals who were in Wichita to exercise their Constitutional right to peaceful assembly and protest.   Viewed in those circumstances alone, Mr. Newell’s apparent plan to do them bodily harm was an egregious violation of their civil rights.  Young Mr. Newell was apprehended with a M4 rifle, a .45-caliber Glock handgun, a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, and 90 rounds of ammunition.

But, as Paul Harvey used to remind us, there is more to the story.

Newell’s targets were not a bunch of innocents.  They were, in fact, some of the most toxic vermin ever to slime their way across civilization.  Ryan Newell was after members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka , the infamous Fred Phelps spawn, who were in town to protest outside of one of the local high schools.

Ryan Newell lost friends in Afghanistan – young people who died horrible deaths in a war that they had no way of completely understanding.  (Who among us does understand why we sent troops to Iraq or Afghanistan - or why they are still there?)  Ryan lost two legs in Afghanistan.   He can home with mental and emotional problems that may never be fully recognized and treated.  He came home badly damaged.

And Ryan Newell came home to see his friends and his service being loudly and outrageously degraded by the raving lunacy of the Fred Phelps' family.   When Ryan’s buddies and others from the war arrived home in caskets,  they could not even be accorded the dignity of solemn last rites because the screaming Phelps’ crowd was always nearby desecrating flags and wreaking havoc on the grieving friends and families of the deceased.

I don’t know Ryan Newell, but I know a hundred other veterans who have sacrificed their youth and innocence in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan.  The stories of their nightmares have given me nightmares.   I understand Ryan Newell’s anger - and it feels so justified.    However, I can’t condone his plan to remedy the situation – though a core part of me wishes that I could.  Some things are just so wrong that they almost beg for extreme measures and extra-legal remedies.

The Phelps monsters are despicable beyond measure.   Their flaunting of First Amendment “rights” to the overt detriment of really good people makes the Constitution appear to be seriously flawed.   One wonders as to how deliberately staging a protest and freak show at a funeral can be a legitimate exercise of free speech – but it apparently is, and if the Constitution is to survive it must stand for everyone, not just those we can stomach.

Ryan Newell was held in the Sedgwick County Jail for a week on a $500,000 bond.  This week the authorities released Newell on his own recognizance with an order that he stay away from the Phelps' family.  He has also been ordered to report to the Veteran’s Administration for mental health care.

And as for the Phelps’ vermin, well, they are headed back to Wichita where they plan to protest at the Police Department and the American Legion.  The police will have 25 to 30 extra people on duty, at overtime pay, to protect the people who are protesting them.

Life doesn’t have to make sense.

Stay strong, Ryan Newell, and leave the scum alone.  They are not worthy of your attention - nor anyone else's for that matter.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Farewell, Elizabeth Edwards

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Elizabeth Edwards died today at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, surrounded by her three surviving children and the narcissistic husband whom she stood by far longer than he deserved.

Elizabeth was only sixty-one-years-old when she passed - a young woman from my perspective.   She endured some magnificent highs and tragic lows in her brief six decades on earth, and throughout it all, she served as a stellar example of the good that humans can do.

This lady was a successful attorney who married a world-class ambulance-chaser.  Together she and John brought four children into the world while he became a feared and very rich litigator.  Their oldest son, Wade, died tragically at the age of sixteen in a one-vehicle accident in which he was the driver, and while both parents grieved the loss as only parents could, Elizabeth bravely gave birth to two more children in her forties and early fifties so that John could be the father of a son.  At the time of her death, Emma Claire was twelve and Jack was ten.  Eldest daughter, Cate, was twenty-eight.

Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer on November 4, 2004, the day John Kerry conceded the 2004 presidential election to George Bush, and her husband, John, lost the Vice Presidency.  She had treatment, her symptoms came and went, she wrote a book about her trials and tribulations fighting the disease and finding peace within, and America grew to love her.

John tried to gain the presidential nomination in 2008 even though Elizabeth's medical condition was growing steadily worse, but he was washed aside by the Obama express.  Again, Elizabeth was the best campaigner and spokesman that he had, and the love they expressed toward each other was the stuff of storybook romance.  America loved them, her especially.  But all of that came to an end a couple of years ago when it was discovered, by National Enquirer no less,  that John had an affair with a pretty videographer who worked in the campaign, and that he had a daughter from the liaison.   Elizabeth, whose medical condition was worsening, initially stood by her man, but she finally had enough when he tried to encourage her to meet the child.  They were separated at the time of her death.

Elizabeth Edwards will be remembered by a generation of Americans as the epitome of grace and hope.  John will forever be vilified as someone who walked away from a good woman at the time when she and their family needed him the most.  Of all of the characters in this sad play, John is the most tragic.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Capital Punishment: A Stain on Freedom

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Two industrialized nations still employ the barbaric practice of capital punishment to deal with persons convicted of murder - Japan and the United States - and the Japanese are quickly and quietly pulling away from using the death penalty.  Federal law in the United States permits the execution of federal prisoners who are convicted for treason or murder, and during the reign of especially blood-thirsty Attorneys-General, it often becomes the rule rather than the exception - John Ashcroft leaps to mind.  Also, many states still employ the ultimate sanction.

John Edward Green, Jr., an accused killer who is literally on trial for his life in Texas, is using his trial to wage war on the state of Texas.  Mr. Green's attorneys are arguing that the way death penalty cases are handled in Texas creates a risk that innocent people will be executed.

Texans would stampede their way to an execution?  Surely not!

State District Judge Kevin Fine who is hearing the Green case is sympathetic to the allegation.  Last spring he granted a motion from defense attorneys and declared the Texas death penalty law to be unconstitutional.  God-fearing Texas Christians predictably set up a howl, and the judge backed down.  Instead, he chose to have a public hearing and receive evidence on the issue.  The prosecutors in the case are refusing to participate in this side hearing and have chosen just to stand-by and remain silent while Judge Fine does his tinkering with Texas tradition.

The first witness out of the chute was Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.  Dieter quickly pointed out that there have been 138 exonerations of death row inmates in the United States since 1978 - with roughly one in ten convicted murderers ultimately being found to have been innocent.

Another witness, Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor from the Law Center at the University of Houston, testified as an expert on eyewitness identification.  The professor noted the identification by eyewitnesses can be fraught with problems such as a witness being overconfident in his recollection, or a witness feeling a critical need to "help" the authorities.

The hearing is occurring in Harris County (Houston), which has sentenced more people to death since the national resumption of capital punishment thirty years ago than any other county in Texas.  Of the 286 sentenced to die by Harris County Courts, the assumption must be made that not all have been guilty - remember one in ten nationwide wind up being exonerated.   And not all are exonerated before their date with death.  Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death by the good folks of Texas in 2004 for the arson and the subsequent death of his three infant children.  Now, after the fact and after the execution, several fire experts are coming up with serious concerns about the arson finding.

Better late than never?  Not if you're dead!

That is the most serious problem with the ultimate sanction - what if the convicted person really did not do it.  How does government replace a life that it mistakenly or wrongly took?  With a check?  Or an apology?  Somehow those remedies seem very lame.

The United States will soon be the only nation in the "civilized" world to kill convicts.  How civilized is that?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday's Poetry: "America"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I've mentioned Simon and Garfunkel in this space before with a posting of the lyrics of their classic "Sounds of Silence."  The duo were two of the most powerful poetic voices of the 1960's and early 1970's.  They wrote so much good stuff, words that will endure and bring smiles for many generations yet to come.  (And yes, for the benefit of Oklahomans everywhere and all Evangelicals, there are many more generations yet to come!)   The following, "America," was penned by Paul Simon and included on their album "Bookends," a seismic collection of hits that is always worth a quiet and peaceful listen.

by Paul Simon

"Let us be lovers we'll marry our fortunes together" 
"I've got some real estate here in my bag" 
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies 
And we walked off to look for America 

"Kathy," I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh 
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now" 
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw 
I've gone to look for America 

Laughing on the bus 
Playing games with the faces 
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy 
I said "Be careful his bowtie is really a camera" 

"Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat" 
"We smoked the last one an hour ago" 
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine 
And the moon rose over an open field 

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping 
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why 
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike 
They've all gone to look for America 
All gone to look for America 
All gone to look for America

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jesus is Coming! Jesus is Coming!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I know it's true because I heard it on a Fox News broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Network yesterday afternoon.  Some group (I didn't catch their name) has announced that Jesus will be returning to earth on May 11, 2011.  That's just a little over five months away - and me without a thing to wear!  There wasn't anymore information than that - just a date.  Will the Second Coming be held outside, like Woodstock or a Willie Nelson concert, where hundreds of thousands of tickets can be sold?   Or will the event occur in one of America's holiest of holies - a Texas mega-church, the Crystal Cathedral, or maybe the gym at Liberty University?

After hearing that juicy tidbit, I came home and immediately got on the internet to get more information.  It turns out that three dates are being circulated for 2011:  May 11th, May 14th, and May 21st.  The dates are coming from people with a great deal of experience in predicting End Times - people like radio huckster Harold Camping who has previously predicted the arrival of Jesus for 1988, 1989, and 1994.   He is now set on May 11th, 2011.   Holy Harold has a "Christian" radio show called Family Radio, undoubtedly a misnomer, where he has been rattling on about the Bible mathematics he has employed in his "proof" of the date of the Messiah's return trip.  Apparently he was convincing enough that Mary Exley, an unemployed listener from Colorado Springs, Colorado, spent $1,200 of her own money on advertisements to alert other morons of the impending divine visit.

Theodore Sturgeon wrote a wonderful book several years back called Godbody in which he proposed that Jesus, a fun-loving and very sexual being, had already been back several times, but the uptight Christians kept running him off.

And Sturgeon was right.  These pious Christians would stone Jesus to death if he didn't meet their angry and bitter expectations.  They aren't going to tolerate a tolerant Jesus, and he best not practice any of that welfare crap either!  And should the poor bastard speak Spanish or have a boyfriend, well, if God doesn't smite him dead for that, the good Christians here on earth certainly will - for they know the mind of God!

Jesus, if you're reading this, please contact Erik Prince at Xe (Blackwater).  He'll set up your personal security detail - for a price - a princely price!  America and the other Holy Land are both armed to the teeth, and you shouldn't take any unnecessary risks.  This ain't your Father's Eden!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Digging Up Ancestors

by Pa Rock
Family Researcher

Thirty years ago when I first got interested in genealogy it was a very difficult endeavor to pursue.  Digging up my children's grandparents involved many trips to libraries, court houses, and cemeteries, as well as sending off for birth, marriage, and death certificates (all for a fee), and then waiting weeks for the documents to arrive.  Sometimes they would give me clues or even names of the preceding generation, and sometimes they contained very little of genealogical value.  It was a very time-consuming and expensive past time.

Today, as I begin to renew my efforts from three decades ago, it can still be a fairly expensive, but the advent of the personal computer coupled with the internet has made research and gratification an almost instantaneous process.  In most cases it is no longer necessary to travel beyond one's own front door in order to access copies of records held in repositories worldwide.

I have been hitting it hard today.  I spent a couple of hours going through three years of obituaries from the Neosho Daily News, and found nine that contained informational snippets about my family.  I will sift out those facts and incorporate them into my family tree computer program, Family Tree Maker.  My second activity was to type in a couple of hundred of my children's grandparents into the family tree sharing section of   Almost all of those names received "leaves," meaning that the program had hints about research options, or, better yet, the names and email addresses of others who appear to be researching the same names.  I can't avail myself of those hints until I officially subscribe to the program.

I have explored several internet genealogy programs, and I am the most impressed with - which just happens to own Family Tree Maker.  I still haven't joined this program because I want to have as much grunge work done as possible before plopping down the $200 yearly fee.  And while $200 seems outrageous, it is actually small potatoes compared to what it would cost to get out and track down all of that information over the phone and through the mail.  I will probably enroll for their free two-week trial period tomorrow, and follow that up with a full membership. is listed on the Nasdaq (ACOM) and is currently selling at just below thirty dollars a share.  Their research capabilities coupled with their hefty membership fee and substantial subscriber base lead me to believe that ACOM might be a smart investment.   If I'm going to be digging for ancestors, it makes sense to be a part-owner of the shovel rather than just renting it!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Don't Feed the Hogs!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

First of all, here is what I believe regarding the dangerous U.S. deficit:  it wasn't caused by welfare moms, government assistance to poor people, illegal immigrants - 90 percent of whom are employed and paying taxes, school lunches, or Medicaid.  The massive U.S. deficit was accrued in large part under the administration of President George W. Bush, a moron, and is basically the result of his financial neglect and mismanagement, and especially the wasteful spending on his oil-and-glory wars.

Republicans predictably want to address the deficit by demonizing the poor and eradicating any program that looks like it might benefit a poor person - school lunches, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance - to name some obvious ones.

Republicans do not want to end any program that is of direct and significant benefit to the rich - such as the oil-and-glory wars and tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.  They are screechingly opposed to inheritance taxes, which they call "death taxes," because it comes out of the pockets of the wealthy and infringes on their ability to slide their wealth from generation to generation.  (When that happens for a protracted period of time, we starting getting morons-of-privilege, or "legacies," who feel that have some divine right to run things - like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney!)

The big fight in Congress right now is over extending what are referred to as the "Bush tax cuts," temporary tax breaks that were put in place ten years ago with an expiration date that is now upon us.  In order to get taxes lowered from a little over 39% to 35% for millionaires, Bush and the Republicans in Congress at that time, grudgingly agreed to let everyone have a tax break.  But now those breaks are expiring, and Republicans, being the greedy bastards that they are, want to make the whole mess permanent, thus depriving the treasury of much needed revenue.  At the same time, they still want to rape the poor by taking away their access to medical care, school lunches, and any other "luxury" that has even a hint of government funding.

Billionaire Warren Buffet noted a few years ago that his secretary was paying more in taxes than he was.  He has recently said that the ultra-rich people in this country, himself included, are not paying enough in taxes - they are, in effect getting a cheap ride on the backs of the working poor.

President Obama wants to extend or make permanent all of the tax cuts on incomes of less that $250,000 - a quarter of a million dollars.  But Republicans don't want America's wealthiest - the millionaires and billionaires, the people George W. Bush once referred to as his "base" -  to be stuck paying the extra four percent.  (Back when the progressive income tax first came into effect, during Teddy Roosevelt's day, the top bracket paid 90 percent!  (How would John Boehner like them apples?  A actual progressive income tax system would really turn him orange!)

But Republicans are fighting mad, threatening to stop everything in Congress - like they always do - unless these "middle class" tax breaks can be saved.  (Suddenly millionaires and billionaires are middle class!)  It is necessary for the economy to recover, they groan and  moan, to let the rich (excuse me, "middle class") keep more of their money so that they can invest it and it will trickle down to the masses. Republicans have preached "trickle down" economics for generations, and there is absolutely no research to show that it works.  The rich just keep getting richer, and the poor have to work more and more jobs in order to survive.

(One minimum wage job produces an annual income of about $16,000.  A continued tax break for a person making one million dollars a year will put an extra $40,000 in that person's pocket - and it isn't going to trickle down - at least not anywhere that will benefit the working poor.)

The money hasn't been trickling down, but we have been getting hosed!

I heard a speaker on the radio tonight say that by just getting the richest Americans to pay an extra four percent in taxes, the deficit could be reduced by a trillion dollars in ten years.  How many school lunches would we have to cut to come up with a trillion dollar savings?

The quickest way to stimulate the economy would be to quit dicking around with unemployment checks and get them into the hands of the poor.  They would spend that money on luxuries like gas, and food, and rent, and the money would immediately be revving up the economy.   Why, even the rich would benefit as that money trickled up to the big oil companies, corporate farms and grocery chains, and slumlords.

It's time to stop feeding the hogs and let them forage for honest grub like the rest of us.  Even if they have to pay forty percent in taxes, they should still be able to make car, boat, and house payments - and pay their country club dues - with the remaining sixty percent of their million ($600,000), or millions, or billions - just fine!

Anyone in Congress who supports continued tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans deserves to get a challenger in their next primary election.  They can ask Blanche Lincoln just how much fun that is!