Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Those bastards at Wikileaks have really done it this time!  That commie-pinko outfit has gone and released a memo that besmirched the character of a true American legend (at least in his own mind), John McCain.  Have they no sense of decency?

McCain is crustier than an Arizona Gila Monster, and just about as friendly.  He has his angry-old-man routine refined to an art form and is quick to rant, snort, or explode with expletives at the slightest of provocations.  This is especially true when it comes to military matters.  The former naval aviator and son and grandson of admirals, feels that he has the best military instincts since Stonewall Jackson,  and he damned sure knows more than that whipper-snapper living in the White House.

Remember when he sang Bomb, Bomb, Bomb - Bomb, Bomb Iran to a political gathering a few years ago?  Johnny-boy was serious.  His mama didn't raise no community organizers!

Now, however, it looks like Arizona's senior senator may have driven his Humvee into a ditch.  For the past month John McCain has been lobbing verbal grenades at the President saying that yes, while Libya may be falling to the rebels, if the United States (the broke United States) had sent our military in to help, Gadaffi would have collapsed sooner.

Okay, the crabby old fart is a sore loser.  I get that.

This week, though, John McCain's bellicosity got broadsided by the aforementioned leak from Wikileaks.  A diplomatic cable was released by the whistle blower organization that showed McCain and his geriatric gang - Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Joe Liebermann - met with the despot Gadaffi in Libya in 2009, and at that time McCain offered to help him get weapons from the United States.  And to frost that cake, McCain then went to his Twitter account and tweeted that he found Gadaffi to be an "interesting" man.

Slippery John has, of course, been blathering denials all week.  He even denied the tweet, which is a matter of public record accessible to anyone with a computer.

John, sadly the mind is often the first to go - but that still should not impact the quality of your work as a senator!

(Note 1:  In fairness to Moe and Curly and Larry, a fourth senator - Susan Collins of Maine - was also on the taxpayer-paid junket to Libya.  She was probably the gang's gun moll!)

(Note 2:  I really wanted to title this piece "McCain's Insane Clown Posse," but didn't want to run the risk of pissing off some musicians who have never offended me.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Beating Death of a Gay Iowa Teen

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann decided to run for President, she suddenly recalled that she grew up in Iowa - the state that has the all-important first Presidential caucus in the nation.  She was from America's heartland, indeed the heart of America's heartland.  Michele was from Waterloo, Iowa, a mom-and-apple-pie community of traditional American values if ever there was one.  And not only was she from Iowa, John Wayne was too!  Could it get any more American than that?

Well, as most of the world now knows, John Wayne (the actor) was actually from Winterset, Iowa.  Waterloo was a one-time residence of John Wayne Gacy - a psychopathic serial killer.

No doubt the local Chamber of Commerce appreciated that tidbit coming to light.

Waterloo is back in the news, and again it is for something very ugly.  In the early morning hours of Friday, August 19th, a nineteen-year-old gay black man was kicked to death on a public street in Waterloo by an angry crowd shouting gay slurs.

The victim, Marcellus Richard Andrews, was a former cosmetology student who was studying interior design at a local community college.  He was also the captain of a church drill team.

In their initial investigation police determined that the killing was a a follow-up to actions that occurred earlier in the day.  They regarded it as a fight and refused to classify the killing as a hate crime - even though witnesses heard the attackers yelling "faggot" and "Mercedes" (a feminization of the victim's name) as they repeatedly kicked the young man who was down on the ground.  Marcellus received multiple direct kicks to the head, and his official cause of death has been listed as "blunt force trauma to the head."

But it wasn't a hate crime.  Hate crimes don't happen in mom-and-apple-pie places like Waterloo.  If they did, property values might go down.

The police in Waterloo initially said that no gay slurs were used, but finally admitted that the fatal incident did include "offensive and disparaging remarks."  They were quick to add, however, that it did not rise to the "threshold" of a hate crime - primarily because the victim knew his attackers.

The accepted terminology in some quarters quickly became "a brutal fight."   But it wasn't much of a fight if it only produced one victim.

Five days after the incident no arrests had been made, and even though police stated that they had suspects, no arrest warrants had been issued.

Michele Bachmann, who has voted against federal hate crime protections and regularly opposes  anti-bullying policies, has remained eerily silent on the killing of the Marcellus Andrews.  She obviously did not cause the murder of this young man, but the anti-gay attitudes of candidates and politicians do play a role in perpetuating hate - and ultimately hate crimes.  That is shameful.  These same individuals have the power to lessen hate, if they would only choose to use it.

Those with the power and the influence should serve as forces for peace and understanding.  I suspect that is what Jesus would do.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "White Rabbit"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I have had "White Rabbit" rattling around my head ever since watching the Johnny Depp version of Alice in Wonderland a few weeks ago.  Grace Slick wrote this whimsical song, which is based ever so cleverly on characters and happenings from Lewis Carroll's equally whimsical Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, in 1966 shortly before joining Jefferson Airplane as the lead singer.  Her version (is there any other?) is one of the most powerful anthems of the sixties, literally painting a picture of the times through borrowed images crafted by Carroll a century earlier.

And yes, it does sound as though it may be describing drug usage, but that was a significant aspect of that era - the era that produced Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane.  "White Rabbiot" is a poetic insight into sixties as filtered through the magical lenses of Lewis Carroll and Grace Slick.

Enjoy it - I always do!

White Rabbit
by Grace Slick

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all

Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell them a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call

Call Alice
When she was just small

When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low

Go ask Alice
I think she'll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"

Remember what the dormouse said:
"Feed your head, feed your head, feed your head" 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

by Pa Rock
Movie Aficionado

I shared a moment with my youngest son, Tim, when he was just thirteen.  Looking back on it, I think that moment was an astonishing, yet fleeting, glimpse into the future.

Tim and I were living on our own in Noel, Missouri, where he was involved in getting through junior high school and I was trying to eek out a living selling real estate, a vocation at which I had little aptitude or interest.  One afternoon we were in Springfield, though for the life of me I can't remember why.  Somehow we wound up at the Dollar Show where we saw Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell.  After the movie ended and we were headed to the car, I said "That was a really well written movie."  To which Tim replied, "You're right, Rock.  That was a really well written movie."

Now, eighteen years later, Tim writes movies - with one in production as I bang out this blog - and he and I both still know a well written one when we see it.

Tim suggested a few weeks ago that I check out Crazy, Stupid, Love if it ever made its way to Okinawa.  Well, its finally here, I saw it today, and it was every bit as good as Tim proclaimed.

Crazy, Stupid, Love looks at a mature marriage in the throes of self-destruction, and the impact that the break-up has on family, friends, and the rest of the world.  The wife, played by Julianne Moore, has had a brief affair with a co-worker, Kevin Bacon, and comes to the conclusion that she wants a divorce.  She is, however, unsure as to whether she is having a mid-life crisis or not.   The husband, Steve Carell, has grown content and lazy in the marriage and overreacts to the announcement by throwing himself out of a moving car.

Past the point of the break-up, this movie looks at how men and women go about redefining themselves as single.  Ryan Gosling is a womanizing barfly who grows tired of hearing Carell piss and moan in the bar about his wife's unfaithfulness.  Gosling takes Carell under his wing, teaches him how to dress and interact with women, and turns him loose on a unsuspecting world.

And there were complications galore.  The couple's thirteen-year-old son is madly in love with his seventeen-year-old baby sitter, who, in turn, is in love with the divorcing father.   The father's first sexual conquest turns out to be the son's eighth grade English teacher, and the womanizing barfly looses his heart to...well, it's complicated.

But more than anything else, it is very well written.

I recommend Crazy, Stupid, Love highly - and so does Tim.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Storm of the Century

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As Hurricane Irene rips its way up the eastern seaboard, millions of Americans, many of whom endured their first earthquake less than a week ago, are hunkered down and waiting to see just how bad this storm is going to get.  And from the satellite photos, Irene appears to be massive.  In fact, some news sources are calling it "the storm of the century."  That's fairly heavy hyperbole since the century is very young and the weather effects of global warming are still in their infancy.

But, hyperbole aside, Irene appears to be a damn big storm - one that is certain to bring a fair amount of death along hundreds of miles of destruction.

Okinawa, my current home, is expecting to be close to the path of another typhoon in a few days.  The last one, just a couple of weeks ago, beat this little island savagely for nearly three full days.  I am consequently learning quite a bit about preparing for big storms.  (I have also been rocked by three minor earthquakes during the past year.)

I know, for instance, the importance of having canned goods in the event that the electricity goes out and the refrigerator dies.  My electricity was basically spared during the last storm (it was out for about an hour), but friends just up the road were in the dark for over twenty-four hours.   The line crews aren't going to be out making repairs when the winds are blowing at over 120 m.p.h.  I also keep a good supply of bottled water, and, in fact, went out and bought an extra case this morning.

I acquired an emergency radio/flashlight combination just before the last storm, one of those little jobbers that does not require batteries - just crank it and it's good to go!  I also have a five-cell flashlight that throws a beam half-way to the Pacific side of the island, along with candles, matches, and a full bottle of Baileys!

But, the most important precaution to take when the hurricane (or typhoon) winds are blowing is to keep your butt indoors.  If the electricity goes out, read a good book by candlelight, eat spaghetti out of a can, or go to bed and cover up.  It will all be over eventually.

Stay strong, America,  Irene, too, shall pass.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Dog's Life

by Pa Rock
Culture Vulture

It was announced this week that Prince Charles of Great Britain and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, have adopted a “rescue” puppy from a local pound.   The lucky dog, a 12-week-old Jack Russell terrier whom the idle royals have named “Beth,” will spend the rest of the summer with her new Mummy and Daddy at the couple’s home on the Queen’s Balmoral estate in the Highlands.  Older siblings include two other Jack Russells, Tosca and Rosie

Camilla, and indeed several of the royals, have a fondness for dogs.  Queen Elizabeth is well known for her beloved Corgi’s, one of whom was famously killed by one of Princess Anne’s bull terriers a few years ago.    Camilla herself was often referred to by her predecessor in the royal bed as “The Rottweiler,” and she will occasionally to this day answer the royal telephone with the phrase, “Rottweiler here!”

It was Camilla who apparently decided to adopt young Beth.  She was mourning the loss of Freddy, another Jack Russell who spent his life entertaining Camilla and her children.  In fact, Freddy was so highly regarded in the household that Camilla’s son, Tom, named his own son after Freddy.  Seriously.

There is no word yet from Buckingham Palace on the Queen’s reaction to her eldest son and The Rottweiler naming their new dog after her.

According to those in the know in Britain, Beth’s place in the line of succession to the throne will most likely between Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, depending on how fine she looks in a hat.

God save the Queen!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"

by Pa Rock
Avid Reader

Steve Earle, the iconic singer/songwriter of such classic American music as “Copperhead Road," is expanding his resume to include the word “author,” and it turns out that he is every bit as good at penning fiction as he is at creating music.   Earle’s first book, a short story collection entitled “Doghouse Roses” was a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year.   Now with “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” Mr. Earle has proven himself to be a novelist worthy of critical attention. 

Steve Earle’s new book, his first novel, offers a quirky look at the seamier side of San Antonio during the early 1960’s.  It is peopled with drug addicts and dealers, pimps, prostitutes, cops on the take, uncaring church officials, a pistol-packing transvestite, JFK and Jackie, a miracle worker, and a heroin-addicted abortionist who is plagued by the ghost of Hank Williams.  Earle’s story tells of desperate people awash in grime, crime, blood, dominoes, and Catholic symbolism – yet it is also a tale of redemption.

Doc, the central character, is a former physician who lost his medical license after becoming addicted to heroin.  As he was sliding into the gutter, he became Hank Williams' drug supplier and was in the car with Hank the night the country music legend died.  From that point on, Hank’s ghost accompanies Doc on his travels as he slips ever further downward.    As the story begins, Doc is treating people who can’t seek regular medical care for one reason or another, and using most of his income to support his raging heroin habit.  His office is in a local bar, and his clinic is the room where he lives in a seedy boarding house.  Most of Doc’s patients are gunshot victims and young girls, often prostitutes, seeking abortions.

Doc’s life begins to undergo profound changes the day that he performs an abortion on Graciela, a young, scared girl not long out of her village in central Mexico.  Graciela’s boyfriend pays Doc in advance for the procedure, and then abandons her with the ex-physician.  Graciela, much like Hank, attaches herself to Doc and won’t let go.  Unlike Hank, however, she pulls Doc in positive directions while Hank continues to lead Doc into his darker places.  Graciela gradually becomes Doc’s assistant, and with her assent into medical care, Doc’s failure rate drops to zero.  It is rumored that just her touch miraculously heals people.

And things are good for awhile – until the Church rears its ugly head. 

This is a powerful little book with a strong depiction of the interplay between poverty, addiction, and crime. It is a view of life well beyond our comfort zone, yet Earle’s characters are endearing in their own peculiar ways and evoke our sympathy and compassion.  “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” took me someplace that I would never have chosen to go, and I am better for having been there.  

Steve Earle is a damned good writer.  I hope that he becomes as prolific with his prose and he is with his music.

(Note:  "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" was the title of a song written and performed by Hank Williams.  It is also the title of Steve Earle's most recent album.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 'Deep Throat' Parking Garage

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Traversing the streets in and around Washington, D.C. is like flipping through the pages of a really good history book.  So many of the significant events in our nation’s past took place within just a few miles of the Capitol.

Several years ago, for example, I was walking along the streets of the Chinatown section of the city when I noticed a family of tourists gathered around a historical marker on a lamppost.  The sign was in front of a Chinese restaurant located on the ground floor of a small (and old) three-story building.  When my turn came to read the marker, I learned that the building had once been the boarding house owned by Mary Surratt – the place where conspirators plotted the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  On another visit I found myself walking across a bridge dedicated to Washington, DC native Duke Ellington.

Absorbing all of the history that our nation’s capital has to offer would literally be an impossibility because history is continually being made there.

A new historical marker recently went up on Nash Street in Rosslyn, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.  It stands outside of a parking garage and commemorates a series of clandestine meetings that helped to bring down a presidency.  The meetings were between Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and his ultra-secret Watergate informer who was nicknamed “Deep Throat,” after a popular porn film of that era.   The two met a half dozen times in a period of one year in a corner space on the third floor of the parking garage.  The information that Deep Throat passed on to Woodward eventually led to Richard Nixon resigning as President.

Woodward protected Deep Throat’s identity for more than thirty years, then in 2005, Mark Felt, the former number two man at the FBI, admitted that he had been the infamous Deep Throat.  Now, with the unveiling of the new historical marker on Nash Street, tourists and lovers of history will be able to enter the parking garage, climb to the third floor, and stand on the hallowed ground of Space 32-D where they can listen for the whispers of what a raging Dick Nixon would have surely termed “treason!”

The Deep Throat historical marker reads:

“Watergate Investigation:  Mark Felt, second in command at the FBI, met Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward here in the parking garage to discuss the Watergate scandal.  Felt provided Woodward information that exposed the Nixon administration’s obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation.  He chose this garage as an anonymous secure location.  They met at this garage six times between October 1972 and November 1973.  The Watergate scandal resulted in President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.  Woodward’s managing editor, Howard Simons, gave Felt the code name “Deep Throat.”  Woodward’s promise not to reveal his source was kept until Felt announced his role as “Deep Throat” in 2005.”

With Felt’s disclosure that he was “Deep Throat,” perhaps the greatest political guessing game of the twentieth century came to a close.  Now, with this new landmark, average Americans will have access to the site where this important history was made.

By the next time that I am in Washington, DC, maybe the National Park Service will have corrected some other historical oversights and placed a monument next to the Tidal Basin to mark the spot  where Wilbur Mills' drunken stripper girlfriend, Fanne Foxe (the "Argentine firecracker"), jumped out of his car and into the water - or a plaque marking the door of the little office in the White House where Monica Lewinsky got her dress stained!

Historical preservation must continue!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Huntsman Plays the Sanity Card

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

In a bold, if not utterly reckless, maneuver, former Utah governor John Huntsman has moved to separate himself from the Republican presidential field of dingbats and troglodytes.  The candidate who was well on his way to being little more than a footnote in the race for the GOP nomination has apparently decided that the most effective way to draw attention to himself and his struggling campaign is to spout some common sense and speak a little truth.

This heresy began last week when Huntsman tweeted the following:

“To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.   Call me crazy.”   

(I’ll bet the rabid dogs of the Republican right are calling him more than that!) 

Huntsman followed that attack on right-wing orthodoxy with appearances on Sunday talk shows where he chastised Governor Rick Perry for his remark about Fed Chairman Bernanke being, or preparing to become, “treasonous,” and took a couple of potshots at Michele Bachmann – a notoriously easy target.

Running for President as a Republican is a two-phase process.  During Phase I (the crazy one that we are currently witnessing) candidates stampede to the far right in an effort  to win over the conservative purists, religious fundamentalists, tea party kooks, and others of that ilk who will swamp the caucuses and primaries and ultimately select the candidate.  Phase 2 requires more skill and finesse.  Once a candidate is chosen, he or she then has to rush toward the middle of the political spectrum in an effort to garner enough votes to actually be elected.  It is in Phase 2 where the candidate must minimize the nutburger influence of his party and appeal to the masses.

Huntsman’s  dalliance with common sense this weekend will not endear him to the element of his party that will choose the nominee.  I have read opinions suggesting that he may now be playing a different game and is focused on presenting as a moderate for the 2016 race – after the Republicans get trashed at  the polls with their extremist selection of 2012 – regardless of whichever extremist that winds up being.    Another possibility might be that Huntsman expects a quick pivot toward the middle immediately after the candidate is chosen,  and is positioning himself to be a logical vice-presidential pick.

Hey, John, they’re Republicans.  Don’t count too much on logic being a factor in any party decisions.

But even though John Huntsman may be trying to go where the public already is on some of the more contentious social issues, he remains the product of a rich and pampered background who espouses basic conservative economic principles.  One of his acts as governor of Utah was to bring about the simplification of the state income tax.  The system had six levels ranging from 2.3 to 7 percent.  Those with low incomes paid less, and the wealthier paid more.  Under Huntsman’s watch the state went to a single 5 percent level for everyone – a flat tax, if you will.  That, of course, translates to the rich paying less and the poor paying more.

And it just doesn’t get any more Republican than that!

Caveat emptor - buyer beware!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Eve of Destruction"

by Pa Rock
Old Hippie

Tonight I seem to be focused on war and remembering the era that I came of age:  the 1960's.  Several watershed events happened during that decade including the Vietnam War, America's struggle to integrate her schools, public places, and the hearts of her citizens, the space race, and the assassination of a very popular and much loved President.  The following, "Eve of Destruction", was a protest song written by P.F. Sloan in 1965, and recorded by several artists.   The version by Barry McGuire became the most famous and enduring.  The song makes reference to each of those watershed events that washed over America during that turbulent decade.

Currently we are struggling with the war in Afghanistan, the longest in our nation's history - and the war in Iraq in which our departure from the field of battle seems to be constantly moving off into the hazy future.  It now appears that the ultimate bill for those wars will be paid in large measure by cuts in our social safety net.  War is now, as it was in the 1960's, good business.  Taking care of those in need apparently is not.

These words still make my blood boil!

Eve of Destruction
by P.F. Sloan

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say
Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away
There'll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, it's the same old place
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace
And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don't believe
We're on the eve
Of destruction
Mm, no no, you don't believe
We're on the eve 
of destruction.

(Note:  The writer stated that the line about the "pounding drums" was a reference to the Kennedy assassination.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Birtherism as a Mental Disorder

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

America's Birthers are a devout lot who will not be dissuaded by facts.  They are steadfast in their belief that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States and is therefore ineligible to be President.  Any documents that demonstrate otherwise are obvious frauds, and fifty-year-old newspaper clippings stating he was born in Hawaii were fiendishly planted in those papers half-a-century ago by his African relatives so that the mixed-race infant would have no trouble in being elected President in 2008,  Those Obama's were devious bastards!

This past week it was announced that another military service member is being released from the service for what he says was his refusal to report for duty.   He stated that he chose to be AWOL due to his belief that the President wasn't born in the United States and therefore does not have to Constitutional standing to serve as his Commander-in-Chief.  His demand that the President be arrested went unmet.

It turns out that there were probably some other issues at play, such as the man's hatred of Muslims and his belief that President Obama is somehow tied in with Muslims, his rabid dislike of the repeal of "Don't Ask - Don't Tell,"  and the fact that his co-workers, one of whom is Muslim, were growing increasingly uneasy around this individual.

But, despite all of those extraneous issues, the man, a non-commissioned officer with a total of fourteen years of active duty service, first and foremost claimed the mantle of "Birther."  He posted comments on several Birther websites and quickly became a hero to the movement - a living, breathing symbol of the tyranny that an ineligible President can foist on a uniformed American patriot.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new.  I listened to a man talk for hours one time about the trail of facts linking the assassination of President Lincoln to the assassination of President Kennedy - and he was dead serious!  A friend of mine is passionate in his belief that the U.S. government brought down the Twin Towers in a sinister plan to get the United States into war in the Middle East.  No amount of facts or film footage will alter his thinking on the subject.  It is as he says it is, that is his belief system, and that is where he finds he finds the comfort and self-validation that his body and ego require.

And it is the same for the Birthers.  They have invested so much time and energy in their fantasy that is has morphed into a very real part of who they are.  It becomes how they see the world, who their friends are, and how they spend their spare time.  Birtherism is the very core of their existence.  It was built one "fact" at a time, and it has become an impregnable fortress - one that others cannot conquer, and one that Birthers cannot leave.

Facts?  They don't need no stinking facts!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Paul Ryan: The Pay-for-View Congressman

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Paul Ryan is a Republican congressman from Wisconsin who is beginning to make noises about a possible Presidential run - and he might just have a shot, just as long as no one pulls the curtain aside to see what is really there.

Ryan has managed to keep his name and face in the news this year through his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee.  He is the one who finally put to words an idea that wealthy Republicans have fervently prayed for and been salivating over since the sixties.  The Ryan plan to get and keep America's fiscal house in order begins by turning Medicare into a voucher system - and Social Security and Medicaid won't be sacrosanct either.

So a presidential run is a possibility.  Ryan has his ultra-conservative street cred, and he appears to be every bit as mean-spirited as Dick Cheney in his prime.  He is also photogenic, being nearly as pretty as Romney and Huntsman.  And numbers?  Why Paul Ryan can spit out numbers like an adding machine on steroids - and make the dumbest among us think they actually mean something!  What's not to love?

But there are a few voters in his home district back in Wisconsin who have issues with the congressman.   A hundred people gathered at his Kenosha office last Thursday to protest over the miserable job market.  They didn't get to see Congressman Ryan because he was on vacation with his family in Colorado, but they did get to exchange pleasantries with his office staff - who handed them a written statement from Mr. Ryan stating, in part, "I pride myself in being accessible to those I represent."  Staff then called in the police.

One thing that has residents of Ryan's district more than a bit tweaked is the fact that he has stopped the practice of town hall meetings - well, at least free ones.  Ryan apparently didn't enjoy the hecklers who showed up at his town hall meetings in April to complain about his plan to gut Medicare, so he is now charging for the privilege of allowing people to meet with their congressman face-to-face.  He has an event scheduled in the Milwaukee area on September 6, and the ticket price is a very affordable $15.00.  (Well, it's affordable if you have a job.)

It would appear that as the right-wing loonies in the GOP begin to unravel the social safety net, they are also focused political  disenfranchisement.  If the underclass can be made to spend every waking hour running between two or three minimum wage jobs in order to barely survive, they won't have time, energy, or the money to engage officials in public discourse.  Then government can be left to those with means - the way God intended.

The Best and Worst of the Coen Brothers

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last week ran a survey on its website asking readers to vote for the best and worst Coen Brothers films ever made.  I missed the initial promotion and consequently didn't get to vote, but that minor technicality will not keep me for airing an opinion or three on the topic!

A respectable 2,497 readers stepped up and named their favorite film by the amazingly versatile Coen's.  Their top four selections, all movies that I have seen and enjoyed, took in over 70% of the votes.  Number one was "The Big Lebowski," a film that helped to revive Jeff Bridges career, which netted over a quarter of all votes cast.  Second place went to "Fargo" which took in over a fifth of all votes.  (I loved "Fargo."  It gave me a new respect for wood chippers!)  Third place went to "O Brother Where Art Thou?," with 13.75 %, and fourth was "No Country for Old Men," which brought in 11.74% of the votes.

The remaining eleven favorite Coen Brothers films, in descending order, were:  "Miller's Crossing,"  "Raising Arizona,"  "True Grit,"  "A Serious Man,"  "Barton Fink,"  "Hudsucker Proxy,"  "Blood Simple,"  "Burn After Reading,"  "The Man Who Wasn't There,"  "Intolerable Cruelty,"  and  "The Ladykillers."

Only 1,692 votes were cast for the worst film of the Coen Brothers.   "The Ladykillers," ranked at the top of that list with 35% of the vote.  Second and third places, with approximately 12% of the vote each, went respectively to "Intolerable Cruelty"  and  "Burn After Reading."

Rounding out the "worst" list were, in descending order:  "Barton Fink,"  "The Man Who Wasn't There,"  "A Serious Man,"  "Hudsucker Proxy,"  "Raising Arizona,"  "O Brother Where Art Thou?,"  "No Country for Old Men,"  "The Big Lebowski,"  "Blood Simple,"  "True Grit,"   "Miller's Crossing," and  "Fargo."

My favorite movie by this quirky pair of filmmakers is "O Brother Where Art Thou,"  Homer's Odyssey retold in the backwater world of Huey P. Long - or some of his cousins.  The acting was meticulous, the humor flawless and perfectly timed , the music was great, and George Clooney's character made me want to rush out and buy a couple of jars of pomade!

I discovered through the article at that I am way behind on viewing Coen Brother's films.  Of the fifteen mentioned, I have only seen seven - and of those seven, there were none that I didn't like.  That's my testimony, and I'm sticking to it!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sex in the Sixties

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

(Note:  This is a more personalized version of yesterday's article on Sex Education in the Public Schools.  It is meant as guide of sorts to teen sex practices and knowledge in the 1960's.  Some of it is stuff the writer picked up firsthand, and the remainder (most of it!) was acquired vicariously through the lives and tales of others.  It is, however, a fair depiction of how things were then.  For a further look at that era, please read Don's response to yesterday's article.  PR)

The piece that I posted here yesterday on the state of sex education in the public schools left me thinking about how much (or how little) things have changed since I was in high school in the 1960’s.  It was a much different time, and we were basically as uneducated on the topic as many of today’s young people – and the arguments against teaching about sex in schools were much the same as those today:  some believed that learning about sex in schools caused kids to have sex, and others thought that anything a kid needed to learn about sex could best be taught within the family. 

The reality was that much of the sex education was occurring among peers – as is the case today – and the results were often sad and life-altering.

Sex was more private in the sixties, and young people who were “doing it” were less likely to be talking about it.  If it was known that a guy was having sex, he might be shunned by some and looked up to as a stud by others.   A girl having sex was seen as “loose” and having a “reputation.”  A girl who found herself “in a family way” or “knocked up” either married her befuddled boyfriend or was hustled out of town to live with a relative.  She might return in a couple of years with a baby and a manufactured story, but everyone knew the truth. 

Most rural schools did not allow pregnant girls to attend.  I knew a girl who married while in school, without being pregnant.  The superintendent called her into his office and told her that she was not allowed to talk to anyone about the honeymoon!

Teen sex usually occurred in the backseats of cars – they were bigger then – in secluded areas where kids went to “park” after a date.  Sex in a bed was less common.

I remember one encounter with “sex education” in high school.  The boys and girls were divided up, with the males remaining in the gym.    A special speaker talked to us in terms that were so vague it was hard to understand the message.  That was followed by a short film.  The film featured a couple of high school boys talking after a ballgame.  It was nighttime, and one of the guys decided to go downtown by himself.    An older woman came up to his car and talked to him through the window.  The next scene showed him and her entering a room under a flashing neon sign that said “Motel .”   In the final scene he was in the hospital fighting for his life.   That was it.  Unless the viewer was extremely knowledgeable beforehand, and I wasn’t, the film created more questions than it answered – and there was no follow-up discussion.

That was nearly a half-century ago, long before the rise of AIDS.   Today sex not only can cause pregnancies and the transmission of a raft of sexual diseases, it can actually cause death.    And yet we putter on treating the subject with benign neglect or contempt in much the same way as it was approached in the sixties.   It was an inadequate response then, and today, when more young people appear to be “doing it” more casually and more often, the consequences can be catastrophic.

It is time for a more enlightened approach to the topic of sex education in the schools.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Need for Sex Education in America's Schools

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

New York City recently mandated the teaching of sex education in its city schools.  Sadly though, the state of New York, in the second decade of the 21st century, still has no such educational requirement.

There has always been a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of using public schools to educate children about sex.   Years ago when I was living in rural south-central Missouri and working as a high school principal, a local doctor and his office nurse/wife, both of the fundamentalist religious persuasion, would make a lot of noise on the topic in the community, and the wife would publish letters in the local press stating her belief that teaching young people about sex caused young people to have sex.  I have never seen any legitimate research that would back up that claim.

Another concern often expressed on this topic is that sex education is a matter that should be addressed within the family.  A major problem with that approach is that many families are too busy, or too ill-informed, or too reticent to approach the subject in a forthright manner.    Also, not every family offers a safe environment for children, and the messages that youngsters in those families get regarding sex may be misleading, unhealthy, or dangerous.   Sexual abuse of children within families occurs in every state in the nation – and it is often in the safe environment of schools where these heinous crimes are first disclosed - and sometimes as a result of information received in sex education classes.

There was an article at today entitled “The Sex Ed Hall of Shame.”  It was written by Tracy Clark-Flory.    It that piece, the author noted that 24 states have not mandated any sex education in their public schools.   She listed eight of the twenty-four as the “worst of the worst”   In those “worst” states, sex education is not part of the school curriculum, and if districts decide to teach it anyway, states often impose guidelines on what the curriculum must or must not contain.  Some emphasize abstinence and the importance of keeping sex within marriage, both worthy goals but not overly realistic in this modern age, and some do not require that classes provide medically accurate information.  In other words, when a local district decides to address the issue of sex education, even when there is no state requirement to do so, the state often mandates that it be taught in such as way as to be misleading or to water down its intended impact.

What follows is a list of the worst of the worst states as identified by Ms. Clark-Flory, along with some unintended outcomes of their policies regarding the lack of a mandate for sex education in the public schools.  The states are listed alphabetically, and he geographical emphasis is decidedly southern.

  • Alabama has some of the highest STD rates in the nation particularly with regard to chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.   The author also notes that Alabama has the 15th highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, and the state bans teaching anything positive regarding homosexuality.
  • Arkansas ranks at 5th highest in the nation in the rate of chlamydia among its citizens, 7th in gonorrhea, and 10th in syphilis.  Arkansas has the 8th highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States.
  • Florida has the highest rate of HIV infection of any state in the nation, and it is 12th in teen pregnancies.
  • Indiana teens, according to a national study, are among the least likely to report that they used a condom the last time they had sex.
  • Louisiana has the highest rate of syphilis among young people in America, and it is in the top ten for chlamydia and gonorrhea.    Louisiana ranks 11th nationally in teen HIV.
  • Missouri has higher than average rates of STDs  and lower than average rates of condom usage among sexually active high school students when compared to the rest of the nation.
  • Texas ranks 5th in teen pregnancies nationwide, 3rd in young people with AIDS, and 4th in teens with syphilis.  Ninety-six percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence only.
  • Virginia has the 8th highest syphilis rate among young people in the country.

There is a flip side to this tide of enforced ignorance:  twenty states and the District of Columbia do mandate some form of sex education in the public schools, but the many individual restrictions and mandates that states place on those programs have a substantial impact on their level of success.  Only nineteen states have a requirement for mentioning contraceptives, leading Ms. Clark-Flores to ponder rather cynically why America has such high teen pregnancy rates.

Why indeed.

Americans can approach this issue in one of two ways.  We can either tell our children not to have sex before marriage and deny them the knowledge and means to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancies – and hope for the best, or we can educate our children about sex in a comprehensive manner.  Sex education should include a moral component as well as honest and complete information about biology, contraception, and disease.  Sex education should be predicated on the idea that even the very best of young people raised in the best of circumstances occasionally make bad decisions – and they should not have to suffer the consequences of those bad decisions for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Domestic Terrorism Comes to Alaska

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Alaska has a congressional delegation comprised of three individuals - two United States Senators and one Congressman.  Today suspicious mail packages were received at the Alaska offices of each of those three people.

A worker in the Fairbanks office of Senator Mark Begich (a Democrat) was following a standard safety protocol while opening a package addressed to him.  The worker placed the small package inside of a plastic bag and attempted to open it there.  As that was happening, some white powder came out of the box.  The worker was taken to a local hospital by ambulance for a medical evaluation, and the building was evacuated.  The package had an Arizona return address.

Senator Begich's Fairbanks office is in the local Federal Building, and federal security agents stationed in the building were called in to investigate.  Senator Lisa Murkowski (a Republican) also has an office in that same building, and a similar package was received there.   There has been no word yet as to whether that package was linked to the one sent to Senator Begich.

Alaska's lone congressman, Don Young (a Republican), also received a package in his Anchorage office that corresponded to those received by the senators.  The parcel was discovered to contain a white substance.

At this point there is no word on the actual level of danger posed by these mail packages, but that does not lessen the fact that a threat is still a threat - and terrorism is still terrorism, regardless of its origin.   At least one person was rushed to a hospital by ambulance, two large office buildings had to be evacuated interrupting the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals, and many law enforcement officials had to be called away from their on-going activities to respond to these emergencies.

These packages were malicious (and possibly dangerous), and they created unnecessary loss of productivity and an unexpected expense for our government.  The members of Congress represent all of us whether we agree with them politically or not, and an attack on any one of them is, in fact, an attack on the rest of us as well.  I am certain that law enforcement is taking today's events extremely seriously and will bring the perpetrator(s) to justice.  That is the way that I would like my tax dollars spent!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "An Abandoned Factory, Detroit"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

America's newest Poet Laureate, 84-year-old Philip Levine, describes himself as an "old union man."  His poems depict America's once mighty industrial centers in their current state of and disrepair and decay.  Yet he still sees what was, both in the factories and the people, and reminds us of a time when Americans were able to both produce and consume.  Levine's landscapes along Rust Belt America are bleak, but they are a part of our heritage and, as such, merit our attention, whether we are comfortable giving it or not.

The following short poem, An Abandoned Factory, Detroit, is a good example of the types of images captured by Philip Levine in his stark poetry.

An Abandoned Factory, Detroit
by Philip Levine

The gates are chained, the barbed-wire fencing stands,
An iron authority against the snow,
And this grey monument to common sense
Resists the weather. Fears of idle hands,
Of protest, men in league, and of the slow
Corrosion of their minds, still charge this fence.
Beyond, through broken windows one can see
Where the great presses paused between their strokes
And thus remain, in air suspended, caught
In the sure margin of eternity.
The cast-iron wheels have stopped; one counts the spokes
Which movement blurred, the struts inertia fought,
And estimates the loss of human power,
Experienced and slow, the loss of years,
The gradual decay of dignity.
Men lived within these foundries, hour by hour;
Nothing they forged outlived the rusted gears
Which might have served to grind their eulogy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Jacket and The Star Rover

by Pa Rock
Movie Aficionado 

Yesterday while sitting around my apartment feeling sort of blue, I happened across a movie on television that was just starting.  It was 2005's The Jacket starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley.  The movie was one of those rare finds from which I could not extricate myself, and I sat entranced for the better part of two hours.

Adrien Brody plays a returning Gulf War veteran who is hitchhiking across Vermont on a winter day in the early 1990's.  As he is walking along the highway, he comes across a disabled  pickup truck by the side of the road.  The driver, a young woman who looks like she might have alcohol or drug issues, is passed out on the ground nearby, and her five-year-old daughter is standing around helplessly waiting for assistance.  Brody fixes the truck and becomes friends with the daughter who asks for, and receives, his dog tags.  When they wake the mother and tell her that the truck is running, she responds by telling Brody to stay away from them.

He walks on.

A man in a station wagon comes along next.  He gives the very cold veteran a lift toward the Canadian border, but before they get too far a patrolman pulls them over.  The cop orders both men to exit the vehicle.  Brody gets out on the passenger side, facing the station wagon and the patrolman who is standing across the road from the driver's side.  As the driver gets out,  he pulls a pistol and fires several rounds into the patrolman.  Brody, shocked by the sudden gunfire, falls down, hits his head, and passes out.  The shooter cleans his prints off of the pistol, throws it down on the ground next to Brody, and drives away.

Brody, who can't remember anything and is completely confused and disoriented, is brought to trial for the murder of the patrolman and is found to be not guilty by reason of insanity.  The judge orders him placed in a psychiatric facility where he falls prey to an evil psychiatrist who runs chemical experiments on his patients.  The psychiatrist is played by an aging Kris Kristofferson.

The psychiatrist has a treatment room in the hospital basement that has one wall lined with morgue drawers.  His treatments involve having a few loyal and sadistic staff members stuff the unwilling patients into straight jackets (hence the title), inject them with various combinations of experimental drugs, and then lock them in the dark and very confined morgue drawers for a day or so.

During Brody's first dark session in one of the morgue drawers he does a bit of time-traveling.  He wakes up in the same community fifteen years later where he meets the grownup version (Keira Knightley) of the five-year-old girl that he met on the road that fateful day in the early 1990's.  They spend an evening together before he is pulled from his morgue drawer and brought back to life in the hospital fifteen years prior.

Each time that Brody goes back into the drawer, he travels into the future and again meets the same young lady.  He convinces her of what is happening to him, and she begins to do research for him while he is away.  One of the things she learns is the date of his death - which will be just a few days into his future.  Brody decides to use his remaining time to try and fix some lives in the past through his time-traveling experiences.

Does he succeed?  You will have to watch the movie to find out.

The Jacket isn't a typical time-travel flick, whatever that is, and it is not an average race-against-the-clock movie either, but it is very clever and completely engrossing.    Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley are perfect in their parts, as is Jennifer Jason Leigh who plays the good doctor at the hospital.  Kris Kristofferson is evil personified in his portrayal of the bad doctor.

But good acting goes nowhere without a really great script to hang it on, and this story is very, very clever and well-written.  It is not, however, altogether original.  I learned while perusing the Internet in regard to this movie, that the story is remarkably similar to the plot  of the novel, The Star Rover, one of Jack London's very last books.  London's character suffers basically the same treatment, but instead of visiting the future, he is sent back in time to revisit experiences that he had in past lives.

The Star Rover sounds intriguing to the point that I am bound to order it and add the book to my Jack London collection.  And if it had not been for accidentally running across The Jacket on television, I might never have heard of it.  It's strange how life works and how inner-connected things can be - a point made very well by 2005's The Jacket!

The Dougherty Gang

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This week three heavily armed young adults, siblings, led police on a dangerous chase from Florida to Colorado before they were finally apprehended in a bloody shootout.

The three, a young woman and her two younger brothers, we collectively labeled the "Dougherty Gang" by America's salivating press corps.  Americans, it would seem, are as fascinated with family "gangs" (the James Gang , the Dalton Gang, and the Manson "Family," to name but a few) as they are with their reality television - and the opportunity to focus the attention of a nation of boob-tube addicts on this modern "gang" was irresistible to the news media.

The Dougherty Gang in its heyday - which takes in only a few days in the past week - included 29-year-old Grace who is described in every news story as an "exotic dancer," her 21-year old brother, Dylan, who is identified as a sex offender because of an email that he sent to an 11-year-old girl,  and their half-brother Dylan who is twenty-six.

The three had been buying automatic weapons and stockpiling ammunition.  Their notoriety began last week when a local deputy in Florida tried to stop them for speeding.  They responded by shooting out the tires of the pursuing police car and quickly leaving town.  The next day they robbed a bank in Georgia.

Police regarded these heavily armed siblings as extremely dangerous and instituted a nationwide manhunt.  A few days later they were spotted at a Wal-Mart in Colorado attempting to buy ammunition.  Police pursued them in a high speed chase and were finally able to stop the fugitives by placing spiked strips on the road, successfully blowing the car's tires and causing it to wreck.  Grace, the stripper, and apparently the ringleader, climbed out of the destroyed vehicle and began firing on the patrolmen.  The police fired back and wounded her in the leg.  One of the boys ran for it but was quickly caught, and the other was arrested in the car.

The Dougherty Gang was no more.

When I first read of the Dougherty Gang earlier in the week, one day before their capture, I knew that it would end badly.  One of the boys, in fact, text-messaged their mother with a premonition that they would be killed.  Fortunately for all concerned, it did not end nearly as badly as it could have.  No police were injured or killed, and only Grace was wounded.

What these young people did was wrong.  They robbed a bank, and they placed countless law enforcement officers and others in danger with their stockpile of weapons and their willingness to use them.

The Doughety's weren't members of the mythical middle class, and their parent's won't have good lawyers waiting to spring them when they are returned to Florida for trial.  The three members of the "gang," all adults, will serve time in prison, and, if they can survive America's uniquely cruel penal system,  they will eventually be released back into society.   Once outside of the prison walls, they may have it a little easier than some ex-cons because they will be, after all, surviving members of a notorious family gang.  People will be probably standing in line to hear their stories, buy their books, or have their pictures taken with genuine American desperadoes.

Maybe that was the plan all along, but even if it wasn't, some seedy promoter will be there trying to capitalize on their notoriety.  It's called free enterprise, and it works better than a gun.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Politics Without Savagery

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The state of politics in America has moved from respectively impolite, to ridiculously absurd, to relentlessly malicious, to savage.  Billionaires are funding fools and busing them to "spontaneous" rallies, thugs are marching outside of political events carrying weapons because it is their "right," hate mongrels who would have followed Hitler to the gates of Hell if they had been born one or two generations earlier now get off on posing as long-suffering groups of oppressed white people or "taxpayers,"  doctors working in the field of women's health and reproductive rights are threatened with violence or bodily harm - or are killed, and sleazy politicians incite others into action against those with whom they disagree with symbols suggesting that violence might be a solution - such as gun sites - and then angrily deny any culpability when the inevitable finally occurs.

It is a mean business, a nasty business, and most politicians are totally preoccupied with stuffing their pockets with corporate cash so that they can be just as mean and nasty as everyone else.  It is dog-eat-dog, it is viscous, and it is savage.

So here is a little story about how politics in America could work.  Strangely, it involves a group of people who we once vilified as "savages" - the American Indian, the noble Red Man.

The Suquamish tribe is a very small group of native Americans who reside in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.  It has approximately 1,050 members.   They were having a tribal meeting recently with about a third of all tribal members in attendance.  At some point during the meeting a young lady got up and moved that the tribe approve same-sex marriage.  The measure passed on a voice vote - with no dissension.  Later, at another meeting, the measure again passed without opposition.

Polite, dignified, no screaming or yelling, no bloated churches or billionaires showing up with sacks full of money and hearts full of hate trying to bully or bribe their point of view to the forefront of the discussion.

The "savages" of the Puget Sound area are almost painfully civil.

One theory is that people who have been oppressed their whole lives, and indeed for generations, may not be so quick to try and oppress others, though that isn't a universal truism because many Christian churches with predominately black membership seem prone to oppose civil rights for gays.  But that likely has more to do with the unhealthy influences of the religion more than anything else.

Another theory on the occurrence of this particular piece of political civility is that Native Americans have traditionally viewed gay people as heightened spiritual beings who have a transitional role in their culture.   Today they are sometimes referred to by the Indians as "two-spirit" people.  They are viewed with respect rather than ridicule or hatred.

Yet a third theory behind the civility of the Suquamish is that they have been raised better than the rest of us.  They have been taught to respect differences rather than to try and stomp them out.  They value diversity with the same intensity as others value money and power.

And now, at least in the Suquamish tribe, gay couples have the right to marry - and that right has been granted and blessed by their community.

Sanity survives, if only in the smallest and most remote of communities.  The Suquamish serve as a proud example of how politics could work - one tiny light in the great American morass of moneyed politics and choreographed hate.  They deserve our attention, and our respect.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Warren Jeffs: Pedophile Behind Bars

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Warren Jeffs is preparing to spend the rest of his life in prison.  A jury in San Angelo, Texas, earlier this week made the decision to remove the 55-year-old leader of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a polygamous blight on the social and religious landscape of America, from the streets of Texas and America for the rest of his natural life after convicting him of the rape of his 12-year-old "wife."  The jury also gave Mr. Jeffs and additional twenty years behind bars for raping another of his wives, this one 15-years-old.

Warren Jeffs has at least seventy-eight "celestial" wives, of whom twenty-four are under age, and twelve are under the age of sixteen.

A recording of a group sex scene held in the baptismal font of his church was released earlier in the week.  It revealed Jeffs having sex with five females, including one who was only thirteen and two who were reported to be his own sisters.   He has also been accused of pulling families apart and assigning the girls to other men.  His nephew reported that Uncle Warren raped him while serving as his church school principal.

It would appear that Warren Jeffs is not only a very sick pedophile, but he is also a sick, incestuous pedophile.

So how is his flock responding to their shepherd's conviction of serious sex offenses?  Indignantly, that's how. They are supposedly constructing a 38-foot tall metal statue of Warren Jeffs that will have a place of honor at the church compound on the Utah/Arizona border.  A graven image of a craven  pervert.

One is left to wonder how any "religious" organization, no matter how fundamentalist, could condone the rape of children.  Texas took more than 400 FLDS children into foster care in 2008, and was later ordered by the State Supreme Court to release them back to their parents.   With Warren Jeffs safely locked away, things should be better for the youngsters, but if their parents and elders are out constructing a giant statue to honor a giant among child abusers, then clearly the children still are not safe.

If your God condones the rape of children, it is well past time to renounce the bastard!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Theory of Evolution Proven!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

One of my favorite old jokes is actually a riddle.  It goes like this:

Question:  What's the first thing you know?
Answer:  Old Jed's a millionaire.

Funny stuff, right?

I was reminded of that joke today while perusing some tweets on Twitter.  One liberal tweeter posted an entry that said a man had shot his penis off while trying to put a pistol in the waistband of his pants.

Question:  What's the first thing I knew?
Answer:  This had to be an Arizona story!

And it was.  The story was starting to go up all over the Internet.  A twenty-seven-year-old man and his girlfriend in Chandler, Arizona (a Phoenix burb), were starting to walk into a store when he decided it might be prudent to put his pistol up.  (He apparently did not want to give the wrong message.)  Not having a holster, he decided the macho thing to do would be to put it in the waistband on his pants.  But the macho aspect went up in smoke as soon as the small  pistol accidentally discharged.  According to the latest reports the bullet went through his penis and lodged in his thigh.

(One report said that the pistol was pink and actually belonged to his girlfriend, so he may have been putting it away just to avoid being laughed at by sales clerks.)

The incident apparently happened last week and the poor fellow is still hospitalized.  The penis, though not "shot off," was definitely wounded - though perhaps not as seriously as the guy's pride!

The lesson here, boys  and girls, is that evolution definitely works.   The weak (and weak-minded) are being eliminated from the gene pool, sometimes by themselves.   And in a place like Arizona where the number of weapons-owned increases as IQ drops, it should be a matter of just a very few years before the scorpions and rattlesnakes are once again the dominant species.

Never doubt Darwin!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bigotry Negatively Impacts Learning and Intelligence

by Pa Rock

My home of record, rustic McDonald County, Missouri, is actually the southwest corner county in Missouri - bumping up against two other counties in Missouri, Delaware County, Oklahoma, and Benton County, Arkansas.  Benton County, of course, is the home of Tyson Foods, Jones Truck Lines, and America's largest retailer, Wal-Mart.  Sadly, very little of Benton  County's wealth sloshes over the northern border into McDonald County - nor is that ever very likely to happen.

There are some wonderful things in McDonald County (rivers, campgrounds, scenic drives, beautiful stands of pine trees), but there is also quite a bit of poverty.  It is a place where change comes mighty damned hard.

But change has happened.  Over the past two decades McDonald County has witnessed a cultural transformation as thousands of Hispanics have come north and settled in small towns to work in local factories and food processing plants.  Chicken growing and processing are big business in that area and traditionally poor wage-payers.  The Hispanics who have poured into McDonald County over the past twenty years have worked hard, often doing two eight-hour shifts per person in order to survive and earn money to send home.  And many have prospered, bought homes, and established businesses of their own.

I spoke with a school board member early on as that transition was beginning to take place and suggested that in addition to teaching the little Hispanic kids English, it would be an ideal time to also start teaching the Anglo children Spanish.  Little children, after all, have the ability to pick up foreign languages much easier than their bewildered  parents and grandparents do.

That school board member told me politely, but rather firmly, that teaching American kids to talk Mexican was never going to be a priority of that school district.  Today that attitude is still pervasive in much of America.  People want the newcomers to assimilate and to forget their own unique cultural backgrounds.

Well, there are a couple of problems with that attitude.  First of all, unless the teabaggers take over the nation, we are not going to be able to go into people's homes and force them to use English only in their own domiciles.  Many Hispanic families realize the value of having children who are bilingual - even if the majority culture does not.  Just a very few years from now, for instance, the small factories and industries will still have employees who speak English and employees who speak Spanish.  (Yes, they will!)  And who will most likely be the supervisors and line foremen in charge of the diverse workplace?  My money is on the young people who are fluent in both languages.

Today there was an article in the new Newsweek entitled "Why It's Smart to Be Bilingual."  Turns out, being bilingual makes for smarter kids!  Among other things, including the facts that being bilingual is  a plus when it comes to college admissions and job prospects, the article had this to say:

"According to several different studies, command of two or more languages bolsters the ability to focus in the face of distraction, decide between competing alternatives, and disregard irrelevant information.  These essential skills are grouped together, known in brain terms as 'executive function.'  The research suggests they develop ahead of time in bilingual children, and are already evident in kids as young as 3 or 4."

 Years ago I sat out in my front yard at my little house in Naha, Okinawa, and watched a group of pre-schoolers playing in the neighbor's driveway.  The group included Americans and Japanese.  I remember being fascinated with their ability to communicate verbally with one another as they played.  Those kids were teaching each other English and Japanese!

Instead of sitting around whining about immigration, we ought to be embracing it as an opportunity for intellectual growth and development.  Let the bigots be as dumb as they want to be, but they have no right to try to place limits on the intellectual abilities and potential of everybody else!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Saved in a Beer Hall"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

At a time when Christian fundamentalists appear to be waging a holy war on tolerance, I found the following poem on the subject of salvation to be especially uplifting.  "Saved in a Beer Hall" was written by a twenty-two year old literature student at Kent State University named Derek S. Keck, and it is copyrighted in his name.  This work speaks to me, powerfully.

Saved in a Beer Hall

by Derek S Keck
I’ve been saved at the end of a stein
In a bar, moving through eternity’s eternal secret
The reality at the center of true reality
The heart of all that is truly good
Drinking wine, feeling the cosmic soundness
Of merry hearts lifted by lighter heads
“Hang your heavy thoughts at the door”
Reads a sign at the entrance

In churches and cathedrals
I’ve never felt such love
As I do with my pals with beers in our hands
Cosmic vibrations in glazed eyes and lifted spirits
As we sit in the halls
Where the flowering of love
Sails like a dove, cresting the sea
Across the sky, from our mouths
Boasting our love
Unlocking the heart of eternity’s eternal secret

There is no doubt of this flowering of love
No one sleeps in the pews
Or listens halfheartedly to preaching’s of man
Where God’s love is vacant
Because hearts don’t flow freely
Or choose to understand
“Leave your merriness at the door”
Reads the sign hung on the above chapel

I hear women mock the younger’s dress
Complain about babies raising lamentations to the lord
Christians who call themselves Christians
Then leave with a big *&%$ you
“Sure, maybe I keep two out of ten commandments.
Not a big deal. I’ll ask for salvation.”
(and not mean it)

Men and women who scream
“I’m a follower of the lord.”
They yell out “This is how you live virtuously”
Then under the cover of night I hear them chant
“Contradictions, Contradictions, Contradictions”
Then come morning
They head no warning
When they damn others
For the sins they commit
Without love or want to understand

I hear the scream in public markets
“Damn Muslims, foreigners, and our own contradicting thoughts!”
Contradictions of books and men who speak of love
And bury the world under an avalanche of
Hate and intolerance
Breading hate and intolerance

Sometimes in pew
I see the graveyard of God
Where no one comes to praise
But follows monotonous motions
Void of any love
The spirit has left
No love is found

So it was
When I found God in a beer hall
Where praise and love is not content
Being held in the heart
Where merriness abounds
And cosmic vibrations fill our hearts
With a greater love
For where laughter and merriness is not
Spirituality doesn’t exist

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When Fascism Comes to America

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Texas Governor Rick Perry held his Jeezuspalooza at a big sports stadium in Houston on Saturday.  The event, officially called "The Response." was a shameless political gimmick by Perry to draw attention to himself as he prepares to run for President.

Thirty thousand individuals were bused into Reliant Stadium, a venue that holds over 70,000, for a day of prayer, and singing, and fasting.  Perry stated that the purpose of the rally was to bring Christians together in prayer and to petition for divine assistance to help the nation emerge from its financial woes and other crises.

And, if in the process, he got some camera time doing his World's Greatest Christian routine, well, that was just gravy!

Perry invited all of the nation's governors to join him at his shindig, but only Sam Brownback of Kansas actually showed up.  Brownback, like Perry, would love to be President, and, like Perry, sees Evangelical Christians as his political base.  (Governor Brownback's office in Kansas was quick to point out that the governor was on vacation and if he showed up in Houston he would be traveling on his own time and his own dime.)  Governor Rick Scott of Florida (of Medicare fame) sent a taped speech to the event.

But there were other dignitaries involved as well.  Pastor John Hagee spit out some fire and brimstone as he stood next to Governor Perry on stage.  Hagee is the pastor of the Texas Cornerstone Church of San Antonio, and his views, particularly on the evils of the Catholic Church, are so extreme that John McCain rejected his endorsement in the 2008 presidential race.  Hagee once reportedly proffered the notion that Adollf Hitler was sent by God to kill Jewish people.

Mike Bickle, a founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, was also involved.   Mr. Bickle has allegedly referred to Oprah Winfrey as a "pastor of the harlot of Babylon."  (I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean, but I hear that his joint serves really great pancakes!)

Alice Patterson, who uses the title "Apostle," was on the stage with Perry.  She is the founder of Justice at the Gate in San Antonio.  Apostle Patterson has written that there is "a demonic structure behind the Democratic Party."

One other celebrity who reportedly participated at the Perry political rally was John Benefiel, the head of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network (out of Oklahoma - color me surprised!) who once complained that we had gotten the Statue of Liberty from French Freemasons and called it "an idol, a demonic idol right there in the middle of New York Harbor!"

Yes Siree Bob, they had some heavy duty intellectuals in Houston on Saturday!

Oh, and it wasn't a religious rally - it was a Christian rally.

Earlier in the week, fifty Houston religious leaders, led by the Anti-Defamation League, sent the governor a letter stating their concern that he was sending an official exclusion to non-Christian Texans.

And it was a rally to glorify Rick Perry.  The Texas Freedom Network sent Perry a petition with 10,000 signatures accusing him of using religion for political gain.  (Busted!)

Governor  Perry, however, being an astute political animal, had the good sense not to use either his personal money or that of the state of Texas to put on the gimmick rally.   The rent for Reliant Stadium was paid for by the American Family Association (AFA), which as been categorized as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) due to statements that AFA's Issues Director has made about gays and Muslims.

Governor Perry spoke to God and the voters for 13 minutes.  (Thirteen?  Ooo-wee-ooo!)  As he chatted with God, the faithful listened:

"Father our heart breaks for America.  We see discord at home.  We see fear in the marketplace.  We see anger in the halls of government...And as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness.  We pray for our nation's leaders, Lord, for parents, for pastors, for the generals, for governors, that you would inspire them in these difficult times."

That's all he wanted.  Well, that and good hair.

One of the iconic photos of this rally shows a a woman with tear-stained face and hands uplifted to Heaven.  She was wearing a tee-shirt that said:  "USA Love Jesus."  And that really was what this circus was all about - making connections between Christianity, patriotism, and Rick Perry.

Michelle Bachmann could not have been pleased.  She, too, has staked out God (the Christian fundamentalist God) as her own personal campaign property.  She is now advertising that fifty religious leaders and organizations in Iowa have endorsed her run for the Presidency.  Bachmann, along with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, have all signed a pledge being strong-armed onto Republican candidates by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), vowing to fight allowing same-sex couples to marry and promising to use a litmus test for potential judicial appointees to make sure that they are as bigoted as NOM and the candidates who signed its hateful pledge.

And don't talk to any of these goobers about "separation of church and state," because they will tell you in a heartbeat that it is a misinterpretation of the Constitution - and given the chance, they will pack the Supreme Court with enough mental midgets of the Clarence Thomas variety to prove it.

Sinclair Lewis knew exactly what lay ahead when he said, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

USA Love Jesus - or else!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Passing of Typhoon Muifa

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Those of you who follow my Okinawan blog know that we have been dealing with a fairly serious typhoon here on Okinawa since about midday Thursday.  It is now late Saturday and  Typhoon Muifa has finally blown on out to sea.

I have weathered several typhoons since coming to this island a little over a year ago - and one big one back in the early 1970's - but this was by far the worst.  The winds last night were furious and unrelenting - all night long.  Miraculously I can see no damage, though I have yet to stroll beyond my apartment's parking lot.  I live on the sixth floor of an eight-story building and cannot see anything out of the ordinary that appears to be related to the two-day massive storm.  The island's big Ferris wheel is still standing.

Okinawans (and Japanese and Koreans and everyone else who has helped to rebuild this island since it was totally decimated in World War II) are smart people.  The major buildings and most homes have been specifically built to handle whatever nature throws their way.  Solid building construction is a key element in the island's growth and development.  Not surprisingly, I have not encountered one mobile home on the entire island and doubt that they are permitted by the local building codes.

(Note to my friends in McDonald County, Missouri:  Yes, there are some places that have regulations called building codes which tell property owners what they can and cannot build, and list specifications for building requirements.  The result is generally a cleaner and safer environment and much higher property values.  The downside, of course, is that people who live in places with building codes generally can't keep their old cars on blocks in their yards to provide shade for the copperheads.)

Meanwhile, back on Okinawa the wind is still blowing, though not as ferociously, some rain is still hanging around, and people are beginning to step out of the safety of their homes and get back to the business of living.

All is well.

Friday, August 5, 2011

As the Money Turns

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

With the corrosive Supreme Court decision in Citizens United now safely on the books, corporate money is going to be more plentiful in the 2012 election cycle than hookers at an NRA convention.   At least a dozen Republicans are in the money chase, a situation that almost guarantees that some will step over the line (loose though it already is) in the rush to get more and more of this corporate "speech."

One of the first significant scandals in the current race to the White House may already be coming to light.  Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts who has exceedingly large amounts of family wealth and political connections, is being subjected to polite (so far) inquiries about a million-dollar donation that was made to his PAC, Restore Our Future, under less-than-transparent conditions.

The money was donated (or washed) through a mysterious group called W Spann, LLC.  It was created in March of this year, listed an official address that it never occupied in Manhattan, and was mysteriously dissolved in July of this year shortly before its sole donation (the one million to the Mittster) was made  public.  Reporters trying to follow the money are, of course, running up against a big stone wall.

This election is going to be so much fun, because when it comes to sleazy campaign practices (especially regarding money) nobody does it better than the GOP!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Japan Struggles to Weaken Yen

by Pa Rock
American Abroad

When I first arrived on Okinawa in February of 1972, the island belonged to the United States and all business was transacted in dollars.  That changed three-and-a-half months later when the United States returned the small island to the control of Japan.  (May 15, 1972 - Reversion Day)  Suddenly all local business was conducted in the Japanese currency, yen.

At that time the exchange rate was either 300 or 360 yen to the dollar (can't remember exactly, the mind fogs over the years), and it seemed like yen was so plentiful that people carried it by the bagful.  Rent wasn't too outrageous.  We took our dollars to the bank and converted them to yen in order to pay the local landlords.  But then one day not too far into this story, Evil Dick Nixon took measures to lower the value of the dollar, and the result was that we could buy half the amount of yen per dollar that we had been able to previously, and our rent was essentially doubled.  The landlords didn't make any more, but we certainly paid more!

The reason Nixon wanted to lower the value of the dollar was so that American manufactured goods would become lower in price for foreign currencies and other countries would rush in to snap up the bargains.  It was to help our export trade - and to lower the American reliance on imports - particularly items manufactured in Japan.

When I arrived back on Okinawa a year ago last month, yen was trading at 87 to the dollar and rents were astronomical.  That rate held fairly steady until the great Japanese tsunami on March 11th of this year.  At that time many Japanese investors started taking their yen out of foreign investments and bringing it home to help with the rebuilding.  The net effect was that the price of yen began to rise on the world markets while other currencies headed south - especially the dollar.

Today yen is selling at 75 to the dollar.

Today a hundred dollars will buy 7,500 yen.  A year ago the same amount of dollars would buy 8,700 yen.   Average rents are 200,000 to 300,000 yen per month.  Go figure.

Japan is now cursed by other countries not wanting their exports due to the world currency rates, and the country is trying desperately to at least stop the surge in the value of yen.  Today they announced that for the third time since March they will make a run at weakening their currency.

It sounds sort of oxymoronish that a weak currency would strengthen an economy, but a weak currency means more exports and thus more industry paychecks at home, and it also means more tourists coming to Japan and spending in the local economies.

And it also means that Americans who live here might be able to go out to the local establishments to shop and dine, rather that spend all of their time looking for cheaper housing and shopping on base or online.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Republican Gay Lies

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The political climate in 1996 was not as toxic in Washington, DC, as it is today, but in many respects it was just as dumb. Bill Clinton was in the White House closing in on the end of his first term and busy running for re-election.  While Bill's reelection against the doddering Bob Dole was almost a foregone conclusion, the great Pander Bear was not taking anything for granted.   He was intent on proving to every Joe  Six-Pack in America that he could be just as lowdown and odious as the leaders of the Republican Party.

And the GOP had some dandy leaders.  In 1996 Mark Foley was still serving in the House.  Foley was the creepy congressman from Florida who spent his days, and some of his nights, making unwanted sexual advances toward a terrorized group of young, male House pages.  That same year, Larry Craig, of the wide-stance Craig's, was still representing Idaho as a Republican in the United States Senate.  He, too, had a thing for cute guys.  Also in 1996, serial philanderer Newt Gingrich was the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives - dreaming of having breakfast at Tiffany's, no doubt.

Both the House and the Senate were in Republican control during 1996, creating a situation that was ripe for stupid legislation.  One of the stupidest (and most hateful) bills passed that year was the scurrilous Defense of Marriage Act  (DOMA), a law that recognized the inevitability of same-sex marriages in some states, and sought to minimize the impact of those marriages by ensuring that states did not have to honor marriages performed beyond their borders if those marriages could not have occurred legally within that particular state.  DOMA (Section 3) also prevented the federal government from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages.

President Clinton, right on cue, slithered forth and signed the right-wing screed.  Bubba was not going to jeopardize his re-election by supporting something that wouldn't play well in church basements or American Legion halls.

President Obama campaigned on a pledge that he would bring about the repeal of DOMA.  That has not happened, but earlier this year Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the President had decided that his administration and Justice Department would no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA in court because the President felt that it was blatantly unconstitutional.  The administration said that if Congress had an issue with that (and did they ever!), then Congress could hire attorney's and defend Section 3 of DOMA in court.

And now Congress (or at least the Republican clowns in control of the House of Representatives) are headed into federal court to defend the honor of heterosexual marriages by castigating gays.  They have hired (with our tax dollars) a legal beagle by the name of Paul Clement who will fight to maintain the dignity of marriage and the sanctity of Congress through a challenge to the case of Edie Windsor.

Edie Windsor was a victim of inheritance taxes - something that Republicans usually rail against.  Edie was engaged to Thea Spyer for forty years, and in 2007 they went to Toronto, Canada, and were legally married. The couple returned to their home in Greenwich Village, New York, and lived contentedly for a couple of years until Thea died.  Shortly thereafter, Edie, then in her eighties, received a bill from the federal government for $363,000 in inheritance taxes - something that would not have occurred had Edie's spouse been a male.

Edie Windsor took her complaint about having to pay the inheritance tax to a Federal District Court in southern New York.  It was the egregiousness of this case that finally prompted the President to act when he pulled the Justice Department away from defending Section 3 of DOMA.  And it was the egregiousness of the President's actions in the matter that forced the Republican Party to rush out and hire an attorney to go into court and defend this bigoted law.

This week Paul Clement filed two briefs in the Windsor case.  According to an entry in today's DailyKos, he made the following five attacks on the concept of gay marriage and what the Republicans see as their mandate from God not to recognize it.  (Warning:  This stuff stinks!)

  • Gays have not historically faced discrimination.  (Tell that to Matthew Shephard!)
  • Sexual orientation is a choice.  (Maybe at the Bachmann Clinic, but certainly not in the real world!)
  • Gays have plenty of political power.  (Wrong again.  If they did, this would not even be an issue!)
  • Same-sex couples make bad parents.  (Actually the literature suggests the opposite to be true.)
  • The institution of marriage must be protected.  (Could we have Newt give some testimony on that one - or perhaps Senator Vitter!)
Good luck, Edie, and thank you for waging this battle!  May the gavel of justice reach down from on high and smite these hatemongers until they become tolerant human beings - and that will surely take a hell of a lot of smiting!