Friday, September 30, 2011

Hello Portland!

by Pa Rock
Weary Traveler

Well, if it's Friday night - and it is - this must be Portland, Oregon - and it is.  Jerry Seinfeld and I are both in town for the evening, but our paths have yet to cross.  He is doing a show downtown, and I am sitting in my room at the Radisson watching my feet swell!

I have spent the day with Molly and Scott and my grandsons, Sebastian and Judah.  Our hotel is located on a small lake that is home to a couple of dozen ducks, and supposedly one lonely coyote, so we did get out and walk along the shore admiring nature.  Later in the day we took the Portland Light Rail downtown to Pioneer Square where we got off and roamed the streets for awhile and had dinner at a small Mexican restaurant.  The boys were very, very busy during the meal, but we managed to get it all consumed without any problems.  My grandsons are so much fun!

The last time I saw Sebastian and Judah was on Sebastian's third birthday - July 5, 2010.  Judah was just seven months old at that time, so he didn't know me today, but he quickly warmed up to his grandfather.  Sebastian is talking clearly now and is quite informative and inquisitive.   They both seemed to enjoy the ride on the train.   Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will spend the day at the Portland Zoo.

The flight out was memorable.  I managed to wind up in a middle seat for the three-and-a-half hour flight from Dallas to Portland.  The guy on my left was very odd and had the stewardesses weirded out.  He looked to be about twenty-five or thirty, but wore old men's clothing complete with ill-fitting jeans and wide suspenders.  He appeared to have trouble understanding the instructions from the flight crew - hard stuff like put your bag under the seat - and he acted like he was ill and kept his head down most of the flight.  When they asked him if he wanted a beverage, he ordered a cup of ice, a cup of hot water, and a tea bag.  He proceeded to make his own iced tea from scratch, but then only consumed one small sip.  Also, he had dark skin which meant that more than likely he was a Sharia Law quoting, Qur'an reading, sneaky terrorist Muslim!   We made it to Portland without the airline staff or TSA going nuts - Allah be praised! - and the last I saw of my elbow-to-elbow neighbor he was standing outside of the plane in Portland trying to decide if he needed a wheelchair or not.

Hey Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport (DFW), Wi-Fi is free at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) - and XNA is customer-friendly.

American Airlines, you still suck!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bikes, Blues, and BBQ!

by Pa Rock
Old Hippie

(A note on time:  The dates on this blog are running one day in the future because I am currently in the United States but the blog is set up on Japanese time - which is tomorrow...and I am not smart enough, nor energetic enough, to try to change it.  I am actually typing this entry on Thursday, September 29, 2011.)

Sister Gail and I have just returned from Dickson Street in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the annual Bikes, Blues, and BBQ festival is occurring.  We spent the morning walking along Dickson (the heart of the University district) looking in shops and biker stands, admiring the shiny motorcycles, listening to engines roar, watching the freaks, and eating.  Many of the bikers were older than me, and most made me look skinny!  Their bikes looked expensive and their women looked cheap - and the food was over-priced but tasted good in a carnival sort of way.

This afternoon we are driving to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport so that I will be able to find my way there tomorrow morning in the dark when I board a plane to go see Molly and her crew in Oregon.

I still have not won the Missouri Lotto, Powerball, or Mega Millions, so it looks that I will be returning to Okinawa right on schedule!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The African Clothing and Grocery Company

by Pa Rock
Citizen of the World

Noel, Missouri, in the 1950's was a small tourist community in the Ozarks where people from Kansas City and Tulsa spent their weekends staying in the town's many motels and tourists courts and playing in the beautiful Elk River.  Noel was middle America in every sense of the word, and it was very, very white.  Actually there was one gentleman of color living in the town, a black man named Earl Brown who went by the nickname of "Brownie."  He claimed to be half-Cherokee, which was probably much of the reason that the townspeople were so accepting of him.

Brownie had an old dog named "Boy," and when he would twist Boy's ear just so, the poor creature would make sounds that closely resembled human words.   America had talent - even back then!

The motels and tourist courts had collapsed or been turned into low-income housing by the 1990's,  and people who came to enjoy the river had to stay in the area campgrounds and canoe parks.  It was during the 1990's that the town's ethnicity also underwent a major change as Hispanics poured into Noel and across the Midwest to work in the poultry and meat-packing industries.  By the year 2000, approximately half of the children in Noel's elementary school were Hispanic, and mariachi music could be heard emanating from cars cruising Main Street.  Our new neighbors were buying houses and some were even starting their own businesses.

Now there is another ethnic minority making its presence felt in Noel.  As I explored my hometown this week (my first trip back in nearly a year-and-a-half) I quickly noticed several black people in what appeared to be African garb.  Most of the newcomers are apparently Somalis, and they have come for the same jobs that lured their Hispanic predecessors to the area.  

Most of the Somali foot traffic on Main Street seemed to center around the old Harmon Hardware Store.  That stone, three-story structure was built in 1898 and is the tallest business building in town.  Hanging over the front door was this sign:  "The African Clothing and Grocery Company of Noel, MO."

I spoke to a few of the locals who were displeased with this development, but some are acknowledging that the Hispanics are good neighbors and an important part of the community.   With just a modicum of patience and acceptance, the Somalis will also enrich the town with their unique gifts.

In diversity there is strength.

Storks Are Us

by Pa Rock
Village Elder

Apologies for not posting anything in this spot yesterday.  Computer connectivity has been sporadic during my travels.  Last night I attempted twice to post an entry using my sister's computer at her apartment, and both times it disappeared before I could hit the publish button.

Today (September 28th) I am sitting in a hospital lobby in Johnson, Arkansas, awaiting the birth of my grandnephew - Graham Edward Smith - Justin and Lisa's first child.  Grammy Gail is here with me.  This will be her first grandson.

My first granddaughter, Baby Macy, is expected to arrive no later than October 12th in Kansas City.  She will be Tim and Erin's first child.

Babies, babies, everywhere!  Tempus fugit!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Watch Out World, I'm Driving!

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

For the past fourteen months I have been driving on the left-hand side of the road in a car that has the steering wheel on the right.  It took about six months for me to completely assimilate the fact that the control on the right side of the wheel was turn signal, and the windshield wipers were on the left.  But I learned.  And I also learned to drive in a society where the highest speed limit is approximately thirty-five miles per hour.

So today as I got behind the wheel of the rental car in Kansas City, I had to forget everything that I have learned while living in Japan - as I raced toward the Ozarks at a death-defying seventy miles-per-hour!

The rule of thumb that I picked up while overseas with regard to driving is this:  Keep your hiney on the liney.  In other words, the driver should be lane that would place him closest to the center line.  That works in either country.  Every time I pulled on or off of the highway today, I would have to repeat the hiney-liney mantra to make sure that I was in the lane that I needed to be in.

It worked great today, but just in case I forget and screw up, I bought the deluxe insurance package!

I am now safely in my hometown of Noel, Missouri, and spending the evening at the home of Mayor Carroll and his lovely wife Patti.  It is so nice to have friends in high places!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moneyball and Jedgar

by Pa Rock
KC Visitor

This was a quiet Sunday in Kansas City and a beautiful day, which made it an exceptional day to spend some relaxed time with Tim and Erin.

Tim and I went to Overland Park, Kansas, this morning where he helped me shop for a wireless mouse for my net book.  It is really nice to be able to move the cursor with a mouse instead of trying to navigate with that tricky little finger pad.

This afternoon Tim and Erin and I took in a movie, Moneyball, at the new AMC theater that is within walking distance of their apartment.  The theater has deep leather seats that rock and vibrate to any sudden loud noises on the screen.  Apparently the seats are supposed to do that!  It was a very fancy joint with photos of movie stars and famous screen quotes in abundance on most flat surfaces.  (I stood at the urinal in the men's room after the show staring into one of Jack Nicholson's more sinister faces.)

The movie was exceptional - Moneyball with Brad Pitt with Jonah Hill.  It was a recounting of the 2002 major league baseball season in which the Oakland Athletics proved to the world that winning baseball could be played on a budget.  I haven't seen all of Brad Pitt's films, but of those that I have seen, Moneyball is the best since Twelve Monkeys.

In fact, if I hadn't caught the previews for J. Edgar, I would say that Mr. Pitt might be taking home an Oscar next spring.  Leonardo DiCaprio looks like he is going to be awesome as the omnipotent and politically ruthless FBI Director.  J. Edgar is unlikely to play at any of the military theaters on Okinawa, particularly if it displays the G-Man's feminine side - replete with large evening gowns and beaded handbags!

Remember when Lily Tomlin used to call him "Jedgar" on Laugh-In?  That was pretty edgy stuff, especially since the old bastard was still alive!  Earnestine could have really let loose with some zingers if she had known that he was a cross-dresser!

I am really anxious to see how DiCaprio does this most complex of individuals.

Damn,  but I miss having access to good movies on the big screen!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Dime a Dozen

by Pa Rock
Globe Trotter

One more airport story:

I stopped at a food court in the Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) Airport where I planned to grab a sandwich and try to figure out how to connect to the Wi-Fi.  As I entered, I spotted an Army captain sitting alone working at his computer.  I sat down across from him and told him that I was an Army employee on Okinawa and asked where he was stationed.  He said, "We are from D.C."

That should have been my first clue.

I asked him about connecting to Wi-Fi.  He was using an air-card, but very courteously pulled my computer across to him and tried to help me - unsuccessfully as it turned out.  As he was working, another man in uniform walked up and sat down next to me.   He actually brought the captain's food to him.  After a minute or two of ignoring the newcomer, I glanced up to get a look at him.

"Oh, hell."  I stammered.  "I'm sorry I bothered you captain.  I had no idea you were a general's aide!"

The man wearing the star looked me and grinned.  "Aw, that's alright.  We're a dime a dozen."

Not in my world you aren't - sir!

The Longest Day

by Pa Rock
Globe Trotter

I arrived safely in Kansas City Friday evening around 11:00 p.m., just in time to wish my youngest son, Tim, happy birthday on his thirty-second.  Tim and Erin met me at the Kansas City Airport (MCI) along with my oldest son, Nick, and my grandson, Boone.  I didn't know that Nick and Boone would be there - what a wonderful surprise! 

I woke up on Okinawa at 5:00 a.m. on September 23rd, and stepped off of the airplane in Kansas City at 11:00 p.m. on September 23rd - but it was actually 28 hours after I had gotten out of bed.  The International Date Line plays hell with Circadian rhythms!   (By the time I finally got to sleep I had been up 31 hours!)

Here are a few trip highlights after leaving Narita, Japan.   First of all, I was disgusted to learn that American Airlines had seen fit to sit me in the middle seat in a row of five - directly behind a lady who spent the entire flight combing her hair and laying her seat back to where it was almost in my lap.  I had requested an aisle seat, and if I had known that American would pull a stunt like that - I would have taken the bus!  American Airlines - you suck!

Disclaimer:  People who own stock in American Airlines might want to quit reading at this point.

The flight out of Narita left 50 minutes late, so I was fairly certain that I would not be able to catch my connecting flight from Dallas to Kansas City - but the America ticket agent in Narita told me that I would have plenty of time.  I knew that I would have to clear customs in Dallas and suspected that she was lying through her teeth - and she was.  I literally ran across most of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport (DFW) and managed to get through everything just a few minutes after my flight should have left.  "Good news," the next ticket agent told me - that flight had been delayed by half-an-hour. 

After racing across the airport again and doing a dance with the anal TSA animals, I got to the new gate ten minutes before the plane was to have left.  "I'm sorry, Mr. Macy," the man at the desk said.  "You failed to show.  The plane is full."  I explained that I had indeed "showed" - that it was me standing in front of him - to no avail, of course!

Two young men with even a sadder tale showed up at that counter just behind me.  They had tickets on the later flight, the one that I eventually boarded, but a clerk at that counter told them that for $50 each he could get them on the earlier one.   "Nope,"  the clerk snorted.  "The plane is full."  To top it off, they weren't able to get their extra fifties back!  Those guys spent the intervening three hours getting drunk and then sat across from me on the later flight to Kansas City.  They were really, really funny by the time the plane took off!

American Airlines, you are a bunch of thieving bastards, and you suck!

While at the DFW I needed to get in touch with Tim to let him know not to head to the airport in Kansas City because I would be on a later flight.  I didn't have a stateside cell phone, and I couldn't figure out how to connect to the DFW Wi-Fi system.  I tried the credit-card payphones, but could get any of the three to work.  Finally a good Samaritan recognized the look of homicidality on my face and stepped forward and let me use her cell phone.

The good Samaritan told me as I was walking away that my leg was bleeding.  I had cut it on one of the seats as I was trying to exit the flying can from Narita.  It was a fairly significant cut.  She told me to find the airport first aid station and get it looked at.  Turns out there is no first aid station in all of DFW - at least that's what I was told.  One employee suggested that I buy some Neosporin at one of their many stores and quit whining.  There are, of course, no stores in the whole damned airport that sell anything in the way of medical supplies.

(If any rabid lawyers out there would like to sue American Airlines on my behalf for a share in the take, get it touch!  Nice guys need not apply!)

American Airlines, you are a public menace, a bunch of thieving bastards, and you suck!  And DFW, you are no prize either!

(In fairness, there are some good people working for American Airlines, and I had the good fortune to meet a couple of them.)

But I am now safely in Kansas City, God's in Her heaven, and all is right with the world!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Trip Update

by Pa Rock
Airport Lurker

I am safely at the Narita Airport in Tokyo.  It turns out that I didn't have to go through Hanaeda Airport and take the expensive shuttle over to Narita.  Praise Allah for small mercies!

So far I have read a hundred pages of Vonnegut (the end of Slaughterhouse Five and beginning of Breakfast of Champions).  The flight from Tokyo to Dallas is twelve hours or more, so I may finish BOC before arriving in Texas.

The highlight of the trip up to this point has been watching a small Japanese man do the Moon Walk on a luggage conveyor belt.  I'm easy to entertain!

More later...

Flying Home!

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

It is Friday, the twenty-third of September, around six a.m. on the island of Okinawa.  In fifteen minutes or so my friend, Valerie, will drive me to the airport in Naha where I will begin my first trip back to the United States since arriving on Okinawa on the 22nd of July, 2010.  I will fly to the Haneda Airport in Tokyo, catch an expensive shuttle bus to the Narita Airport, and then fly non-stop to Dallas-Ft. Worth - and from there on to Kansas City where I will be met by my son, Tim, and his lovely wife Erin.

Today is Tim's thirty-second birthday.  Surprisingly, it will still be his birthday many hours later when I land in Kansas City because my flight will have crossed over the International Date Line while enroute.

I am taking a notebook computer along for the ride, but the uncertainty of Wi-Fi connections in various locations where I will be - and my extra-busy schedule - means that this space may occasionally go empty over the next few weeks.  I will be back in Japan on October 15th, and things will quickly - too quickly, I am sure - get back to normal.

I hope to see some of you in the States!

Class Warfare

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday I heard an audio montage on the radio of several different Republican talking heads and politicians accusing the President of conducting class warfare.  They were repeating a GOP talking point like so many addlepated parrots - staying on message - accusing President Obama of picking on a particular class of people - the super rich.  Well, they didn't really refer to the intended "victims" of the President's battle strategy as rich - they always refer to them as middle class Americans or "job creators."

But what they are really wailing is this:  It is so bloody unfair that the nation's richest individuals and corporations (the Republican base) should have their tax rates raised to the same level as those that America's working families are already paying.   Let the very richest Americans keep more of their money and they will use it to create jobs and help the economy.

 And what they aren't saying is this:  most of the super wealthy will spend their money on themselves and lavish it on their Republican stooges, and those who do create jobs will ship most of those jobs overseas, and any jobs created in the United States will likely involve the preparation and distribution of french fries.

Class warfare is not the little guys picking on the rich - a dynamic that seldom works out.  It is the big guy holding the little guy down and insuring that he is so poor that whatever meager income he manages to patch together has to go toward living expenses - every damned dime of it.

Class warfare is conducted through union busting, denial or lack of health services, exorbitant credit card fees, unfair banking practices, restrictions on voting rights, racial profiling,  lack of educational opportunities, gated communities, limited or no public transportation, laws that target specific economic or racial groups, laws that protect property over people, and a thousand other nefarious things that the rich have used for years and years to consolidate their wealth and keep the lower classes in "their place."  That's class warfare!

Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in America, has long been the bane of his fellow fat cats for being too damned honest.  Buffett enjoys pointing out that his secretary pays a larger percentage of her income in taxes than he does.  And Buffett chortles that he does not even use a tax shelter.  So President Obama took that shameful fact and titled his request for a modest tax increase on the wealthiest Americans  the "Buffett Rule."  Informal Internet polls are showing that the American public seems to have caught onto the class warfare ruse and likes the idea of a Buffett Rule.

But dammit, Congress doesn't want to raise taxes.  Those elite legislators, many of whom are multi-millionaires themselves, believe that all of our budget woes can be eliminated through cuts in the budget.  But, of course, the programs that they are ready to cut or sacrifice altogether are those that benefit the poor and the needy.   Why cut a weapons system that the Defense Department doesn't even want, when Medicare and Medicaid have all of that lovely fat?

There may be, however, some sensible cuts that Congress could consider.  They could cut their own pay and benefits packages as a way of showing the American people that we are all in this thing together and must all sacrifice.  Last week, in fact, five taxpayer advocacy groups sent a letter to the 12-member Congressional super committee and suggested that Congress could look at cutting its own salary by a measly 10 percent, noting that would result in a savings of $100 million over ten years. ran an informal poll this week wanting to check out public support for a cut in Congressional pay and benefits, and 94% of the nearly 400,000 responses thought it was a great idea.

I think that I could support class warfare if it was directed toward the Congressional class.  That would really set those pigs to squealing!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Christian Mercy for Dummies

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Deryl Paul Dedmon, a 19-year-old white man from Mississippi, has been charged with capital murder and hate crime enhancement over the death of James Craig Anderson, a 48-year-old black man in Jackson, MS, last June.  The U.S. Department of Justice is also looking into the case as a possible federal hate crime.

Dedmon appears to have been the leader of a gang of teens who spent the night drinking and then drove two vehicles eighteen miles from their home county to Jackson looking for trouble.  They spotted Mr. Anderson standing in a hotel parking lot, pulled in, and several of the drunken teens got out of the vehicles and commenced to beat him severely while shouting racial epithets including "white power."  Most of the incident was caught on the parking lot's security camera.

The teens then got back into their vehicles and started to leave, but Dedmon, the driver of a pickup truck, saw Mr. Anderson stagger into the grass and decided to have another go at him.  He allegedly jumped the curb in his truck and ran over the victim, head-on, killing him.   Dedmon allegedly boasted and laughed about the killing, and he reportedly telephoned someone in the other vehicle and said, "I ran that nigger over."

Dedmon's attorney said during a bond hearing that he saw nothing to back up the "racial allegations."

Murder charges are now also being considered against one of the other teens, and a total of seven may ultimately be charged with crimes related to the incident.

Mr. Anderson, the victim, was a line worker at a Nissan plant and a member of his church's choir.  His family has filled a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court against seven of the teenagers, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has joined in the lawsuit.

But that is not all that the family of Mr. Anderson has done.  These people who have suffered a grievous wrong have sent letters to the county and federal officials asking that the death penalty not be imposed in this case.  They said they were opposed to the death penalty - partly  for religious reasons.

That bears repeating.  The family of a black man who was brutally murdered by a gang of white teens in what appears to be an incident motivated by race, is asking that none of the offenders face the death penalty - due, at least in part, to their religious beliefs.

And then the mind must necessarily wander back to the teabagger morons at a recent GOP presidential debate who cheered as Governor Rick Perry of Texas defended his state's passion  for the death penalty.

And then the mind must also wander to Troy Davis, a black man who was convicted of shooting a white security guard.   Mr. Davis, who has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, will have probably been executed by the state of Georgia by the time you are reading this.  Recent witness recantations and a stunning lack of evidence indicate that the chances are good that Mr. Davis is an innocent man.

Many prominent groups and individuals have come forth asking that Troy Davis be granted a new trial or an evidentiary hearing.  Speaking on his behalf have been Amnesty International, the NAACP, former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, Desmond Tutu, and former FBI Director William Sessions.  But the state of Georgia appears to be feeling no pangs of guilt other than that which they have assigned to Troy Davis - and as for Christian mercy, well that stuff is for saps.

This world would be a pretty remarkable place if we all had the courage and strength to be as moral as the family of James Craig Anderson.  They seem to have actually read the New Testament.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ring Those Wedding Bells!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The happy couple solemnized their wedding vows in a hunting lodge in Vermont just after midnight on September 20, 2011.  Their wedding had been a long time coming.

The groom, Navy Lieutenant Gary Ross, a 2002 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, wore his dress uniform replete with service ribbons and medals.  The other groom, Mr. Dan Swezy, wore civilian formal attire.

Lt. Ross works at Ft. Huachuca, an army installation in the desert of southern Arizona, and he and Mr. Swezy had been living in sin, as it were, and secrecy in Tucson.  They flew to Vermont so that they would be in the eastern time zone and thus could be among the very first to say their wedding vows on September 20, 2011 - the day the military's discriminatory policy of Don't Ask - Don't Tell (DADT) belatedly and finally came off of the books.

The newlyweds are undoubtedly very happy, and deservedly so!  Congratulations to them and to their friends and families!  May the days of secrecy be over forever!

Air Force Lieutenant Josh Seefried, a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, is also very happy.  Lt. Seefried has been using the pseudonym of J.D. Smith for the past several years as he built an underground network of over 4,000 gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual military service members who maintained contact with one another through social networking accounts and email.  His group, called Outserve, proved to be instrumental when the Pentagon, while reviewing DADT, sought input from gay service members.   Lt. Seefried attended the White House ceremony, as himself, when President Obama signed the legislation that eventually outlawed gender discrimination in the military.

Of course, not everyone is happy.  There are still a couple of soreheads in Congress who can't seem to politely abide change.  Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Joe Wilson, the chairman of that committee's personnel subcommittee, fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this week asking that he take action to delay the repeal of DADT.   They said that Congress had not been adequately informed of the policy changes that will accompany the repeal.  Pentagon personnel responded that Congress had been given complete information on the policy changes, and Mr. Panetta ignored their request.

Joe Wilson, "You lie!"

Congratulations to all of the members of the United States military on their new ability to serve as who they really are.  Now you will finally be able to enjoy a good share of the freedom that you have been fighting and dying to attain for others.  Today is every bit as significant as the day President Truman ended racial segregation in the military.  Truman did the right thing - and so did this Congress and President Obama -  and we as a country are better and stronger for their courageous actions!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Strange Fruit"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

"...The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel.  He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament.  He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low. 
"But the Gospels actually taught this: 
"Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure that he isn't well connected.  So it goes."   
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.

Abel Meeropol was a public school teacher in New York City in the mid-1930's when he happened to see a gruesome photograph of a lynching victim hanging from a tree.  The photo led him to compose the poem Strange Fruit.  The poem morphed into a song and quickly became the signature number of the great Billie Holiday.  It has since been recorded by a host of artists including Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, Sting, and Tori Amos.

In addition to being a teacher, Abel Meeropol was an active member of the American Communist Party, and he went on to become the adoptive father of the two orphaned sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple who were themselves victims of a lynching mentality.

Christianity and racism have never been strangers, and indeed for a good part of our history some of the most dangerous bigots in America have cloaked themselves in religion - and the flag.  Fortunately, lynchings have almost become a thing of the past, but the cases of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr, serve to show us that people still kill as a direct result of their prejudices.    The crowd cheering the use of capital punishment at the Republican debate a week or two ago also speaks loudly to the thirst for blood among some people who proudly tout their Christian identity.

Thou shalt not kill - well, at least don't kill anyone who is well connected!

Strange Fruit
by Abel Meeropol

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Two Daughters of Senate Legends Die

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The daughters of two Senate legends passed away this weekend.  Each was a very young 51-years-old.

Kara Kennedy was the eldest child of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his first wife, Joan,  She was born the year that her Uncle Jack was elected President.  She died of a heart attack while at a fitness center on Friday.  Ms. Kennedy was a survivor of lung cancer.  She and her husband, Michael Allen, were the parents of a teenage son and daughter.

Eleanor Mondale, the middle child of Walter and Joan Mondale, died of brain cancer on Saturday.  She had been battling the condition for several years.  The thrice-married  Ms. Mondale, a self-described "party girl," was a former girlfriend of rocker Warren Zevon and was reportedly one of a small group of women who caused Monica Lewinsky to have pangs of jealously - although she denied ever having more than just a friendship with Bill Clinton.

I went to a rally in Joplin, Missouri, in 1984 in support of the Presidential ticket of Mondale-Ferraro.  Although neither of the national candidates was in attendance, the former senator and vice-president was represented at the event by his daughter, Eleanor.  I remember her as being loud, vivacious, and formidable in her own right.  She shook the hand of everyone in attendance and spewed chit-chat like a seasoned politician.  Eleanor and Missouri State Senator Harriett Woods each signed a Mondale-Ferraro campaign poster for me, a political artifact of inestimable personal value.

The world is quietly slipping onward.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teabagger Bloodlust

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I noted a few days ago that the crowd at the Republican Teabagger Debate the other night cheered the idea of letting uninsured people die.  At the debate preceding that one, a very similar crowd whooped and hollered in support of the death penalty.  That got me interested in learning a little more about the death penalty and how it is applied.

The crowd was actually cheering Rick Perry's defense of the death penalty in Texas, a state that has executed a whopping 474 prisoners since the Supreme Court abandoned its moratorium on executions in 1975.  Almost half of those executions (234) have occurred while Perry has been governor.  He said that he has not lost any sleep over the execution of prisoners because Texas has a very fair way of handling and reviewing those cases.  (Texas, not surprisingly, leads the nation in executions.  The next highest state in executions is Virginia with 109.)

The biggest issue with execution as a punishment is that it is not retractable.  Once a person has been killed by the state, he or she cannot be reanimated if later proven to have been innocent.  One hundred and thirty-eight people have been exonerated of their crimes while sitting on death row since 1973, and of those, 12 have been in Texas.  Those were the "lucky" ones - they lived, though some had been in prison for decades awaiting justice.

But what about the ones who weren't so lucky?

The Death Penalty Information Center ( is an excellent source of information on the subject of the death penalty in the United States.  That group is currently looking into the cases of nine individuals whom it believes may have been wrongfully executed.  Of those nine, six perished in the Texas Death House.  The most famous was Cameron Willingham who was executed in 2004.  Mr. Willingham is well worth a Google.

Race seems to be an overriding factor in the use of the death penalty.    In 96% of states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim discrimination or race-of-defendant discrimination - or  both.

A study in North Carolina showed that the odds of receiving the death penalty rose by 3.5 times among those defendants whose victims were white.  A similar study in California found that those who killed whites were over three times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks - and over four times more likely than those who killed Hispanics.

There have been over twelve hundred executions in the United States since the resumption of state-sponsored  executions in the 1970s.  (Over a third of those have been in Texas.)  Of those executed nationwide, 56% have been white, 7% have been Hispanic, 35% have been black, and 2% other.  Regarding the race of the victim in death penalty cases, 76% have been white, 6% have been Hispanic, 15% have been black, and 3% other.

Interestingly, 98% of the chief district attorneys in death penalty states are white, and only one percent are black.

2010 census information for Texas indicates that the state has 37.6% Hispanic/Latino population, 11.8% black, and 45.3% white (non-Hispanic).  Of the 474 people executed by the state of Texas since the 1970's, 80 (16.9%) have been identified as Hispanic, 173 (36.5%) as black, and 219 (46.2%) as white - with two classified as other.  That would indicate that Hispanics are under-represented on death row in Texas by over half, blacks are over-represented by three times, and whites are just about where they should be.

Race is a significant factor in who receives the death penalty and who doesn't - even in Texas.

Another interesting tidbit that I picked up while reading on this subject is that it is much more expensive to execute an individual - after the lengthy appeals and other aspects of due process are carried out - than it is to incarcerate that same person for the rest of his or her life.

But Rick Perry sleeps soundly - as, unfortunately, do we all.  And the teabagger rabble wet themselves with glee every time another "killer" is snuffed by the state.  To them the use of capital punishment is almost as orgasmic as watching a homeless person freeze to death - or winning a 9mm Glock handgun from their local Republican Party.

Surely we can sink no lower.

The Little Dictator from Oklahoma

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Senator Harry Reid has done something that would have been stunning just a few decades ago:  he has referred to a fellow U.S. Senator as a "dictator."  He was speaking of Oklahoma's Tom Coburn who has been bottling up an important transportation bill in the Senate because he didn't like some of its provisions.  Coburn's petty behavior threatened to partially shut down the Federal Aviation Administration leaving thousands jobless, placing air passengers at risk, and costing the government thousands of dollars in lost ticket taxes.  The bill also would have also provided funding for our nation's highways, and the Oklahoma senator's obstinacy put thousands of potential new jobs in peril.

The Senate has a hoary old rule that says before the Senate can shift from discussing one topic to discussing another, all members must give their consent.  The august body had been talking about a disaster aid bill, and one senator, Tom Coburn, refused to give his consent to switch to the subject of a stop-gap measure for the FAA and highway programs bill.  The senator from Oklahoma assumed the powers of Caesar on a technicality.

And just what was in the FAA and highway bill that got Coburn's toga in such a twist?  Some money going to the states for highway improvements was to be used for beautification projects and bike paths.  Yup, ol' Tom had visions of hippies on bicycles peddling alongside the nation's interstate highways.

The Will Rogers Turnpike was built in Oklahoma in 1957.  It is an eighty-mile stretch of potholes and detours running from Tulsa to the Missouri state line near Joplin.   The turnpike keeps a host of tow trucks and auto parts stores in business.  Bike trails along the Will Rogers Turnpike would undoubtedly speed traffic across northeastern Oklahoma - and I have never been on any roads in the Sooner State that couldn't stand some major beautification!

Senator Coburn, the cocky little bantam, has made his noise, abused his privilege, and has now withdrawn his objection and allowed the Senate of the United States to resume the nation's work.  It is not the first time that he has interfered with the process of government on a technicality, and it undoubtedly won't be the last either. The Senate would do itself and the country a favor if it revised its rules in such a way that allowed rule by the majority without the interference of single members who are out trolling for cheap publicity.

It is time for Congress to end the obstructionism and get back to doing the people's business!  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Baggers, Birthers, and Deathers: Rabble Without a Conscience

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist  

I had the opportunity to visit Russia in the spring of 1999, not too many years after the collapse of the Soviet Union - a political event that also brought about the general collapse of socialism and the state's ability and willingness to take care of those in need.  Some of my clearest memories of that trip were seeing old people  lying on the sidewalks apparently waiting to die - some of whom were writhing in pain.  A few people would stop and drop a ruble or two into a can, but for the most part people just walked on, unable to solve society's woes as simple individuals.

Those memories came back to me this week as I heard reports about the latest Republican/Teabagger debate, and particularly Ron Paul's evasive response to the question Wolf Blitzer asked about insurance and individual responsibility versus insane medical bills.  Blitzer wanted to know what should happen if a healthy thirty-year-old man chooses not to buy medical insurance and then has a catastrophic medical problem.  Dr. Paul (a medical doctor) evaded the question like the politician he is.  But Blitzer would not let him get away with that, and he persisted:  "But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?"

And at that point the live audience of knucke-draggers and mouth-breathers apparently exploded in a collective and loud response of "Yeah!"  Mob-mentality at its finest - and this from a group that fears "death panels!"

Today a related story broke about Ron Paul's former campaign chairman, Kent Snyder, who died of pneumonia and without insurance in 2008.   His sister said that he could not afford insurance due to a pre-existing condition.  When Mr. Snyder died, he owed hospital bills that totaled in excess of $400,000 - but he made his exit while maintaining his "individual responsibility" and not freeloading off of the government.  His poor mother, however, is still struggling to pay off the debt.

Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Tom Coburn are all medical doctors, and there does not seem to be an ounce of compassion or conscience between them.  In fact, all of the Republi-bagger candidates seem to totally lack a conscience with the possible exceptions of Huntsman and Romney - and Romney is struggling to lose his!

But far worse than the candidates and other assorted nut-job politicians is the audience - the collection of cretins to whom the candidates are appealing.  These psychos are cheering for death to the poor - whether they be people who have no way of insuring themselves, or Rick Perry's prisoners of color who predominantly inhabit the death row in Texas.

These are the people who kill doctors to protect fetuses, and then fight like hell to end programs that would help poor children survive and stay healthy.  They roam the desert  hoping to be able to shoot some "illegals," and they hate gays, Muslims, racial minorities, and people who have three-digit IQ's.   These are people who raffle off an automatic handgun in the same city where the same type of handgun was used to seriously wound a congresswoman - and kill a Federal judge, a child, and several other people just a couple of months earlier.   They parade outside of Presidential speeches carrying automatic weapons, and they lobby for laws that would let them take their guns anywhere - even into churches.   They own guns, guns, and more guns - and they masturbate over dreams of hiding out in the hills and killing the feds who will surely one day try to take their guns away!

They celebrate death and they revel in the power and the noise of stupidity!

Praise Jeezus and pass the ammunition!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Apocalypse on a Bun!

by Pa Rock
Food Critic

I tried my very best to develop a taste for the local cuisine when I first arrived in Japan - I really did.  But the only thing that all of that culinary exploration got me was an almost constant case of diarrhea.  I quickly learned that if I was going to survive, I would have to shop at the base commissary and prepare my own meals, or go to the American fast food joints located on base.  (There are some American fast food joints located off base, but their offerings have distinctly Japanese trappings and/or flavors.)

Recently the husband of one of our psychiatrists, a trained chef, has begun catering our building during lunch, but his meals have such big portions that I fear bloating to four hundred pounds and not being able to fit in the airplane seat for my upcoming trip home!  Stan's meals are wonderful though - it's like having a fine restaurant magically transported into my crappy office!

But most days I eat out.  Sometimes it's a Subway sandwich, other times it is Popeye's chicken or an egg salad sandwich from a sandwich shop  - or a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.  I try to avoid drive-up windows because all of the workers at the fast food places are Okinawans, and some have much less skill with English than others - so it is customer beware.  Sometimes you get more than you bargained for, and sometimes less - and sometimes something completely unexpected.

Today I did the drive-thru of our base Burger King because I hadn't been there for awhile and thought why the hell not.  I wanted to eat as healthy as I could at Burger King, yet still get full, so I ordered a large unsweet iced-tea and a grilled chicken sandwich.  Simple, yes?  The lady at the speaker wanted more information about my sandwich.  "Did I," she asked, "want cheese and bacon with that?"

"God, no!"  I shrieked!  "Chicken, tomato, pickles, and mustard!"

And somehow she managed to prepare it just as I ordered.

But the idea of creating a sandwich out of at least three distinct species (chicken, pig, and cow) had me rattled for the rest of the afternoon.  (It could have conceivably been four species, because these sneaky locals believe everything is better if it is fried in fish oil - even grilled chicken!)  What civilized person would create such a monstrosity?

I hope this is just an Okinawan aberration and Burger King has not lost it's corporate mind!  Not only is consuming three separate species in a sandwich the moral and disgusting equivalent of sleeping with your granny, the bacon and cheese (fat and fatter) negate any possible health benefits of grilled chicken.

Six hours later and I am still feeling the need to shower - or go to confession!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

God Hates Fred (and Probably Shirley, Too)

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I will be heading back to the States for a long overdue visit later this month, and a portion of my visit will be in and around Kansas City, Missouri.  During my stay I will see all three of my children, all three of my grandchildren, and hopefully grandchild number four (the first granddaughter) - if she arrives on schedule.  I am very excited about this trip and anxious to visit with all of those near and dear to me.

And all of that visiting, especially with the grandchildren, is more than enough reason to fly halfway around the world.

Last week, however, I heard a news story that led me to believe that I might also be able to have some fun and get into a little trouble while I am in Kansas City.  The reporter said that the band "Foo Fighters" was planning a concert for later this month in Kansas City, and the homophobic morons from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka planned to protest the event.  "Wow," thinks I, "maybe me and Xobekim and some of our aging friends could show up and counter-protest.  Mom Turk would be so proud to see a few of her boys arrested for civil disobedience!"

Sadly, I learned today that the concert is set for September 16th, exactly one week before I am due to get there.  Damn, damn, double-damn!

So why are the Phelps' loonies so worked up over the Foo Fighters?  Is the band gay?  Apparently it is more about their message than anything else.  A statement from the church (sic) reads:

 "These people have a platform and should be using it to encourage obedience to God;  instead they teach every person who will listen all things contrary to him:  fornication, adultery, idolatry...The people in this nation have sinned away their day of grace and have so enraged their God that you are seeing new outpourings of his wrath continually.  We will be there to remind you that the day of your destruction is upon you, even as you vainly seek comfort in the frivolities of this life."

I feel so sorry for people who are burdened with a wrathful God, and I am so thankful that mine isn't.

If this assemblage of human trash wants to protest a concert, more power to them - at least that is one evening when they won't be disrupting funerals and bringing extra grief to the families of our fallen service men and women!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Waltzing Matilda"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Andrew "Banjo" Paterson was an Australian poet whose works are known and loved the world over.  Two of his most famous compositions are "Waltzing Matilda, " discussed below, and "The Man from Snowy River," which inspired the American movie in 1982 starring Kirk Douglas.

"Waltzing Matilda" was written in 1895 and quickly morphed into a popular song.  It became so popular, in fact, that it is now recognized as one of the ten most recorded songs of all time.   The meaning of the lyrics have always been a subject of controversy.  Four versions of "Waltzing Matilda" have evolved over the years, but the words that follow are believed to be the original lyrics as written by Mr. Paterson.

I first became acquainted with "Waltzing Matilda" as a student in junior high where it was one of the staples in the music books that we used in chorus.  The words and phrasing are purely Australian, giving many American students their first exposure to the dialect from down under.

Have fun with this!

Waltzing Matilda
by Andrew "Banjo" Paterson

Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabong
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree
And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water hole
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee
And he said as he put him away in the tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
You'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Down came the squatter a riding on his thoroughbred
Down came policemen one, two and three
Where is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
You'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
But the swagman he ups and he jumps in the water hole
Drowning himself by the Coolibah tree
And his ghost can be heard as it sings in the billabong
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me

Vocabulary Key:

  • waltzing Matilda ~ to go walkabout carrying your swag
  • walkabout ~ walking in the bush for an extended period of time
  • swag ~ a pack or bundle containing the personal belongings of a swagman.
  • swagman ~ a drifter (person without a permanent place to live) who carried his swag as he travelled the country on foot looking for work. He was a common sight during the depression of the 1890's and 1930's.
  • squatter ~ a grazier or station (ranch) owner especially with a large landholding. Today squatter means a person illegally occupying a property.
  • billy ~ a tin can with a wire handle or a pot. To make tea, water was boiled in it and a handful of tea thrown in.
  • tucker bag ~ bag to carry your tucker (food)
  • jumbuck ~ sheep
  • coolibah ~ species of gum or eucalyptus tree; coolabah (alternate spelling)
  • billabong ~ a dead-end channel extending from the main stream of a river filled with water only in the rainy season.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Memoriam: Christina Taylor Green

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Christina Taylor Green would have been ten-years-old today.  She came into this world on the day that al-Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center and destroyed our sense of national serenity, and she departed this life last January as a victim in another national tragedy.   Christina was the youngest victim in the Tucson massacre at the "Congress on Your Corner" meet-and-greet event of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

There has been quite a bit written about the bright little girl who loved politics and had recently been elected to the student council of her elementary school.  Neighbors had invited her to go with them to the Giffords' event on that fateful day to meet her congresswoman and experience a bit of the democratic process.  Christina was standing in line waiting to greet Ms. Giffords when the gunman opened fire.  She died at the scene.

Christina had been featured in the book, "Faces of Hope, Babies Born on 9/11."

Christina's hope was snuffed out by a madman with a gun - in a state where guns are seen as a cold steel appendages  to individual liberty.  Her assassin, Jared Lee Loughner, was, according to accounts of his friends and associates, visibly crazy, yet he was able to walk into a sports retailer less than two months before the shooting and buy a 9mm Glock handgun with a 32-round clip.  Loughner managed to squeeze off 31 of those deadly rounds in just a few seconds on the morning of the shooting, and he had three 15-round clips held in reserve.  He bought the gun from one national retailer, and the ammunition from another - all without any hassle, all without any waiting.

And he was visibly nuts.

And America lost one of her young "faces of hope" because of Arizona's blatant refusal to use common sense in the sales of firearms and ammunition.

Wouldn't it be a wonderful tribute to Christina Taylor Green if all of America would choose to revisit the issue of guns and enact laws and regulations that would truly make us all safer by restricting gun sales and availability?  Sportsmen don't need automatic pistols that fire thirty-two rounds in seven seconds - and neither does Grandma.  Those guns serve only one purpose, and Jared Lee Loughner, though crazy, knew exactly what that purpose was.

Rest in peace, Christina.  May the tragedy of your passing help others to see and experience the importance of humanity, and to understand that we grow through love - not violence.

The Day the Craziness Started

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This is, of course, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a devastating event in our nation's history - a happening of such consequence that most people can easily remember what they were doing as the awful news began spreading across the country.

I was just beginning work on a PhD in Social Work at the University of Missouri in Columbia, an endeavor that I since abandoned over issues dealing with money, time, and accessibility.  In order to get from my hometown in extreme southwest Missouri to attend classes north of the Missouri River in Columbia on a weekly basis, I had to drive the 300 plus miles north each week after work on Mondays, rent a motel room, go to classes on Tuesdays from early morning until late afternoon, and then drive the 300 plus miles back to the southern edge of McDonald County.  I only managed to do that one semester before rearranging my priorities - and that semester was exactly ten years ago.

The day of the attacks I was sitting in a class on the 7th floor of Clark Hall.   One of my classmates came to class late and said that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  A few minutes later we learned that the other tower had been hit.  At that point all of the classes just seemed to end by some sort of silent consensus.  A television was brought into the main hallway and hooked up, and we watched the horror unfold.

I remember that one of the things that could be seen from that seventh story classroom window was a mosque that that been in Columbia for many years - and a tall minaret reaching into the sky.   The thing about the view that was really unsettling, however, was the fact that we were up so high and airplanes were being used as weapons.

At noon Dr. Marjorie Sable (who is now the social work department chair at MU) took myself and a few other post-grad students to a pre-planned lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Ninth Street in Columbia.  The restaurant was called "Osama's."  That is another of those things that is now hard to forget!

I called home before leaving Columbia that afternoon, and my boss told me that things were crazy at the gas stations in McDonald County - and that some had run out of gas.  "Get gas as quick as you can!"  She warned me.  I made it as far south as Lake of the Ozarks and then set in line for an hour for just a few gallons.

Later that night I made it safely home to Rock's Roost in the pine covered hills above Noel - thankful for the farm sounds and the cool breezes and a bit of sanity - and not fully cognizant that our national sanity had just suffered a catastrophic blow that would lead us into more than a decade of ultra-expensive and ultimately useless wars.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sorry, Wrong Number

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last year shortly after getting my Magic Jack phone service, complete with a Joplin phone number, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from a very nice lady wanting to know if she had reached the Toledo Zoo.  No, I informed her politely (for me), all she had done was awakened a grumpy old man in Japan from a sound sleep.

Two nights ago the phone rang again in the middle of the night.  (That is very scary for those of us of a certain age, because a late night call is likely to be bad news.)  But it wasn't bad news.  This time it was a man and he wanted to know if he had reached the box office for the Toledo Zoo.  Instead of getting his credit card number and selling him some tickets to the afternoon porpoise show, I told him that he had mis-dialed and somehow reached Okinawa, Japan.

Today I did some research and discovered that my phone number is different by only one digit from the main number of the Toledo Zoo.  That is a bit of a nuisance, to be sure, but it could also lend itself to some fun.  I'm thinking about getting an answering machine for use between midnight and 5:00 a.m.  The script will go something like this:

"Thank you for calling the Toledo Zoo.  Zoo hours are eight to eight unless we take a notion to change them.  We are open most holidays and will have a small sign posted on the front gate in the event that we are closed.   

Your call is important to us.  Please listen carefully to the following options so that we may properly direct your call.  Dial one for the monkey house.  If the voice that answers is screaming and chattering, please hang up and call back later.  Dial two for the small bird aviary and three for turkey vultures and condors.  Our talking birds section may be reached by dialing four, but all callers to that extension must be at least twenty-one-years-old and open-minded.  The bear enclosure may be reached by dialing five.   Let it ring because the guys down there are heavy sleepers.   Lions and tigers can be reached at extension six.  If no one answers, it could be that another small child has fallen into their pit.  Please try again in fifteen minutes.  The elephants can be reached by dialing seven, and swamp creatures are at eight.   The reptile house is extension nine - but it is off-line until all of the snakes are rounded up and returned. 

If you are calling to complain, please hang up.  If you really, really want to complain, call back in a few hours and ask for Pa Rock.  He will know how to deal with you!  

Have a great day at the Toledo Zoo!"

And have a great day wherever you happen to be!

Democracy in Wisconsin Comes with a Price Tag

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A few weeks ago I noted Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin's plan to hold pay-per-view town hall meetings where constituents would have to cough up cash in order to attend his "public" meetings.  Earlier this week a Rotary Club in Milwaukee sponsored one of those events but insisted that the $15 cover fee was not to see the congressman, but rather the price of the meal included in the event.

Whatever the logic, it still cost voters $15 each if they wanted to be awash in the effluence of Congressman Ryan.

The video of that luncheon has been all over the Internet.  Several people arose one-by-one to address their congressman, and each was promptly seized by either police or Ryan's paid goons and escorted from the event.  (Ol' Paul didn't need no stinkin' questions!)  A couple were even arrested.  Forty police were at the event - but no word yet as to who paid their way in.

But it is Wisconsin - and it gets worse.

The state recently passed one of those trendy voter suppression laws that requires voters to have an official state ID.  Charging people, however, for a piece of identification whose sole purpose is to allow them to vote flies in the face of the 24th Amendment, the one that outlawed the poll tax.  So Wisconsin set up a system where voters could make a special trip to the DMV and get a free ID that would allow them to vote.

Oh, that it would be as simple as that!

This week a state senator, one of the good ones, leaked a memo that an official in the motor vehicle department (the department that oversees issuing the ID's) sent to all of the employees in that department.  The memo instructed employees to "refrain from offering" free ID's to members of the public unless they specifically asked for them.  The memo-writer justified his slimeball action by saying that he was simply trying to make sure DMV employees honored the intent of lawmakers who passed the law, which does not obligate DMV workers to tell applicants they are entitled to a free ID if they intend to vote.  The memo-writer declared, "It (the law) says the customer has to request it.  So we've taken the strict reading of the statute and that's how we've implemented it.  That's all the memo was really getting at."

And he was right in regard to the law's intent.  The "intent" of Wisconsin lawmakers was to definitely keep poor people from voting.

Today a fellow named Chris Larsen was fired by the state of Wisconsin for sending out the following mass email to all employees at his agency's headquarters:

Do you know someone who votes that does not have a State ID that meets requirements to vote?  Tell them they can go to DMV/DOT and get a free ID card.  However they must ask for the free ID.   A memo was sent out by the 3rd in command of the DMV/DOT.   The memo specifically told employees at the DMV/DOT not to inform individuals that the ID's are free.  So if the individuals seeking to get the free ID do not ask for a free ID, they will have  to pay for it! 

And poor Chris Larsen got his butt fired!  So much for Scott Walker's jobs' plan!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rick Perry Is a Ponzi Scheme!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The third big Republican presidential campaign debate has come and gone, and, as always, it seems to have produced far more heat than light.  This debate was held at the Ronald Reagan Airplane Museum and All-Purpose Shrine in Simi Valley, California.  It differed from the last two in that the eternally lame Tim Pawlenty was no longer involved - and eternally narcissistic Rick Perry is now part of the traveling circus.

Narcissism, of course, seems to be oozing from the pores of all of the Republican candidates, along with a Pandora's box of family values designed for wealthy white families, and healthy doses of self-righteous bile.

Living as I do on the elbow of the world, I did not get to see the debate live, and I have had to depend on recaps from the Internet to form some sense of what transpired.  The media take on the debate seems to be that it was the Rick and Mitt show, with all of the attention focused on the proposals, arguments, and witty one-liners of these two social dilettantes.

The expectation had been that since Perry wasn't in either of the prior debates, he might not have the gravitas and smarts needed to play with the big boys (and girl), and might shove his foot so far down his throat that he would have to hop back to Texas.  Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, in particular, were said to be gunning for God's man with the good hair.

But, again according to Internet sources, Perry was able to hold his own and give as good as he got.  He decided not to waffle around on his earlier pronouncement about Social Security being a Ponzi scheme, and repeated that nonsense during the debate before a national audience.  That was a very ballsy response to be sure, and it might just play tolerably well with the nutters currently in control of the Republican Party.  But the question then becomes, how will that play nationally if Perry gets the nod to represent his party in the presidential contest?

Calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme is not quite as dumb as it sounds.  Mr. Ponzi's original scheme involved securing investors in some investment that was essentially worthless, promising great returns on the investment, and then paying those great returns  to the early investors with the money of later investors.  Eventually every Ponzi scheme implodes as the amount needed to keep investors happy begins to exceed new money coming into the racket.    Bernie Madoff's criminal chicanery is a perfect example of how a Ponzi scheme works.

What Perry seemed to be doing was assuring the early investors (the old timers who are retired or soon will be) is that they would be okay.  But he wanted the young bucks to know that they are suckers and there will be nothing left when they retire.  That has been the Republican ploy for a generation or more - destroy Social Security by destroying people's trust in the system.  Convince the young people that they will not benefit from it, and soon they will be open to killing the amazingly successful social program.

(The other front in the war against Social Security is being waged by corporate America who want to see the funds invested in Wall Street.  George Bush rode that horse into battle, and it quickly got mired in the quicksand of a stock market slump.)

Social Security is a good program, one that is built on sound economic principles and serves the common good.  Unfortunately, like most modern government programs, the poor and middle class put in a higher percentage of their total income than do the ultra-rich.  I plan on beginning to draw my benefits in a couple of years, and I feel certain that my children will one day be drawing theirs as well - if we can keep the Republicans away from its cash box.

Rick Perry is sort of a Ponzi scheme himself - an empty suit with great hair who has served the people of Texas for many years - and he probably rises to the expectations of most Texans.  Texas is a state where the legislature meets once every two years, and when the legislature isn't in session, being governor involves little more than glad-handing the rednecks and looking pretty.  Texans probably feel that they are getting a good return on their investment.  But push that lip-sticky pig into the White House and then what would we have?   At best the sequel to George Bush, and at worst Bernie Madoff in charge of our national treasury!

There is some good news for the Perry candidacy, however.  The Texas governor is the absolute soul of sanity when compared to Michele Bachmann, Little Ricky Santorum, Ron Paul, and Herman Cain.  If God has inspired these candidates to run, she has a wicked sense of humor!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

God Bless You, Mr. Hoffa

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I am a fan of unions - and not ashamed to admit it.  Unions more than any other social institution have been what made America great and gave millions of working people the opportunity to live in decent housing, have health care, and send their kids to college.  Unions really did create the great American middle class.  Good union wages and benefits have done more to strengthen our national economy than any amount of tax breaks lathered onto America's richest and greediest bastards.

This past weekend was Labor Day, a time to recognize and honor America's working men and women.  It is traditionally a holiday that pays homage to our nation's proud union heritage.

Of course, organized labor has been under attack for years by the political far right as their politicians and media mouthpieces try to roll back the clock to the "good old days," those just preceding the Great Depression, when business was king and labor was insignificant - back in the days when entire families, even little children, had to work in factories just to earn enough for bare survival - back in the days when factory owners weren't encumbered with so many bothersome regulations like minimum wage laws and safety and pollution standards.

This year the conservative rage against unions has become absolutely deafening.  Scott Walker started the ball rolling in Wisconsin by de-unionizing public employees, and a bunch of other states have jumped on his bandwagon.  And  they are after anything else that has even the slightest hint of being helpful to the poor or the elderly.  Medicare is in their gun sites, as is social security, food stamps, and unemployment insurance.

But its damned tough to get a job, or even keep a job, when the people who own America's industries are busy sending as many jobs as possible overseas.  About the only people standing up for the disadvantaged in America are...unions!

In addition to being a fan of unions, I am also a fan of James Hoffa.  I have mentioned it in this space before, but on a sunny spring day in 1999 I stood outside in a park in Washington DC and watched as Mr. Hoffa's sister, Judge Barbara Hoffa Crancer, swore him in as the President of the Teamsters International.  He gave a fiery inauguration speech that day, and, I am pleased to say, he is still blazing away more than a decade later.

This weekend James Hoffa introduced President Obama at a Labor Day rally in Detroit, a city that knows too well the economic realities facing our country today.  During his remarks, James Hoffa spoke unkindly of the teabaggers and went on remark, "Everybody here's got to vote.  If we go back and we keep the eye on the prize, let's take these sons-of-bitches out and give America back to America where we belong!"

Fox News (sic) immediately edited the remarks to make it sound like he was encouraging people to "take out" the baggers - in a terminal sense rather than in an electoral sense - and all of the right-wing loonies went ballistic yelling about Tony Soprano and union "thugs."  When the smoke cleared from that nonsense and it became apparent what had really been said, the spew turned to his use of the term "sons-of-bitches," as if those shocked news whores had never heard salty language before.

Tonight I heard one conservative commentator saying that tea-partiers and right-wingers never disparage others in such crude ways - but I lived in Arizona for three years, so I know that is horseshit.

America needs jobs - and not the dismantling of the New Deal!  If Barack Obama won't stand up and demand a just world for the little guy, then he needs to get the hell out of the way and let people like James Hoffa call the country to action.  It's time to fight back!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Creep Who Bit a Python

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This is a takeoff on the classic man-bites-dog story, one that leaves all but the most heartless among us feeling sorry for a serpent.

Last Thursday evening a lady, as yet unidentified, was standing in front of a Sacramento liquor store passing her full-grown female python around for a group of onlookers to touch.  When a 54-year-old man took his turn at holding the snake, he surprised everyone, the python included, by biting her twice - hard enough to break a couple of the snake's ribs.  The snake's owner was not amused, and proceeded to attack the man who had bitten her python.  Police were called and found the snake-biter lying unresponsive at the scene of the incident.  Both he and the snake were taken into custody.

Newspaper reports indicate that the python nearly died from the incident, and she had to undergo two surgeries. The man who bit her was jailed on a charge maiming/mutilating a reptile, and his bail was set at $10,000.  The python's owner has not come forward, and authorities are looking for an appropriate rescue agency in which to place the recovering reptile.

For those of you who thought the craziness in Sacramento ended when the Schwarzenegger's left town, think again!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Bohemian Rhapsody"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Freddie Mercury, the lead vocalist of Queen and the composer of many of the band's original songs, would have been sixty-five years old today.  Mercury, a native of Tanzania who spent most of his adult life in England, had one of the most amazing voices in twentieth century rock.  

The following piece, Bohemian Rhapsody, was written by the highly talented Mr. Mercury when he was still in his twenties.  It was included in the 1975 album, A Night at the Opera.  The complex song took over three weeks to record.  Mercury did most of the vocals, but he was also assisted in that effort by Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor.  Rolling Stone ranked Bohemian Rhapsody at #163 of its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."

Freddie Mercury died of AIDS related illness in 1991.  A year later Bohemian Rhapsody enjoyed a revival in America when it was featured in the soundtrack of the movie Wayne's World.  

Enjoy the memories!

Bohemian Rhapsody
by Freddie Mercury

Is this the real life-
Is this just fantasy-
Caught in a landslide-
No escape from reality-
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see-
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy-
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
A little high, little low,
Anyway the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me,
To me

Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead,
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I've gone and thrown it all away-
Mama ooo,
Didn't mean to make you cry-
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow-
Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters-

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine-
Bodys aching all the time,
Goodbye everybody-Ive got to go-
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth-
Mama ooo- (any way the wind blows)
I don't want to die,
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all-
[ Lyrics from: ]
I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, scaramouche will you do the fandango-
Thunderbolt and lightning-very very frightening me-
Galileo, galileo,
Galileo galileo
Galileo figaro-magnifico-
But I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me-
He's just a poor boy from a poor family-
Spare him his life from this monstrosity-
Easy come easy go-, will you let me go-
Bismillah! no-, we will not let you go-let him go-
Bismillah! we will not let you go-let him go
Bismillah! we will not let you go-let me go
Will not let you go-let me go
Will not let you go let me go
No, no, no, no, no, no, no-
Mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go-
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me-

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye-
So you think you can love me and leave me to die-
Oh baby-cant do this to me baby-
Just gotta get out-just gotta get right outta here-

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters-, nothing really matters to me,

Any way the wind blows...

Sayonara Tokashiki

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

It is Sunday evening here on Okinawa and the sun is setting over the East China Sea - somewhere out over China.  My friends and I got home within the hour, and beautiful Tokashiki is at peace once more!  They snorkeled, I read, and we all walked the beautiful beaches and explored the side streets and alleyways of the small town where the port was located.

One of the highlights of the trip was the mango and ice drinks that we bought at a little sidewalk stand.  The concoctions consisted of shaved ice, mango juice, more shaved ice, and a topping of fresh mango chunks.  They looked like something out of a glossy gourmet magazine and were delicious!  I'll post a picture on my Okinawan blog - hopefully tomorrow.

There were lots of Americans on Tokashiki this holiday weekend.  Some stayed at the hotel where we were - Marine Village, and others stayed in small guest houses or camped out.  We saw several people that we knew from Kadena.

Yoron started the summer, and Tokashiki ended it - and I would jump at the chance to do either again!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Gentle Okinawans

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Last night as my friends and I were enjoying our evening meal outdoors behind our hotel, we began reflecting on the people of Okinawa and how different their culture is from the one which we left behind in America.  The Okinawans go out of their way to be patient and understanding, a trait that has not necessarily served them well in the course of their history  - having been overrun by three dominant cultures in the last couple of thousand years (the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Americans) - but that is who they are.

The first place that I noticed the difference was on the roads.,  When an Okinawan puts on his turn signal, it means that he needs to turn or change lanes, and he does.  Americans spend much of their first year on the island going ballistic over the way the locals drive, because we are used to hogging the road and seeing every other driver as a personal challenge.  Driving for Okinawans is more of a community affair.  If someone needs to change lanes, they slow up and let them in.  Americans, on the other hand, tend to automatically speed up and block the other driver.  They let the next driver worry about it.

Okinawan children seem to be instinctively sweet.  Tantrums just don't happen, at least not in public.  They grow up with the realization that any bad behavior reflects poorly on the whole family, so it just does not occur.  Last night as I was walking back into the hotel, two very little boys and their older sister, who was about five, walked through the door just as I did.  I smiled at the playful youngsters, and the little girl smiled back and said in a cheerful voice, "It's very nice to meet you."  I greeted her similarly, amazed that she probably already had a much better grasp of my language than I will ever have of hers.

And the adult Okinawans are polite and well mannered.  I have never encountered an Okinawan who was obviously angry or out of control.  Again, that is just who they are.

Okinawa was literally razed by the Japanese and Americans as World War II was ending, but its people have come back - not with a vengeance, but with a warm and accepting attitude toward all who tread their lush green hills and sandy beaches.  The Japanese have come in with their resort hotels, the Koreans have brought in Pachinko Parlors, and the Americans have built many military bases - and the Okinawans have welcomed them all - all the while maintaining their simple and sincere identity.

It has been my privilege to have lived here twice.  I have benefited from the experience.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sick Beyond Belief!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Pima County, Arizona, is home to the city of Tucson, and much of it is represented in Congress by Gabrielle Giffords.

The Republican Party of Pima County has recently announced a raffle designed to raise money to get out the vote.  One of the prizes in that raffle is a Glock handgun, the same type of firearm that was used to shoot Representative Giffords and kill six individuals (including a little girl) at a public meeting outside of a Tucson grocery store in January.

Part of the raffle promotion reads:  "Help Pima GOP get out the vote and maybe help yourself to a new Glock."

The sick prize comes with a carrying case, three 12-round magazines, and grips for the firearm.  Certainly three 12-round magazines ought to be plenty to get out the vote - or suppress it!

For those planning to travel to the Scorpion State, don't forget your sunscreen - as well as adequate health and life insurance, body armor, and maybe an assortment of desert camo!  There are some mighty sick bastards living out there!

Thursday, September 1, 2011


by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

It's a gorgeous day in the Far East!

I arrived on the small Japanese island of Tokashiki a few hours ago with three good friends, and we have already had a great lunch at our hotel and gone exploring.  We rode over from Okinawa on a large ferry, and my friend, Valerie, brought her car - so we have wheels and the ability to get around.  During our after-lunch explorations we came across a unique park that was deserted.  One of the features of the park was a very long slide that operated by rollers.  I followed my errant friends down the contraption, and now my butt is royally sore!  We also walked a beach and did some impromptu now I have a good sunburn to go with my sore butt!  Gotta love vacations!

The water here is amazing - several shades of blue and crystal clear.  There are breathtaking views around every turn in the road!  Look for some great photos on my Okinawan blog after we get back on Sunday evening.

Here's hoping the weather is this great in McDonald County and Elk River has bumper to bumper canoes on this Labor Day weekend!  Next year I'll be in one of them!

Holiday Travel

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Three friends and I are meeting in the morning and heading to Naha Port where we will board a ferry for a weekend adventure to Tokashiki Island.  It will be our little celebration of Labor Day and the end of summer. (Naha Port is where I worked forty years ago when I was stationed on Okinawa with the Army.)

Tokashiki is known primarily for beautiful beaches and excellent snorkeling.  We are all taking a special sunscreen that repels jellyfish.    Hopefully we will be able to really enjoy the warm waters of the East China Sea.  I will also be taking a good book - the Library of America Kurt Vonnegut Collection.  (Man cannot live by snorkeling alone!)

This will be my second local adventure off of Okinawa.  Some of us also went to Yoron Island just north of Okinawa over the Memorial Day weekend.  A major typhoon followed us to Yoron, but the weather for this weekend appears to be great!

I'm not sure about Internet connections on Tokashiki.  If there is one, expect some postings - but, if not, I'm on vacation!

Enjoy the holiday weekend and stay safe!