Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Orly Taitz Rides Again!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Orly Taitz, a California dentist,lawyer, and shameless self-promoter, has been in court (yet again!) trying to get somebody (anybody) to understand her argument that Barack Obama is not the legitimate President of the United States - regardless of what his birth certificate (even the long form) and local newspaper announcements from the time of his birth would try to have the American sheeple believe.  Barack Obama, you see, was born in Kenya and is therefore ineligible to serve as President because the Constitution says that the President must have been born in this country.  He was born in Kenya because Orly Taitz says he was born in Kenya!

(Reality Check:   Contrary to Ms. Taitz's never-ending delusion, Barack Obama was born in the United States.  John McCain, the man Mr. Obama defeated for the Presidency, was born in Panama.  But hey, her issue is not with McCain.)

This week Ms. Taitz has been in court in Georgia arguing to keep the President's name off of the Georgia ballot. She managed to get him subpoenaed, but the President wisely decided not to perform in her circus.  Should the suit be successful - it is Georgia, after all - and his name is not permitted to go on the ballot, the matter will be referred to the Federal courts in a matter of nano-seconds where it will be quickly rectified.

Ms. Taitz, who has the tenacity and staying power of a good case of genital herpes, has been beating this particular dead horse for three years now.  She tried to parlay her "fame" into a statewide office in California, but could not even win the Republican primary election.  She is currently making noises about running against Diane Feinstein for her California Senate seat - a move that would undoubtedly thrill the veteran senator because of the ease of which she would win reelection!  One thing is certain however, Ms. Taitz will never run for President because she was born in the Soviet Union one year and twenty-six days after Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

Last week's case in Georgia was argued before a crowd of about 100 individuals described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as mostly "older white Americans."   The newspaper failed to mention whether they doffed their hoods and ball caps when the judge entered the room, but one must hope that being of the "older" generation they were respectful.  I know I always am!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "Bluebird"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Sometimes I look at the vilest among us and wonder what they were like as children.  I don't subscribe to the notion that people are born as haters.  Bigotry, criminality, and just being plain offensive are all learned behaviors.  But if we have it within us to turn into rotten individuals, is there not a chance that the spark of goodness with which we were born still resides somewhere within and may one day seize the opportunity to reassert itself?  Of course that is possible.  It's called rehabilitation or having a massive change of heart.  People change for many reasons, from finding the right person to share life with, to a life-altering medical crisis, to a sanction by society such as time in prison.

Today's poem, Bluebird, was written by Charles Bukowski in the early 1990's.  It addresses the little spark of goodness that we all possess, however deeply hidden away or forgotten, and characterizes it as a bluebird.  I found this piece to be particularly thought-provoking and moving.

by Charles Bukowski

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I'm not going
to let anybody see
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep.
I say, I know that you're there,
so don't be
then I put him back,
but he's singing a little
in there, I haven't quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it's nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don't
weep, do

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our Government Bites Itself!

by Pa Rock
Frustrated Consumer

I have started a college savings plan for my grandchildren, and the way that I fund it is to buy a $100 Series EE savings bond for each of my five grandchildren every month.  I have been doing that since my oldest grandson, Boone, was just a few months old - so he has over twelve years' worth piled up waiting to be turned into books, tuition, or dorm rent.

Buying these bonds has been a very simple process.  My hometown bank would automatically make the purchases out of my checking account on a monthly basis, and the Feds would send me the bonds.  It was a good system that worked very smoothly, so, of course the government had to screw it up.  (What would be the point in maintaining something that actually worked!)

Beginning January 1st of this year, banks were no longer allowed to sell savings bonds.  Now if a person wants to invest some of their hard-earned money in paying off the national debt through the purchase of savings bonds, they must do it electronically over the Internet.  That might work if the government had the sales and technological smarts of a private business, say Amazon.com or any other business that actually cares about turning a profit.  Sadly, however, the federal government has no interest in making anything user-friendly or even accessible.

I spent most of the day yesterday figuring out how to register at www.TreasuryDirect.gov, the place where one now has to go to purchase savings bonds.  I finally got registered (I think), and then spent the remainder of the day trying to figure out how to buy savings bonds at the site.  I finally had to throw in the towel.  Today I wrote to Senator McCaskill and asked that she have a member of her staff see if they figure out how to navigate the site.

Here I sit with five college degrees and am unable to purchase the bonds issued by my government, bonds designed to promote citizen involvement in our nation's finances and to help reduce the national debt.  If I can't figure out the confusing  and cumbersome system, how many others are also struggling with the same problem?  How much money is this bureaucratic "simplification" costing our government each day?  Each year?

If Senator McCaskill can't help me resolve this issue, I am going to look into investing in Canadian savings bonds.  Somehow I doubt that the Canucks are as anal as the ego-maniacal functionaries of my own government.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brewer's Finger-Pointing: The Real Story

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When Air Force One landed in Phoenix last week it inadvertently plopped down on a fat woman riding a broom, squashing her into a large oil stain on the runway.  The old witch, Josephine R. Piehole, was struggling to get her broom airborne when the President dropped in and ruined her day.  By the time the President finally stepped down from his luxury airliner, Josephine's little sister, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, was waiting on the tarmac to have words with the elected leader of the free world.

Turning ever so slightly to make sure that the gathered press photographers had a view of her profile, the craggy old politician then pointed her finger directly in the President's face while asking quietly if he had had a pleasant flight and inquiring after his family.  The President, to his credit, resisted the urge to bite off the offending finger, and engaged the governor in a few pleasantries of his own.

(We know of their exact comments because Channel 57's weatherman, Dusty Haboob, was in a weather chopper on the other side of the runway with his binoculars focused on the pair.  Haboob lipreads both Harvard English and Cackle.)

According to the weatherman, things quickly lost their cordiality when Brewer handed President Obama an empty envelope and told him that he would have to fill it with proof of his citizenship or immediately leave her state.  When he told her that she was standing in his jurisdiction, the United States of America, Arizona's Chief Executive snapped back, "I'll get you for that, My Pretty!")

After storming out of the airport, the governor called a press conference and said that the President had been rude to her and told her that he had been offended by what she had written about him in her book.  (Really?  What are the odds that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review would even own a book by Jan Brewer, much less read it?)

The latest word is that the Arizona's governor is holed up in Bisbee training her flying monkeys how to fire automatic pistols so they can head south and protect the border.   She'll teach those terrorist housekeepers and gardeners a thing or two when they try to walk across the burning sands of her state to earn less than minimum wage - you betcha, she will!

Pitt's Dead Cat

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

William Rivers Pitt has become my favorite political journalist.  His articles on U.S. politics and economic policies are always spot on, and he is one helluva good writer.  Mr. Pitt's work can be found at www.truthout.org where he posts every two weeks or so - and for those unfamiliar with Truthout.org, you need to stop by and get acquainted with the work of Pitt and all of the other columnists who contribute to that most excellent site.

Mr. Pitt had a new article posted today entitled "Staring at Empty Pages" where he credited the Occupy Movement with having an impact on President Obama's State of the Union speech.  Toward the end of that piece, Pitt referenced a political story out of Arkansas that was new to me.  It seems that earlier this week, on the same night that Gabby Giffords resigned from Congress, the campaign manager for a Democratic Congressional candidate returned to his home in Russellville, Arkansas, with his four children in tow, and discovered the corpse of the family cat on the front porch.  Someone had smashed in the cat's skull and painted the word "liberal" across its body.

The campaign manager, Jacob Burris, has been working for his candidate, Ken Aden, for several months.  As near as can be determined, the cat had no role in the campaign, and likely had no political philosophy or agenda, but was simply the children's pet.

William Rivers Pitt stated in his article that a "talk show host" for Arkansas radio station KURM, one Kermit Womack, has been releasing the addresses of political opponents he doesn't like over the air.  Pitt added:

"While no firm, direct link has been established, it can be assumed that someone decided to take violent action after the location of Mr. Burris' home went out over the air.  It was a cat, this time...but given the gruesome nature of the act, Mr. Burris must correctly be wondering if it could have been one of his children."

Yes, if I were Mr. Burris I would be fearing for the safety of my family.  In fact, if I were anyone on the list of people whose home addresses were spewed out over radio station KURM, I would be very, very afraid.  That is a tactic that the so-called "Right to Life" movement has used to intimidate doctors and women's health care providers for several years now- and it is shameless!  It is also terrorism.

But, as Paul Harvey used to say, here's the rest of the story.

I am from that area and have listened to radio station KURM out of Rogers, Arkansas - so I decided to see what the local press had to say about the incident.  Kermit Womack is not only a talk show host on KURM, he also owns the radio station.  Not only that, but (and this is a great big "but") he is the father of Congressman Steve Womack of Arkansas's third district - the man that Ken Aden is trying to unseat!

Stay tuned.  There just has to be more coming on this story!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

At Home with the Grandkids

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

Next week (February 2nd) will mark forty years to the day since I first arrived on Okinawa - as a twenty-three-year-old Army lieutenant.  Things were so much different back then.  I remember sending two telegrams home in the nineteen months that I was here - and making two telephone calls back to the States - when Nick was born.

Making calls then was an expensive proposition, and the most reasonable way to do it was to go to what was called a MARS Station (shortwave facilities) where the operator there would contact a shortwave operator in the States, and that person would call the number you were trying to reach over their US telephone.  It wasn't quite as expensive as an overseas telephone call, and the quality of the call was fairly crappy most of the time.

Today I have "Magic Jack" and the call goes through my computer and is somehow digitized and routed through cyberspace - and the connections are almost always good.  I pay a small fee once a year to use it - $20 or so, and I can buy 5 years of service for around $60 or $70.  (It gives me a US number, so my kids can also call me on their regular phone plans.)  Someone was complaining to me recently that Magic Jack will cut you off after an hour-and-a-half - and she would have to redial.  Needless to say, I told my friend that she needed to get a  life!

And Skype!  For a very small fee a person can call from here to the States and watch the person on the other end of the line as they visit!

Oh, yes - things have changed a great deal in forty years!   (Most communication home back then occurred by letters.  Remember letters?)  And if a military spouse wanted to talk to her husband at work, she had to call the orderly room and explain to the First Sergeant why he needed to be pulled away from work and brought to the office to talk to her.  Now the poor soul's cell phone just keeps ringing or vibrating until he or she answers it - and the mission be damned!

All of the above was written as prologue for a discussion of my grandchildren.  Most weekends I am able to speak to all of my children and grandchildren, and many days I receive photos or movies of them just moments after they are filmed.

Tonight I came home to pictures and a movie of Baby Willow.  In the video I watched Willow laugh at her mother as Molly made funny sounds, and I could hear Sebastian running around the house talking to "Daddy" and "Molly."    Then I watched a movie of Baby Olive jumping in her jumper and just having a grand old time!  After that I pulled up an older video of Judah eating dinner just as he was starting to learn to feed himself.

It's hard to put stuff like that into letters - and if a person does print off a few photos to mail, it takes more than a week to get them here.

Things change - often for the better.  It is definitely much easier being overseas today than it was forty years ago!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Oscar

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The nominations for this year's Academy Awards were announced today, and being out here on the world's elbow, it was not surprising that I hadn't seen many of the movies and performances that made the list.  Military theatres like to show action flicks, so not every great movie makes in onto our local screens.

Of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, only three have played in the military theatres on Okinawa:  The Help, War Horse (currently playing), and Moneyball which only played here very briefly.  I saw Moneyball back in the States while I was home on leave, and  I watched The Help at the theatre on Camp Foster, and have yet to see War Horse.  I also saw a fourth nominated film, Midnight in Paris, on a long plane ride across the Pacific.

If I had to choose the winner among the three that I have seen, it would be difficult because they are all very good.  But of those three, the one that moved me the most was The Help.  It was such a great movie on so many levels and tugged at a variety of emotions.  Moneyball would be second on my list.  This was a film about athletics, something that I did not anticipate liking - but I did.  The movie sucked me right into the story and had me rooting for the Oakland A's.  Midnight in Paris was the movie about which I was the most hopeful, and it too was very good.  Woody Allen tells a sweet tale in most of his movies, and this was no exception - and the backdrop of Paris in the twenties was very appealing to the senses - but the story was just not as gripping as the other two.

The other films nominated for best movie were The Artist, The Descendants, The Tree of Life, Hugo, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  When I was living in Arizona, I would always try to see all of the nominated films before the awards were announced, but that isn't going to happen here.

One comment on the Best Actor:  I was surprised that Leonardo DiCaprio did not receive a nomination for his portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover in the Clint Eastwood film, J. Edgar.  I saw that movie on Guam and said at that time that it was a disappointment - but, that said, DiCaprio nailed his part.   He came across every bit as evil and odious as the famed G-Man.  I also felt that Armie Hammer's Clyde Tolson was worthy of a nomination.

Maybe this will be Brad Pitt's year with Moneyball.

And speaking of war horses, the Best Actress category contained two legends of Hollywood:  Glenn Close and Meryl Streep.  Close is being nominated for her work in the film Albert Noble.  This will be her third nomination for Best Actress, and she has also been nominated three times for Best Supporting Actress - with nary a win.  Meryl Streep was nominated for her role as Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady.  This is her fifteenth nomination for Best Actress with only one win - for 1982's Sophie's Choice.  She was also nominated twice for Best Supporting Actress and won in that category for 1980's Kramer vs Kramer.

Viola Davis, from The Help, will, I suspect, make this one more "also ran" year for Glenn Close and Meryl Streep.

Beyond that, I can't predict.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Advantage Obama

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

At this point with the last four Republican nominees spilling out of their clown car every couple of days and rolling around in the mud, it would seem that all President Obama would have to do to win re-election in November would be get his name on every state ballot and then go on a nice, long vacation.  If ever there was a political party hellbent on self-destruction, it would have to be this year's teabagger-infested GOP.  Clearly the base is in control and will be satisfied with nothing less than an ideologically pure, mouth-breathing racist wearing a ball cap and packing a handgun - as the Republican Party's nominee for President, and the final four are furiously slugging it out in a sordid attempt to be that man.

But in the event that the Republicans eventually nominate somebody who is able to move at least somewhat closer to the center of the political spectrum, the President is still in a relatively strong position based on the record of his first four years in office.  Yes, he was a disappointment in some respects, but he was not a constant, day-in-and-day-out disappointment like his immediate predecessor.  This President does have some positives that he to which he can point.

Today there was an article on the Internet at  theweek.com  by Paul Brandus entitled  "Obama's Top 5 Successes."  I agree with the author's selection and ranking, but want to embellish liberally with a few points of my own.  Those "successes" follow in reverse order.

5.  Getting Out of Iraq:  George Bush started the war with Iraq under the pretext of that country having weapons of mass destruction.  (It had absolutely nothing to do with Bush's daddy issues of one-upping the Old Man by going further than Pappy Bush had done in his own war with Iraq.  No sir, this was a necessary war to rid the world of a menace.  And if you believe that horseshit...), but Bush went to war against Iraq while our forces were already at war in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and ostensibly looking for Osama bin Laden.  Many of the young Americans who fought in Iraq did so with the notion that it was somehow payback for 9/11, when, in reality it had nothing at all to do with 9/11 - and George Bush and Dick Cheney did nothing to disabuse them of their misconception.

The figures out of the Bush wars, according to Paul Brandus, are 4,484 American deaths, 32,000 wounded, expenditures of $806 billion, and an estimated $1 trillion needed for the future medical care of the wars' veterans until 2050.  That insane price tag does not even address the deaths and injuries of Iraqi men, women, and children, and the near-utter destruction of their infrastructure and economy.  But, hey, Junior got Saddam when his daddy couldn't.  That's got to be worth something!

Of course, as Paul Brandus points out, the eventual Arab Spring would have undoubtedly toppled Saddam as well, but what would have been the glory in that?

Good for President Obama for getting us out of Iraq.  He could have done it quicker, cleaner, and more completely, but he did finally manage to extricate our fighting forces from a war quagmire that could not be won in any conventional sense of the word.

4.  Improving America's Image Abroad:   America had a lot of goodwill from around the world after the attacks of 9/11, but much of that goodwill quickly evaporated as we began showing our uglier side in the prosecution of the wars.  Suddenly we associated ourselves with things that were insults to humanity:  secret prisons, prisoners without rights, images of Abu Ghraib, water-boarding, and the practice of extra-ordinary rendition.  We had always been the good guys, but something happened on the way to the Middle East.

President Obama came into office and the world heaved a literal sigh of relief.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, some would argue before he even had a chance to earn it, and during nearly four years in office not a single person, foreign or domestic, has lobbed a shoe at him.  The man  has legitimate international chops and is respected in places where we need to be respected.  His superlative choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, also served to greatly increase the importance of our nation in the world.

3.  Passing Health-Care Reform:  The President made good on his pledge to sign a universal health-care bill into law during his first term.  The bill and the process were bitterly attacked by the health-care and insurance industries through their allies in both political parties in Congress, but the will of the people and the President ultimately prevailed and the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land.  True, the bill was not perfect, but a product was ultimately passed that mandated that every American have health insurance (which may yet be overturned by a tone-deaf Supreme Court), allowed young people to remain on their parent's health insurance policies until the age of twenty-six, did away with denial of coverage due to existing pre-conditions, made it much harder for insurance companies to rescind coverage, and did away with lifetime limits on insurance coverage.

2.  Getting Osama bin Laden:  Osama bin Laden was a member of a well-respected Saudi business family who went off to do his own terrorist thing.  The first reaction of the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks - which were carried out almost exclusively by Saudi's - was to get important Saudi's, including members of the royal family, out of the country and safely back to Saudi Arabia.  Then the administration turned its focus toward Afghanistan and declared war on the Taliban.  One of the goals of that effort was to track down and capture or kill Osama bin Laden.  At some point early on, that focus began to wane, and the Bush administration seemed to change their target of choice to Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  When Bush left office years later, Saddam had been captured and executed, but Osama remained at large.

Under the policies and leadership of Barack Obama, the American focus returned to Osama bin Laden, and he was ultimately cornered and killed.  Mission accomplished!

1.  Preventing a Depression:  Paul Brandus compares the economy that Obama inherited from Bush as being a house on fire,  and notes that Republicans got out by "the scruff of their necks - and now don't like the way Obama put out the fire."  He quotes GDP figures that indicated the economy was in free fall when Obama became President.  Obama used the "much maligned" stimulus bill to save the nation from tumbling into a catastrophic depression.  And yes, Brandus admits, money was wasted, but ultimately it kept things, such as unemployment, from becoming much worse.

My own measure of President Obama's economic savvy is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen from just below 8,000 on the day he took office to nearly 13,000 today.  Real numbers equaling real economic growth.  Also, General Motors was on the verge of bankruptcy when Obama came into office.  The new President made a decision to help the automaker stay in business with government loans.  Today America's largest car manufacturer is leaner, meaner, and well on the road to complete recovery - and it is pumping out thousands and thousands of beautiful pay checks every week!

So, if the Republicans get their act together and challenge President Obama with a candidate in November who is not completely nuts, the President will still have a formidable record on which to run.  And while President Obama may not have been all that we had hoped for, he is definitely head-and-shoulders above what the loyal opposition has coughed up so far.

Four more years!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "Pastures of Plenty"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

There was a time in the not too distant past when America was still expanding – geographically, emotionally, and intellectually.  After the Civil War and well into the first part of the twentieth century, many poor blacks headed north looking for opportunities that were denied them in the southern states.   Sometimes they found jobs and homes, and other times they succeeded only in transporting their poverty and perilous living conditions into a colder climate.   But there were also those times when the move north resulted in breathtaking achievement – such as the Harlem Renaissance.

World War I introduced many heretofore isolated Americans to the wonders of Europe, and as a popular song of the day foretold, it was going to be hard to “keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree.”  It was in those heady days just after the Great War that several famous American writers and entertainers sailed off to Europe (particularly Paris) and started creating some of the century’s most enduring work.  A good depiction of these willful and fun-loving expatriates can be seen in Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris.  Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein referred to their expatriate cohort as “the lost generation.”

The Great Depression and the unrelenting dust storms that tore through the American heartland in the 1930’s were a one-two punch from Wall Street and God.  The response from poor Americans, particularly the “Okies” and “Arkies” of the Midwest, was to throw everything and everyone into old claptrap vehicles and head west to California – the promised land, the land of milk and honey, the home of sunny skies, warm weather, the blue Pacific, palm trees, Hollywood, and endless dreams.   John Steinbeck, himself a former expatriate and member of the lost generation, explored that tragic and complex era of American history in his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

The great westward migration of the twentieth century was interrupted by World War II, but when the war ended many of the young veterans and their working wives headed to California where they found good jobs in the booming post-war economy, bought homes, and raised their families.  My dad’s brother Wayne, and his pretty wife, Mary, were two of those adventuresome young people who were drawn to the Mediterranean climate and plentiful jobs of San Diego at the war’s close.  Wayne died of leukemia a few years later, but my Aunt Mary (now in her eighties) and their two grown daughters and their families are all Californians.

My parents never did pack up and move to California, although I remember my mother begging to move there on numerous occasions.  Later she shifted her focus to Florida, but she was never able to get my dad to move south either.  While they did not completely relocate, my parents did travel to California to pick fruit the first two summers that they were married – 1946 and 1947.  (By 1948 I had joined the family and they apparently did not want to try caring for an infant in a migrant camp.

What I know about those summers that my parents were migrant farm workers is embarrassingly scant.  I wish now that I had asked more questions.  If memory serves, and at my age it doesn’t always, at least one of those summers they took my dad’s dad – Chock Macy – with them.  I know that at least one of those summers my dad’s job was to ride around on the back on a tractor with a long stick that he would use to beat the branches of English walnut trees, a job that sounds more glamorous than having to be one of the guys on the ground scurrying around dodging and picking up the falling nuts.  Mom’s job, I suppose, was picking fruit directly from the trees or packing it for shipment. 

I remember once when I was  ten or so, my mother looked at me and suddenly asked, “Do you remember  Spike?” 

“Spike?” I asked. 

“Oh,” she said, “He was a young boy at the camp who was always getting into trouble – but you weren’t even born then so I guess you wouldn’t remember him.”  Her senior moment was funny at the time, especially since she was not all that old!

John Steinbeck was not the only chronicler of the westward migration of America’s poor.   Woody Guthrie was also hard at work telling the story of those same people in song.  Today’s poetry selection is actually a song by Guthrie that celebrates the energy and sweat of those poor Americans who made their livings by following the harvests.

Please enjoy Pastures of Plenty.

Pastures of Plenty
by Woody Guthrie

It's a mighty hard row that my poor hands have hoed
My poor feet have traveled a hot dusty road
Out of your Dust Bowl and Westward we rolled
And your deserts were hot and your mountains were cold

I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
On the edge of the city you'll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind

California, Arizona, I harvest your crops
Well its North up to Oregon to gather your hops
Dig the beets from your ground, cut the grapes from your vine
To set on your table your light sparkling wine

Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground
From the Grand Coulee Dam where the waters run down
Every state in the Union us migrants have been
We'll work in this fight and we'll fight till we win

It's always we rambled, that river and I
All along your green valley, I will work till I die
My land I'll defend with my life if it be
Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Some Thoughts on Equality

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

For the past month or two I have been reading a collection of African American novels written in the 1920's.  The book that I am currently enjoying is Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset, and although I am only a couple of chapters into it, I found this poignant passage of a young black girl's thoughts on equality:

"At a very early age she had discovered that the good things of life are unevenly distributed;  merit is not always rewarded;  hard labour does not necessarily entail adequate recompense." 

Just a few years ago the social and economic inequalities were seldom brought out into the sunshine and discussed.  The Occupy movement with its "in your face" dramatics has now focused attention on what is, in some respects, a national caste system.  Add to that the Republicans' all out war on unions, public pensions, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, public healthcare, education, and any attempts to force the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, and it is suddenly quite clear that those in control of the national wealth are hellbent on staying in control.

America is at a crossroads.  Will we continue to cede control of the economy and the political process to the people who ship jobs overseas, do their banking in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, pay lower tax rates than those of us who actually work, and love to fire people - or will we finally begin to acknowledge how things really are and commit to making serious change?

Having an intelligent President committed to making positive social change is not enough.  As we have learned over the past four years, the Republicans in Congress will vociferously oppose anything the President supports - even legislation that they once proposed themselves.  Their agenda has been one of obstruction and destruction.

The approval rating of Congress is now somewhere in the high single digits.   If ever the time was ripe for change, this would be it.

It is time that we began placing the same level of scrutiny on our Representatives and Senators as we do our presidential candidates - focusing on where their campaign cash originates and how those donations correlate to votes in Congress.

It is time to kill Citizens United - either through a Constitutional amendment or a second hearing in front of a more intelligent Supreme Court.

And it is well past time to occupy Congress with real people whose loyalties are to the people back home and not to the armies of lobbyists who infest our nation's capitol.

Only then will we have a shot at equality.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's Newt!

by Pa Rock
Political Prognosticator

Mitt Romney must be wondering what happened.  Just a few days ago he was basking in the glow of victories in the first two voter showdowns of 2012, Iowa and New Hampshire, and his well-paid staffers were blanketing the airwaves with stories of his "inevitability."  But now suddenly the rush to crown him King of the Krazies seems to have hit an snag, and his inevitability is evaporating faster than a snowball rolling into hell.

And Mitt must feel like he has been run down by that very snowball.

So many things have happened that were not part of the highly scripted Romney campaign.  Who knew that Newt Gingrich would get off that great shot at Juan Williams, a black journalist who called him out on his unabashed bigotry, and get a standing ovation from the peckerwoods in South Carolina.  Mitt's mama, God rest her, raised him better than that.  And then a few days later  Gingrich tore into another journalist, CNN's John King, and got his second standing ovation from people who vote for Neanderthals like Joe Wilson and Jim DeMint.

Yesterday the Republican Party of Iowa had a change of heart and announced that they recounted their votes (still at a secret location) and Little Ricky Santorum is now the winner of Iowa - while Mitt slumped in a corner wistfully singing, "No, no, they can't take that away from me!"

And then there were those cruel endorsements of Gingrich from the absolute creme de la creme of the Republican Party.  The giants of GOP electoral politics, people like Todd and Sarah Palin, rushed to endorse Newt Gingrich.   When Rick Perry quit the race, he threw his support to the Newt also.  (With all of that going for him, there was no need to ask "What would Jesus do?")  Who would be next?  Tebow?

Well, actually Chuck Norris was next - and with that bombshell it is literally all over.  Joe Arpaio, a supporter of Rick Perry, will undoubtedly soon call a news conference to announce his support of Gingrich - and as Arpaio goes, so goes Steven  Seagal!

It's dominoes, baby - dominoes!  And they're starting to fall!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mitt One-Percent

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

To refer to ultra-rich presidential candidate Mitt Romney as being among the wealthiest members of our society is actually quite disingenuous.  Not only is Mitt in the top one-percent economically, he is in the top one-percent of the top one-percent!  The man who loves to share an aw-shucks smile as he states that he is unemployed, is filthy rich.

But we all know that, and we have known that all along.

Now, however, as the Republican race tightens, more of the candidates are beginning to lob insults and accusations at the front runner - and much of that political vitriol is focused on Romney's obscene wealth - money he says he did not inherit but rather made himself.  Though that claim is specious at best, even if the Mittster did make his own money, the methods in which he made it are now coming into question - and into daylight.

We have been hearing stories for weeks now about Romney's company, Bain Capital, buying distressed companies and then selling off assets and firing people in order to make a profit for Bain - and for Romney and his partners.  Romney, of course, is trying to claim that Bain was actually creating jobs, but the evidence for that appears to be scarcer than rainfall in Phoenix.

Now the focus is shifting to tax returns - an objective measure that can be used by average Americans to make their own determination of a candidate's income.  Romney said that he didn't make much actual money by working last year- just some speaking fees.  That "not much"  is apparently $374,000 - a figure that, by itself, would place him in the one-percent category!  (According to PolitiFact.com, Mitt and Ann Romney own three homes worth a total of about $14 million, so $374,000 really isn't much considering the upkeep that would have to go into residences like that.  Maybe he used illegal immigrants as groundskeepers because they were all that he could afford!)

But of course Mitt Romney made much, much more than $374,000 last year.  Well, he didn't roll up his sleeves and make it, he put his musty money to work making more money.  He is an investor, a rentier.  But just how much money did his money make?  We won't know that until he tells us - or until he releases his tax returns.

Newt Gingrich has just released his tax returns and has challenged Mitt Romney to do likewise - but Mitt is resisting.  He says now that he may release his current return in April (probably long after he has been crowned King of the Krazies).  He also has begun desensitizing that information by announcing that he pays a tax rate of around fifteen percent.  He gets away with that outrage because the tax rate on money "earned" from investments in fifteen percent.   Members of the United States military pay considerably more, but they have not had lobbyists in Congress for generations writing tax law that favors them.

President and Mrs. Obama pay 26% in income taxes, and even that is lower that what some in the true middle class pay.

Mitt Romney may be able to cruise all the way to November without ever having to stand firm on any issue or tell Americans how he really feels about the big concerns of the day, but he will not be able to escape the numbers.  Sooner or later the public will see him for what he is - a child of privilege who is protected from the realities of the world by immense and vulgar wealth, a dilettante who feels some sort of divine right to rule based on his position in society - another George W. Bush.

And do we want or need another George W. Bush?

Hey Mitt, show us your money!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 Pa Rock's Dead Pool Entries

by Pa Rock
Dead Pool Master

This year we had twenty-one entries in the Dead Pool, down a few from last year, but still a decent showing.  I credit the slight decrease in entries to the uptick in the economy – which is recovering thanks to the hard work of our President and in spite of Congress. 

The first (and most unique) entry was from my three-month-old granddaughter, Olive.  Her selections included Elmo, Big Bird, the Monster under her bed, the Vacuum Cleaner, Dora the Explorer, the Neighbor’s Dog, her stuffed armadillo animal, Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, and Kim Jung Un.  Good luck, Olive.  Pa Rock loves you!

The other twenty were somewhat less daring. 

Rod B:   Bobby Knight, Mel Gibson, Queen Elizabeth, David Letterman, Joe Paterno, John Madden, Burt Reynolds, Joan Rivers, Bill Clinton, and Willie Nelson.

Judy B:   Steven Tyler, Betty White, Charlie Sheen, Dick Cheney, Bernie Madoff, Gloria Vanderbilt, Michael Douglas, Magic Johnson, Dick Van Dyke, and Larry King.

Odessa B:   Antonio Banderas, Nick Cannon, Kate Moss, Elton John, Queen Elizabeth, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Magic Johnson,  and Lance Armstrong.

Brenda K:   Walter Mondale, Adam West, Ray Bradbury, Billy Graham, Loretta Lynn, Wynonna Judd, Andy Griffith, Stephen Hawking, Garrison Keillor, and Andy Williams.

David S:   Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Brian Wilson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lindsay Lohan, Annette Funicello, Shirley Temple, Etta James, Robin Gibb, and Dick Cheney.

Darby G:  Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Charlie Sheen, Steve-O, Rush Limbaugh, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Dick Cheney.

Ron H  (hoptwo):   Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Billy Graham, Muhammad Ali, Pope Benedict, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Jerry Lewis, Annette Funicello, Hugh Hefner, and Aretha Franklin.

Breanne:  Paula Deane, Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, New Gingrich, Kirstie Alley, Ed O’Neal, Dr. Phil, Dolly Parton, and Lil’ Wayne.

Ricardo:   Barack Obama, David Letterman, Brittney Spears, President Calderon of Mexico, Carlos Slim, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Hulk Hogan, Allen Greenspan, Joe Torre, and Hillary Clinton.

Charles B:  Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Courtney Love, Dick Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Betty White, Ashton Kucher, Tom Cruise, Bob Barker, and Wilford Brimley.

Leslie K:  Joanne Woodward, Etta James, Kirk Douglas, Chuck Yeager, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Aretha Franklin.

Tim:  Bill Clinton, Ron Paul, Dick Cheney, Andy Griffith, Larry King, Pope Benedict, Fidel Castro, Henry Kissinger, Stephen King, and Queen Elizabeth.

Erin:   Chris Christie, Nancy Grace, Ringo Starr, Fidel Castro, Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson, Charlie Sheen, Artie Lange, Frank Martin, and Hugo Chavez.

Don H:  Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Prince Philip, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Billy Graham, Hosni Mubarek, Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, Kirk Douglas, and Saif al-Islam.

Mike B:   Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, Fats Domino, Aretha Franklin, Peter Fonda, Hamid Krzai, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Lewis, Mickey Rooney, and Margaret Thatcher.

Molly:  John Goodman, Courtney Love, Nancy Reagan, Charlie Sheen, Dennis Leary, George Wendt, Lindsay Lohan, Snooki, Ozzy Osbourne, and Seth Binzer.

Nick:   Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Manson, Danny Devito, Bill Cosby, Val Kilmer, Wee Man, Jack Black, Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson, and Alan Alda.

Tiffany:   Betty White, Michael Douglas, Craig T. Nelson, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, Paula Abdul, George Lopez, and Willie Nelson.

Boone:  Bette Midler, Kirk Douglas, Louise Rainer, Charlie Sheen, Ben Stiller, Larry King, Britney Spears, Dick Cheney, Analena Joe Lee, and Willie Nelson. 

Pa Rock:   Celeste Holm, Ted Turner, Cloris Leachman, Rupert Murdoch, Sophia Loren, Dick Cheney, Shirley Jones, Jim Carrey, Jean Stapleton, and Clint Eastwood.

The top vote-getters appear to be Lindsay Lohan in third place with six votes, Charlie Sheen in second place with eight votes, and Darth Vader’s evil twin, Dick Cheney, leading the pack with nine votes.  All three are perennial favorites in this contest.

If the group’s instincts are any indication, it might be a good year for Dick Cheney to take some of those millions that he received from Halliburton while serving as Vice President of the United States  – and use those ill-gotten gains to take Lynn on a Grand Tour of Europe.  I recommend that he start with Holland because The Hague is so beautiful in the spring!

(Please print a copy of the entries and post on your refrigerator so that you can keep up-to-the-minute track of the results.  That will also let anyone walking through your kitchen know just how sick you really are!)  (Just kidding!)

(Note:  I misplaced one entry, found it, and added it to this post on 20 Jan 12.  Welcome aboard, Boone!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Costa Concordia: The Tale of the Coward and the Hero

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Shareholders in Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) got a sobering reality check yesterday when shares in their stock dropped from $34.28 a share to $29.60 - a drop of $4.68 per share during one trading day.  The cause of that precipitous drop was, of course, the capsizing of the cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, off the coast of Italy.  The Costa Concordia is owned and operated by Carnival Cruise Lines.

For the past couple of days we have all been transfixed by images on the Internet of the big, beautiful cruise ship lying on its side in the Aegean, mostly submerged.  There were at least eleven deaths in the incident, and possibly more than twenty.

Today two tales have emerged regarding employees of the ship, one a tale of cowardice and the other a more uplifting story of heroism.  Sadly, the coward was Francesco Schettino, the ship's captain.  When he realized that his ship was in trouble, Captain Schettino wasted no time in getting himself aboard one of the lifeboats - hours before some of the passengers were able to do so.  None of that "Captain goes down with his ship" for that old sailor.  Today a tape was released in which a member of the Italian Coast Guard was heard ordering the Captain to return to his ship, but the Captain was refusing, saying that he could be of more help directing the recovery operation from the lifeboat.

Captain Schettino was arrested by Italian authorities for dereliction of duty, but today he was released into a program of house arrest.  He continues to deny that he did anything wrong.

The other employee of the ship who made news was a British teenager named James Thomas who was working as a dancer on board the vessel.  He discovered that some passengers had gone to the wrong floor and could not reach the lifeboats.  Young Thomas turned himself into a human ladder allowing passengers to climb down his body in order to reach the safety of the lifeboats.  The 6-foot 3-inch physically fit young dancer told the Daily Mirror:

"We couldn't get the lifeboats off and the life rafts the staff use were stuck to the side of the ship.  It was frightening.  People couldn't get down, the drop was too far, so I lowered myself into position.  I grabbed the lifeboat with one arm and the upper deck rail with the other and let people climb on my shoulder and down my body."

One of the passengers that James Thomas helped to rescue ultimately pulled the hero himself into a lifeboat.

The Costa Concordia had a staff of 1,023 - but many of those were involved in running the bars, casinos, theatres, shops, restaurants, and swimming pools on board the cruise ship.  Very few were qualified seamen, and most did not have sufficient training to deal with a sea-going emergency - including, it would seem, the ship's captain.

Fortunately for several of those on board, a young dancer mustered the courage to act courageously in the face of danger and save lives.  James Thomas is his name, and he is a hero!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Stage Full of Crackers

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Republican Presidential field has devolved into something that rank-and-file Republicans and teabaggers can readily support:  a stage full of hate-spewing crackers.

Last night's Republican candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, featured the final five:  Romney,  Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, and Paul - and, not for the first time, the audience inserted its own bigoted views into the debate process.

Apparently the most "newsworthy" moment occurred when Fox commentator Juan Williams, a black man, tried to take Newt Gingrich to task over his earlier remarks that poor children in low-income neighborhoods should be given janitorial work in local schools.  Williams asked the former Speaker, "Can't you see that this is viewed at a minimum as insulting to Americans, but particularly to black Americans?"  Gingrich shot back, "No, I don't see that,"  to the loud approval of the crowd.

Williams countered with a suggestion that Gingrich's comments had been "intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities."  The crowd booed loudly.  Gingrich, then smelling blood, began a grand diatribe designed to marginalize and vilify the poor - and received a standing ovation!

Happy Martin Luther King Day from South Carolina, ya'll!

(I wonder if Juan Willliams is yearning for the good old days at NPR?)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "Comes the Colored Hour"

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Monday evening, and as the national holiday honoring American civil rights visionary, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, draws to a close, I feel that a selection by Langston Hughes is in order.  The following, Comes the Colored Hour, is a bit of satire that looks at an America where the roles and rules of skin color are reversed.  Mr. Hughes undoubtedly smiled sadly as he held the America that was up to a mirror and saw the opposite image, an image that would have been no more fair or just than the one to which he and his race has been consigned by fate.

America is a better place today thanks to the work of people like Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  There is still much left to overcome, but many significant barriers between the races have fallen thanks to the bravery and determination of people like them.

Comes the Colored Hour
by Langston Hughes 

Comes the Colored Hour:
Martin Luther King is Governor of Georgia,
Dr. Rufus Clement his Chief Adviser,
A. Philip Randolph the High Grand Worthy.
In white pillared mansions
Sitting on their wide verandas,
Wealthy  Negroes have white servants,
White sharecroppers work the black plantations,
And colored children have white mammies:
Mammy Faubus
Mammy Eastland
Mammy Wallace
Dear, dear darling old white mammies--
Sometimes even buried with our family.
Dear old
Mammy Faubus! 

Culture, they say, is a two-way street:  
Hand me my mint julep, mammy.
Hurry up!
Make haste!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Racism from the Heartland

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

How many times over the last three or four years have we had to watch in astonishment as some blustering political figure, always white and usually old, had to come out and apologize for a racist and stupid email about the President that they circulated to their friends.  It would appear to the rational mind that the morons would eventually figure out that someone will take offense and forward it on to the press.  But it just keeps happening - they never learn!

And the people who send those things around always bristle at being called racist - even though that is exactly what they are.  (One woman wrote to me and declared that she was not a racist because she had a Negro friend.  Sorry, honey, but having a black housekeeper doesn't do much toward breaking the color barrier!)

This week there is another example of a white power-broker having to apologize to the First Family over a piece of "humor" that he forwarded to his friends.  Fortunately one of his friends turned out to be a Judas and shared it with the press.

Mike O'Neal, the (old, white, male, Republican) Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, has issued an apology for an email which he forwarded to friends that referred to Michelle Obama as "Mrs. YoMama" and compared her to the Grinch.  (Okay, maybe there is a bit of humor in any Republican elected official calling anyone a Grinch - after all, the only "people" they seem to give two shits about are rich ones - and corporations and fetuses.   Certainly the real Grinch is a card-carrying Republican.)

But, unbelievable as it may seem, the Grinch email about the First Lady was not Mike O'Neal's low point for the week.  A few days prior he had sent around an email that quoted from the Bible -Verse 8 of Psalm 109 - a hate-filled diatribe that is a prayer for the death of a leader, the meat of which is listed below:

Let his days be few, and let another take his office
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;  may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;  May strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.

Speaker O'Neal added his own postscript:

"At last - I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president!  Look it up - it is word for word!  Let us all bow our heads and pray.  Brothers and Sisters, can I gen an AMEN?  AMEN!!!!!!"

Nice one, Mike!  Your family must be so proud.

Mike O'Neal, the Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, is declining to apologize for the Biblical email, probably believing that one should not have to apologize for spreading the word of God.

No word yet whether Kansas governor Sam Brownback is on O'Neal's email contact list, and if he is, what he chose to do with the controversial communications.

(Note:  Much of the information for this post came from ThinkProgress and my favorite Kansas newspaper, The Lawrence Journal-World.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ie Shima: Ernie Pyle, Mountain Climbing, and Giant Tortoises

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I spent the entire day today on the  island of Ie Shima with my friends Valerie and Murphy.   It is about a thirty-minute ferryboat ride from Okinawa.

Ie Shima is relatively small, containing one town, a U.S. Marine Corps training area, lots of farmland, and one tall mountain that looks very incongruent on the flat island.  The primary crop appears to be peanuts, and huffing and wheezing up the mountain is certainly one of the more popular entertainments.

We met Valerie's friend, Atsuko, on the ferry and followed her to the community center where she teaches little children to speak English.  We interacted with the children for an hour or so and had just as much fun as the kids did!

Our next stop was at the memorial that marks the spot where journalist Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper during the Battle of Okinawa.  I had read several of  Pyle's war dispatches this morning on the long ride to the port at Motubu, including the last one that he filed from Okinawa, and I found the combination of those readings coupled with actually being on the spot where he was killed to be a very moving experience.

We had lunch and walked along the beach at the YYY Resort.  This is their slow season so we basically had the place to ourselves.  Valerie and I managed to gather a pocketful of sea glass.

This afternoon Valerie and I climbed Mount Gusuku while Murphy stayed in the car and tried to sleep off the motion sickness meds that he took for the boat ride over.  We were able to drive halfway up the mountain and then park at the gift shop.  The rest was conquered by marching up a long series of zigzagging cement steps that went all the way to the summit.  Valerie said there were 298 steps, but it felt like a million!  We were the only two on the summit for a few minutes, but then a busload of Japanese students began showing up.  By the time we headed down, twenty or thirty of the healthy teens had gathered on the peak!

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around the island while we waited on the 4:00 p.m. ferry to show up to take us back to Okinawa.  (Valerie was chauffeuring us in a rental car.)  As we were coming down a narrow street in the town, Murphy spotted a group of kids gathered around a fence taking pictures, and he was certain that he had seen some giant tortoises on the inside of the fence.  Valerie quickly cut her 48th illegal u-turn of the day, and we headed back to see if our friend was hallucinating on his motion sickness meds.

But those extra-big turtles had not been hallucinations.  There were at least nineteen giant tortoises roaming around a large fenced-in area eating greens that had been cut and strewn into their enclosure.  It was an amazing sight.  I haven't researched them yet, but they were approximately two feet in height, and more than three feet in length.  They had to be Galapagos tortoises - which I have heard are disappearing.  There were no signs or any indication of this being a commercial activity - just some private collector hoarding an endangered species.  They did appear to be healthy and well cared for.

That was our day.  It was a long one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sing a Song of Freedom

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This coming Monday is the date set aside by Congress to honor the birth of an icon of the American civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was murdered while I was in college, and I remember well the turmoil of the times.  Black people were freed from the shackles of slavery in the 1860's, but a century later they were still fighting bigotry and still enslaved to an American social, political, and economic systems that provided few opportunities for advancement.  Those were the doors that Dr. King was trying to open.

Now, over forty years after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a black family is living in the upstairs quarters of the White House, not as servants but as the freely elected President of the United States, the First Lady, and their lovely daughters.  Oh how times have changed!

But there is still much to be done.  The election of Barack Obama served to remind a certain element in America that they feel threatened by advances in civil rights.  Fortunately, that attitude is beginning to fade as young Americans with more liberal views slowly begin to make their presence felt in society.  Public attitudes are changing for the better, and sooner or later the old white men running the Republican  Party are going to figure that out.  Probably not this year, though!

Today I found a piece on the website of The Nation magazine that had a listing of the top ten civil rights songs of all time.  It was compiled by Peter Rothberg.  He invited readers to add to the list if they felt he missed something worthy of inclusion.  (More on that at the end of the list.)  Here are the Rothberg selections:

1.  "We Shall Not be Moved"  by Mavis Staples
2.  "People Get Ready"  by The Impressions
3.  "A Change is Gonna Come"  by Sam Cooke
4.  "I Wish I Knew (How it Would Feel to be Free)"  by Nina Simone
5.  "Here's to the state of Mississippi"  by Phil Ochs
6.  "The Times They Are a Changin'"  by Bob Dylan
7.  "Eyes on the Prize"  by Sweet Honey on the Rock
8.  "95 South  (All the Places We've Been)"  by Gil Scott Heron
9.  "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round"  by The Roots
10. "Freedom Highway"  by the Staples Singers

Okay,  so what was the absolute civil rights classic that Peter Rothberg overlooked?  To my way of thinking, it doesn't get any more moving than "We Shall Overcome," perhaps the Joan Baez version.    It is a song that Dr. King knew well, and it was definitive of the times in which he worked.

Have a wonderful weekend while you sing a song of freedom!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Protestant Evolution

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A poll conducted by the Gallup organization in 2010 found that 40% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form - all science and fossils to the contrary be damned!  That same poll revealed that 54% of Americans believe that humans developed (evolved) over millions of years.

The Republican party knows that the theory evolution is nonsense.  Sarah Palin, for instance, has stated her belief that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time - sometime less than 6,000 years ago when, according to some rigid Christian fundamentalists, God created the earth.

Recently the Southern Baptist Convention surveyed 1,000 American Protestant pastors to get their take on the theory of evolution and some ancillary matters.  Forty-six percent of those surveyed agreed that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, while 43% disagreed.  Seventy-four percent of the Protestant ministers surveyed believed that Adam and Eve were real people.  Many of these same pastors usually aren't reticent about letting their congregations know how Jesus would have wanted them to vote.

So these Republican presidential candidates appear to know exactly what they are doing when they begin waving the flag and bearing the cross.  They aren't just playing to the base, they're singing to the choir!

And Bible-thumpers vote!

Can I have an "Amen!"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Stuffed Wonders of the World Tour

by Pa Rock
The Intentional Tourists

On a recent trip to Vietnam one of my most memorable encounters was with Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam who worked tirelessly over many years to expel the French and later the Americans from his homeland.  Never mind that Uncle Ho died in 1969, a full six years before the last of the American forces finally left Vietnam.  He's still there - I saw him!

The reason, of course, that I was able to see Ho Chi Minh is that his body was handed over to some skilled taxidermists shortly after his death, and the stuffed result is now enshrined in a glass casket and on display in a special mausoleum in Hanoi.  There is no fee to see Uncle Ho, but a souvenir shop is close by where tourists can spend their money on books and posters and other paraphernalia having to do with the peasant who grew into an international political force.

And twelve years ago I saw another famous dead political leader.  Vladimir Lenin who died in 1924 has been stuffed and is on display underneath the reviewing stand on Red Square.  A souvenir shop is also close by.

Today on the front page of the Stars and Stripes is an interesting article entitled "Rest in Public" which says, in part, that the recently dead President Kim Jong Il of North Korea has also been turned over to the taxidermists so that he can be prepared for eventual public display.  According to that article, that Kim's  father, and former North Korean dictator, Kim Il Sung, is also on public display.  Apparently the North Koreans feel that if the new Kim's father and grandfather are both available for public viewing, it will add legitimacy and continuity to Junior's new regime.

According to the Stars and Stripes:

"Political experts say leaders' bodies are sometimes preserved to validate the godlike status they received - or bestowed upon themselves - while they were alive, and/or to justify the succession of power in places without elections."
Other bodies waiting around for more public adoration besides Ho Chi Minh, Valdimir Lenin, and the father and son circus act from North Korea include Chairman Mao Tse-Tung of China, and former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.  (Apparently there is also a gift shop available for those who stand in line to see Chairman Mao.)

A woman who used to work for the Marcos family as a fashion model said that she had viewed old Ferdie's body and decided that he looked better dead than he did alive.  She speculated that Botox had been used to make him more attractive than he had been when he was still sucking air.

While it might seem a bit macabre to view stuffed dead people, the two that I have been up close and personal with so far have had very long lines of tourists waiting for a brief glimpse of someone of actual historical relevance.

So I'm thinking, isn't this something we could be doing in America - maybe not with Presidents (though Hillary might not object!), but how about stuffed athletes, movie and music stars, and even criminals?  I mean, who wouldn't want to see the actual Ted Bundy while on their Florida vacation?   Or Marilyn, or Elvis, or Mickey Mantle - or even Ted Williams' head?  Heirs who didn't inherit as much as they felt they were due, could put the dead family celebrities on display and charge for the viewing - because we are, after all, a capitalist society - and they could still end the line in a souvenir shop.  States could charge to see their most nefarious dead criminals as a way of recouping court and incarceration costs - or even as a way to compensate victims.

"Our next stop will be the John Wayne Gacy room.  Please don't block the kiddies' view because everybody loves a clown!"

Of course the Botox bills for Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler would be astronomical, but Joan Rivers ought to be ready for display fairly quickly after her demise.

Just thinking out loud here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by Pa Rock
Citizen Film Critic

What business does an American film crew have in tackling a Swedish novel that has almost risen to the level of a national treasure – particularly since the Swedes themselves made a highly acclaimed movie of that same material just two years ago? Certainly profit motive was a major factor in creating an American version of the film of the late Steig Larsson’s terrific novel – but I suspect there were a couple of darker reasons for Hollywood’s rush to film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

My gut feeling is that there is a pervasive sense among American moviegoers that good films can only come from America - that, and the reluctance of Americans to bother themselves with reading subtitles.  Subtitles, after all, are for foreigners.

It’s all ethnocentric crap, of course, which is close to what I expected to see on the screen last Saturday night when a friend and I ventured to one of our local military theatres to see director David Fincher's take on Larsson’s monumental bestseller. I fully expected to be disappointed.

(Disclaimers: First, I have read all three of Larsson’s Blomkvist-Salander novels and loved them – and I don’t recall ever seeing any movie that lived up to the book on which it was based. Second, I have been to Stockholm and walked some of the old cobblestone streets described so vividly in the novels.  I hoped to recognize at least a few of those places in the movie. And third, I saw Daniel Craig in New York City a couple of years ago and knew that it would take nothing less than demonic possession to pass him off as a Swede.)

The movie, to my utter disbelief, was far better than I expected. The first two-thirds of it followed the book, almost tediously at times, but was nevertheless a product that Steig Larsson would have embraced. There was one significant detour from the text toward the end of the film – the Australia bit was left out, and an alternative narrative was used. That maneuver probably shaved five minutes off of a movie that was already a bladder-buster, and it didn’t hurt the quality of the tale – but I still resented it as an unnecessary manipulation of a finely tuned plot. (Hollywood, when you have the opportunity to leave an author's work alone, do it!)  That minor and unnecessary transgression was, in fact, my only complaint.

No, I didn’t see any Stockholm sights that I recognized, but most, if not all, of the film appeared to have been shot in Sweden and had a very authentic feel.

Many of the actors, as well, had Swedish names and rich Swedish accents. Three of the main players, however, weren’t Swedes. The venerable Christopher Plummer (remember him as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music?) who portrayed Henrik, the sad patriarch of the massively rich Vanger family, is Canadian.  Daniel Craig, a.k.a. Mikael Blomquist, the disgraced reporter and magazine publisher, is a Brit, and Rooney Mara, the tattooed and pierced bi-sexual computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, is American.

Daniel Craig gave an acceptable performance and was believable in the role of Blomkvist, which was a welcome surprise. It was Rooney Mara’s ability to completely become the complex Lisbeth Salander, however, that fired this film with unbridled intensity. She was absolutely astounding as one of the most complex characters to come roaring out of the pages of a novel – on a motorcycle – and onto the big screen in generations.

I haven’t seen the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet, but I will – and I look forward to getting the Swedish take on this Swedish material – and I’m not too lazy to read subtitles. But even if that film is exceptional, and I have heard that it is, the American version is still mighty damned good!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "We'll Go No More A-Roving"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

A few nights ago I was watching an old episode of one of my favorite mystery programs, Midsomer Murders, when I came across a snippet of poetry that I really liked.  The plot of that particular episode revolved around the murder of the village's philandering postman who had had affairs with more than a few of the ladies in the village.  Several of those ladies were standing around sobbing openly at the funeral, and many had brought floral offerings.  DCI Barnaby and Sergeant Troy were both at the funeral evaluating mourners. and their husbands, as possible suspects, and Barnaby also began reading the notes attached to the flowers.  One particularly nice floral arrangement had an unsigned note that said simply, "So we'll go no more a-roving so late into the night."

It was eventually brought out that those lines were from a poem by Lord Byron.  I found the poem, liked it, and will share it here.  The three stanzas are very simple, yet very beautiful - a perfect eulogy for a randy postman who did much of his romancing while the moon was shining brightly.

We'll Go No More A-Roving
by Lord Byron

So, we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2012 Pa Rock's Dead Pool

by Pa Rock
Dead Pool Manager

It's true!  Pa Rock's Dead Pool is back for yet another year - our fifth!  The rules are simple.  All you have to do is select ten names of people whom you think might die in the year 2012 - from the world's nearly endless supply of celebrities - and email those names to me at  pa.rock.macy@gmail.com.  That's all there is to it.  Submit those names and then kick back and wait on the Grim Reaper to do his thing.

Points are awarded for each death that you are able to accurately predict.  They are determined by subtracting the person's age at the time of their demise from one hundred.  The younger the dearly departed, the more points they are worth.

It will be considered bad form to pick me - and I am not worth many points anyway!

And, there are prizes!  The person who scores the most points will win $50, second place will take home $25, and third place is worth $10.  There are no entry fees, so it's all coming out of my pocket.  Of course, I'm entering too - in hopes of saving myself a few bucks.

The deadline for entries is midnight in your time zone on January 15th.  You have just over a week to get those names in, so hop to it!

(Please tweet or otherwise forward this information along to others who might enjoy the challenge!)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Another Arizona Desperado

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This week a handgun was fired on an Arizona school bus that was loaded with children.  An eight-year-old boy had apparently taken the gun to school that day where it remained undetected in his backpack.  He was riding the bus home and manipulating the gun through the fabric of his backpack when it went off and fired a round into the floor.  Shockingly, nobody was hurt.

There is no word yet on whether the National Rifle Association will issue a letter recognizing the Second Amendment rights of the young boy from Mesa - and appealing for funds to fight Obama as he deviously plots to come for the guns of real Americans with proper birth certificates.

But regardless of what the NRA does or fails to do, the Arizona Legislature will not hesitate to act.  Legislation will undoubtedly be drafted as a result of this incident that will call for an end to compulsory education (so that children won't be such easy targets), eliminate state funding for school transportation, and mandate that everyone using any form of public transportation be armed.  Only then will the children of Arizona be truly safe!

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Dead Pool Results

by Pa Rock
Dead Pool Manager

Pa Rock's 4th Annual Dead Pool ended with the arrival of the new year, and I have just found time to count the corpses.  This year we had twenty-one entries, and of those, nine managed to correctly predict at least one celebrity demise, and four of those hit on multiple deaths.

This year's winner is my good friend, Brenda Kilby, of McDonald County, Missouri, who managed to make three correct predictions - and that in itself was a record for this Dead Pool.  Brenda correctly guessed that James Arness would bite the dust of Dodge City for 12 points, Elizabeth Taylor would quit getting married - permanently - for 21 points, and Amy Winehouse would kick her drug habit - for good - for 73 points.  Congratulations, Brenda, with your record score of 106 points!

Mike Box, an old college friend from the turbulent sixties, came in second by also correctly naming Elizabeth Taylor and Amy Winehouse for a total of 94 points.  Good work, Mike!

Another good friend of mine, although we have yet to meet in person, is Don Hunsberger.  Don came in third with his predictions of Amy Winehouse and Andy Rooney - for a total of 81 points.  Congratulations to you, Don!

Honorable mentions go to Eva and Scott who each picked Amy Winehouse for totals of 73 points each, Molly who selected Betty Ford and Jeff Conaway for a total of 47 points, David and Ricardo who hit on Osama bin Laden for 46 points, and Ron who selected Liz Taylor for 21 points.

Great work, everyone!  If you were in the top three, a check will be going out in the mail.  (Don, please email me your snail mail address.)  Please spend your winnings on something socially responsible  - or extremely alcoholic!

The 5th Annual Pa Rock's Dead Pool (2012) will be announced shortly - maybe as early as today!  Start getting those unfortunate names selected!

My Wonderful Three-Day Weekend

by Pa Rock
Chronic Complainer

The is Friday of my bi-monthly three-day weekend.  By agreeing to work an extra hour each day for eight days, we get every other Friday off.  It usually takes me an extra hour to get all of my work done anyway, so I like the system.

But I was just coming down with a cold when I got back from Vietnam last Sunday, and it has been getting worse all week.  Still I persevered and went to work, because that's the way I roll.  Yesterday morning as I pulled into work in the dark, my poor car died.  I'm not complaining because I have had the little piece of junk for a year-and-a-half and this is its first major malfunction.  As the electrical system slowly faded away, I was fairly certain that I would be buying an alternator.

But nothing is simple on Okinawa.  It took over a day to get my car towed to an on-base repair shop that was less than a mile from where it quit running.  Today they told me that I will need a new battery and a used alternator.  Apparently "used" alternators here sell for something north of $300!  The total bill will be at least $550!

Thank you, sir.  May I please have another!

My friend Kelly brought me home last night.  We went by the commissary on the way, so I have enough groceries to make it through the weekend.

And I am still sick.

And yes, this is definitely my three-day weekend!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We'll All Miss Marcus

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Barney Frank, the retiring Congressman from Provincetown, Massachusetts, has authored a catchy little slogan for this year's national Democratic campaign, to wit:  "We're not perfect, but they're nuts!"  Boy, howdy, are they ever nuts!  But  today, after only about five percent of Iowa Republicans even bothered going to their caucuses, one of the nuts is leaving the party mix.

Michele Bachmann, who has claimed that God lured her into the race, is packing it in.  She is being coy about her plans for the future, but one possibility is that she may actually return to the nation's capital and begin representing her district in Congress again.  Of course, for the past several months she has been caterwauling to anyone within earshot that she is an Iowan, so the good folks of Minnesota may not be so eager to keep her on the government dole.

There is also some speculation that Bachmann may raise her sights and run for the Senate seat currently held by Amy Klobuchar.  I wonder if God is promoting that gambit also?

And, of course, there is the tea-party fall-back position of hosting her own show on Fox.

I will miss Marcus.  He always seemed to provide some comic relief to the dirty business of Republican presidential politics - especially after Clarence Thomas Herman Cain withdrew from the race.  But I can't  seem to gin up much remorse for his wife's departure from the national political scene.  Roy Clark, the great country singer, had a recording out more than twenty years ago that captured the essence of how I feel about Michele's exit.  That song was titled  "Thank God and Greyhound She's Gone!"

And the nice thing about buses is that there is always another one coming along.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Romney Buys Iowa, Barely

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

With more than 125,000 votes cast in the Iowa Republican caucuses, Mitt Romney trounced second place finisher, Little Ricky Santorum, by an astounding eight votes.  The final tally was 30,015 for Romney (24.6%) and 30,007 votes for Santorum (also 24.6%).  The unemployed Mr. Romney, who rarely wins anything, pulled off this amazing victory at a cost of somewhere north of $100 per vote.  Santorum, on the other hand, spent about $1.65 for each of his votes.  Somewhere in all of that is proof positive of the corrosive effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

Romney will take seven Iowa delegate votes to the Republican convention, and Santorum will arrive with six. Clearly both men will be claiming a victory, with Romney's being statistical and Santorum's being moral.

Since it is obvious that God, the real one and not the Mormon one, favored Santorum, the other two evangelical firebrands, Perry and Bachmann, have some serious thinking to do.  Governor Perry, who had to settle for 10.3 percent of the vote and a fifth place finish, has already said that he is flying home to Texas to "re-evaluate" his candidacy and probably ask himself "What would Tim Tebow do?"  Congressman Bachmann, who finished sixth - and for all practical purposes dead last - with a mere 5% of the votes, may have a come-to-Jesus meeting with Jesus and impress upon the Messiah just how bitterly unfair it is that evangelicals continue to be distrustful of women in positions of power.

And speaking of chatting with the Gods, Christian fundamentalist tele-huckster Pat Robertson said that he recently had a conversation with God, and the Almighty told him who the next President would be.  Pat, out of fairness to God and the electoral process, is not saying whom the anointed one will be.  But hey, it's Pat Robertson for Christ's sake, and we all know He wouldn't lie!

Here's what I think, however.  If Pat's dementia clears for a few moments, he should be compelled to tell the rest of us which candidate God has chosen.  If he won't do it voluntarily, the goons from Blackwater - or whatever name it is going by today - should be sent in to beat or waterboard the information out of him.  (What could be more American than that?)  Then we could cancel the election, save the taxpayers a warehouse full of money, and crown the next commander-in-chief at the halftime of next year's Superbowl.

Wouldn't it be great if the Broncos were in that Superbowl and God's chosen turned out to be...no, wait, he's not thirty-five yet.  Never mind.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Iowa Circus

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

In less than twenty-four  hours the hog farmers, coffee shop malingerers, and retired school teachers of Iowa will go to their caucus sites and attempt to tell the rest of the country who should be our next President.  As of the moment the pundits are predicting a really tight three-race between the economically privileged Mitt Romney, Ron Paul the libertarian, and Little Ricky Santorum - God's man on Earth - or as the Huffington Post described it - a three-way between the business class, the libertarians, and the evangelicals.

First of all, I am forever offended by the crazy quilt of caucuses and state primaries that determine, usually quite early, who the candidates of the two major parties will be.  Iowa is representative of Iowa.  Period.  It has squat to do with how people view things in New York, Colorado, or Louisiana.  Yet out of Iowa will come some yahoo with barely a third of the vote claiming a victory and inevitability - most likely one of the three yahoos mentioned above.  Next week the folks in New Hampshire will go to the polls in a slightly more democratic process, and somebody (perhaps somebody other than the yahoo who won Iowa) will claim that he is Mister Inevitability.

Yes, I said Mister.  Michele Bachmann has the only bonnet in the ring, and her tea leaves don't look promising.  Praise Allah for small mercies!

So, as of today, it looks like the Republican field may have winnowed its way down to three - old white men. Gotta love those Republicans, they are so effing predictable!

(I support the idea of three regional primaries, with the voting order shifting every four years.  One time the eastern states would vote first, the next time the central states, and after that the western states.  Everybody gets to have their say before the nomination is sewn up.)

There are only two types of Republicans that I can't abide.  The first is those with no principles who change positions more often than they change their underwear.  I am of course giving a nod to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.  (Okay, Mitt's underwear is "magic" and probably doesn't need changing, and Newt likely doesn't wear underwear - but you get the idea.)  The unprincipled are totally poll-driven and drift with the vagaries of public opinion - and may change their minds more than once in a single speech!

The other group is too principled.  These are the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, Mexican-hating, homophobic, racist, gun-toting, Bible-thumping, Jesus-owning evangelicals.  They are insanely rigid and not tolerant of anything that does not fit into their tighty-whitey worldview.  Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, and Ricky Santorum share a revival tent with these baboons.

Ron Paul and his merry band of libertarians have a foot in both of these camps, but Paul also harbors a few progressive tendencies which makes him a pariah to party regulars everywhere.

Tomorrow some old white man will win thirty-five or even  forty percent of the votes cast in the Iowa caucuses, and his wife will begin looking at fabric samples for the new White House drapes.   And a few hours later the circus will roll out of town and head for New Hampshire.  When it goes, Iowa will once again slip back into irrelevance and the guys at the coffee shops will be able to get back to the serious business of not farming.

And the candidate who will get the best sleep on Tuesday night will be Barack Obama!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Then They Came for Me

by Pa Rock
Open-Minded American

There was an excellent piece in today's Daily Kos regarding Arizona's never-ending struggle to define itself in terms of being a white, male, conservative culture.  The focus of today's article is on the ethnic studies program that was started several years ago in the Tucson School District.

Not long after the  highly popular ethnic studies program began, the state superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, became enraged when several students from the class turned their backs on one of his assistants who was speaking to the student body.  Instead of engaging the students in a dialogue in which he might have run the risk of learning something,  the ever-pompous Mr. Horne went ballistic and moved to kill the program.  Under his urging, the Arizona State Legislature, not exactly a bastion of intellectualism, passed a knee-jerk law to ban "divisive" ethnic studies programs.

HB 2281 has the express purpose of keeping Arizona history nice and white - never mind that the state is over one-third Latino and home to more Native American speakers that any other state in the lower forty-eight.  Those ne'er-do-wells who immigrated into Arizona from other places (like Tom Horne who was born in Canada) want to define the state according to their backgrounds and values - and everybody else can turn white or lump it!

HB 2281 is so egregious in its denial of free speech and basic human rights that even the Roberts' Court might eventually overturn it.  But there will be no judicial remedies in the Scorpion State.  Last Tuesday an Arizona Administrative Law Judge (which sounds suspiciously like a glorified Justice of the Peace) said that Tucson's ethnic studies program violates that monument to blatant racism and political skulduggery known as HB 2281 - and the racially diverse student body in the Tucson schools will have to continue learning history that excludes, marginalizes, or distorts the impact that their ancestors had on the history of Arizona.

Clearly their education is the white man's burden.

The article at www.dailykos.com included this oft-quoted chestnut from Martin Niemoller to remind us that unless we stand firm in our support of one another, the forces of hate will eventually win out.  Sadly, hate is on the march in Arizona.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak out for me.