Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Joe the Dog

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was a Presidential Primary in Arizona this week, but it was kind of a lackluster event.  In fact, it is hard for anything out in the Scorpion State to outshine the antics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and this week was no different.  With that much national press descending upon the state, Old Joe was out to make damned sure that he got in front of as many cameras as possible.

One of the big stories in Arizona, aside from the primary, was a bestiality ring that Joe's boys busted.  Well, it wasn't a ring exactly, just two men and a woman advertising for the services of a randy dog over Craig's List.    The sheriff and his minions set up a sting operation and were able to nab the desperadoes before they sullied the honor of an undercover, four-footed member of the sheriff's canine unit.

Joe knew, and rightly so, that a story like that would have mass appeal to America's unwashed  masses - and of course he was right.  People were shocked!

I myself was shocked, and after living in Arizona a couple of years I don't shock easily.  My shock came from learning that the Scorpion State still has laws against bestiality on the books.  It is hard to imagine because several of the state's office holders could certainly pass as the issue of bestial relations.

People eat those crazy stories up, and Joe knows it.  But the more mundane stuff, however, he sometimes lets slide.  Take, for instance, the more than 400 sex crimes in an around El Mirage, Arizona, between 2005 and 2007 that his office failed to properly investigate.  Some of those crimes were committed against children.  Sex crimes against children, or anyone else for that matter, just does not resonate with sand goobers the way that a good dog-sex story does.

And Joe Arpaio, the ancient sheriff, is a purebred Publicity Hound who appreciates the intellectual depth of the Arizona voting public.  No wonder those Republican presidential candidates all rushed to Phoenix to kiss his ring!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Little Ricky Threatens to Throw Up

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When Al Smith, a Catholic, ran for President against Herbert Hoover in 1928, a good portion of the country went nuts - in particular the Bible Belt went stark raving loony predicting the end of democracy in our country if this "papist" became President.  Smith would be little more that an errand boy for the Pope.  Smith lost.

Thirty-two years later another Catholic ran for President and decided that it would be best to tackle the religion issue head on.  John F. Kennedy knew the same religious forces that had fought Al Smith so bitterly and unfairly (Protestant fundamentalists) were aligning against him.  Kennedy took the initiative and went on television to say his piece about the separation of church and state, a separation that he regarded as absolute.  He said,

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish - where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source - where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials - and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all."

That's what JFK said, and it was pretty damned eloquent - and it was pretty damned spot on.

Then this week along comes Little Ricky Santorum, who, like JFK, is Catholic, but who, unlike JFK, is in the Pope's pocket and looks upon himself as a moral crusader out to punish the sinful as he turns America into his vision of what a moral society should be.  When asked to comment about JFK's defense of the "absolute" separation of church and state, Santorum skewed his interpretation of what JFK had actually said and responded with this bit of righteous wrath:

"To say that people of faith have no role in the public square.  You bet that makes me want to throw up.  What kind of country do we live in where only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case?  That makes me want to throw up."

Which, of course, was deceptive in that nowhere did Kennedy say that people of faith could not be active in government.  He just did not want them coming to the "public square" as emissaries of their churches and promoting their church's agendas.

(Interestingly, Santorum does believe in an absolute wall between state and church - saying that the government should absolutely never get in the church's business.  Of course, JFK said that also - see above.)

But this year the churches are flexing their political muscle.  If you don't believe me, just ask the Girl Scouts, or Planned Parenthood, or women using contraception, or gays, or undocumented workers, or...the list is damned near endless.

And if Little Ricky continues to feel that he might hurl, perhaps he should get one the agents of his new government-funded Secret Service detail to accompany him with a mop.

I must now quit typing and head to the bathroom - because typing the word "santorum" over and over has me on the brink of barfing!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "A Dog Has Died"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today's poem, "A Dog Has Died," is by the late Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate, Pablo Neruda.  It is a simple piece about respect between a dog and his human, as well as an ode on the inevitability and finality of death.  I found it to be beautiful as well as a bit unsettling.

I miss my dogs terribly, and I will have a dog when I return to the United States.  I just hope that I can come across one that is as fine a companion to me as Pablo Neruda's was to him.

This minor tribute to Pablo Neruda is dedicated to another fine Chilean, Christian Lund Duchylard.   Christian, if you ever stumble across this site, please contact me.   (

A Dog Has Died
by Pablo Neruda

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.

So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Disrespecting of Little Ricky Santorum

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I'm not saying that Little Ricky Santorum deserves respect, but whether he deserves it or not - he sure as hell ain't getting much!

Yesterday there was a funny piece at DailyKos proffering a list of the ten first official acts of President Santorum.  Number two on the list was the bombing of Google headquarters.  And yes, it is unlikely that Ricky will ever get over the frothy way his name has been smeared by the search giant.  Just look for "santorum" on the Google and see what pops up!

Earlier this week a picture was posted on the web of Little Ricky smiling in front of a nice book collection and the American flag.  It is actually a composition created by thousands of pieces of gay porn arranged to look like Ricky.  A search for "santorum, porn, and picture" (preferably on the Google) will bring you right to it.

I guess when you build a career demonizing gays, immigrants, the poor, women, and labor - one should expect to be the butt of a few jokes.  Lets just hope that all of this negative attention doesn't backfire and turn him into a martyr.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Sand Hag Smells a Stunt

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, has been invited to testify before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security.   The invitation came from the subcommittee chairman, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, and specifically asked the governor to speak on the defining piece of legislation of her administration - the infamous SB 1070.  Specifically Schumer wants to hear the governor's views on the necessity of maintaining the draconian SB 1070 in the face of substantial gains that the federal government has made in securing the nation's southwestern border.

The governor has been invited to testify on April 24th, the day before the U.S. Supreme Court will take up its review of the controversial Arizona law.

But apparently Jan isn't thrilled about the opportunity to speak before the group of senators.  Some of her reluctance may be the legitimate fear of encountering a Sarah Palin moment where lawmakers might ask her something that she would actually have to think about and respond to in a logical manner instead of just parroting wingnut talking points.  Jan is leery, and her spokesman said that she fears the invitation might be a political stunt to embarrass the governor.

Jan is right to be cautious.  Just because she is a governor of a state that has more guns than the entire U.S. military does not mean that those Democratic bullies will show her the respect she deserves.  Why that sneaky Chuck Schumer might even stick his finger in her face when there is a photographer nearby!

That would be a very cheap political stunt!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Evil Agenda of the Girl Scouts

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is an insignificant little man in the Indiana state legislature who must be harboring dreams of becoming President.  Representative Bob Morris, a Republican (of course), has refused to vote on a resolution honoring the 100th anniversary of America's Girl Scouts because he has determined that they are a "tactical arm of Planned Parenthood"  and encourage "homosexual lifestyles."  Egads!  He has formed this startling conclusion by talking so some "well-informed" constituents and doing "a small amount of research on the Internet."

Yes siree, boob!  Old Bob sounds like one heavy-duty Hoosier intellectual!  Here's betting he doesn't believe in global warming or Obama's birth certificate either.  Why, the urge for Rick Santorum to put him on the national ticket must be well nigh irresistible!

Unfortunately for the Girl Scouts, a very fine organization that does much to turn today's girls into tomorrow's leaders, Old Bob is not alone in his delusions.  Earlier this month the St. Tiimothy Roman Catholic parish in Chantilly, Virginia, shut 12 troops (115 girls) out of its facilities - and Saint Rita Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia, is reportedly getting ready to throw their local Girl Scouts out also.

Here is the logic employed by St. Timothy for expelling the youngsters:  the U.S. Girl Scouts are associated with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts - which has members in 145 countries - and reportedly supports access to contraception (egads, again!) and is often accused of backing abortion and being affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

The U.S. Girl Scouts contend that their organization has no stance on birth control or abortion, and that it has no relationship with Planned Parenthood.  They also state uniquivocally that no proceeds from cookie sales go to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.  But those are just facts - and bonehead teabaggers and the Holy Church of Rome do not appreciate being confronted with facts.

I read a clever tweet recently which said that the Catholic Church would have no problem supporting contraception if altar boys could get pregnant!  Perhaps the Church should work at cleaning its own house instead of terrorizing and stigmatizing little girls.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Quiet American

by Pa Rock

I bought a copy of Graham Greene's The Quiet American from a young street vendor in Hanoi.  I just finished the relatively small novel this week and wish that I had read it prior to going to Vietnam.  It gives such a poignant (and I suspect very accurate) portrayal of what was occurring in that war-ravaged country in the 1950's - before the United States got itself completely pulled into the quagmire of a war that we had no hope of winning.  The author lived and worked in Saigon and Hanoi during the early 1950's - the same time that he was writing this book.

The Quiet American is the fictional story of two men who meet while working in Vietnam, and the young Vietnamese woman they both covet.  Thomas Fowler (like the book's author) is a crusty and cynical British journalist who understands the futility of war and of trying to bring the abstract concept of democracy to a people whose main focus in life is growing enough rice to survive.   Fowler is married to a Catholic woman in England who will not give him a divorce, and he is living with the beautiful Phuong in Saigon who dutifully fills his opium pipes each evening and dreams of being the second Mrs. Fowler.

Alden Pyle is a bright, young, "quiet" American who grew up in a Bostonian family of privilege.  He arrives in Saigon ostensibly working as an economic attache, but it is quickly obvious to the other foreign denizens of the city (as well as to the reader) that he is actually there as a CIA operative.  Pyle tries to build a friendship with Fowler, but that effort becomes strained as he quickly begins to fall in love with Fowler's woman, the beautiful Phuong.

Pyle, the spy, has read books on Vietnam written by a man who had only been there briefly, but from his reading he has determined that the best approach to winning the country over for eventual democracy is to support a "third force" which would counteract both the Communist Vietminh as well as the military of the French colonial power.  He forms an alliance with a corrupt general and instigates some violence that results in the suffering and deaths of many civilians.   Pyle believes that those who died in the acts of violence that he orchestrated were martyrs and had died for democracy - whether that was their intent or not.

Fowler is the tough guy without a gun who knows the true costs of war.  Pyle is the heavily armed choir boy who does not.

Alden Pyle is murdered very early on in the story, and the remainder of the novel looks back at his interactions with the Vietnamese and particularly with Thomas Fowler and Phuong.  The Quiet American is, on one level, a fictional murder mystery, and on another level it is a story of the actual death of the idealism that America brought forward out of World War II.

The Quiet American hit a nerve with America's espionage community which began tracking Graham Greene shortly after this novel was released in the United States.  Our spooks continued to follow his movements for four more decades until the author's death.  That alone should stand as testimony to the book's authenticity.  It is a very disturbing tale, one that still haunts me several days after putting it down.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Grave of Jesus Christ: Another Japanese Roadside Attraction

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I have seen a fair bit of Japan and Asia during the two tours that I have lived on Okinawa, and I will leave here in July with the full realization that I did not see everything that this beautiful country and region of the world has to offer.  Today, quite accidentally, I learned about a little known tourist site in northern Japan of which I was completely unfamiliar - and, if the site happens to be legitimate, it could have an astounding impact on the religious beliefs of over 2 billion people.

Two graves are located in a very idyllic spot in extreme northern Japan near the village of Shingo in the Aomori Prefecture.  It is an area famed for growing apples.  The graves are reportedly the last resting places of Jesus Christ of Judea and his brother, Isukiri.  Christ, it seems (according to local legend) first came to Japan when he was about twenty-one and lived west of Tokyo for several years.  When he was thirty-three he returned to Judea where he taught, stirred up trouble, and was supposed to have been crucified.

But the Japanese take on the crucifixion is that the brother, Isukiri, took the place of Jesus on the cross, and after his death Jesus took some of Isukiri's remains and lit out for Japan where he eventually settled near Shingo, married, had children, and lived to the ripe old age of one-hundred-and-six.

The purported graves of Jesus and Isukiri are in a beautiful shady grove.  Evidence related to Christ's presence in Japan was reportedly uncovered by a Shinto priest in 1935 and is housed in a museum adjacent to the burial sites.  The entire site is maintained by people who follow Shinto beliefs.

There are a couple of local idiosyncrasies which back up this story.  First, Shingo's original name was "Herai" which is very close to the Japanese word for Hebrew: "Heburai."  And secondly, there is a local traditional song that has no Japanese words but does have words that are similar in sound to Hebrew.

The following is on a signpost near the graves:

"When Jesus Christ was 21 years old, he came to Japan and pursued knowledge of divinity for 12 years.  He went back to Judea at age 33, and engaged in his mission.  However, at that time, people in Judea would not accept Christ's preaching.  Instead, they arrested him and tried to crucify him on a cross.  His younger brother, Isukiri, casually took Christ's place and ended his life on the cross. 

Christ, who escaped the crucifixion, went through the ups and downs of travel, and again came to Japan.  He settled right here in what is now called Herai Village and died at the age of 106. 

On this holy ground there is dedicated a burial mound on the right to deify Christ, and a grave on the left to deify Isukiri.   

The above description was given in a testament by Jesus Christ."

The legend says that after leaving Jerusalem, Christ traveled to Siberia, Alaska, and finally to the Japanese port city of Hachinohe before making his way inland to the area around present-day Shingo.

To me, this story is given some credibility by the fact that Shinto priests and some of their followers care for the graves as they would any holy site, and nobody has tried to take this story and make a religion out of it.  It is basically huckster-free.  The people around Shingo took a simple tale, one that came down to them through the mists of time, and preserved it.   It sounds to me like it was handled in a way that Jesus would have appreciated.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love, Arizona Style

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Did you hear the one about the tough-guy Arizona sheriff who threatened to have his boyfriend deported?

Yes, by now we've all heard the amazing tale of Paul Babeu, the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, who has made his career speaking out against illegal immigration and the need to secure the border with Mexico.

And it was a stellar career!  Young Babeu (he is still just barely 43-years-old), joined the Massachusetts National Guard when he was twenty-one as a private and eventually became a major in the Arizona Army National Guard.  He even served a tour in Iraq.  Babeu was also deployed to Arizona for seventeen months while with the Guard where he served as a Commander with Operation Jump Start along the border.  He went on to attend the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy where he graduated as the #1 overall police recruit.  He served as a patrolman in Chandler, Arizona, where he received to life-saving medals in the performance of his duties.   Babeu ran for Sheriff of Pinal County in 2008, defeated an incumbent Democrat, and became the first Republican sheriff of the county in its entire history.

Sheriff Babeu has a Bachelor's degree in History and Political Science from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and he graduated summa cum laude from American International College with a Master's in Public Administration. Paul Babeu is the President of the Arizona Sheriff's Association and was named National Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriff's Association in 2011.

Golden boy?  You betcha!  He had even formed an exploratory committee to test the waters for running for Congress in 2012.

But then this illegal boyfriend thing came along, and the voters of Arizona are going to have a very tough time with it.  First of all, the sheriff stepped forward once the story broke and admitted that he is gay.  That may have been the most honorable course, especially considering all of the lurid information that was suddenly available to the public, but Arizonans aren't particularly concerned with honor.  (After all, they keep electing people like Joe Arpaio!)  Second, Mexicans, particularly ones who might be illegal, are not popular among the crackers who run the state or the crackers who vote for the crackers who run the state.  And they certainly aren't going to be eager to cast their votes for a sheriff who is having an affair with one who was possibly an illegal and definitely gay.

I feel extremely sorry for Sheriff Paul Babeu.  It takes a tough individual to survive the scorpion-infested political wasteland of Arizona, and he obviously managed to do it well for several years while maintaining a secret that could finish him off politically.  Babeu has spoken previously of being molested over a couple of years in his youth by a Catholic priest, but was able to overcome that horrible experience and achieve scholastic, law enforcement, and political honors.  He is obviously someone who has the grit and determination to make it in a place as hostile as Arizona.

This story, of course, is not over.  If the sheriff actually did threaten to deport his lover over what he might tell the press (and the sheriff says he did not make such a threat), he should be arrested and tried for abuse of power.  If the boyfriend was illegal (and he says he is not), then the sheriff may have to face some legal issues with regard to harboring someone who was in the country illegally.  Clearly Paul Babeu will be in the news some more before this Arizona haboob blows its way off of the front pages and out of the press.

When Arizona turns its gnarly back on Paul Babeu, as it surely will, he will have a wonderful opportunity to shed some of the anti-immigrant and hate baggage that burdens every politician in the state, and emerge as a human being.   And at the tender age of forty-three, Paul Babeu is still plenty young to be of more service to society.   I wish him Godspeed as he heads into the next chapter of his life.

(Sheriff, have you ever thought about taking up the challenge of fixing the Catholic Church?  With your education and life experiences, you might be the ideal person for the job.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Taiwan Wrap-Up

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

Valerie and I returned to Okinawa earlier this evening and I am safely back in my apartment and unpacked.  (Murphy had to leave and fly directly to the United States due to the illness of a friend.)  Somehow I managed to come up with souvenirs for all of my kids and grandkids, even though my old staple, tourist tee-shirts, were very scarce - so I had to get creative.

Our plane did not leave Taiwan until 5:40 p.m., and that late departure allowed us to have a pleasant day in which we didn't  have to rush.  That is the best way to travel!  I am taking tomorrow morning off so that I can sleep in and come to work somewhat relaxed.

Valerie continued to meet new people up to and including on the flight back to Okinawa.  She truly enjoys talking to strangers, and they seem  to sense that she is a good listener as well.   As we were having dinner at the airport in Taiwan (delicious lasagna) this evening, she recognized that the couple in front of us were speaking Japanese to the waiter instead of Chinese.  When it came our turn to be served, she asked if he was Japanese.  The young man said that his father was Taiwanese and his mother was Japanese.  Then he continued by telling us that he plays guitar in a rock band and he is the band's leader.

We ran into several English speakers, and most said that they learned a good portion of their English by watching American movies.  The streets of Taipei carried many advertisements for American movies, and the locals also have access to American movie channels.  Learning, it would seem, can be fun!

The trip to Taiwan was a success.  I am very glad that I had the opportunity to visit there during my long Okinawan hiatus.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Fine Art of Inflating Chickens

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

This was our last full day in Taiwan and we spent it enjoying the arts.  Our first "art stop" was as we were walking from our hotel to the subway station.  We came across a gaggle of what appeared to be professional photographers doing a photo shoot of a skinny female model.   She struck various poses in front of a metal pull-down door that was decorated with graffiti.  I snapped a couple of shots of the photographers taking their pictures.

As the day progressed we visited the Taipei Museum of Modern Art which was showing an exhibit from Australia.  Two things at the MOMA caught my interest.  The first was four large dragons suspended by wires outside of the museum.  They were made from brightly painted plastic bottles and they were amazing - yet so simple that a grade school art class could have made them

The other exhibit that I really enjoyed was an interactive video display.  Four people were permitted into the exhibit room at one time.  There were four holes in the far wall where each of the people had to stoop in order to watch a video.  The video was of their four backsides stooping to watch the video - but then a film was superimposed that showed other people entering the room and doing things behind the ones who were bent over watching themselves - only, of course, no one was actually in the room with them.

There was also some good photographic exhibits, but overall the MOMA Australian show was pretty lame.

We also went to the Palace Museum which is an enormous complex that is basically the national museum of Taiwan.  It is filled with fine art and treasures that Chaing Kai-shek stole from China and brought to Taiwan when he was fleeing ahead of the communist takeover.  One of the more famous exhibits that we saw was the Chinese cabbage carved out of jade.  Later in the museum gift shop I noticed many souvenirs based on the cabbage sculpture including coasters, key chains, and bottle openers.  We spent a couple of hours looking at exhibits but only scratched the surface of what the museum has to offer.

This evening after Valerie took her toys and went home, Murphy and I made a trek to the Baoan Buddhist Temple, a large and extremely beautiful religious complex that is a Taiwanese national heritage site.  We have been to several Buddhist temples and shrines this week, but the Baoan is certainly the most beautiful that we have seen.  It would be hard to imagine  anyone ever being angry inside of a Buddhist temple because they are so serene and peaceful - far different from some American churches whose mission seems to be to inflame and incite - and turn a profit.

However, all of those stops - the MOMA, the Palace Museum, and the Baoan Temple - pale in comparison to the chicken inflators down by the wharf.  We were heading toward the river where Valerie planned to rent a bicycle, when we came upon a shop where several large baked chickens were hanging in the window.  All of the birds looked plump and delicious.  As we passed the shop and turned the corner we encountered two men who were taking scrawny baked chickens out of one cart, inflating them by running an air hose up their butts, and then putting the bloated birds in another cart!  That, I thought, was truly an art!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

He Did It His Way

by Pa Rock
World Explorer

Valerie and I struck off on our own this morning because Murphy wanted to get his beauty rest.  (I got mine last night while he and Valerie were out running the streets.)  She wanted to visit the National University of Taiwan. so we bought another all-day pass for the subway and bus system (180 Taiwanese dollars - or about $5.00 American) and headed off to college.

As we reached the main gate of the university I turned my back for just a second, and by the time I had refocused Valerie was busy chatting up an older Chinese gentleman who was wearing a Canadian ball cap.  (The poor girl has never met a stranger - at least not for long!)  By the time I got over to them they were taking each other's pictures in front of the main gate.

The gentleman was Andrew Liu who had graduated from the university fifty years before and was there today for a reunion.  He has spent his life living in Montreal, Canada, and practicing law.  Andrew led us through much of the campus before we finally reached a souvenir shop where we all bought university tee shirts.  (We were all able to save twelve percent on our purchases thanks to Andrew's status as a proud graduate from a half-century earlier.  Then we went to a student coffee shop where he treated us to a morning java.

Andrew was a most entertaining and interesting fellow.  He is fluent in his native Chinese, as well  as French (from living in Montreal for five decades), English, Japanese, and speaks some Korean.  His father was a prominent doctor in Taiwan and he had a dozen brothers and sisters.  He said that his family was like the Von Trapps in The Sound of Music because they all grew up singing.    As he was leading us off campus later, he mentioned that he sang like Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra.  Valerie asked him to sing something, and he broke into a complete rendition of Sinatra's I Did It My Way!

At one point I asked Andrew about the future of Taiwan, and he said that he fears it will eventually be taken over by China.  His reasoning is that the United States owes China so much money that it will not be in a position to offer any resistance if the government of China decides to seize Taiwan.

Based on information that Andrew gave us, Valerie and I were able to buy tickets on Taiwan's High Speed Rail which we did this afternoon.  We rode to Taoyuan, a stop that offers airport check-in and a free shuttle to the airport.  After learning our way to Taoyuan, we decided that is how we will get to the airport on Monday.  It is very quick and efficient.

While we were walking back to our hotel late this afternoon, I discovered the local McDonald's.  That is where I will dine later tonight.  I love to travel, but my stomach has become too temperamental for much in the way of exotic cuisine.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Boy on the Subway

by Pa Rock
Concerned Traveler

We had just gotten on the subway yesterday evening preparing to take the long ride back to the center of Taipei, when a young boy, probably six-years-old, rushed into the subway car just as the doors were closing.  Unfortunately, his mother was not as fast, and she was left standing on the platform, helplessly watching, as the train sped off with her son on board.

The poor boy stood in front of the door looking perplexed.  Murphy tried to tell him that his mother would follow on the next train, but of course none of us knew his stop - and the child spoke no English anyway.  We were discussing what to do and trying to get a Chinese man on the train to speak to the child, but he did not understand English either.  Murphy came to the conclusion that maybe we should all get off at the next stop and wait with the lad until his mother showed  up.  Before that could happen, however, a Chinese woman told us, in English, that the child knew which stop to get off at.  She had some conversation with the boy to ensure that she was right about that.

A few stops later the youngster got off of the subway car to wait for his mother.  Crisis averted.  I left wondering what had been the scariest part of the evening for the kid - losing his mother, or having three large, white Americans trying to help him!

Friends in High Places

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

Much of our first day in Taiwan was spent in some mighty high places.  This morning, after we figured out how to use the subway system, we traveled downtown and made our way to the Taipei 101, the tallest building on Taiwan and a very unique piece of architecture.  It was a cloudy, miserable day, so after riding what was billed as the world's fastest elevator up to the observation room on the 89th floor, we found ourselves wrapped in fog, more so than  usual, and not able to see much from the enormous windows.  There was a very large and very beautiful collection of carved coral on display on the 89th floor as well as much coral jewelry for sale - and plenty of assorted tourist junk.

Our afternoon excursion was also well into the air up there.  We rode the subway out to the edge of the city where we planned to get on a gondola dangling from a cable and ride to the top of a mountain to visit a tea plantation.  As we were trying to figure out the process for getting the ticket to board the gondola, a young Taiwanese lady stepped up and offered to help.  Her name was Jasmin and she was showing her friend from Ireland, a young man named Terry, around Taiwan.

Jasmin, whose real name Ya-Fen Chen, is a tour guide by trade.  She met Terry at the university in Belfast, Northern Ireland, several years ago while she was there studying business management.  Terry Needham has a PhD in music history and theory - and plays piano.  We had a wonderful time getting to know them, and they were our traveling companions for most of the rest of the day.

The gondola ride up the mountain proved to be a thirty-minute ride up and across several mountains and forested valleys in a swinging contraption that often had us hundreds of feet above the ground.  When we reached the end of the ride, we disembarked and spent some time walking through apricot orchards in full bloom.  We concluded that part of the trip at a tea house where Jasmin prepared tea at our table.  We were also provided with several types of treats to go with the local tea including pistachios, pumpkins seeds, fried tofu, caramels with nuts, and hard boiled eggs that had been boiled in tea.  Jasmin said that the eggs are boiled about four hours before serving - and they were really good.

Tonight when we were walking back to our hotel, we stopped in a 7-11 so Valerie could get some gum.   While we were there, I came across a large pot of eggs boiling in tea!

The valleys up near the tea plantations were deeply forested.  I asked Jasmin if there are habus on Taiwan.  She said that she believed there were, and she added that cobras are also found on the island.  Fortunately we didn't encounter any of those reptiles.

There were several stops on the trip back into the mountains where passengers could get off.  We rode straight through going up, but coming down we got off at the first stop to visit a group of Buddhist and Daoist shrines.  (That is where we separated from our new friends, Jasmin and Terry, because they had to get into the city and pick up a friend who had just arrived.)  The shrines were beautiful, and as with everything Buddhist, very peaceful.

I had planned on becoming a Buddhist in my next life, but based on those whom I have gotten to know during this jaunt across Asia, I may make that leap of faith during this lifetime.  I am, after all, respectfully known in some circles as the "happy Buddha!"


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Three-for-Two Beers, Fried Chicken Cartilage, and Complimentary Condoms

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

We have arrived safely in Taipei, Taiwan.

The flight from Naha, Okinawa, to Taiwan is a quick hour-and-a-half, but China Airlines manages to serve a meal enroute.   Customs at the international airport in Taiwan was a breeze, the easiest that I have encountered anywhere in Asia.  After that we found a limo who agreed to take us to our hotel in the city (about a forty-minute ride) for 1,200 Taiwanese dollars - about $40 US - and here we are!

The Inhouse Hotel is nice, relatively new, with small rooms that each have their own unique features.  All of our rooms have windows that open and great views of the street seven stories below.  Mine is a corner room with windows facing in two directions, Murphy's seems more spacious, and Valerie has a ceiling-to-floor window in her shower!  Each room has a complimentary condom in the drawer of the bedside table.  Murphy said that is a true sign of civilization.

Our evening stroll took us several blocks along a busy street where we passed many open shops as well as a variety of food peddlers.  One of the delicacies that I noticed was fried chicken feet.  We also saw some menus that advertised fried chicken cartilage.    None of our party was brave enough to try either of those dishes.  We finally stopped at a very large outdoor cafe and  had drinks and snacks.   I ordered a Heineken with onion rings, and the waiter was quick to tell me that if I ordered two beers, the third one was free - but I stopped with just the one.

Tomorrow will be our first view of Taipei in daylight.  More to follow as our trip progresses.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Last WWI Veteran

by Pa Rock

While over the last few years two or three people thought to be the last surviving veterans of World War I - the war to end wars - have passed on, it now appears as though the absolute last veteran of the tens of millions who served  in World War I has died.  And that veteran was a woman.

Florence Green died in her native England two weeks ago, just a couple of weeks shy of her 111th birthday.  Ms. Green was a member of Britain's Royal Air Force, though she served on the ground working in an officer's mess on the home front.  Ms. Green would have gone completely unheralded if not for the work of a researcher who unearthed her service records in 2010 while digging through Britain's National Archives.

I am old enough to remember several World War I veterans quite well.  When I was in high school our principal - at least for some of those years - was a retired Army lieutenant colonel named Patrick W. Laurie.  Mr. Laurie, who over the years became one of my father's closest friends, was very patriotic and never missed an opportunity to expose the students at Noel High School to the military.  One time he marched the entire high school, maybe a hundred and twenty-five students, down to the Kansas City Southern Depot to stand and show respect as the casket of a Vietnam Veteran was taken off the train.

Another time Mr. Laurie brought in M. Waldo Hatler to speak to the student body in an assembly.  Mr. Hatler, a resident of Neosho, had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Europe during the First World War.  The poor man was bent and frail and could barely speak above a whisper, but the point was that Mr. Laurie wanted us to see a Medal of Honor winner and to realize just how special those people were.

One of our regular substitute teachers in high school was A. Dean Scott.  Mr. Scott had been the school's principal many year's before and his wife was probably the best cook in the history of the school.  When Mr. Scott came to substitute, one of my ornery friends would invariably ask, "Mr. Scott, do you know anything about trench warfare in World War I?"  Usually we would spend the remainder of the hour enjoying Mr. Scott's stories about his service in the war - and avoiding our school work!

In the late 1970's while I was teaching high school history, I would often have my students make special reports or presentations.  One of those that I remember best was two girls, sisters, who took a tape recorder and interviewed several of the very last surviving World War I veterans in Howell County, Missouri.  It was then that I began to realize just how quickly those guys were passing into history.

Now it looks as if they finally all have gone on, and anyone wanting information on the war to end wars will have to Google it - or head to the library.  There will be no more new first-hand accounts from those who served.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Honest Abe, Old Bob, and the "Railsplitter"

by Pa Rock
History Detective

There is a trivia contest posted in today's edition of the Stars and Stripes.  Its official title is "Honest Abe's Civil War Trivia," and it asks readers to answer ten questions about our 16th President for a chance to win a $250 gift card to their local Post Exchange.  Being a trivia hound and collector of basically useless information, the temptation for me to try my hand at the endeavor was well nigh irresistible.  So, on those few occasions when I had a break today, I hit The Google and searched for answers.  I knew some - and was able to find most of the others, but a couple proved to be rather problematic.

Here are the ten questions and my responses:

1.  What was the name of President Lincoln's horse?  I found information in two places that it was either "Old Bob" or "Old Robin."  One listed "Old Bob" as being the favored name of the two, and the other said "Old Robin" was actually the favorite.  I am going with "Old Bob" because that sounds more Lincolnesque.  "Old Robin" sounds more like something that George W. Bush might name a horse.

2.  True or False, there are no descendants of Abraham Lincoln's alive today?  Sadly that is true.  The last line became extinct on Christmas Eve, 1985, with the death of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith.

3.  What is the name of the newspaper Abraham Lincoln owned in 1859?  The Illinois Staats-Anzeiger, a German publication that he acquired on May 30th, 1859.  He sold the publication on December 6, 1860, shortly after being elected President.

4.  Abraham Lincoln was the only President to ever hold a patent.  What was his invention?  Lincoln invented a device to free ships that ran aground in shallow water.  He was issued Patent # 6469 in 1849.

5.  What was Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat "endearingly" called?  This question was a booger.  I searched high and low for the nickname of his hat.  I kept running into the term "stovepipe,"  but knew that wasn't it because the word was used in the question.  I also found a couple of references to Lincoln's "chimney barrel" hat, but that didn't seem like a true nickname.  One source said it was officially a "top hat," and they were often referred to as "toppers," but that was not Lincoln-specific.   Finally I found one solitary reference to him calling his hat "the railsplitter."  That doesn't make much sense because I doubt that he split rails in a top hat, but I am going with it.  (A bit of related trivia that I came up with while researching this question is that Lincoln used his top hat as a briefcase, a place where he kept his important lawyer papers.  One account told of a group of mischievous boys who strung a wire across his path to knock the hat off.  It worked, and legal papers went everywhere!)

6,  How did Abraham Lincoln earn his first dollar?   He earned it by ferrying passengers to a steamer on the Ohio River in 1827.

7.  Abraham Lincoln was a Captain of a voluntary company during what war?  The Black Hawk War.

8.  Who was Abraham Lincoln's Vice President at the start of the U.S. Civil War?  Hannibal Hamlin was his Vice President during his entire first term.  Andrew Johnson became Vice President when Lincoln was sworn in for his second term on March 4, 1865.  Johnson became President thirty-two days later when Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865.

9.  True or False, when Abraham Lincoln was narrowly elected President in 1860, he didn't even carry his home county.   That is true.  While he did manage to eek out a win in the city of Springfield, he lost Sangamon County, Illinois, to Stephen A. Douglas by 42 votes.

10.  Which President, other than Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated in the 19th century?  James A. Garfield.  Here is some additional trivia related to that question:  Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was either on the scene or close by for each of the first three Presidential assassinations.  As a young captain on General Grant's staff, he had been invited to attend "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater on the night his father was shot, but stayed home instead.  He rushed to the scene after the shooting and was there when President Lincoln passed away the next morning.  As James Garfield's Secretary of War, Robert Lincoln happened to be on hand when Garfield was also shot.  And then, a few years later, Robert Lincoln, a private citizen, was in President McKinley's entourage when he was gunned down.  (What would Orly Taitz, DDS, have done with those juicy morsels?)

If anyone has a better answer to any of the questions, please send the information along.  I really want to win that gift certificate!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "My Poor Yvette Is Dead"

by Pa Rock

Last year over the Memorial Day weekend, three friends and I traveled just north of Okinawa to a small Iapanese island called Yoron.  As is my custom, I took a book along because reading is something that I regard as truly pleasurable.  My book at that time was a favorite from my youth, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  

While we were on Yoron I finished my book, an accomplishment that left me in a strange mood - and we were assaulted by a very severe typhoon, an event that drove us into our respective rooms for a long night of sitting up listening to the winds howl.  Somehow, the confluence of those two things put me into a writing mood, and I began the effort which follows, a long, narrative verse entitled "My Poor Yvette is Dead," a fictional account of a pair of murders in a French resort community.  One of the two speaking characters in this tale is a policeman name Captain Aronnax - with a tip of the hat to Professor Aronnax, the narrator of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Although I was able to piece together much of this tale during the typhoon, I brought the unfinished product back to Okinawa and spent way too much time tinkering with it.  Now it is finished, and "My Poor Yvette" is yours to do with as you wish.

My Poor Yvette is Dead
by Rocky Macy

My poor Yvette is dead.
She drowned last night, and her naked body,
Willful even in death,
Rode a dark current to the depths of the sea.

Later today Captain Aronnax will inform me of my loss
When the rags of Yvette’s reputation
Have been collected and bagged.
His heart will be heavy – heavier by far than mine.

Yvette left the casino at midnight. 
She had a bottle of cognac in one hand
And Claude, the Captain’s son,
Grasped firmly in the other.

(Emil, the doorman, will swear to it. )

The street dogs sniffed her skirts,
Aching to be Claude,
As she pulled him down the alley
And out onto the vacant beach.

The frenzied lovers littered the sand
With debauchery and evening wear
Two free spirits of the night
Displaying everything but shame.

Yvette ravaged Claude like an ocean tempest
Leaving him wrecked at the water’s edge -
Yet another of her broken boys
Stinking of alcohol and sticky with sex.

I watched from beneath the balcony of La Bella Vue,
A tourist cafe whose windows all too often
Fall prey to the wanton wrath of nocturnal creatures
Who roam the beach in gangs.

Yvette knew her voyeur was near,
Another street dog aching to be Claude.
She sat beside her unconscious boy and finished the cognac
As the retreating tide pulled me from the shadows.

I came to her in silence,
Letting my clothes fall among theirs.
Yvette smiled sadly as she rose into my arms,
And walked with me along the shore.

We danced our dance beneath the stars -
A sandy grind of heat and comfort,
Slow and sensual,
Played out on the rim of the ageless sea.

(But we both knew that the music was ending.)

Later, cooling in the surf, rising and falling with the waves,
I held Yvette close for a moment,
Or an eternity,
Before gently pushing her beneath the hungry brine.

She watched me through the moonlit waters
A sense of mild surprise in those soft eyes –
 Sad eyes that slowly slipped from vague to vacant
As her life peacefully seeped into the darkness.

I dressed above Yvette’s boywreck -
A hard, tanned carcass of mangled virtue
Lying on his back in the debris of passion,
Mouth agape, snoring softly.

The boy was no concern of mine
Yet I could not leave him in quiet repose.
His clothes I threw into the sea,
And a small measure of sand I poured into his mouth.

The Vadun gods could deal with his virtue.
If they deemed Claude to be merely a victim of my Yvette
He would awake calmly, spit out the sand,
And wonder at his folly as he strolled home naked.

But if the gods felt otherwise
And awoke young Claude with a start…
Well, I could hardly be blamed
For his fatal lust after another man’s wife.

Now the sun is well into the morning the sky. 
My sleep, though brief, was restful,
And Marie, my faithful housekeeper,
 Set an incomparable breakfast table.

Captain Aronnax presented himself to Marie
Before the breakfast dishes had been cleared,
Long before I had expected his arrival.
She brought him to me in the parlor.

His face, though calm, was tinged with sorrow.
And his eyes were red with rage.
The Vadun gods, I thought smugly,
Had shown no mercy on the hapless Claude.

“Captain,” I said, as he stepped into the parlor,
“You look distraught, my friend.
Pray, be seated by this sunny window
And tell me what has happened.”

“It’s my son, Claude,” he remarked solemnly.
“He died this morning
Convulsed in bewilderment and fear,
The victim of a sadistic swine.”

Captain Aronnax continued,
“Yvette has also died at the hands of the same mad man,
Although her body has yet to wash ashore. 
I knew that you would want to be notified at once.”

“Yvette?  My Yvette?”  I was incredulous.
“My poor Yvette is dead?”
I sank down next to my guest on the grand divan,
Swallowed up in blue velour and grief.

The tears rolling down my face were real,
Though hardly the product of sorrow -
Yesterday’s slave to obsession
Was transforming to a man long forgotten.

I sobbed unashamed for a respectable time
Before drawing myself up in righteous wrath.
“The devil who did this must be brought to justice.
“We will try the animal in my very own court!”

“If there is a trial,” the Captain said calmly
“You will be standing in the dock
Bearing witness to your own foul deeds
As you await the rope of justice.”

“But I have killed no one, you imbecile!
All last night I paced this very room
Alarmed by Yvette’s absence,
Concerned for her safety.”

“That is a sad story, Monsieur le juge,
But we both know it is false,
As false as your heart
And as cold as Yvette’s body.”

“But you don’t have her body,”
I fairly shouted as I stood above the peace officer
And scowled into his pathetic face.
“Who is to say that she is even dead?”

“Yvette had Claude on the beach last night
While you watched from the shadows -
And when she finished with Claude
You claimed your marital rights.”

“Nonsense! “ I roared.  “Utter falsehoods!
I was in this very house all night
Secure in the warmth of my sweet Marie,
Though it’s not as if I’ll need an alibi.”

“No, an alibi would be quite useless,”
The Captain smiled, but sadly.
“And Marie would not perjure herself
When I inform her of the evidence.”

“You have a witness?” I inquired.
“Some beach derelict seeking revenge
Over a verdict he felt was unjust -
Or with some other maligned motive?”

“There were no witnesses,” he sadly replied.
“Just the film from the security camera
That Claude himself installed this week
Behind the La Bella Vue.”

“A camera?  But why would…”
My voice stumbled as it fell across a sudden memory.
“To combat the vandals,” the Captain said.
“The work order was signed by your very own hand.”

Captain Aronnax slowly arose
And placed his pistol on the table in front of me.
“There is only one bullet,
And my men are stationed at each door.”

The Captain turned as he reached the kitchen door.
“After I share a coffee with Marie.
I will come back
And we will effect your arrest.”

The pistol was in my hand
Where I felt its firmness and heft
“And if I choose another option?”
I cocked the gun and aimed at my friend.

“Do as you must,” the Captain replied.,
“But know that by murdering my son
You have already thrown me through the gates of Hell.
It’s your bullet – choose wisely.”

(And with that he left the room.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flying Away - One More Time!

by Pa Rock

Since arriving on Okinawa in July of 2010, I have done my fair share of traveling.  I have been to three of the small islands that are just off the Okinawan coast, made two trips to Korea (one for training and one for fun), visited Guam, and spent a week in Vietnam.  I have made it a point to take full advantage of being in the Far East.

This upcoming holiday weekend (President's Day) my friends Murphy and Valerie will be  joining me on a jaunt to Taiwan.  We are leaving Thursday after work and will return late Monday evening.  Taiwan is only an hour-and-a-half flight from Naha, Okinawa.

Taiwan is the large island where Chiang Kai-shek fled to after the communists were victorious in China.  Old Chiang managed to steal a substantial quantity of the Chinese national treasures as he fled, and most of those are on display in various Taiwanese museums.  He always dreamed of returning China and driving out the communists, but that obviously didn't happen.

Taiwan has also been known as Formosa and Nationalist China.  There appears to be much to see and do there, and much of what I see and do will be blogged right here!

It will be so nice to get away for a few days!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What the Show-Me State Showed Romney

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's been a very bad week for Mitt Romney.  Prosperity's child has learned that money can't buy everything.

The Romney campaign, which spits and sputters like an old jalopy, has its good weeks and its bad weeks.  Iowa was a yawn that turned into a mild embarrassment when the votes (those that Iowa could find) were recounted and instead of Mitt barely winning, it became apparent that he had barely lost.  That was followed by New Hampshire, where Romney owns property and often plays, which he won - though with only 39% of the votes.

South Carolina was next - a state that Romney had bragged would select the ultimate Republican nominee.  Unfortunately for Romney, South Carolina selected Gingrich -  rather decisively.  Oops!  Then came Florida, and it put out for Romney, though parts of the state - such as the panhandle - were noticeably cool to his candidacy.  And again, Mitt won without achieving a majority of the votes (46.4%).   But that was alright because he was headed into the Mormon west where he did very well in the Nevada caucuses (50.0 % - a wisp of a hair short of an absolute majority), though the state's organized working girls announced their support for Ron Paul.   (That had to hurt!)

Which brings us up to last Tuesday - February 7th, 2012 - a day that will live in infamy in the Chronicles of the Mittster - for on that dark day he lost not one, not two, but three political contests along the road to the White House.   That wasn't supposed to happen.  A white frat-boy with the support of the giants of his party and much of corporate America, with unlimited money, should just be accepted as the potential nominee, especially in a field that was otherwise nothing but a collection of kooks and clowns.  What the hell was going on?

Romney's best showing last Tuesday was at the Republican caucuses of Colorado where he came in second to Little Ricky Santorum.   The former Pennsylvania senator collected 40 % of the caucus-goer's support compared to just 35% for the "inevitable" Mr. Romney.  Minnesota was even worse.   There he received only 16.9% of the caucus votes coming in a dismal third - behind Little Ricky and Ron Paul.

But Missouri was by far my favorite Romney-drubbing of last Tuesday.  Missouri had a primary instead of a caucus, an event designed to increase public participation over the harder-to-access caucuses.  (Actually Missouri is in the process of switching back to caucuses, a system that allows party leaders to exercise far more control over the outcome.  This year as Missouri slowly transitions back to boss-controlled politics, the legislature somehow decided to have one of each - a primary and a caucus.  The primary, now history, was only a beauty pageant, and next month on St. Patrick's Day, the bosses will weigh in, or try to,  with their support of Mitt Romney.)

(Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, former Senator Jim Talent, and 7th District congressman and auctioneer Billy Long are all predicting that the caucuses will correct the people's mistake.)

Little Ricky campaigned hard in Missouri, though he will receive no delegates for the effort.  Romney, however, decided to hoard his corporate cash and spend it places where he could actually pocket a few more delegates.  That was a very poor decision on his part because his abandonment of the state played into a three-way win for Santorum.  Not only that, but by not campaigning he left the door open for a massive trouncing in which Little Ricky carried all one-hundred and fourteen Missouri counties and the City of St. Louis!  Romney was slaughtered - and that does not fit well into the "inevitability" scenario.

As a native Missourian and as someone who has worked and traveled in many of the state's counties, particularly the rural southwestern counties, as well the two largest metropolitan areas (Kansas City and St. Louis), I have more than a passing knowledge of the show-me state's political whims and vagaries.  Mitt Romney got the crap kicked out of him in Missouri for two reasons:  1.  He was stupid to have written it off, even if he had been assured that he would eventually get most of the delegates in the caucuses, and  2.  Newt Gingrich failed to get on the ballot, thus denying Romney that split in the rabid right (between Gingrich and Santorum) that he has come to count of to supply his minority wins.

Mitt, you are so stupid!  And vain!  If you were to unseat President Obama, a feat that becomes less likely with each passing day, you will have to carry Missouri.  McCain carried Missouri four years ago in his losing presidential effort (though it took several days of counting and re-counting for him to claim the state's eleven electoral votes) - and he still lost the general election - by a fairly substantial margin.  You will not be elected President without carrying Missouri, and I now feel confident in predicting that you can't carry my home state.

Here's why:

My friends, the hillbillies who live in McDonald, Newton, Barry, Stone, Taney, Ozark, and Howell Counties, are very conservative and very cranky.  Fifty years ago they went crazy campaigning against what they saw as the Catholic Church's assault on the Presidency.  These people vote when their pissed off - and they don't like  it when some liberal frat-boy pretending to be a conservative takes their votes for granted.  If you are the nominee, don't assume that they will all dutifully drive their pick-up trucks down to the polls and vote against the black man.  Some will stay home, and if the vote is close (as it was in 2008 when Obama ran against a white war hero), you're screwed.

Also, Little Ricky carrying St. Louis County, the state's most populous county and one that is heavily Republican, is a very bad sign for you indeed.  He triumphed there not only because you abandoned it to the kooks, but also because many of those white, conservative suburbanites just plain do not like you.

Mitt, Missouri just ain't a-gonna happen, and if it doesn't happen, you won't either.

And if you choose to "balance" your ticket by naming a vice-presidential candidate from the GOP's loony-bin - Santorum, or Bachmann, or Cain, or Gingrich, or even Perry - you're screwed in so many other parts of the nation.

It is possible that with a bad set of national circumstances, Republicans could take back the White House this fall - but it won't be under the leadership of Mitt Romney.  He is just a piece of tea-stained toast!

Friday, February 10, 2012

John Steinbeck Would Have Adored Rachel Maddow

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

If I had to make a list of the people I miss most by living out here on the world's elbow, Rachel Maddow would be somewhere near the top.  It is possible to occasionally get a re-broadcast of one of her shows on Okinawa, but those occurrences are rare at best.  It is much easier to to access the screwy blatherings of Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, or the especially odious Rush Limbaugh.

But I miss Rachel, and the things that I miss about her are the things that keep conservative America so riled up:  she is ferociously intellectual, able to speak in clear and coherent sentences that cut straight to the heart of the matter, funny, insightful, and is not afraid to research a topic before she starts talking about it on the air.  Add to that the fact that she is a highly respected female journalist who also just happens to be gay, and she becomes a perfect bogeyman for America's right-wing knuckle-draggers.

(Just a couple of years ago Massachusetts centerfold senator, Scott Brown, spent several months raising campaign cash by telling his redneck followers that Maddow was definitely going to run for his senate seat.  It was going to be Armageddon, and the only way to stop the evil journalist was to send money to the Brown campaign!   The devious Senator Brown managed to stir up a nice little pile of cash with that bald-faced lie.)

But not everyone fears or hates the intelligent and well-spoken Ms. Maddow.  It was recently announced that she will be the recipient of this year's John Steinbeck Award, also known as the Souls of the People Award.  It is presented by the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University on an annual basis to a person who exemplifies the late author's values.  The recipients are artists, thinkers, and activists who make significant contributions that matter to the common person.

Thomas Steinbeck, the son of the famous author, said that his father "would have adored Rachel Maddow."  He undoubtedly would have adored her, just as millions of us do.  She tells hard truths and challenges us to listen to our better angels.  Rachel Maddow is in tune with the souls of people, and she is an inspiration to those who are brave enough to hear what she has to say.  

The Martha Heasley Cox Center has certainly outdone itself with this year's selection of Rachel Maddow to receive this award.  She personifies the best in us all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rusty Pails # 48: The Birthday Bash

by Rocky Macy

The evening shadows were beginning to crawl across Sprung Hinge as I pulled my old pickup truck, the Rust Bucket, up the alley that runs behind Ermine’s Coffee Bar.  I had steadfastly avoided that establishment ever since Ermine had dishonored every semi-retired, domino-playing man in town by desecrating the old Pump and Git and turning it into a biscuit boutique. 

But that was then, and lots of stuff had changed in the meantime.  The biggest change, of course, was that Ermine had pitched Shadetree Mike out the door, and Gladys Clench had caught him.  Now, after several months of slowly stripping Mike of every last shred of his manhood, Gladys was fixin’ to show him off at his “60th” birthday party.  And wouldn’t Gladys be surprised when she opened her front door tonight and saw me with my date, the lovely Ermine!

The first thing I noticed as I parked in the backyard was that Mike’s old storage shed had been knocked down and carted off.  In its place was a new cement foundation and the framing for a nice two-story building.    Gladys Clench wasn’t the only one who was erasing all traces of the old Shadetree Mike.  Did these women have no shame?

“Why Rusty Pails,” Ermine gushed as she opened the back door and pulled me inside.  “Just look at you – all gussied up in a sport coat and tie!  You clean up real nice, Rusty.”

“Here, “ I stammered, handing her a small box.  I was almost too embarrassed to talk.

“Whatever could this be?”  She pulled the ribbon loose and looked inside.  “Oh my, it’s a daisy corsage!  The last time I had a corsage was at my senior prom, and that’s been over twenty years ago!”

“Twice over,” I thought, but had the good sense not to say it out loud. 

After Ermine pinned the corsage onto her party dress, she and I loaded two baskets of baked goods into the Rust Bucket and headed out.   Gladys, who considered herself to be the best cook in the whole county, would not be pleased with Ermine’s donation to the party of cupcakes, cookies, and brownies.  It was going to be a great evening!

The ride over to the Gladys’s was a mite uncomfortable for me, but Ermine took no notice and chatted merrily the entire way.   When we finally reached the Clench estate, the parking valet (Truman Treetopper) tried to direct us to the back end of the pasture with the regular guests, but I wasn’t having none of that.  I parked the Rust Bucket square in front of Gladys’s new henhouse, the poultry mansion that I had helped to pay for.  Heck Frye had the same idea.  He and his waitress de jour pulled in next to us.

The four of us, me, Heck, and our “girls” carried our gifts and Ermine’s baked goods to the front porch  where I stepped boldly to the door and knocked.  I quickly dropped my hand low in order to be ready to catch Gladys’s teeth in case they slid out of her gaping mouth when she saw Ermine.  (It had been a long time since I had been pumped this much about anything!)

But when the door swung open, it wasn’t Gladys standing on the other side greeting new arrivals – it was Esther Pearl – the same Esther Pearl who didn’t want to come to the party with me because she had to stay home and paint her toenails!  “Why Rusty Pails!”  Esther declared as she grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the house.   But while I was tripping across the threshold, she turned and suddenly caught sight of my guest.

“Ermine?”  Then Esther leaned into me and mumbled:  “You old dog!  Something told me this was going to be a party to remember.”

“Toenails!” I snapped back.

Esther didn’t get distracted, and instead she reached out and pulled Ermine into the house too – leaving Heck and his waitress to find their own way in.    “Look everybody,” she shouted above the din of the party.  “Rusty’s here with Ermine – and she brought food!”

Suddenly it was quieter than the lull before a big storm.  And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw the big storm rising from the couch and glaring lightning bolts directly at me and my guest.   Hurricane Gladys was fixin’ to blow!

But there was too danged many people stuffed into the Clench living room and there was some other commotion going on in the middle of the affair, so instead of trying to pounce from twenty-feet away, Gladys sat back down – bidding her time and doing a slow smolder.   She wasn’t going to calm down anytime soon because Ermine and Esther had already started passing out cupcakes.

The commotion in the center of the room turned out to be Shadetree Mike who was wearing a blindfold and being spun around by a couple of stout women from the Sprung Hinge Sewing Circle and Bucket Brigade.   He had a donkey’s tail in one hand and a root beer in the other.  The ladies gave the Dean of Dominoes one final spin and released him into the laughing crowd to blindly search for the donkey’s butt – the one tacked to the wall, not the one sitting on the couch!

Poor Mike stumbled in circles for a few moments until a true friend stepped through the partying fools to help him out.  “Here you go, buddy.”  I said as I held one of Ermine’s cupcakes under his nose.  Then I began to lead my old friend out of the mess that he had gotten himself into and toward one of my own making.  I had him almost to where Ermine and Esther were handing out the baked goods when suddenly a noise broke through the crowd that was about as pleasant as a blast from the noon siren – or a dozen angry dog whistles!  “Michael!”   Gladys screeched, “Get over here.  Now!” 

Shadetree Mike tried to turn and respond to his basic survival instincts, but I had him blocked.   Instead I jerked off the blindfold and Mike found himself staring eyeball-to-eyeball at his better half of more years than either of us would care to admit.  Ermine, in her pretty party dress, was smiling ear-to-ear and holding out a cupcake for the man who was still technically her husband.

“Ermine,” Mike stammered, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, Mike,” she replied, “Rusty brought me.  Isn’t he just the sweetest man!”

Shadetree Mike glared at me in a way that didn’t say “sweet,” and then sputtered, “Yeah, he’s a real peach!”  And then to me, “Rusty, what kind of a friend goes out with his best friend’s wife?”

That put the ball in Ermine’s court, because I sure as Heck Frye wasn’t playing.  She was starting to heat up.  “Wife?  What kind of husband moves in the most desperate and despicable woman in town after a teensy little disagreement with his wife?”

I could see Gladys starting to push her way through the crowd – just when things were getting interesting.  But it looked like she would be too late because Ermine and Mike were totally locked on to each other.  It was Mike’s ball:  “You threw me out and destroyed my domino parlor.  I had to move somewhere.”

Ermine was beginning to soften just a little which could be dangerous because Gladys was almost within right hook range.  “Yes, you’re right.  I did throw you out and I reckon I’m a little sorry about that.  Even considering how long I put up with you and your ne’er-do-well friends, I could have treated you better than that.”  She reached into a box of baked goods and pulled out a thick envelope.  “Happy danged birthday!”  She said as she shoved the card into Mike’s hands.

By this time Gladys was between them.  “Ermine, you’re causing a scene.  I think you need to go!”

Now it was my turn to get into the act.  “If my girl goes, I go too!”

“All the better,” Gladys fired back.  “I should have known better than to invite an arsonist anyway!”

“Arsonist!  Arsonist!  Why you jack-booted, man-suffocating, hyena in a party dress – I ought to…to…” but I never got to finish that thought because at that moment the real arsonist, Truman Treetopper, came across the bagpipes that I brought to Mike for a birthday present  and began to play.  It might have been “Camptown Races” or “Amazing Grace,” but whatever tune Truman thought that he was playing, the neighborhood dogs and party guests all took to covering their ears and howling.

All except for Shadetree Mike.  He had the envelope open and was looking at a set of building plans.  When somebody finally wrestled the bagpipes away from Truman and it got sort of quiet again, Mike looked at Ermine.  “What is this, Honey Bunch?”

Gladys, with her fist doubled, “Honey Bunch!”

Ermine disregarded Mike’s captor and said, “I’m deeding the back yard over to you.  I’ve torn down the old shed and am having a nice two-story building put up in its place.  You can live upstairs and play dominoes downstairs – all day, every day.  And if you all can behave out there, I might even bring out some brownies every now and then.”

Shadetree Mike, who used to be the manliest man in town until Gladys got hold of him, had tears running down his cheeks.  When Ermine asked him if he wanted to come home, he looked at her all puppy-eyed and said, “I do!  I do!”  A large whoop went up from the party animals, and Gladys stormed upstairs, probably to get her gun!

All of us were out on the lawn by the time Gladys reappeared.  She had Mike’s worldly goods in a couple of brown paper bags and threw them down on the ground.  “You all have five minutes to get off of my property or I’ll turn the hose on you!”  And with that she went back inside and slammed the door on her guests.

I would like to say that Mike and Ermine lived happily ever after, but this is Sprung Hinge, after all, so let’s just say they continued to live interesting lives – just like the rest of us hereabouts!

(And I spent the rest of the night helping Esther Pearl paint her toenails, but you probably already guessed that!)